Vivian Mabuni joined staff with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) 25 years ago and has served on the UC Berkeley and UCLA campuses and on the Epic National Executive Team (Epic is the Asian American ministry of Cru). She is the author of Warrior In Pink: A Story of Cancer, Community and the God Who Comforts. She lives with her husband and three children in Mission Viejo, California along with their German Shepherd, Koa. You can find her at vivianmabuni.com and on twitter.
As a young girl I set my aspirations high to be the first woman on the moon or else the first Asian-American woman President of the United States. I found myself in various leadership positions in clubs and student government. At the age of 12, I labeled myself a feminist. As a panel discussion leader, I had my girlfriends run into the classroom waving their mother’s bras screaming, “Burn your bras, equal rights for women!!” Women, in my mind, were capable, strong leaders; men had better beware, because we were on our way to taking over.
My Asian culture emphasized the value of boys over girls, so I set out to prove I could produce more and be of more value. Yet a radical change was underway. During high school, God graciously transformed my life, and I stepped from darkness into the Kingdom of His Beloved Son. In college, with the influence of certain Christian authors, I swung from my strong feminist beliefs clear to the opposite side.
After graduating and entering my first years as Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) staff, I found myself sharing with the men on my staff team that I had a “conviction” about women not initiating and therefore would never call them on the phone and would only return calls–even ministry-related business calls. I thought I needed to turn down and even turn off my gifts of leadership to avoid threatening any potential male from taking their rightful place of leading.
I gravitated towards and found security in a high structure and rules-oriented Christianity. Believing that Christianity could only be expressed in a certain cookie cutter way, I often felt that those who did not fit my black and white viewpoint were wrong. Now my posture was one of inferiority as a woman and conforming to a certain Christian culture, which also fit my Asian cultural grid of the value of men over women. And honestly, as I looked around, I couldn’t find other Asian-American Christian women leading. I scanned the bookshelves in Christian bookstores and looked through conference brochures, but didn’t find anyone who looked like me.
When I was 25, I met and married Darrin, bringing this same rigid view of Christianity into our marriage. I had difficulty representing myself and giving him feedback. I played the “submission/respect card” and believed that if I respected him, I would not question his ideas or thoughts. Instead of being a true helper or ezer, I sought to manipulate and control his emotions by refusing to express my perspective, thereby heading off any potential conflict.. I also came to believe that for my husband to lead, he had to be better and stronger than me in all areas. For his part, he was bewildered that I thought those things and grieved that I would emotionally shut down each time he arrived home. I felt frustrated and dead inside; I was both passive and confused.
As I entered my mid-to-late 30’s, I was exposed to a wider pool of believers and life no longer fit my previously held “cookie cutter” paradigm. I met godly women who didn’t fit my mold: those walking through divorce; others recovering from addiction; those whose teenagers had turned away from the Lord; some were dealing with depression, while others were the breadwinners for their families. Gratefully, my picture of what it looked like to be a woman following God fully expanded. Rather than adopting a stance based on a subculture, I decided to investigate for myself to seek to understand why God created women and how culture fit into what I saw in God’s Word.
In my 40s, I started reading books and articles written by people outside my paradigm, and I soon encountered the writing of author Carolyn Custis James and the teaching of the ezer warrior (Genesis 2:18).. The portrait of women that she presented was liberating and resonated deeply within me. For the first time, I was encouraged not to shrink back from who God created me to be–especially in the area of leadership. I was also encouraged by the high view of men Carolyn had found in the Scriptures, treating our brothers with deep respect and honor. It was a new way of thinking for me.
Rather than competing or disappearing, I moved toward linking arms with men. I saw that God was best represented when both men and women worked together for the furthering of His Kingdom. And I began to experience a new level of freedom that opened the door to taking on new ministry responsibilities as well as applying for seminary. Many of the stories shared in Reclaiming Eve had me nodding in agreement; similar themes played out in my own journey.
Today, as a mom of two sons and a daughter, my values and views shape my hopes of who I want them to become. Darkness and injustice fill our broken world. I want my sons to lead out into the darkness with strength, integrity and humility. I want them to welcome and respect the input and viewpoint of women. I want my daughter to not hold back who God has made her to be—but to offer her gifts and her voice with strength, humility and conviction. I believe it takes a secure man not to be threatened by the strength of a woman; I also believe it takes a secure woman to not always have to be in control.
I now believe that our picture of God is made fuller when we include the voice and viewpoint of both women and men. In the same way, our understanding of who God is deepens through racial diversity and racial reconciliation. Our cultural differences offer a broader, richer view of the infinite and creative God we serve.
As a young girl I set my aspirations high with hopes of leading; today my aspirations are higher still. I am grateful to link arms with my husband and other good men like him, living as an ezer who honors God as I listen to his voice. And the journey continues: I continue to read, study and dialogue with men and women over the issues of leadership, culture and Scripture. I remain grateful that my picture of what it looks like for a woman to follow God now fits for every woman—no matter her season in life, the trials she encounters, or the culture from which she comes.
Has your picture of what it means for a woman to follow God fully expanded like Vivian’s? If so, how?
On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!” — Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church