After my first taste of advocacy as a young teenager with a cassette tape recording, I remember several key issues with gender and my church experiences. In high school I started attending two additional church of Christ summer camps, desperate to form a spiritual connection with people my age. I always loved singing at camp; it wasn't at all like the singing at our house church. There were so many talented singers, and if you didn't know the right tune or words, you learned quickly. I wrote my first songs at Bible camp; one I sang with a friend at a talent show and another that I got to teach our singing class (after I taught it to a boy and he sang it to the class, of course.) It was exhilarating. I believed that this wonderful, amazing tradition of Christian songwriters was more relevant to me. I appreciated the poetry and lyrics of the songs I sang and started to think critically about the conflict between the words I sang and the words I spoke or thought in my mind.
That summer at camp one of my favorite staff members was a young college-aged woman whose name I do not remember. She was the epitome of cool with her icthus symbol tattoo on her ankle, her cute ripped light washed jeans and her vivacious personality. She was assigned the role of "recreation director" or something to that effect. It was basically a glorified PE/Arts & Crafts position for someone who didn't want to be a cook or counselor. She expressed her frustration at not being able to teach any classes; not just Bible classes, but any sort of class, because she was a woman. I didn't think too much about it then, but looking back I see the beginning of my questions.
The other gender-related camp issue was the Big Controversial Issue of whether or not a woman could lead a four-part song that began with a soprano or alto melody. You know, one of those "pretty songs" church of Christ schools like to sing over and over. I loved singing them, because we didn't have enough singers who knew four-part harmony at my house church. One night at campfire one girl started to lead a song that was not one of these songs. She just started singing a regular song that didn't require a female lead. I didn't find out what happened to that girl, but I'm sure that a few people took her aside to explain the usurping error of her ways. I was too busy singing the pretty songs to pay much attention.
When I was 16, I began a wonderful relationship with several international exchange students at my small high school. We had never had so many exchange students in one year and I thought it was wonderful. We formed a close-knit group of the six exchange students and three Americans. We spent Wednesday nights at a Congregational youth group. I had a couple individual Let's Start Talking classes using a simplified version of Luke to teach English. That fall I applied to do missions work in Nairobi, which sounded exotic, exciting and far away from Iowa. I could ride some giant zebras, tame lions and maybe help a few orphans along the way. I was ready for my life as a missionary (or so I thought.) I was informed a few months later that since I would only be 17 by the following summer I would not be allowed to travel across country. I was offered a domestic missions trip with the same missions group.
Instead I got on the Internet and searched for church of Christ missionaries who might want a summer intern. I e-mailed one in Europe and was referred to a couple in Tomobe, Ibaraki, Japan. They were long-time missionaries and alumni of Pepperdine University and they said, "Yes!" I spent that spring writing fundraising letters, making travel arrangements and studying Japanese with the one Japanese exchange student at my high school.
My eight weeks in Japan were amazing. I was a real life missionary and I loved it. I returned to the States for a week and then rode with my parents 1,000 miles to Abilene Christian University, where I promptly changed my major from English to Missions. For the first time in my life I was about to experience an American church of Christ as my home church and a church of Christ school with very interesting views on women in worship.