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UMW Turns 150: Jean Jacobs

August 7, 2019
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This year, The United Methodist Church celebrates 150 years of United Methodist Women. The group that started as the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society has grown through the efforts of many individual women, and has evolved to the 800,000-strong organization that United Methodist Women is today. United Methodist Women here at FirstChurch has played an integral part not just in the life of the church, but also in mission and advocacy work across the country and globally, and we will be showcasing their incredible sisterhood and service in the weeks leading up to their Celebration on Sept. 8. 

To begin the highlights of UMW at FirstChurch, Jean Jacobs, a UMW member since 1969 who served as a missionary in Latin America for decades, recalls her time abroad.

The UMW has a personal connection for me.  When I was only four years old, my aunt was sent to India by the Women’s Division of the Board of Missions to work with village women in that country; her work was largely supported by the WSCS of my local church. So, I grew up in a household in which the work of Christian women was vital.

In large part, the reason I became a missionary was the influence of Aunt Bobbie, who served in India, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Chile as well as being a home missionary in Arkansas and Mississippi. Because of her, we had other missionaries in the house often. When I was in high school, I spent a large part of two summers with her in Mexico City, where she worked in another school started by women missionaries to provide education for girls from rural areas. I think God called me to mission work not out of a lightning bolt, but out of all these day-to-day experiences.

I first served in Peru from 1956 to 1993. I was commissioned as a missionary here at FirstChurch either at the end of December 1970 or the first days of January 1971. During my first years in Peru, I was what was called a ”short-term missionary; we were not commissioned. I was assigned to Colegio Maria Alvarado, a Methodist school in Lima, Peru.  In 1906, Elsie Wood was concerned about the total lack of high school education for women in Peru, and with the support of the women of the church, started that school which continues to play a valuable role in educating young people (now not only women) in Peru.

Jean (third from left) is pictured here with a few of the teenagers from her church in Lima, Peru. Jean noted that the young man at top left now teaches at the Methodist seminary in Mexico City.

I then served in Mexico from 1993 to 2005. I was privileged to serve as a missionary in two schools with ties to the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society, forerunner of the UMW.  Clementime Butler (one of the original eight women) and her husband William went to Mexico in 1873 to start Methodist work in that country. The following year started a school to educate the street children they had received into their home.  That was the the birth of Instituto Mexicano Madero, a large Methodist school and university in the city of Puebla. I arrived there in time to attend the 120th anniversary celebrations.

I learned so many things during all those years. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned was that I can never stop learning from others. As a missionary I needed to listen and learn, not just teach. I needed to know that “my way” or “our way” isn’t always the best way, and that in spite of whatever the situation, God was always with me.

Today, in the UMC and especially in our church, the United Methodist Women continue to study, serve, and worship together.  Our reading program encourages us to continue to learn and grow.  We serve in a number of local institutions and our offerings make possible service of others in our country and around the world.  We learn and worship together in our meetings and in our fellowship.  For these reasons, I invite you to become a part of the UMW.  It will be a blessing to you and make you an even greater blessing to others.

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