I had a great time in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, last week consulting with a group of very capable, gifted, and enthusiastic women leaders guiding them through a strategic planning process (Hello, PASJ WMU!) Our fun activity on Friday evening was to go see the movie “Hidden Figures” together and then go out for dessert and a discussion time about what we learned from the movie. Most had not yet seen it so I gave them some things to watch for in the movie that would set up our discussion time later. Here are some suggestions for those who have not yet seen the movie as well as some questions to follow up after you’ve watched it. (This would be a great activity for February – Black History Month or March – Women’s History Month! Find a reproducible discussion guide on the Resources page.)
Before you see “Hidden Figures,” ask your group to watch for these things:
- Watch for ways the Christian faith is portrayed in the movie.
- Watch for moments of transformation in people’s attitudes and actions.
- Watch for examples of things Jesus would do.
- Watch for historical surprises.
- Listen and watch for ways words are used to both denigrate and elevate human beings.
- Watch for signs of positive leadership behaviors.
After you see the movie, discuss these questions:
- How was the Christian faith portrayed in the movie?
- What specific moments of transformation did you witness? What specific event/occurrence do you think sparked that transformation in that person’s life?
- Where did you see someone do what Jesus would do?
- Which details of American history were new to you? Why do you think you never learned them before?
- What positive and negative impact did the use of certain words have in the treatment of human beings? So why do the words we use matter?
- What positive leadership behaviors stood out to you?
The movie based on the book Hidden Figures has given us a memorable and engaging visual representation of the intellectual contributions of three African-American women to the success of the U.S. space program. Many of us who saw it walked away wishing we had known their stories years before. Many older movie-goers were reminded of a cruel page of recent American history and regret not having done more to bring about needed changes sooner. Many younger movie-goers were introduced to the realities of our American past that illustrate how painfully slow we can be to truly live out the justice, equality, and freedom we love to proclaim.
Hidden in Plain Sight
If such recent occurrences in our American history are virtually unknown to us, even though we have had access to the amazing results of these women’s actions for the past 40+ years, how much more uninformed are we of the contributions of women in the ancient world, specifically biblical women?
One of my greatest passions is to unveil women’s stories which have been hidden in plain sight in the Bible for thousands of years. For centuries, the Bible has been used to oppress, confine, reprimand, and hurt women. Yet, within the Bible’s pages are stories of strong, victorious, learned, risk-taking, faith-filled women leaders who were chosen by God to accomplish eternal purposes.
The African-American women whose stories came to life for us in the movie “Hidden Figures” had to overcome numerous obstacles just to be able to do the work for which they were so capably gifted and trained:
- They were women in a majority-male profession.
- They were black, which carried all kinds of challenges in a segregated society.
- They were subjected to the negative assumptions of others.
- They were the victims of unfair laws and immoral social codes.
Hiding those stories over the past four decades has only thwarted more technological advancements. If more girls and people of color had been exposed to those stories, they would have been encouraged to pursue scientific and mathematical careers. Who knows how many more gifted minds we would have had working to cure cancer, prevent birth defects, eradicate common diseases, and develop more technology that could bring more peace and cooperation to our world?
Wanted: Workers for the Kingdom of God (Women and Minorities Encouraged to Apply)
The same is true about advancing the Kingdom of God. As long as women are kept from using their gifts and prevented from fulfilling their callings to leadership, the Church is missing out on half of its potential leaders and the Church will not grow as much as God desires. There are many stories in scripture of women God chose to be the rulers, prophets, evangelists, church leaders, apostles, teachers, deacons, financial supporters, ministers, and traveling disciples who contributed to the strong beginning of the early Church. Yet, often, those stories are overlooked, avoided, dismissed as unimportant, or thought to be irrelevant since they don’t show a man in the leading role. My passion is to reveal those women’s stories to all who desire to be part of God’s design for the world.
In the following paragraphs, I want to re-introduce you to a familiar character: the woman at the well from Samaria we read about in John 4. (Find a reproducible Bible study sheet on the Resources page.) She is a character with whom most church-goers are at least familiar. Unfortunately, we were not given her name in the biblical account. However, for ease in discussion, I’ll use the name Photini as she is known in the Eastern Orthodox tradition (For a more detailed description from the Orthodox perspective, see http://www.antiochian.org/st-photini-samaritan-woman).
Photini had several obstacles working against her—even today, in our willingness to hear her story.
- Many of us have been taught that she was promiscuous since Christ revealed that he knew she had had five husbands before the man she was currently living with. Yet, there is no biblical evidence for promiscuity. There are a variety of reasons why that could have been her situation.
- She was a woman, and a rabbi and a woman would never have a conversation in public in that era.
- She was a Samaritan, the mixed race despised and avoided by the Jews of that day.
- She was coming to the well in the middle of the day, which seems to indicate that there was some reason for her not to come in the earlier, cooler part of the day. We can only make assumptions about that.
I see several similarities between the obstacles Photini overcame and those that the African-American women at NASA endured.
What Jesus Did and Did Not Do and Photini’s Firsts
In spite of those characteristics that should have caused Jesus, a respected rabbi, to shy away from an encounter with her, he intentionally chose to sit down at the very well she would be using. And then, he, the Creator of the universe and of the woman and of the very water in that well, proceeded to ask her for help and then have the longest theological conversation we have in the Bible between Jesus and another person!
In addition, after their heady discussion about the place and purpose of true worship, Photini leaves that life-changing conversation to become the first evangelist in the gospel record. Now, if Jesus knew about her five husbands, I am pretty sure he knew what she was going to do upon her return to her village. Yet, he did not stop her from being that evangelist. He did not send the male disciples running after her to stop her. Instead, he points out to them that the harvest they are about to reap (of people, not grain) was a result of her work. “Many Samaritans believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). This is the first time a whole community believed in Jesus—and they were not Jews! What an example of extensive, enthusiastic evangelism! She was essential in helping Jesus accomplish his mission in that place at that time. The male disciples didn’t help evangelize the Samaritans—they were actually out shopping!
While most people can tell you the Woman at the Well was transformed by the conversation she had with Jesus, they usually don’t acknowledge her legacy as the first evangelist to a whole community of non-Jews! How can this detail about this “unlikely evangelist” inspire girls and women today whom Jesus is calling to serve and to lead others to him? We must be about telling these stories to inspire the whole church–not just the women! A hurting world is depending on us as informed leaders to demonstrate the equality, justice, and freedom proclaimed by Christ.
Join the conversation below by clicking on the Comments and telling us what you loved about the movie or which biblical women have inspired you once you discovered them?