From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Delegates honor Eunice Mathews' life, legacy
Thu, 29 Apr 2004 16:57:10 -0500
April 29, 2004 GC04-018
By Tracy McNeal*
PITTSBURGH (UMNS)-- It's not every day that the United Methodist Church gets
to honor one of its leading lights before her years of history-making have
passed into memory.
Yet, on April 29 the top legislative body of the denomination paid tribute to
Eunice Jones Mathews--a living legend in the church's history of mission. The
998 delegates to General Conference and hundreds of visitors honored her 90th
birthday with a "Happy Birthday" chorus and a reception at the David L.
Lawrence Convention Center.
Legislative proceedings were suspended as an energetic Eunice Mathews was
warmly introduced to the international assembly by the Rev. R. Randy Day, top
staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. She
received a standing ovation.
Between intermittent applause and appreciative shouts, Mrs. Mathews expressed
gratitude for the conference's recognition and the reception that followed.
"I will certainly remember it for the rest of my days," she said.
After emphasizing her respect for her parents, "whose combined missionary
service totaled 108 years," and her pride at having served with her husband
in five different episcopal areas, Mrs. Mathews made a statement that
displayed the freedom of spirit inspiring her lifework and myriad
"I do not have to be identified as the daughter of (evangelist) E. Stanley
Jones, nor do I have to be identified as the wife of my husband (Bishop James
K. Mathews)...but I do have permission to be myself, and this is in the
freedom of Jesus Christ."
Mrs. Mathews' birthday marks another milestone in the life of the
denomination, as a record 188 delegates from outside the United States are
attending the 2004 assembly. This landmark figure is an indirect tribute to
Mrs. Mathews' life of missionary work.
She was born on April 29, 1914, to Methodism's premier missionary couple of
the twentieth century, E. Stanley Jones and Mabel Lossing Jones. Growing up
in Lucknow, India, young Eunice witnessed her parents plant the seeds of
God's word and nurture them into sizable, self-sustaining Methodist
communities. Among these was a boys' primary school in northern India
launched by Eunice's mother, a pioneering woman whose efforts flouted her
generation's strict gender restrictions and paved the way for women
instructors to teach male students in the region.
Her mother taught Eunice English to supplement her native Hindustani, and her
mother served on the governing board of Asia's first Christian institution of
higher learning for women - now known as Isabella Thoburn College, after its
founder, another gender-breaking Methodist missionary.
Soon after attending Wellesley Girls School in Naini Tal, India, and American
University in Washington, Eunice began her career in humanitarian work and
missionary service. She assisted her father, whose lectures and writings took
him around the world, and revolutionized missionary thinking by encouraging
individuals to receive Christ within the framework of their indigenous
contexts. It was while accompanying her father on a lecture circuit in India
that Eunice met James K. Mathews, whom she married June 1, 1940.
Sixty-three years later, Mrs. Mathews and her husband, a retired bishop and
former associate general secretary at the Board of Missions of the Methodist
Church, have proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ on six continents,
ordering their lives by the scriptural mandate, "Go therefore and make
disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19).
She and her husband fashioned their marriage as an equal partnership; Bishop
Mathews wrote in his autobiography, A Global Odyssey, that "these very
memoirs should be titled, We Did It Together." The couple have three children
and six grandchildren.
Together, Bishop and Mrs. Mathews have advocated for peace and good will,
moving among personages such as President George and Barbara Bush; President
Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton; Pope Paul VI; Mahatma Gandhi; Indira Gandhi;
and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
King once told Mrs. Mathews of his deep appreciation for her father--who was
a personal friend and biographer of Mahatma Gandhi--because it was reading
Jones' biography that prompted King to adopt a doctrine of nonviolence in the
civil rights movement.
Mrs. Mathews counts among her distinctions an independently researched and
written book, Drug Abuse: Summons to Community Action, a second book
co-written with her father, The Divine Yes, and a professorship established
in her and her husband's name at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.
Mathews' lifelong call to mission beckons her still, and she continues to
respond. In 2001, she and her husband traveled back to Naini Tal, India, to
commemorate the 70th anniversary of Sat Tal Christian Ashram, a religious
retreat founded by her father.
# # #
*McNeal is a staff writer with the Communications Department of the United
Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
News media contact: (412) 325-6080 during General Conference, April 27-May 7.
After May 10: (615) 742-5470.
United Methodist News Service
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