I am a young, Native Hawaiian woman who has been called into leadership in many different ways. From when I was young I always felt a call towards working in the church. When I was seven years old I told my parents that I was going to be a priest. We were not a religious family, and so I think they considered this possibility the same way they considered the possibility that I would become a princess or a butterfly.
The calling is not a moment that I can pinpoint. It has been more like a little tug at my heartstrings ever since I was young, and a few moments of intermittent clarity wherein I knew myself to be, beyond a shadow of a doubt, in the right place at the right time. I think this calling has always been between God and me. However, though it is of a very personal nature, there have been many mentors who have helped me along the way.
One of the overlaps I can find between the many different women who have guided and taught me is their willingness to be present with me in my journey and their love for me. I have borne witness to many peers who have been disappointed with the lack of strong women in their lives. I have seen the mountains that God moves within those with a willing spirit. I think that God only needs a willing heart to work with, and He can transform you into a meaningful mentor for someone.
Especially within the indigenous community, mentorship is extremely important. We learn from our kupuna, our elders, and they have a particular capacity to teach us right from wrong. I know for me, growing up, (and sometimes still even today), it was difficult to listen to my parents alone if they were telling me something I didn’t want to hear. If the scolding or correction came from another church kupuna, I couldn’t dismiss it and often took it more seriously.
Some of my other callings in life have come from these kupuna. Sarah Eagle Heart, the national missioner for Native American and Indigenous Ministry, asked me, in October of last year, to attend a Native Women’s Gathering in Nevada. I was excited and apprehensive, unsure of what my time there would bring. I knew I had to go—not only because I had been asked to be there, but because I felt a familiar tug on my heartstrings which I know to be from Akua, God. While we were there, Sarah told the group she needed leadership to step up at the end of our time together to help her in continuing the group and in organizing everything. We sat down and had a meeting, and after much time in prayer the women were asked to think of people to nominate. Being the youngest of the group, I didn’t expect to say anything or to contribute very much. However, God had other plans for me. I was one of the first names that came up, from a few different people.
In that moment, it didn’t matter that I have light skin or that I am young or that, living in Hawaii, I didn’t grow up on a reservation the way most of my native sisters have. It only mattered that I was being called into a specific leadership role and I needed to accept the responsibility it brought. In my culture, kupuna are the wise ones. We look to our elders for guidance and authority, and it was difficult for me to understand what I could have to give to these incredible women. I am learning to accept that I have something to share with the group, and yet to stay humble. Wisdom and humility, I have learned, go hand in hand, and I hope to always hear the syncopated rhythm of the two working in tandem.
Women’s leadership is also of extreme importance in both my ethos and the indigenous perspective. Women have been expected, as in many cultures, to do both the housework and the cooking and also earn income. Indigenous women are often respected in different tribes as medicine men, or heads of council. In Hawaiian heritage our queens have been equally important as our kings, and we hold much respect for them and the way they took care of us, their people.
The Episcopal Church also often stands on the strength of their women. Women organize vestry meetings and coffee hours, participating in communion and upholding the church. Women are the backbone of the church, and we have been instrumental in shaping it.
In February 2010 I was blessed by the opportunity to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women gathering in New York City. I attended one lecture about women’s gifts. I have always been frustrated by the assumptions that women are more gentle than men, and we listen more, and are more caring. I saw these assertions as dangerous stereotypes that were assisting in our degradation. However, in this lecture, the woman spoke about the power in these gifts. Despite the fact that they had often been undervalued and not glorified in the same way masculinity has been, these very feminine attributes are among our biggest strengths and can be used by us as leverage.
I think this lesson is of extreme importance to the church today. Though feminine qualities can be undervalued, there is strength in them. We speak whispers of strength, but we will not be silenced. We stand strong on the shoulders of our ancestors who have come before us, holding hands with our global sisters. We are ready to face the future and lead our daughters forward.
–Jasmine Bostock is Native Hawaiian and new member of the Executive Council Committee on Indigenous Ministry.