Heckled in a church for being a woman, but I'm determined to make it in a man's world

One of many women helped by One by One in Sri Lanka.(Photo: One by One)

My big moment had arrived – the first time ever reading the Bible on the pulpit in front of a packed church. I was just 12 at the time but my pastor saw some potential in me and wanted to give me a chance to contribute. I was excited and nervous but extremely grateful for this opportunity. And then my worst nightmare happened...

"This is disgraceful, I've not come here to listen to a woman," the angry man shouted as he stormed out of the building. You could cut the tension with a knife and I wanted to burst into tears.

Thankfully, my pastor, Ernest Anderson, remained calm, loving and gentle as he told me to pause while he publicly rebuked the man. I was then allowed to continue and read the passage of Scripture before Ernest's sermon.

Thankfully the incident didn't deter me. Since forming my own charity, One By One, a decade ago, I've had the privilege of speaking at churches, conferences and events across the world. I've also spoken to large audiences through TV and radio, and in 2019 was invited to the Houses of Parliament where I addressed government ministers and MPs.

But I still think when it comes to public ministry, it's very much a man's world. Women have to work twice as hard to get opportunities and I feel it's taken me years for my platform capabilities to be taken seriously.

Even more recently, during a theological debate one man told me: "If they allow women on the pulpit, what will be next? It's a slippery slope." Who knew that being a woman was so offensive.

I still stand out like a sore thumb on conference posters where I'm often the only woman on the bill and I've lost count of the number of times pastors have literally ignored me during conversations and only spoken to my husband.

Thankfully, there have been many male champions too. In my 20s, I attended one service with a visiting preacher from America, Cleddie Keith. I was seated a few rows back minding my own business when he approached me, called me to the front and put a microphone in my hand. "Preach," he yelled in his Texan drawl. I had no choice! It was utterly terrifying but it gave me the boldness and bravery to speak out as I fumbled through a five-minute testimony. It was certainly a baptism of fire but it set something in motion. Years later, I still get nervous every time I speak publicly but I've become much more bold and confident.

There are theological arguments for and against women in the pulpit and I'm not here to address those - I'll save that for another time. But I would say that while I'm not an extreme feminist and I absolutely respect and honour male leadership, what I want is to encourage women.

God has always used females in powerful ways. Whether it be Deborah, Ruth or Esther in the Old Testament or females in the New Testament, God has a plan for women! After all, the first person to witness the resurrection of Jesus was a woman!

So girls, keep going! Don't let discouragement stop you. Don't let negativity hold you back. You have a voice, a purpose and a call from God. It's absolutely his will that you should be used in incredible ways. God alone will decide your future so jump right in and see what he has planned for you.

I launched the Dignity Project in 2016 and we have now reached 19,000 girls with this programme across the world. We teach girls about the dangers of sexual abuse and provide them with practical resources such as reusable sanitary pads, but we also speak life into them and tell them that they have an incredible future and that God will use them in powerful ways!

My final appeal is to the men who do encourage women. We need you more than ever. Pastors, if you see a girl with God's hand on her life in your congregation, believe in her, champion her and celebrate her. Don't be afraid of the reaction. Pastor Ernest took a bullet for me and look what followed.

Joel prophesied that 'in the last days, God will pour out his Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy.' Those days are now. There's much to be done and we need every hand on deck - men and women.

Becky Murray is the founder and director of One By One. She's also the author of Embrace The Journey.