The Association of Adventist Women (AAW) will be hosting its annual Woman of the Year Banquet on November 4, where it will present awards to six individuals in celebration of their excellence. The banquet will be preceded by a vespers service at the La Sierra University Church. Both events are open for anyone to attend, though tickets will need to be purchased for the banquet, according to Linda Wysong Becker, chair of the AAW Awards Committee.
Incorporated in 1982, the AAW is an independent, tax-exempt organization. It started as a committee of the Association of Adventist Forums, the publisher of Spectrum magazine. The AAW’s mission is “to advocate for the full recognition of God's diverse calling of women and men in all leadership roles in the Seventh-day Adventist organization, congregations, and communities.”
“Woman of the Year” and “Champion of Justice” awards
Four women of diverse backgrounds will be recognized for their various roles in ministry.
Drene Somasundram, born in London, UK, is the first woman to become a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in England, according to her biography provided by the AAW. At Middlesex University, she earned the Ken Goulding Award for her 2007 doctoral thesis, “A Gender Inclusive Model in Theological Education for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” Currently, she works in Australia at Avondale University as a chaplain and lecturer. She also coordinates Student Services in the interdisciplinary faculty of arts, theology, and nursing.
Maria Silvia Neri Castrejón is from Mexico. According to her biography provided by the AAW, she worked a total of 38 years in ministry, 19 of those years serving as a district pastor in Mexico City. In December 2008, Castrejón became the first woman pastor to retire in the Inter-American Division.
Norma Nashed is the founder and president of Restore a Child, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “provide for the basic needs of orphans and underprivileged children and help them develop into productive adults.”
Nashed was born in Ramallah, Palestine and grew up in Jordan as an orphan in extreme poverty. According to the Restore a Child website, she was taken in by an American missionary couple, Robert Darnell and his wife, who provided her with an education. Today, Nashed works to support children all over the world through her organization.
Olive Hemmings earned her PhD from Claremont Graduate University and has taught New Testament Bible and Greek; world religions; social, biblical, and theological ethics; and dogmatic theology at Washington Adventist University (WAU) for the past 11 years. She previously taught at her alma mater, West Indies College (now Northern Caribbean University), in Jamaica.
According to Hemmings's biography on WAU’s website, “Her latest publication, Sacred Texts and Social Conflict, is a case study of the debate over women’s ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist Church to demonstrate the ways in which sacred texts function as the site of power for communities in conflict.” Her faculty page also notes that, “she is a member of the Columbia Union Conference clergy and pursues a yearly itinerary of preaching and teaching.”
Two men will be presented with the Champion of Justice award, which recognizes men who have supported women in ministry.
North Dakota native Loren Siebold is the editor of Adventist Today magazine. He has also regularly contributed articles and columns to such publications as Signs of the Times, Ministry magazine, Spectrum magazine, and others, according to his biography provided by the AAW. In addition to his work in writing, Siebold has pastored churches in Palo Alto, California and Worthington, Ohio.
“Loren has not only encouraged women in ministry and leadership, he has created a safe place for conversations about this challenging issue within Adventism through his work with Adventist Today and Spectrum,” reads the biography.
William G. Johnsson, born in Adelaide, Australia, was the editor of the Adventist Review from 1982 to 2006. He wrote more than 40 books and 1,000 articles, as stated in an article published by the Adventist Review. Johnsson also served as a missionary in India, taught at the seminary, and elevated women in his work at the General Conference. He passed away on March 11, 2023, at 88 years old. His award will be the second posthumous award presented in the history of the organization, according to AAW President Nerida Taylor Bates.
Steps taken to ensure diversity in the nomination and selection process
Diversity is one aspect taken into consideration during the nomination and selection process for awards, according to a webpage on the AAW’s website that was taken down after the nomination window closed. According to Bates, anyone can submit a nomination.
“We don't get as many submissions as we would like, but we do take each application seriously,” she wrote in an email to Spectrum. “One of our nominees this year and one last year came by this method.”
Bates stated that she also reaches out to contacts in different world divisions for nominations.
During the selection process, the AAW board looks for different types of leadership, including theology, innovation, mentorship, charity, and humanitarian work, Bates said. The board also considers global representation.
“We try to represent women all over the world,” Bates continued in the email. “I will admit this [is] where we have the most challenges. Despite good contacts and nominations from South Pacific, Europe, and Southern Africa, I do not have broad enough contacts in Southeast Asia and Northern Pacific to feel like I can equally represent them.”
Bates also expressed sensitivity to some women’s situations in which public recognition currently would not be appropriate.
“There are a few women that we have our eyes on that we feel would not be prudent to recognize them at this time because the backlash might jeopardize their employment,” she stated. “Once they have retired, we would like to celebrate them publicly.”
Though not perfect—according to Bates—the process has led to highlighting “some pretty amazing women,” she said.
“Every year as I dig into the accomplishments of the women honored, I am humbled,” Bates said, “and it really makes me think about what a web of hardworking women there are out there in every corner of Adventism.”
Megan Yoshioka reported every day of the 2022 General Conference Session for Spectrum and is a recent mass communication-writing/editing graduate from Southern Adventist University. She has lived in California, Hawaii, and Tennessee.
Title image by the Association of Adventist Women, edited by Spectrum.
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