A few years ago I was listening to NPR and got drawn into a story about an extraordinarily gifted female golfer, Se Ri Pak. I am not a golf fan and don’t usually listen to golf stories, but this one captured my imagination.
Daniel Coyle was reporting on Pak’s recent retirement from the LPGA tour and her Hall-of-Fame career. Pak’s success began in 1998 with her win at the U.S. Women’s Open. She was a twenty-year-old rookie. While the win was significant, what was truly remarkable was the influence of that win. Numerous Korean and Korean-American women golfers who were on the LPGA tour in 2016 pointed to Pak’s incredible win at the 1998 U.S. Open as the day they became interested in golf.
One of those women, Tiffany Joh, is now thirty-one years old and in her seventh year on the tour. On the day that Pak made history by winning the U.S. Open, Joh was a twelve-year-old girl, one who had never touched a golf club or played a round of golf. But that day when she turned on her television, Joh saw a young Korean woman playing golf and doing it really well. So well in fact, the television announcers believed that Pak was in contention to win the trophy. But then Pak made a horrible shot. Her ball landed on the edge of the water. Instead of taking a drop, Pak took her shoes off and waded in. Standing in the water, she made a beautiful shot—and she went on to win the tournament.
Twelve-year-old Tiffany Joh watched in fascination as this young woman who looked like her made history—and that was the day that Joh asked her father for golf clubs and asked if she could started playing. Seeing Pak achieve a victory, hearing the crowd cheer this young woman to victory, watching an Asian woman take a risk gave Joh the courage to believe that she too could play golf, that she too could take risks, that she too could win.
And Joh wasn’t the only one watching that day. In 2016, when Se Ri Pak retired, the number one women’s golfer in the world was Lydia Ko. The Olympic gold medalist in the summer of 2016 was Inbee Park. Six other women on the LGPA tour in 2016 were Korean or Korean-Americans. They were all between the ages of seven and twelve when Pak won that U.S. Open. They ALL watched the coverage of that win that day, and they saw the possibilities.
Seeing a woman, a young woman with familiar features, watching as she overcame disaster, and hearing the cheers of the crowd as she held up the trophy gave young Asian girls the courage to dream, to believe, and to pursue new goals. Seeing a woman succeed opened their imaginations and allowed them to believe in themselves. Seeing is believing.
The same is true for girls in the church. When they see women participating as committee chairs and decision makers in their churches, when they receive communion from a woman deacon, when they listen as a woman preaches from the pulpit, when they hear women praying and reading scripture, girls and young women are inspired to dream, to believe, to pursue. They are freed to explore and discover their own gifts—they are freed to hear God’s calling and to live out that calling. Seeing women minister and lead in the church sparks the imaginations of young girls. Seeing is believing.
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.