This month, we are celebrating International Women’s Day by featuring stories of courage and determination by ordinary women who are playing extraordinary roles within our Baptist community.
Leading in the middle – Robyn Song
Robyn is single, female, Asian, a migrant, a leader and a mother of four. But these titles don’t confine her. She is a woman who is cutting a path for others, as she stretches the perceptions and expectations of her peers. Change has not come through a desire for leadership, but through listening and learning along the way. In many aspects of her life she finds herself in the middle, acting as a bridge for others – a bridge for international students into community, for people of diverse background into theology, for women into leadership, for Western leaders in understanding a non-Western voice and perspective.
Robyn was born in South Korea, as one of five siblings. She’s in the middle. At the age of 19 her family moved to Sydney, following the calling of her father as a Baptist pastor. She moved to Melbourne in 2000, and life was full with volunteering within her church community, running her own business, and bringing up a family.
“It was a very busy period.” Robyn confesses as she reflects on her journey over the last decade.
And yet, even in the busyness of life, Robyn felt a strong desire to know God more, and decided to invest in this relationship through enrolment at Whitley College.
This step of faith was not supported by many in her life, partly due to women not being widely accepted in leadership at the time. As a forerunner for other women, she needed strength to persist in her on-going commitment of serving and learning. And it has been precisely in her place of her ministry that she has found a significant leadership opportunity, as she assisted in the coordination of the Whitley College TransFormation program, an innovative and accessible Diploma for culturally and linguistically diverse theology students.
While studying at Whitley, becoming a pastor was not in Robyn’s thoughts, however God slowly unfolded his plans for her life. Robyn took up an internship role with Auburn Baptist Church as community development coordinator of AuburnHub – a hospitality space and English classes for migrants and international students.
Rev Darren Cronshaw of Auburn Baptist Church affirms Robyn’s capacity to effectively bridge the cultural divide. “One of Robyn’s best contributions to the church is helping us understand what it takes to be a church that is hospitable and welcoming to people of different cultures. We want non-Westerners not just to be welcome as visitors but also to be included as equals.”
Robyn also served as part of the BUV multi-cultural ministry group for 12 years and has been also a part of the BUV Mission Grants Panel for the last six years.
“I was influenced by many good women leaders, especially at Whitley and BUV. It’s very inspiring to see them stand up and take up their calling. I also saw many examples of men and women working well together. These gave me confidence to play a role in the areas where I serve.”
In 2015, Robyn was offered the role as a pastor for the English service at Bentleigh and Korean Baptist church. She is one of the first female Korean pastors, especially in the Baptist world. Now looking back, Robyn can see a change in culture over the last 15 years, as more women are offered opportunities to lead. She encourages women of diverse background to embrace their culture.
“Don’t be somebody that you are not. Embrace both cultures as your being the middle person can bridge the difference across cultures.”
Robyn describes this position in the middle as a fortunate position, “I learn to be Korean as well as Aussie. I am both and I embrace both. The blessing is double!”
In her capacity as a member of the BUV Multicultural ministry group, Robyn reviewed the Soong Chan-Rah publication, “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the church from Western Cultural Captivity.” One of the key insights she draws out is that:
“part of what is needed for non-Western leaders to have their voices invited and their leadership welcome … A dilemma for non-Western leaders is that they often have a passion for mission, deep experiences of faith and ideas for how the church can flourish, but they also hold values about respect for leaders especially in the church. Thus they may be hesitant to offer their contributions if they are not invited.”
Finding her own voice has been a long season of learning for Robyn, as she is naturally a very shy and introverted person.
“Over the years, I learnt to speak up. It took me almost twenty years of learning. I used to filter what I wanted to say, as very often, I understand the conversations from both Australian and a multicultural point of view. It can be challenging but also an opportunity to help others see the other side of the story.”
Her hope for the future is compelling. Having already experienced much cultural change in the last two decades, she longs for more.
“I would encourage women to take up their calling and challenge, get out of their comfort zone, make themselves available to see other cultures and be inspired for change.”
But she also issues a challenge to existing church leadership to be more open-minded and to give opportunities, training and encouragement for women to lead so that others can see and follow.
“This will encourage more women leaders and I believe that change can happen.”
Robyn Song is a Pastor at Bentleigh and Korean Baptist church and also a 2020 Ordinand.