Women in Ministry: Sharon Simpson
Sharon Simpson was born in India to missionary parents. Growing up, Sharon felt a connection to both India and Canada, even though her time in India was very short as an infant before moving back to Chilliwack, British Columbia.
All four of Sharon’s grandparents from both her maternal and paternal side were refugees from Russia, but Sharon’s family of origin forged a new path for the upcoming generations in Canada.
“We called our Grandparents by their English names and we ate curry. I thought it was Mennonite food,” she recalls.
In Sharon’s world, mission work was standard practice; all of her relatives served in the mission field at some point in their lives.
At four years old Sharon’s mother led her in prayer and she became a Christian.
“My parents are amazing. My father became a surgeon and he and my uncle were two of the three surgeons in Chilliwack. They addressed many social issues that bring people into a place of needing surgery,” she says. “My parents were generous, faithful, thoughtful, and loved people.”
Beyond this life
Being faithful and generous people didn’t spare Sharon’s family from heartache. Her brother Brian was very ill through their growing up and eventually passed away at age 20 from lung cancer.
“There was a lot of hope but a lot of trauma. We were normal! But my parents really lived faithful lives and trusted in God,” she remembers.
Sharon and her now husband Garry had just got engaged right before the news of Brian’s lung cancer. In the three months between her brother’s diagnosis and her wedding, Sharon felt a special call from God.
“During that time I felt like God wanted me to do something I had never done before with my brother, which was to have meaningful spiritual conversation.”
The siblings did devotionals together every day, and he was even baptized two weeks before he died. As painful as Brian’s death was for the family, they maintained their hope and faith in Jesus. In fact, when a nurse at the Cancer Care clinic raised concerns about their hope, Sharon’s dad replied, “We’re just going to be okay. He has a hope and a future beyond this life.”
Sharon and Garry were married a week after Brian’s passing.
A new start
In their first year of marriage Sharon and Gary moved to Winnipeg, Man. Sharon was working as the Associate Campus Director with Campus Crusade for Christ at University of Winnipeg and met two other women who were experiencing deep loss of loved ones. They started a group together and called it The Death Group.
“We used ‘The Holy Spirit’ booklet about allowing the Holy Spirit to have complete control and complete trust, speak to you, comfort you. It’s the only material we used for a year and it’s only 10 pages long. The Holy Spirit became very real to me. He’s a comforter, he’s a constant presence.”
After living in Winnipeg, Sharon and Garry moved to Calgary and began to have their children.
“We lived by faith, we had people who sponsored us financially. It was a really interesting time to lean on God for everything we needed all the time. We did that for 12 years and we had four kids in five years over that time.”
They lived close by to the University of Calgary and invited hundreds of students into their home over the ten years they lived there. Those students were greatly impacted in their faith because of Sharon and Gary.
In 2000 things began to get very challenging for Sharon and her family. Starting with a move back to Chilliwack to be near her father as he became more and more ill due to Multiple Sclerosis. Sharon and Gary’s son became very ill with rheumatic fever, Sydenham’s chorea, tourettes, and other mental illnesses.
“We had a psychiatrist, neurologist, cardiologist, and nephrologist in our house. It’s funny how fast you can go from everything normal to everything gone,” she says, “When our son was sick I became really angry with God. A big part of my life has been coming to terms with the sovereignty of God.
During this time with stressors adding up, Sharon went back to work.
“I didn’t do it voluntarily, I wanted to be home with my kids. In the late nineties I began to learn graphic design. I had bought graphic design books from Costco and worked on a laptop that one of our supporters had given us.”
About a year into her son’s illness, Sharon went to a conference in California called Ultimate Leadership.
“It was life changing for me” she says, “My group became quite bonded, the yellow group. After we finished that group, myself and six men met every single month for support and care for six years. I felt like they were like brothers to me. They helped me understand how much money it takes to actually live. It was very healing for me.”
Between 2003 and 2013 Sharon wore multiple hats in the workforce. She worked as a graphic designer, ran her own marketing strategies business, and in May 2013, she became the Director of Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Place, a home for seniors.
“It was rich and meaningful to me and really hopeful to meet people in their 80s and 90s, some of the first people to arrive in Canada as Mennonites after the Russian revolution. Those people told stories to me that were deep stories of faith. They had the long view. That’s what seniors give us, especially seniors of faith,” she says.
Sharon’s boss at the time thought it would be a good idea for her to be part of a board. She joined both MCCBC and BCMB (secretary) boards in 2015. In 2018 Sharon was asked to be the moderator of the BCMB board.
“It was a situation that had elements of it that were clearly from the Lord and everybody involved would say so. I am always grateful that that’s how the beginning of my service started. I can look back, and when it got hard I knew that God had placed me there in that position of leadership,” she says. “The finest people I’ve met in my whole life are people I’ve served with at the Canadian Conference and the BCMB board.”
The gift of leadership
Being the first female moderator on the BCMB board brought its own share of trials.
“I don’t know if I ever called myself a leader, I was just frustrated if I wasn’t a leader.
Being the BCMB moderator I had never gone to a conference before, never participated in pastor’s work. I was completely unknown, I could see how people would have had trepidations about me,” Sharon says. “I do want to inspire young women, the women who have a gift of leadership. My deepest desire is that they would have the opportunity to give a contribution the way that I have had the opportunity to give a contribution. Wholeheartedly, sincerely, with skill that God has given me, humbly and without being demeaned.”
Sharon says she worked hard to be a good leader and never took it upon herself to change anyone’s mind about the role of women in ministry.
“I’ve just asked God that I could be faithful with what he’s given me and that I would be faithful to him and let it land where it lands,” she says.
Sharon would like to thank all the people on the BCMB board who mean so much to her.
“Never in my life have I felt that I had the opportunity to make a more meaningful contribution than when I was on the board of BCMB.”
As Sharon looks back at her lifetime of faith, a verse that stood out to her in Grade 11 still rings true for her today.
Luke 12:48, “To whom much is given, much will be required.”
“I never felt like God was saying, ‘So you better do something’ but it felt like, ‘acknowledge what you have and follow me’ so you do your best with that. That has become stronger and stronger for me,” she says. “It’s spiritual work we’ve done, and it’s been hard but so meaningful to me.”