6 February 2023

A profound legacy in mission, the Church, relationships: Isabel Dale remembered 

Isabel Moyra Dale. Picture: Supplied.

By Cathy Hine, David Williams 

16 August 2022

Isabel Moyra Dale, 22 October 1958 – 3 August 2022. 

Dr Isabel Dale died on 3 August 2022, aged 63, after a six year journey with cancer. She and her husband Lauren served for 23 years in the Middle East with the Church Missionary Society, and raised two children there. Isabel completed two remarkable ethnographic studies exploring the lives and experiences of Muslim women, which became the basis for her two Doctoral degrees.  

Isabel’s wonderful cultural sensitivity had its roots in the Warburton Ranges, where she spent two formative years of her life. She stayed in lifelong contact with the Ngaanyatjarra people after serving with a Bible translation team there. In later years her commitment to Bible translation was expressed through a role on the Board of SIL-Australia. 

After their return from the Middle East, Lauren and Isabel joined the faculty at St Andrew’s Hall in Parkville, CMS’s training college. Isabel inspired and encouraged a generation of CMS gospel workers through her teaching and mentoring. She delighted in stretching her students by encouraging them to ask questions, think deeply and reflect prayerfully. She had a remarkable gift for asking the right question at the right time – for changing the shape or direction of a conversation gently and wisely.   

Isabel also taught widely in colleges across Australia and around the world, notably at Ridley College, Melbourne School of Theology, Sydney Missionary and Bible College and the Zwemer Center at Columbia International University. Plans to develop an itinerant and worldwide ministry were sadly cut short by her illness. 

The quintessential practitioner-scholar, Isabel has left a profound legacy in mission and the Church, and in the many lives she has shared her journey with. Isabel had a unique ability to enable practice and the academic to speak to each other and has enthusiastically forged new paths in and through those conversations. 

Isabel’s understanding of Islam, women and mission was shaped by the years she and Lauren spent in the Middle East. She was a brilliant ethnographer whose faith and its practice was deepened through listening and learning in women’s worlds throughout her years living cross-culturally. Her long-term lived experience of the gendered nature of some Muslims cultures helped her to name and seek to address a massive gap in missiological writing. When Isabel trained for mission, almost all Christian scholarship that engaged with Islam was written by men, and therefore saw only half of the Muslim world. Isabel understood how important it is that we see and know the world of women living under Islam, so that Jesus can be made real within it.  

These convictions shaped Isabel’s scholarship, teaching and her relationships with her Muslim friends. Passionately believing that women living under Islam should not be veiled from the good news of Jesus’ love for them, Isabel challenged traditional practices and strategies. Her scholarship focussed on fresh understanding of Muslim women’s worlds in conversation with the gospel, and included two published books – Shifting Allegiances: Networks of Kinship and Faith; and Hagar’s Heritage: Islam and Women. 

Isabel was co-founder of the When Women Speak… network that connects women across the globe who are sharing their faith with Muslim women. The online courses, blogs and webzines on the network’s website (whenwomenspeak.net) have been shaped by Isabel’s commitment to enable and encourage women to engage in ministry with the fulness of who they are as women.  

The way women do things, the way they learn, mattered to Isabel. Her involvement in the start of the Angelina Noble Centre for Women’s Mission Research was indicative of her commitment to encourage women and enable their voices to be heard in the Church and in mission. She wanted women to explore mission as women, bringing all that they are as women to bear on their scholarship and practice.   

Isabel’s legacy is also in the relationships that were such a significant part of her life and ministry. Women in some of these networks have described her as a beacon of light and hope, the embodiment of hospitality and, in a moving tribute a woman who follows Jesus out of Islam spoke of “her love enriching the lives of women in the Muslim world and showing them he who was the light of her life, Jesus”. 

Her incredible wit, sharp intelligence, grounded scholarship, relationally connected practice and deep love for Jesus and sharing him with others has left a deep imprint on lives across the globe. Isabel was academically brilliant. But her focus was never on academic advancement but rather on her Saviour, the Lord Jesus, and a life devoted to His service. She will be deeply missed by family and friends alike.

David Williams is director of Training and Development at St Andrew’s Hall. Dr Cathy Hine is co-founder and coordinator of When Women Speak.

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