Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Beauty, Tragedy, Water Pitchers, and Truth

Our vision for the women’s team was to invest in the women’s leadership team from Iglesia Adonai (our partner church) and then help them lead a retreat for women from their church and the community of Gerona (where they are planting a church).
God gave us three things that we felt like He wanted to accomplish:
  • Help the ladies feel and understand God’s love.
  • Establish unity by walking them through the process of forgiving themselves and others. 
  • Encourage them to believe what God thinks of them and begin walking in the beauty of who He created them to be.
Teachers, students, moms, worship leaders, speakers, first timers, and veteran mission team members, all between the ages of 11 and 46, created a very diverse team. Despite the unexpected challenges and changes that the first 24 hours of the trip brought, God helped us fight through the frustration. Our diverse team of 13 boarded a bus with 15, full of laughter and excitement, ladies from Iglesia Adonai as we travelled to Panajachel, a touristy city on the breathtaking Lake Atitlan.  Generous support from donors made treating these ladies to 24 hours at a beautiful hotel possible, many of whom had never been to a place like this. After taking the time to settle in, the ladies realized that God wanted them to enjoy their time there.
Through practical, everyday examples, Leslie shared the importance of getting our strength from God daily and spending time in His word. Afterwards, Ruth spoke on our beauty as women and then treated them to a Mary Kay makeover.  As laughter once again filled the air, it truly began to feel like a slumber party! 
We joined them for dinner after a brief rest, and beauty is the only word that could adequately describe them as they stepped out of the elevator, dressed in their best and glowing.  After dinner we returned to the conference room and prayed for God to take control of our evening session; it was in that moment that Delmi shared with me that she had just received a call from the son of Ofe, the Director of Women’s Ministry.  Her 35 year old daughter died unexpectedly, leaving Delmi unsure of how to proceed.  As we prayed I sensed God saying that He was going to use this tragedy to unite this group. After prayer, Ofe went with Delmi and Carlos back to the city to be with her family. Our “plan” for the evening session quickly shifted to a time of praise and prayer.  God was doing just what He said He would do – unite this team of women.  The next day we learned that they had stayed up until well after 1 a. m. sharing, laughing, and praying.  Precious!  Unity was happening.  
The next morning, Kristi talked about the Samaritan Woman’s encounter with Jesus at the well. Although it was not the custom for men to even speak to women in public, Jesus not only spoke to her, but also let her know that He knew who she was.  She must have been shocked when he revealed details about her life and sin. Through His love and forgiveness, the Samaritan woman was radically changed. Jesus gave this woman, who prior to this encounter was nameless, a name in Christ.  She no longer needed her water pitcher, as she now had living water; therefore, she left it behind at the well and returned to her town to proclaim what Jesus had done for her! Many came to know and follow Jesus through the testimony of a woman and her encounter with The Man who knew her name.  
After this powerful message, our plan was to have a time of communion with the ladies and then wash their feet as Jesus had done for his disciples. To no surprise, God had a different plan.  Several weeks ago, I (Lisa) had the idea to have the ladies identify the lies that they believe about themselves. In contrast, I also had an idea to have them ask Jesus what words He would use to describe them.  I sensed that He wanted to give them, like the Samaritan woman, a new name, but I wasn’t sure where this would fit in our plan.  As Kristi finished and we began to move to the time of communion I felt the freedom to change direction.  Our worship leader and translator, Angela helped me as I asked them to write down the lies that they so easily believe.  I whispered to her, “I need some sort of container for them to put these lies in.”  We looked around and simultaneously saw a water pitcher. How perfect! Just like the Samaritan Woman at the well, the ladies put their lies in the water pitcher and left them behind.  It was undoubtedly difficult for the ladies, but they were so willing to trust God and let go of those lies. 
The next step was to pray and ask God what He thinks of them.  As we prayed the women began writing, crying, and believing the truths that God was speaking over them. After asking if anyone wanted to share the words God gave her, Merli stood and said that she had never had this happen to her before, but she saw an image in which she was standing before a bright light. Angels surrounded her, and God was looking at her.  I asked her what she thought God was saying to her and she said “I don’t know.  I just feel that He loves me.”  In that moment Kristi said, “God is saying that you are the light in your community.” Overwhelmed by the realization that God was not only speaking to Merli but to me as well, I burst into tears…uncontrollably sobbing as I never have in public.
Three years ago when He gave me the vision of the new building that would benefit both the school and the church, He told me that it would be a light in as well as heal the community, and that people would be drawn to that place and to Him. All this time I’ve thought He was talking about the physical building, but in that moment of Kristi speaking truth over Merli, God showed me that it is not the building – but the people that are the light in the community.  He is healing them and using them to draw people to Him.  They are the church – the light in that community.  
After a service like that, it’s hard to leave; however, most of the women boarded a small boat and traveled across the lake to the village of San Juan.  Angela, a Noon Day consultant, was able to visit a lady there who makes beautiful fair trade products which are sold through Noon Day. Meeting these amazing artisans first hand was a true gift for not only Angela, but also the rest of the ladies as well. Through this rocky boat ride in which the ladies had to fight through their fears, God united people in a rather unexpected way!

So much happened in a little over 24 hours.  We were blessed, excited, and exhausted as we returned to the city.  Satan wasn’t happy about all the good that had happened, and several team members struggled with sickness and very real spiritual attacks that night. Once again God was faithful and used team members to help each other fight through their struggles. Stay tuned for the next blog post where we will share of the miracles that God did at our last retreat.