Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Women's Retreat - Sunday (Day 10)

Sunday, Peggy was to speak first and then I was slated to be the last speaker to close the retreat. Saturday night was rough for me as my cold reignited with fury. With a very sore throat and much coughing, I did not get a good night's sleep though NyQuil helped a little. I was worried about my talk.

From left: Mary, Peggy, me, Liz, Kathy, Fangfang
We arrived and entered the conference room before the other ladies. As they started filling the seats, I was surprised to sense the charge in the room and see lively women rather than the blurry eyes of women who were half awake, as is the norm at home. Hope started the morning with a series of questions and requests for commitment.

The first was a commitment to apply all that they had learned at the retreat and to be a Christian influence in whatever sphere they were in. Nearly everyone in the room stood up and committed themselves to this. The second was a request for those who wanted to lead some sort of group. About a 15 or 20 stood up. The third was a request for those who wanted to be a coach and train other leaders. About a dozen came forward to the front. The last was a call to those who wanted to receive Christ as Savior. We knew there were 7 or 8 women who were not believers. Six came forward wanting to become Christ followers! What an amazing time!

Mary with Aileen who heads
a ministry to prostitutes called
the Starfish Project
After this Peggy spoke about Lydia and her leadership, an appropriate and inspiring model for the women. Then it was my turn. I was still coughing quite a bit before I went up though my throat was feeling a little better. When I took the mic I asked for prayer...and grace if I had a coughing fit at any point. In the next 90 minutes not a single breath was threatened by a cough. My lungs felt completely clear! Later after I sat down I had the worst coughing fit ever but it didn't matter by then.

In my message I took the women through the genealogy of Matthew 1 and briefly described the four broken women included by the gospel writer. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. Stories not normally told in a culture that exalted respectable men. Then I traveled through the gospels and told stories of women Jesus encountered, encouraged and exalted. Women who were rejected by their culture and families. Women who were considered the lowest of the low. The Samaritan woman at the well, the Canaanite woman, the woman with the bleeding, the sinful woman (probably a prostitute),  the woman taken in adultery, the widow with two coins, Mary learning at Jesus' feet, and Martha in a theological discussion about resurrection. And of course the resurrected Jesus showing himself to the women first, not the men, as witnesses to an event (women were not credible witnesses in Jewish courts).

But my final destination was the story of Mary of Bethany pouring perfume on Jesus during the week he was to be crucified. This story had been the focus of one of my favorite papers for a Greek class at seminary. I love this story. And I love how Matthew tells it (ch 26). In recounting this story of devoted love sandwiched between stories of betrayal, I wanted to encourage these incredible Chinese women that God saw their acts of courage and love, that their story was part of the larger story of God, and that their story was "gospel," good news to those who saw their lives and were drawn to God because of their faith in Christ.

I ended with a ceremony. Hope and Fangfang helped me to set up a table at the front with two bowls, one empty and one filled with water. I asked them to consider what their "jar of perfume" might be, a gift to give to Jesus as an act of devotion and commitment to Christ. Perhaps a cup of water to a thirsty man on the street, a plate of food to a hungry neighbor. Perhaps a word of encouragement to a coworker. Or a bold step to do something new, something unique. Then they were invited to come forward, grab a cup and pour water from one bowl to the other as an act of faith.

Everyone came forward. After they poured their cup of water I gave each one a poem I had done in calligraphy written by Corrie Ten Boom. It seemed appropriate.

Afterwards, Hope led the women in a time of prayer requests. It was heartbreaking to hear of some very difficult circumstances. Quite a number of them shared about troubled marriages and their attempts to live out their faith in the midst of abuse or with non-believing husbands. The women were open and vulnerable with their stories. I cling to the truth that God redeems their stories and lovingly weaves them into a wonderful tapestry for His glory.

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