|This was my breakfast table on the final morning. I haven't had such a fun|
breakfast in quite a long time. The conversation was wonderful (and not
needing to be driven by me, as is often the case in our boy-laden household).
I'm back from the annual women in ministry retreat. It really is always a special time. If anything marks these fellow ladies, it is servant hearts. There is also a vulnerability that comes from the sacrifices of cross-cultural work that means that people dive deep fast.
So hold on to your hat, and I'll tell you a bit about the three days.
On Wednesday I met up with 12 other ladies at the school car park, we piled into two vans, and drove to the far west of Tokyo, out into a narrow valley between mountains. The retreat had began: in our vans.
|The main ladies who made this event happen. The leadership team as well|
as some who came to serve us: worship leader, and counsellors.
The early hours of the retreat were a feast of meeting up with people we haven't seen for long or short times and meeting new people. Lots of loud cries of joy and hugs. It was delightful. Like a birthday party, except the presents are other people, for most of us didn't know who else was coming.
This was a retreat marked by laughter. From the ice breaking session to the main teaching sessions. Laughter was a main ingredient. Something appreciated by many, as life and ministry in Japan is not often marked by belly-shaking laughter.
|This was our speaker. A well-known author. We just about|
died laughing when she did this, trying to take a photo
of our breakfast table from her seat at the head of the table!
Tears were not uncommon either. When you worship in a language other than your own, worshipping in your heart language can be an emotional experience (though I do need to acknowledge that we did have a number for whom English isn't their native language, but who did speak it very well). Time in prayer in larger and smaller groups produced tears. Being prayed for by others. Simply being in the company of others who share the same life-experience of leaving loved ones to serve in another country, can produce tears.
A retreat like this contains many ingredients that combine to make a special experience.
- Fellowship with other ladies is one of the keys for me and it pervades the whole time. The extrovert part of me laps this up to the extent that I find it hard to wind down at night-time. This was my eighth retreat and I now know many of the women who were there. A great delight! Oh, I talked with so many people.
- Worship (singing and praying): in English. I was pretty tired and struggled early on to get into this with all my heart. But even when you're in a tired place, it was lovely to sit back and sing words that you knew the meaning of.
- Speakers: this is usually an American who comes over especially for the retreat, often someone who is a professional speaker. This year we had a particularly famous author: Liz Curtis Higgs. She's written a lot of books. The tradition is that we ask the speaker to write an article for Japan Harvest, so I get to interact with the speaker a little bit before hand. I have to tell you that I had to put it out of my mind that this lady had published 35 books when I was editing her article and treat it just like any other article that crosses my desk! And yes, if you're wondering, we did change things in it! Not major stuff, but there were fixes that were needed.
- Second speaker: this year we had a second speaker for one short elective about developing a theology of suffering. Interesting and important stuff to ponder.
- Free time: this is an excuse for more fellowship and fun. As it was raining when I'd hoped to go for a walk, I took the time to lie down instead, but despite being exhausted, couldn't drop off.
- Fun time: the ice breaker at the beginning, meals, cooking marshmallows over the fire, doing craft together, drinking coffee/tea and snacking, and watching a movie together on Thursday evening. Really, just enjoying being together for two days. Something that is rare for women serving on the mission field. We're generally so busy doing whatever we do that there isn't often much time to just be with friends.
But most of the above could be written about any retreat, I suspect. Here are a couple of stories from my retreat:
On Wednesday afternoon a friend told me a story about one of my sons and how impressed she'd been with something he'd done. I was impressed too. That there was my first tears of the retreat.
At various times I was able to pray for others specifically. How amazing it is when someone you've never met before confesses a heart-cry like desiring a baby and the sadness that God hasn't provided in that way yet.
Since we had a famous author in our midst, she was asked to do a short writer's workshop, though it was more teaching about good writing than any workshopping. I was encouraged to find that she wasn't saying anything new to me (except when she briefly spoke about fiction writing).
One story that is about the retreat, but didn't happen there is another friend of mine who had planned and looked forward to coming, but had had to cancel early last week when her disabled son caught chicken pox. She'd organised respite care for him and numerous other things just to free up the time to come, but it was all thwarted. She lives in an area where there are few missionaries, and this retreat is a once-a-year event. I felt terrible for her, not to mention that I'd been looking forward to seeing her myself.
I think I've run out of words! Here are some photos to tell a bit more of the story.
|This lady, Bethany, beautifully led us in worship, without|
getting in the way of us interacting with our God. She led
from the piano (which always gets my admiration, I can barely
talk or sing while playing). She came all the way from
California with the money that God provided in order to serve us.
But more than that, she's a beautiful godly lady who I met last
year and was delighted to meet again this year. And she remembered me!
|This is the chorus of one of the songs we sang. It was |
written by a missionary in Japan. The words struck home.
Especially that last line, it hasn't been easy recently to "remain"
when others around seem to be constantly leaving.
|These are some of the ladies I helped get to and from the retreat. What a delight|
it was to be together in the van. I'm so thankful for the ability to drive
and the vehicle God's given us. I just wish I could have recruited
another driver and van, because we had to say no to some because
we didn't have room for everyone from our area and they
took the trains (thankful for the train alternative, though).
|I had been looking forward to going for a walk on Thursday during free time,|
but it was raining. However on Friday the sun came out again and I managed
to get out and see some beautiful blossoms.