The Experience from a Women’s Retreat
I was recently asked by New Vision Community Church to help teach at a women’s retreat in Texas. I was part of a team that included two other amazing teachers and mature women in Christ. Honestly, I was the least experienced of the bunch, but it certainly served as a learning experience for me. The retreat was typical in a lot of ways, time for speakers, time for games and crafts, time for fellowship. But there was also one thing that was different from other retreats I have attended. There was a large segment of time that allowed for one-on-one time given to each woman. It was time used to hear their stories and then to minister to their pain. It was time used to lead them to a place where they could overcome extreme suffering.
Suffering is part of the broken world we live in. We have all experienced some level of trauma and you never want to dismiss the pain anyone has experienced, no mater how great or small. However, after living years in a very comfortable environment, I had forgotten just how evil this world is and just how cruel it can be. This retreat reminded me of that. The stories these women shared brought it all straight to the forefront of my mind and my heart.
The last speaker encouraged the women to participate in inner healing. When she finished, time was made available for each woman to be prayed for with emotional and spiritual healing as the end goal. Four of us split into teams of two, ministering to each woman one at a time. I knew that I was going to hear some heart wrenching stories, but I could have never prepared for what awaited me.
These were not just stories of women that were divorced, or had lost a loved one, or were dealing with an illness. These are all tragedies and my intention is not to belittle any of them, but when you compound those types of experiences with physical, sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse you wonder how anyone survives it. The stories I heard at that retreat were of women repeatedly abused who suffered extreme cruelty, repeatedly abandoned as children and adults, women that had been victims of witch craft, women living in extreme poverty, women who were all but a shell filled only with pain and a lack of self worth. At times as I heard their testimonies, my stomach would churn from the sadness I felt for them and from the anger I felt towards the Enemy. I then understood the down trodden faces of some of these women with which they came to the retreat and their inability to produce a smile during the lighthearted moments.
When They Learned How to Overcome Extreme Suffering
As we sat there, listening to their stories, we knew it was not going to be enough to say a five minute prayer and send them on their way. No they didn’t come to the retreat for a bandage. The came to the retreat to be free from the pain. And thankfully the other three women that were ministering with me were skillfully experienced in dealing exactly with these situations. Each woman would have to lay each sin and each painful memory on the table. They would have to forgive those that hurt them and in many cases forgive themselves. There can be no healing without confession of sin and there can be no healing without forgiveness. And as strange as this may sound to the ears of some, the spiritual oppression was so heavy on some of these women that demons had to be cast out.
Although some women just needed encouragement and we prayed for them for a few minutes, others, obviously required a lot more than that. The time spent continually praying for one person sometimes took thirty, forty minutes plus the time spent listening to their stories. In an era of quick fixes, that is an eternity for many but the effects of continuous, persistent prayer when you don’t immediately see results is worth it. Of course, experience with extreme cases like these is wise, helpful, and necessary, but I wanted to emphasize the time spent praying. Often we complain that we don’t see miracles, but we are also unwilling to put the time and persistence into our prayers. We are unwilling to put the time and prayers into an individual. Miracles happened that night. Years of counseling could not have done what prayer, love, and the Holy Spirit accomplished in a few hours.
Seventeen women were ministered to. It took over six hours. At the end, I was emotionally and physically exhausted, but I was also overjoyed. What I saw at the end of the evening were smiling faces. Only God could so quickly transform someone from such a deep state of depression to one of overwhelming joy. The next day during the church service, I saw women jumping and dancing as they praised the God that delivered them from their pain. These women will certainly continue to need discipleship and some may require further counseling to help erase some of the remaining scars, but they all left that retreat empowered and with hope. And I am happy to report that weeks later, when I called to inquire on how these women were doing, the joy, the hope, and the smiles were still present.
It was an absolutely incredible and sobering experience. Incredible because lives were transformed. It was sobering because for each of these women that shared their story with me, there are millions more who are still bound to a world of cruelty and sadness. It woke me from my slumber and reminded me of the work that still needs to be done.
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