In early July, three women from Bellevue Presbyterian Church traveled to Rwanda for a two-week impact trip. We had been praying and planning for the trip since January. Our desire was to engage in ministry of presence—going to listen, learn, pray with and for people, and foster good relationships with ministry partners and Christian women who are living in Rwanda long term.
Our missionary, Jean McAllister, identified eight other women who were leaders in ministry to participate in a retreat on Lake Muhazi, which is an hour and a half from Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. One woman, Torey, is the American executive director of a non-profit that works with former street boys. We visited her ministry site on a Saturday afternoon. She had returned from a month in the United States a few days prior and said, “I don’t know if I’ll be going to the retreat. I just got back. I have a lot of work to do, and I may not be able to take the time off, especially since I just had a month off in America.”
I was disappointed and—I must confess—I was not hopeful that she would attend the retreat. I had been praying for her by name for some time, and BelPres members had written notes to her by hand with Scripture verses and words of encouragement that we would give to each participant on the retreat. I knew the retreat would be good, and I didn’t want her to miss out, but, of course, I couldn’t control her decision-making.
The following Wednesday was the day of the retreat, and I was glad to see Torey sitting in the minibus. She had decided to come after all! But on the bus ride, she largely was quiet and serious, busily typing texts and emails on her phone.
The retreat was restful and meaningful. The theme was storytelling, looking specifically at the story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus in John 4 and our own stories. We spent a day and a half praying, singing songs, reading Scripture, journaling, and talking in pairs and in the larger group. Each woman reported feeling more connected and rejuvenated as a result of the retreat.
The transformation in Torey was particularly marked. She was smiling and talkative. She shared with me, “I had thought that the United States was supposed to be restful, but it wasn’t really, not like this. So many times when I’m sharing in the States, I can’t tell a story that is messy or hard; it has to have a neat and tidy ending, resolved in some clear way that promotes the ministry. It was refreshing to just tell stories without having to spin it.” She also said, “You know, when I get together with other ex-pats here [other Americans], we often tell stories about how hard life is in Rwanda…but at the end of the evening, we often feel more depressed about living here. What I appreciated about the storytelling on the retreat was that it was not about commiseration. The storytelling was done in a blanket of hope and truth.”
I give glory to God for using the retreat in Rwanda to minister to women ministers. It was gratifying to see and experience mutual spiritual encouragement. I am so glad that Bellevue Presbyterian sent the three of us to engage with the women in Rwanda. At the end of the retreat, the women wrote thank-you notes to Bellevue Presbyterian for funding the retreat. Here’s what Torey wrote:
“These past two days have been a huge gift and a powerful blessing. I have felt tired, weak, and dry. I have forgotten my father’s promises. This retreat renewed my hope and my joy. It opened my eyes to my father’s faithfulness. My heart is thankful and full.”
Thanks be to God!