In thought of National Women’s Day on March 8, I was reminded of a group of women Joani Miller, Mission Network Director of Training and Resources, and I joined by Zoom for the Gulf States Mennonite Women (GSMW) Annual Retreat, at
Pine Lake Fellowship Camp in Meridian, Mississippi, February 17-18, 2023. The theme was "Fortify Yourself with the Love of God for God Is Love."
GSMW is affiliated with Mennonite Women USA. “We have been blessed with their (Mennonite Women USA) resources and connections. It is truly a blessing to be part of Mennonite Church USA where our voices are encouraged, nurtured and heard,” said Rhoda Byler Yoder, GSMW Representative and Bonnie Opel, organizers of the event.
I was honored to be invited as their guest speaker. I looked forward to experiencing the long-time care, love and endurance these women have shared over many years. It was encouraging to witness a total of 21 women attended from ten churches.
Joani and I had planned to attend in person. However, due to illness, we decided, in care of each other, to attend online.
I visited with a full heart of sympathy for the Jackson, Mississippi community, overwhelmed with a water crisis. Because of this, many people in the Jackson community were cared for through
Open Door Mennonite Church, a Mission Network partner. The closest I could come to these women as I joined them by ZOOM on the second day of their conference was to witness the faith, care and love they expressed to each other and the hope for the small communities overcoming displacement amid flooding and crisis.
When the question was asked who they were, what church they came from and what they hoped to get out of the conference that day, no one suggested a request of prayer about the water crisis. This told me they did not doubt God’s provision for them. They wanted whatever God had for them to move them forward and beyond their crisis. It appeared their faith and endurance were found strong as we found these women in a spirit of celebration and hospitality for each other. I wondered what I could offer them.
After careful prayers for GSWC, the message I was inspired to share was “To Fortify Yourself” — God loves each of us as if there is only one of us — by St. Augustine.
God loves me and gave [Godself] for me. Galatians 2:20
They never left their seats as listening, interacting in scripture, prayer and witnessing to each other seemed important to them for this time when it felt like the spirit was present with us. This left a witness that these women are fit for the future God is preserving them for in Jackson. After all they have been through, I imagined they would be weary, and I wanted to offer them something that would uplift them to continue their journey. Well praise be to God, I found them celebrating in what I believe God had promised them — that God loves each of us [them] as if there was only one of us [them].
Our six-hour session began with a Lectio Divina with scripture text Psalms 46:10 Be Still and know that I am God.” Lectio Divina (divine reading) is a ancient Latin practice which is a deep reading from scripture. We soaked in this sacred text to experience God’s healing, wisdom, joy, peace, and fortitude for everyone present. Their description of this moment was described to be cleansing and empowering.
We followed this exercise in visitation of Soul Position/Spirit Position from I King 18:22-28 relying on the promise and power of God. Vital Faith section allowed us to look at the genuine of our faith, considering it as more precious than gold that perishes though tested by fire…may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ revealed by 1 Peter 1:6-8. Whatever condition we gathered in on this day, we sought to fortify ourselves to keep God as the center of our core for the renewing of our faith.
There is a model for women in mission who seek to leave an expression of love that suggests strength and endurance for each other — a sharing of strength for one another that allows one to rise above their struggle. As we recognize the strengths and weaknesses of our fragile human existence, whether the cause of misused power, patriarchy, race, poverty or absence of love, we seek to inspire and empower each other for charting the course by which we are called.
National Women’s Day reminds us to uphold and carry women to a place for victory beyond their struggle and our faith allows us to win back whatever we lose. All my women, I find strength in celebrating you!
In response to an emergency relief request from Open Door Mennonite Church, Mission Network has donated $10,000 in matching funds to support the immediate need of safe water distribution and support for
Working Together Jackson (community organizing effort) to collaboratively educate and influence decision-makers.
The Gulf States Mennonite Conference was born out of the peace witness of conscientious objectors and others who worked in humanitarian services instead of serving in the military during the 1940s to 1960s. After the draft ended, the volunteer efforts continued, church planting grew, and eventually GSMC formed in 1979 from churches with various Anabaptist roots across Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.