The jet lag and cold medicine worked together in tandem. At different points during our four hour bus ride out of the city I would find myself suspended between a dream state and the reality of being halfway around the world. And there, in the half awake, half asleep state with my eyes closed, I would hear women speaking different languages, or speaking English with different accents. Now back on this side of the world, I find myself wondering: Did we really travel halfway around the world? Was it all a dream?
I stop during the times when it feels like Central Asia was a lifetime ago and close my eyes. My heart returns halfway around the world and I picture the faces and hear again their voices. Beautiful women, women of character, courage and depth. Their different accents represented different countries: Brazil, Finland, countries in the Middle East, New Zealand, South Africa, Norway, Australia, Trinidad, Canada, Central Asia, England, Russia, and from all across the United States. Fifty-two women. Six infants. Different sending agencies, different life stages, teachers, business women, expats in the oil industry. The group was mostly composed of women who had lived and worked in a different land, for different lengths of time. They were at different places in their spiritual journeys, carrying various life experiences, some carrying deep pain and disappointment.
I was tasked to teach from the Bible and share my life and journey with them. I taught from one of my favorite passages of Scripture: John 15. The theme was Abiding in the Vine: Revive, Renew, Remain. I taught about all the things closest to my heart.
Leila, wondrously gifted in asking questions and listening, met with women during the afternoons for spiritual direction and led times of guided prayer during personal reflection time. Her years and experience studying Spiritual Formation at Talbot Seminary blessed the women with both space and skill in navigating the deeper places of the heart.
Before we left this side of the world, we invited a group of prayer warriors to pray and fast for us. We sent them our schedule. Their prayers and the prayers of so many made all the difference on the other side of the world. My cough kept me up most nights. I coughed through meals, conversations, everywhere, all the time…EXCEPT for when I spoke. Several women commented their surprise about the talks being cough free. It was as if an angel covered my throat and kept the cough at bay.
Unlike here, on this time conscious side of the world, where conferences are broken down to the minute, and speakers have time keepers, I never once looked at my watch when I got up to speak. This gave room and space for me to go off on rabbit trails, elaborate on stories, and not feel rushed to squeeze everything in. It was pure joy to speak at this retreat. I was reminded so clearly, with a room full of women from countries around the world, that God is not an American. And I was also reminded that the truths from the Bible transcend language, time and culture. I felt honored and humbled to have time with these heroes of the faith. And in my heart I sensed God giving a nod of confirmation in this international setting to continue to teach in different capacities with different audiences and contribute to Kingdom building through speaking and teaching.
Our accommodations were top notch. Turns out, because it was off season, the five star hotel was cheaper than staying in the city at a Ramada Inn. Both our husbands thought we would be at some kind of campsite using outhouses. Leila and I were giddy with happiness as we sunk into our comfortable beds and looked out at the view of snow capped mountains outside our balcony. Meals were prepared by the hotel. I tasted flavors I had never known.
The initial invitation to come and speak at this retreat came from Jenni a year ago last May. Darrin and I met Jenni almost 20 years ago when she was a student. Now she is an incredible mom of four girls, speaking the language, driving like the nationals and skillfully dodging potholes and cars that don’t really use lanes. She has lived through winters with frozen pipes and no hot water and has come to love this country she lives in. Jenni took Leila and me around the city for several hours after our bus returned and before our flight took off. Time with Jenni, seeing her world, watching her warm up soup in her kitchen, overhearing her conversations with her kids and husband, seeing how God has worked in her life and the woman of character, depth, maturity and excellence and beauty she has become was my personal highlight. A close second was traveling and ministering with Leila.
Thank you to all who prayed for us. Thank you especially to Darrin who not only took care of me and the kids the entire week before the trip while we were all sick (seriously, it looked like a MASH unit downstairs with me passed out on the bed and each kid on each couch), but then he came down with the same virus the week I was gone and still held down the fort.
This trip, and the many wonderful people I met, the country and all the sights and sounds will be treasured in my heart all the rest of my days. I’m thankful for the blessing of photos, souvenirs, and the ability to close my eyes to return again and again to a beautiful land halfway around the world.