This past weekend (Friday 29th – Sunday 31st July 2016) was the GHIC women’s retreat at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire. It was attended by women from GHIC Bristol, GHIC Yeovil, and other women from Milton Keynes, Liverpool, and London amongst other places. The theme of the retreat was ‘Rejuvenate’. GHIC women’s retreats serve as our yearly opportunities to go away for a weekend to rest, pray, hear from God, worship, and relate with other women, some whom we already know, and some that we’re meeting for the first time. It’s usually fun and highly impactful, and this year’s was no less so—there’s always something our heavenly father does for His girls when they take time apart from everyday life and sit with Him awhile.
We arrived at the venue on Friday and after settling down and enjoying a warm meal, we proceeded to the conference hall for the first session. We watched ‘Unconditional’, a Christian film starring Michael Ealy and Lynn Collins and by the end of the film, there were not many dry eyes in the room. We also looked at the word ‘Rejuvenate’ and some of its synonyms, and then we were asked to identify where we could see any of those words reflected in the film. It made for insightful conversation as we all saw the story and characters through each other’s eyes.
On Saturday, we started at 6:30am with Morning Glory, an hour of prayer and worship. It was as much corporate as it was individual, as women found their own little spot all across the room and just worshipped and prayed to their Father as they were led through prayers. As expected, God began to speak and minister to us; themes like knowing our identity as God defined it, and the need to understand the purpose for which He created us, came forth. It was a powerful start to our day and it left us all expectant for what the day would hold.
After breakfast, we headed back to the hall for the first main session of the day. Our guest minister Rev Merica Cox from Balm of Gilead World Ministries shared a message on Rejuvenation. Starting off from the retreat theme verse, Psalm 23:3: “He restores my soul…,” she explained that rejuvenation or restoration of the soul speaks of the transformation of our mind and emotions as they align with God’s word. She explained that knowing the word is not enough—living by it, is what leads to change.
She explained that for restoration to occur, there were certain responses and attitudes that needed to go. Some of the things she pointed out were:
Worry, an emotion which causes a loss of peace and joy in our spirits and does not actually accomplish anything. To overcome it, we need to learn to put our trust in God completely;
Fear, a major stronghold which the enemy uses to keep us bound and limited to mediocrity;
Unforgiveness, the unwillingness to forgive which results from anger and bitterness and leads to further bitterness, something that God has warned would lead to us not being forgiven;
A poor self-image, which is in effect an identity crisis resulting from a lack of understanding of what God has said about us in His word. It often leads to finding fault with others, gossip, and negativity.
She encouraged us to trust that God could remove these things from our lives and restore our souls. As we spend time in His presence and His word, He’ll send His fire and purge us of these things and others so that we can be made whole and ready for the new things He wants to do.
An interesting analogy she gave was how we can fill our minds (a key component of our souls) with wrong things, much like downloading files and saving them in a computer. She admonished us to watch what we’re saving and to delete certain ‘files’ that needed to be deleted for the sake of the restoration of our souls.
Rev Cox’s sermon was followed by an inspiring testimony from one of the ladies, who testified of how God gave her the ability to forgive injustices done to her and her family. God literally showed her a vision of hell and how she could end up there if she did not let go of the resentment and unforgiveness in her heart. Thereafter, she asked for His help and she forgave the people. She explained the need to understand that our eternal destiny is worth much more than any offence that could have been committed against us, and because of this we need to let go and forgive. She also shared a practical tip that could help us with forgiving others: praying for them; asking God to bless them and send help, just as we would pray for ourselves. She told us how after she forgave, God restored her health and her daughter’s which had been affected during this period, and also her family’s finances, such that they were in a far better place than they were before the injustice was done to them.
After the morning session, we broke up into groups designed to target everyone present, namely:
• Teens and under
• Single, never been married
• Single mums, and previously married (divorced, separated, widowed)
In each group, participants were given certain questions/topics to discuss, and they were to make note of their key points, ready to share with everyone else in a subsequent session. It was good to learn from other people and see things from different perspectives. The sessions were over all too soon! From the feedback later, it was clear that the discussions in all the groups were insightful and interesting.
After the first main session, we had about four hours free for lunch and personal activities. Everyone did one thing or the other: some sat in groups chatting, some used the opportunity to take photographs of one another in the beautiful surroundings, some played games/sports, some went on walks, some retired to their rooms for a well-deserved shut-eye and many did a combination of all the above.
During the evening session, Pastor Fatima spoke on Restoration—‘Restore’ is one of the synonyms of ‘Rejuvenate’, and a keyword in our theme scripture verse. She spoke about how God’s promise of restoration is for our benefit but is primarily for His glory—it exalts Him when his children walk restored and whole, free of damage, hurt and everything that weakens. She hinged her sermon on two stories in the Bible: the story of the woman with the issue of blood in the gospel accounts and the story of the dry bones in the book of Ezekiel.
In the first story, a certain woman heard about Jesus and decided to seek him out believing that if she could touch the hem of His garment, she would be made whole. Pastor Fatima explained that what we hear about and decide to seek is important—in this case, the woman understood from what she had heard of Jesus that He could be the source of her wholeness. When she made her way through the crowd and touched His garment, she was healed, and Jesus addressed her as ‘Daughter’, she was no longer ‘a certain woman’ as it was at the beginning of the account, she was now a daughter. We were encouraged to, like this woman, push through our fears, our worries, doubts, jealousies, insecurities, low self-esteem etc. and touch Jesus; to approach God, as daughters who understand their position, and be made whole.
In Ezekiel 37, the dry bones were in a valley and they were very dry. A valley is a hollow place created by erosion or movements in the earth’s crust. The valley was likened to places of depression in our lives that have been eroded by circumstances that we have faced. The dry bones that filled the valley were likened to things in our lives that should have been alive but have been dead for a long time; so long that the bones have become dry. Dry bones don’t just happen, some things need to have acted on them. For example, the birds of the air could have eaten the flesh off the bones (things that take away the word of God from our hearts as seen in Matthew 13:4) and other elements would have been involved. The bones were many, heaped up in the valley and there was no hope apart from God for their restoration. And that was exactly what happened: God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, declaring that God would cover them with muscle and flesh and cause breath to enter them; as he was doing so, it all happened. One important thing was the purpose of the miracle: it was so that all would know that God is the Lord.
Pastor Fatima concluded by saying that just like in these two stories, God wanted to make all of us whole and He wanted to cover us, regardless of how dry the ‘bones’ in the ‘valley’ are. For His glory, He wants to restore us back to the great army of women that we were created to be.
Thereafter, we had a wonderful time of worship and prayer, Pastor Fatima and Rev Cox prayed for all the women and girls and we saw God’s power displayed as people were set free. It was a long session of ministry, but I doubt that anyone noticed as we were all aware that God was bringing His word to life in our midst through the power of His Holy Spirit. The evening ended on a high as we danced and danced in God’s presence. It was beautiful to see women and girls go all out in honour of their Father.
We started Sunday morning once again with Morning Glory. It was another wonderful time with our Father. We felt God’s presence mightily and at a point, there was no need for anyone to come up and lead the prayers as everyone simply went into a time of individual prayer and worship. The concluding session of the retreat was our communion and thanksgiving service. During the service, a few women came up to testify about some of the things God had done for and in them during the weekend. Pastor Fatima also shared the story of how she became born again and joined a Pentecostal church, the persecution she endured, and how in the end she overcame. It was a moving story and went some way towards explaining the passion that she has for God now. It was also an encouragement to anyone who may be going through persecution or challenges because of their faith. It brought hope and an assurance that God is always in control and will work everything out for His glory.
It was a wonderful weekend, and everyone, young and old had different experiences. It was one of those priceless segments of time where you have a shared experience of God with other women, but you still have your own precious unique experience with Him, and you leave better than when you arrived. We trust that by God’s grace, the effects of this weekend will remain for a long time as we all move forward with a better understanding of our identity as daughters of the Most High God, who have been restored for His name’s sake.