Presidents of the Zaba area women’s associations meet after the retreat to discuss activities in the next few months.
The second day of the pre-Easter women’s retreat at Zaba. The group was larger and a surprising contingent of kids and adolescents.
Miriam’s fellow ministers and walking companions held back home after the retreat. (from right to leftt) Eugenie Bitolo, women’s president at Bilili Mandondo; Veronique Manunga, wife of the pastor at Lusekele; Pongo Love, a high school teacher from Bilil
The week before three of us had gathered to plan. We went through the texts and teaching together, and decided who should do what. Then we talked about the trip. Had anyone done it? On foot, I mean. Mama Eugenie said she had gone there a couple of years ago for a funeral; that they’d started out at noon and gotten there, with a break along the way, at 3 p.m. If we did the same thing, we’d get there mid-afternoon: plenty of time to rest, get acquainted and talk about the arrangements for the retreat. It would depend on how fast we walked, and she looked dubiously at me. I assured her that I was a good walker and we agreed to go along with her proposal.
Thursday came and Mama Veronique and I started out for Mama Eugenie and Mama Love’s village. We duly picked them up and took off. It was very hot and soon Mama Veronique, then the other two were dragging. I was the only one with a parasol or a hat. No one else had brought any water. I shared around some oranges. About 2 p.m I got suspicious. We didn’t seem anywhere close yet to our destination. “When could we expect to arrive?” I asked Ma Eugenie.
“Oh, 5, 8, midnight; what does it matter? Whenever we get there, we get there.”
We did get there around 5 p.m. and were welcomed by the pastor’s family and some women, but it became apparent that there were some problems in the congregation and in the community. There was a local self-proclaimed prophetess who was deliberately splitting the church, and the women’s leadership and the pastor had some hard things to say about each other. Very few women were coming to women’s meetings, whereas before these stresses they had numbered one or two hundred. We were cautioned not to expect too many. But we were given full rein. We were even given the Sunday service to wind up our retreat teaching in. It’s not every pastor that will do that, especially on Palm Sunday.
Our retreat theme, building on the women’s theme for the year that “this is the year of the Lord’s favor, for the salvation of all”, was that there is no one too weak, young, old, or somehow insignificant to share the Good News and be Good News to those around, in God’s providence. We would encourage them with the story of the lepers in 2 Kings 7 with the good news of the disappearance of the besieging Syrian army and abundant food that they’d left behind, David and Goliath, the boy who provided the loaves and fishes that Jesus multiplied, and the promises that God’s glory would be made perfect in our weakness, and that He would give wisdom and guidance to all those that feel inadequate and ask for it.
The first day rain was threatening and several villages didn’t turn out. There were only 50 participants. In fact a heavy rain with strong winds started as soon as we entered the church, and went on for an hour. With the tin roof, nothing could be heard, so we contented ourselves with singing till the rain stopped. Then we started the program.
Women bathe these kind of events in prayer. The local Bible-study league members lent a hand with the music and prayed too. We talked with the folks there to get a sense of what was happening, pondered it and prayed for them all in our off time.
The second day participation doubled. In rural areas something like this becomes a community event. Since it was vacation time about 40 little kids, a number of adolescents and several men joined us.
Sunday morning the church was full to overflowing. Even the notorious prophetess was there. Maybe the draw was the novelty of having a white missionary in their church. Whatever it was, many women who might not have come otherwise celebrated Palm Sunday, enjoyed each other, heard the messages we felt God wanted to say to them, and came for prayer afterwards.
Counseling and prayer for people’s problems are important parts of every retreat. Wherever you are in the world, people often leave their relationships to deteriorate, the problems to accumulate in their lives. To hear my comrades, “delivering” people from malign spiritual forces is the best part of leadership in a retreat. We had urged leaders and participants to deal with their failures in relationships before Easter, starting that very day. While the assistant pastor mostly took charge of prayers for general problems like student exams and illness, we speakers also prayed with individuals. Women came with problems like a family member haunting them in dreams, a high school daughter pregnant …again, and their anger, or a daughter’s problem pregnancy that the prophetess had predicted would end in death.
We were, in a sense, emissaries of the district leadership, given responsibility to help the fellowships we found to resolve their problems, and to bring a report to the district leadership. So we met with the women’s leadership for all the villages that had come to the retreat together with the pastors to start the resolution of what had been dividing and discouraging them.
Then we could leave. A girl going to visit relatives would accompany us. By this time it was 3:30 in the afternoon and we knew we wouldn’t get home by dark. But no matter. We had a full moon to walk under in the cool of the evening. It would be good walking. God had acted at Zaba, and we were content.