Last year, I wrote an enthusiastic post about the first-ever ladies' retreat hosted by our church here in Iquique. I mentioned that despite our somewhat humble accommodations (the meetings were held in a converted garage) it was such a blessing to witness the appreciation and enjoyment of our ladies even in the simple things. And it was - but I am thrilled to share that this year God provided even a sweeter setting for our special time together!
Early this year, our colleague Alejandro Armijo officiated at the marriage ceremony of a young couple whose wedding was held at a small hotel on the outskirts of Iquique. With only ten bedrooms and barely visible from the highway, it is unlikely we would have ever found the hotel on our own. Since that initial visit, however, it has provided an ideal location for not one, nor two, but three retreats for us this year! (First the ABWE men; followed by our church men; and now, our church ladies.)
Here the ocean breezes offer a quiet balm to the frenzied spirit and the crashing waves provide a pleasant lullaby by which to fall asleep. A lovely meeting room with warm wooden beams and plenty of sunlight is the perfect place to gather to talk, to eat, to play and most importantly, to study God's Word together.
For me personally, this year's retreat was extra-special because our guest speaker was none other than my beautiful mom, Gail Christian. Having lived and served in Chile for sixteen years, she understands the culture well and God has allowed her gentle spirit and careful Bible teaching to touch the lives of many women. She continues to minister alongside my dad in the United States, and we are so very thankful for their missions-minded church which not only faithfully supports us personally but also allows them the opportunity to return to Chile to do ministry and visit us here.
Another blessing for me personally was having our friend Martha join us for the retreat. She has been a part of our family life since we arrived in Iquique nearly three years ago, as she helps us on a part-time basis around our home. She is also a regular babysitter of our children and loves them dearly. It was a privilege to offer her this retreat as a gift and see her refreshed and renewed by such a beautiful place of rest and the friendship and fellowship offered to her by our ladies.
And truly, each of our ladies seemed to breathe deeply of the peaceful air and visibly relax during this year's retreat. It was such a blessing to observe this and to recognize it as a gift from God to each of them. Women everywhere wear so many different hats and fulfill so many different responsibilities, and Chilean women are no exception. At the retreat, however, our ladies were able to put aside their burdens for 29 hours and simply fill their hearts and minds with God's love for them and His purpose for each of their lives.
Our theme verses this year were Romans 12:1,2 - "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." We were encouraged to examine our personal walks with God and our willingness to surrender each area of our lives to Him.
One of our goals for the retreat is to keep it as affordable as possible, understanding that cost is a limiting factor for many. Thanks to two of our ladies - Maria Santander and our missionary colleague Robyn Armijo - we were able to do so by providing home-cooked meals at the retreat. The food was delicious, and no one went hungry! Their service was a blessing to all of us.
I love that ladies in Chile know how to have fun! Our colleague Kim Spink lined up volunteers to provide games throughout the retreat, and on one such occasion we headed to the beach for some adventurous relays and even a game of "volleyball" using water balloons and beach towels. Amidst much laughter and warmed by a beautiful day of sunshine, two teams battled it out for bragging rights and made some more wonderful memories.
Gifts and crafts were two of the areas in which I was involved for this retreat. The former always reminds me how much fun giving can be, as the little gifts we provided (gel pens and notebooks and chocolates and coffee mugs, to name a few) brought many smiles and made each attendee feel special and appreciated. Several ladies even brought their own gifts to share with others as well!
With fear and trepidation, I attempted a craft which was new to me and thankfully God answered prayer and everything turned out wonderfully. Everyone started out with the same raw materials (cement and stones and paints) to create a handmade candle holder, but the end results were all quite different and unique. We have a talented group of ladies!
step one: filling cups with fresh cement
In much the same way as their crafts turned out differently, I am convinced that each woman heard God speak to her uniquely. Our final session involved breaking into small groups and discussing some intimate heart-probing questions. Later several ladies shared what God had taught them during our time together. We had all ages represented among us, and one of the older women who had struggled for a lifetime with image issues related to a foot injury as a child, told us she now realized God had made her beautiful just the way she is. Another woman, a visitor invited by her young-adult daughter, confessed that she knew God was drawing her to Himself and that she was "very close" to choosing Him. Please pray for Cecilia, that today would be the day of her salvation!
The retreat began at 2 p.m. on Sunday (October 9) and ended at 7 p.m. on Monday (a national holiday.) We gathered for a group photo just before packing up the cars and heading home. It is a picture I will treasure as our family heads into a year away from Iquique and the ministry in which God has allowed us to play a part these past three years. I pray that on furlough we will be able to share just how God has used the faithful support of many churches and individuals in the United States to minister in the lives of people here - including these very special ladies.