A few years ago, when I prayed for a greater sense of social responsibility and deeper bonds with fellow Christians, I had no idea God would answer my prayer as creatively as he did.
That fall, I was invited to attend the MC B.C. Women’s Ministry retreat weekend at Camp Squeah in Hope by a dear Mennonite friend, Wendy, and with more than a little trepidation, I agreed to go. The combination of my ignorance as to the philosophies and customs associated with Mennonites, and the uncertainty of what the weekend would look like, caused my hesitation. However, the thought of not having to cook and the opportunity to rekindle my childhood love of camping piqued my curiosity. Besides, I needed a break! So, obediently, I set off to Camp Squeah and into a most incredible journey.
Needless to say, the mixture of meeting new friends, unleashing my creativity through unique and attainable crafts, and, most importantly, rekindling my relationship with God through a dynamic and soul-searching speaker, was exactly what I needed.
There was one catch, though. This was a Mennonite community and I was, well, not a Mennonite, but a Protestant whose home church was Peace Portal Alliance Church. However, I reasoned that our Father, Son and Holy Spirit were the same, and that was the only bond we needed.
It turned out that I was right. The love and acceptance that were offered were beyond description. The environment could not have been more inclusive. Conversations flowed, and parallel life experiences made me feel as though I had known these women all my life.
Through the women’s unconditional love and openness, similarities to my spiritual journey were obvious. I reasoned that any differences would be irrelevant, as God is unconditional love, and these ladies practised what they preached.
Throughout the year that followed, I prayed for a volunteer position that would have an impact for God’s world. During the retreat that fall, I was moved to answer a call for help to join the retreat planning committee for the next year. And although I was still feeling reluctant, I was incredibly moved to see how the women responded to my “crashing” their Mennonite world.
To this day, I’m unsure whether the executive members were so exhausted that they would have welcomed just about anyone or they saw raw potential, but they appeared thrilled to accept me into their fold. I might add that Waltrude Gortzen leaped onto the stage to announce it before I could even consider changing my mind.
Four retreats later, I’m still an active, although somewhat “crazy,” member of MC B.C.’s Women’s Ministry Retreat Committee. And having been awarded the “coveted” position of master of ceremonies, my somewhat captive audience is subjected to my (God-given) gift of becoming funnier as my stagefright heightens. Besides, auction items move at alarming prices, and we all benefit from that!
The countless memories, laughs, “ah ha” moments and opportunities I have experienced at these retreats have shaped me into who I am today. The ability to witness women laughing at my stories, crying at my testimony, and sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings with me—all within 30 minutes or so—is incredibly rewarding.
My personal and spiritual growth have expanded exponentially because of the unconditional love and acceptance of my sisters who just happened to be Mennonites, and who so warmly welcomed me into their lives. l
Gloria Laurence is a special education assistant with the Surrey, B.C., School District, and a behaviour interventionist for children with au-tism. A member of Peace Portal Alliance Church in Surrey, she has been attending the MC B.C. Women’s Ministry retreats for a number of years.
—Posted Jan. 14, 2015