The word retreat signifies a withdrawal – and that was in the cards for the women of the National Women’s Ministry Retreat of the Church of God of Prophecy who sought to withdraw from the chaotic clutter that is 21st Century living – the constant tug for their attention from family and loved ones and all their other responsibilities, to a safe space for individual reflection, renewal and focus, for bonding with the like-minded women and sharing and reconnecting. The Church of God of Prophecy’s National Women’s Ministry Retreat recently provided women the opportunity to step away from the everyday and into God’s presence, purpose and position.
Minister Angela Swann, National Women’s Ministry director, said the three-day retreat provided an opportunity for the women of the church to advance deeper into the intimacy of God’s presence as they cast aside their day-to-day concerns to hear from God, and to be reminded of his purpose for their lives.
“Sharing His plans and insights made accessing the intimacy of His presence a reality,” said Swann.
Held under the theme “In His Presence … Pursuing the Presence of God 2019”, Swann’s hope was that the takeaway for the women would be the building and fortifying of their relationships with God – strengthening their faith through the leading and teaching that was made available to them, and that they would be encouraged to practice and experience the presence of God in an intimate, tangible and consistent manner going forward.
She said the objective of the retreat also extended to include the “family of God” and how women relate to and interact with their “sisters” in the Lord.
“For the women, building lasting and meaningful bonds that extend beyond the days of the retreat was an important and hoped for outcome,” said Swann. “Hearing God speak to my spirit was a great encounter. Having the plans of God implemented in my life was greater. Sharing both with my sisters and seeing how God excited them to move together with me was encouraging. But fulfilling God’s purpose in our lives was the greatest adventure of the retreat, because we actually advanced closer and deeper into the intimacy of His presence.”
Ghaylysa Swann was among the 200 women at the retreat held at SuperClubs Breezes, which she said was a refreshing experience for her.
“God affirmed to me the power of finding rest and a home while I am in his presence. A year ago, God showed me that I needed to love His presence in order to see him in the fullness he has. This retreat taught me how to make this possible,” she said.
Minister Damaris Thompson set the tone for the retreat at the opening session, which focused on prayer, praise, ministry and worship.
Bishop Franklin Ferguson, national overseer of the Church of God of Prophecy in The Bahamas, whose wife, Minister Rovena Ferguson, attended the Retreat, encouraged the women to commit and embrace the opportunity to wrap themselves in the presence of the Lord by yielding to his Holy Spirit and exposing their hearts and minds to be renewed while reconnecting with their sisters in Christ on a journey that was both an individual and collective one.
Dwight Ferguson, Elizabeth Estates Church senior pastor, who spoke at the opening session, spoke to God’s unique ability to uncover the truth of people’s lives and the hidden desires of their hearts, as well as their secret motivations and fears. He encouraged them to bare all before God. He said as they draw closer, it allows God to “cover them completely under His wings” – giving them refuge, protection, guidance and the safety needed to navigate the world.
“As we take refuge in the Lord, depending on him and growing closer daily, we are no longer captives, enslaved by our own vices and shortcomings, but we are released from this eternal hell as we rest safely in the arms of our Lord,” said Ferguson.
During the retreat, the Saturday sessions took on a more informal approach as the women came together in small group encounters.
Minister Shawnette Roye, workshop session facilitator, oversaw prayer, scripture reading and worship.
Dr. Joanne Walker, international guest speaker/facilitator, led the women through a series of self-reflecting exercises that helped each of them understand the role of discernment in the life of the believer. She helped them uncover the reality of their relationship with the Lord and to think about how they interacted with Him, whether they were spending quality and quantity time with God, and how the Lord was revealing himself to them, and whether they were positioning themselves to hear from Him.
Through teaching, group discussion and internal reflection, the women were encouraged to enter into a more dynamic, more intimate relationship with their God, to be more intentional in their walk with Him and to position themselves more actively to hear the voice of God and to respond to it with more immediacy, more commitment, more obedience.
During the retreat’s final session, Walker explored the encounter between Jesus and the woman with an issue of blood from the eighth chapter of Luke, which tells of how Jesus travelled from one town and village to another proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.
“He healed many persons, restored many lives that had been torn apart by demon possession and His miraculous work had been talked about far and wide so wherever He went there was a thick crowd of persons seeking to get close to the Savior, seeking to get something from the Savior, seeking to be restored by the Savior,” she said.
Against this backdrop, Walker explained that people could begin to understand why the woman with the issue was there to be healed. She noted that initially, it was not even her story, and that Jesus was actually on his way to heal Jairus, the synagogue leader’s 12-year-old daughter. But she said the woman, whose name the Bible does not record, interrupts his journey.
Walker shared that the woman, who was the exact opposite of Jairus, the well-respected Jewish leader with a family and with wealth to support his loved ones, was poor, having spent all her money trying to rid herself of her illness and who was likely estranged from her family and community because of it, was committed to pressing her way in closer because, like Jairus for his daughter, she was desperate for a touch from the Savior.
Walker demonstrated how the key to seeing real change in people’s lives, in their situations, sometimes begins with desperation, a hunger and thirst for Christ and His restorative power and saving grace.
“Regardless of how the world might characterize us, measure us, weigh us in the balance and find us wanting, as women, we, too, have access to Christ and to His holy presence,” she said.
While feeding the spiritual was the primary focus, the retreat also allowed the women a time of fun and fellowship. Retreat goers participated in “Secret Santa” – exchanging gifts anonymously. The grand finale was a 60s midnight soirée – a time for the women to laugh, unmask, be entertained and share life experiences to uplift and encourage each other, while they were dressed in their bell bottoms, platform shoes and Afro wigs.
“Overall, an impactful spiritual encounter for each church director to take away and build on to develop the local women’s ministry,” said Minister Donna Delancy, Women’s Ministry Director for the East Street Tabernacle.
Charis Johnson said she thoroughly enjoyed the retreat which she said reminded her of the importance and significance of God’s manifested presence in her everyday experience.
“The workshop sessions challenged me to experience a newness of God. The one thing that stood out to me was in the session where we spoke about discernment. The challenge that was put forth; ‘What if God is choosing to speak to you in a different way? What if He is now choosing to speak to me through dreams?’ I should never get used to only hearing Him one way. I cannot wait to share what I have learned with others.”
Sharon Ferguson, who initially did not plan to attend the retreat due to having to spend resources to assist people affected by Hurricane Dorian, said she felt a “tugging” to be there and made plans to attend the day sessions. But she said God “opened the door” for her to sleepover, and said she’s appreciative for having learnt so much.
“The practical posture for the day and scripturizing in His presence was eye opening. But for me, my breakthrough came while having lunch with a sister,” said Ferguson. “The Holy Spirit worked through both of us as we sat and poured out to each other what was in our hearts. We realized we had so much in common. She confirmed so much about me that I knew but was afraid to face head on.”