Women from World Evangelical Alliance networks had the chance to weave stronger connections at a retreat in Toronto last month. Thirty-five women representing 17 nations from every region had the privilege to learn together from a number of experts in anti-trafficking, training young women, collaboration between men and women, and persecution for gender and faith.
The three-day meeting in a snowy retreat centre was deeply nourishing for the women who spend a lot of their time in difficult circumstances of poverty, conflict and vulnerability. Their voices reminded us to stand for right and stories of hope from India, Haiti, Barbados, Egypt and Canada gave everyone fresh practical ideas and resources.
Jenifer Johnson, with 30 years leading women in the Caribbean, calls her way of serving “netweaving” and this became a theme of our time together. Weaving is generally a female craft done with skilful patience, transmitting community designs and connections across generations. Jenifer told the group, “We have huge injustices to overcome but we have God’s patience and joy to weave into lives. We have the oil of gladness.”
The meeting utilised many learning styles to great effect: statistical reports, drama, personal stories and Bible insights, as well as times of prayer and worship. Participants all modelled collaboration through “circle learning”, a term that describes careful listening, equal teaching opportunities and respect for every person’s experience.
Elizabeth Miller from Open Doors explained the ways women experience persecution, based on their latest research and explored why churches often reject women who have been victims of sexual violence or forced marriage, rather than supporting them.
Many women had stories of the suffering caused by trafficking and persecution and how the whole community is weakened. Emma Dipper from All Nations College in the UK explained, “Social context and history feed into values and assumptions and even theology.”
Valuable partnerships were formed so that women can put new learning into practice and one of the strengths of the time was to see women in earnest discussion weaving closer and stronger bonds in places like Malaysia, the USA and across Europe.
For first time participants like Hannelore Illgen from Germany, Llilda Souza Reategui from Peru and MayPan Lynn from Myanmar it was an opportunity to see the breadth of work of women across the globe, take back new ideas and contribute their unique perspectives.
Women’s Commission leaders from six regions had the opportunity to strategise about having a growing impact in their alliances using creative ways to disciple women and girls who are often outside formal church structures. Amanda Jackson, Director of the Women’s Commission was pleased that over half the women were new to the group. “It shows the need for spaces like this, safe places to address big issues.”
Ms Jackson shared the Call to All Christians at the meeting. “The Call is based on global research about the experiences of women in the Church,” she said. “It’s a valuable way for us to talk with Christian leadership about the challenges and opportunities facing women and to have positive ways to change.”
Christine MacMillan, who leads the Anti Human Trafficking Taskforce and was one of the organisers, was delighted by the collaboration and sharing of resources among the groups. “We want to model a different way of viewing success in our work – circle learning helped us to see we have more than a ‘brand’ or job title; we have a share in the inheritance of Christ.”
Members of the group have committed to continue listening, sharing and supporting each other to deepen the impact of the Kingdom of God.