By Marta Castillo, associate pastor Nueva Vida Norristown New Life & Franconia Conference board member
Rarely do I get a chance to see God orchestrating events in such a way as for the Women’s Gathering this spring “Shattering our Mirrors, Reclaiming Ourselves”. I imagine that the Sister Care planning committee faithfully and purposefully chose the theme, the location, the date, and carefully planned for speakers and program. At some point in the process, the Holy Spirit began nudging them towards attempting to be more inclusive and intercultural. It all began by the simple decision to send out the event information in Spanish.
Intercultural efforts and events have a way of stripping away our illusions of control and allowing us to “let go and let God.” When the flier went out in Spanish, God moved quickly in a new direction and from my viewpoint, the planning committee with some uncertainty yet graciously followed the Spirit’s lead as their well organized plans went sideways. Very quickly over 20 Spanish-speaking women had eagerly signed up but many of them could not attend without the provision of childcare during the event. The committee had decided not to provide childcare during past events or even this year but willingly obedient to the flow of the Spirit, they agreed to try to provide childcare. God provided people who volunteered to help care for the children but now they realized the original space was too small for all the children and a meeting place for the women. Very close to the date of the gathering, the committee had to consider an alternative space that could accommodate everyone.
After a visit and several conversations with me, the Sister Care Committee settled into moving the whole event to Nueva Vida Norristown New Life. I couldn’t have been happier. I could see that God was doing a new thing and I was honored to be a part of it. For several years, I had carried a desire in my heart to see a repeat of the original event, in which Spanish-speaking women participated and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I wanted to see an event that I could invite all the sisters of color in my church to participate in.
The nudging of God’s Spirit continued. Since there were as many Spanish-speaking women signed up as English-speaking women, why not make it a fully bilingual event? With translated documents, side-by-side translation, and sharing from everyone in Spanish and in English. Why would more than half of the women sit there with ear buds waiting for the Spanish to come through while the English speakers talked on and on without pause? Kudos to the committee members, speakers, and presenters who said “Yes”, they would be willing to try a new method. Thanks be to God who provided translators! One of the comments on the evaluation sheets expresses the importance of making languages equal. “I liked everything because there were no divisions of languages because we are equal before the eyes of God and thank you for the word.”
On the day of the event, women came early, with eager hearts and a hunger for time spent in the company of sisters in Christ. From the greeting, to the worship, the meditations, the sharing, and the final prayer of blessings, English and Spanish words flowed back and forth like a beautiful dialogue. Sandy Drescher Lehman talked about her calling as a pastor, shared her story of her beautiful skirt made from her father’s ties, and encouraged us to go down deep but to emerge in a new place. Table groups talked and shared about the things that hinder them from knowing themselves and God and things that help them draw closer to God and know themselves better.
After a shared meal of tostadas, Christine Waanders walked us through a process of better getting to know ourselves and our personalities. The culminating event of washing each others’ hands brought tears, hugs, love, prayer, and laughter to many women as well as the bittersweet feeling that a day of blessing, healing, and sisterhood was about to end.
Afterward, I received a card signed by 20 of our sisters in Philadelphia, thanking the committee again for the invitation, the experience, and expressing thanks to God. “The time we spent together was glorious. Thank you.” As tears of joy sprung again to my eyes, I am amazed how God orchestrated the events as my faithful sisters chose to follow the leading of God’s Spirit.