January 2012 - Vol. 56
“Your Master Is Here and Is Calling for You”
Bethany Association – International Women’s Single for the Lord Conference
October 19-23, 2011– Quito, Ecuador
by Christiane Lewerentz and Jeanne Kun
“Your Master is here and is calling for you.” In response to this call seventeen women in the Sword of the Spirit have joyfully given their lives to the Lord in a commitment to live single for him and have formed the Bethany Association. With that scriptural call from John 11:28 as our theme, our fourth international conference took place on October 19-23 in the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador.
All but one of the lifelong sisters were able to attend the conference, where we experienced the reality of being truly international – American, European, Mexican, Filipina, and Ecuadorian sisters shared actively in the conference leadership and played significant roles in the various conference sessions. It was clear that we had made some huge leaps since our first meeting in 2005. We also experienced a strong desire and commitment to let God use us as Bethany Association for the Sword of the Spirit.
In addition to the lifelong sisters, conference participants included six women discerning the call and several married senior woman leaders whom we invited as guests. So the conference was a lovely mix of joyful reunions, new encounters, and the deepening of relationships with one another. The association has also become truly transgenerational: there is a forty-year age span from the “mature, pioneering” sisters to the youngest participant. As one nineteen-year-old in discernment noted, “I wasn't sure how I was going to experience this conference and wondered if I would be bored, but I wasn't bored at all – I feel like I have had the opportunity to meet some of the ‘coolest women I know’.”
As hosts for our conference, the community Jesús es el Señor (Jesus is Lord) gave us an exceptionally warm welcome and had thoughtfully prepared for our visit. Our time together opened with a guided tour through modern Quito and the historic colonial city center with old Spanish-style buildings such as the Jesuit university established in the seventeenth century and on towards a fantastic view of the Andes mountain range east of Quito. The tour was followed by a welcome dinner at an elegant restaurant at the foot of the huge statue of Our Lady of Quito looking over the sparkling lights of the city at night.
The four-day conference was held at Maria Auxiliadora Retreat House of the Salesian Sisters, situated a little above the city. It has beautiful gardens with exotic flowers, fruit trees, and a stunning view of one of the snow-topped volcano peaks around Quito. It was a lovely site for walks, rest, and times of personal prayer in the mild weather we were blessed with. Every day started with common worship, a meditation, and a time of personal prayer.
In the worship time on Thursday that started the conference, God invited us to shift our perspective from inviting him into our midst, to seeing the Lord as our host and ourselves as guests in this place where he wanted us to receive from him. The morning meditation recalled the different aspects of the association’s name “Bethany” – a place to belong, a place of being quiet at Jesus’ feet, of new life and freedom, and of “wasting” our lives for our Lord. In an opening session, Jeanne Kun, president of the association, introduced the conference theme, gave a brief history of Bethany Association, and welcomed our guests. In her report, the treasurer Sherry Snyder encouraged Bethany members to initiate the establishment of regional and local funds.
The first of three teaching sessions was on Thursday afternoon looking at the Bethany Association Charter’s Statement of Ideal and Rationale. This session served to draw out the heart of the calling to live single for the Lord within the association, and introduced the review of life as a helpful practice (for annual self-reflection) to examine how well we live out our call and where we experience challenges in putting it into practice.
This was followed by a split session: Questions & Answers for those in discernment, and personal sharings amongst the life-long committed women. This was a good time for those of us at the beginning of the journey to get out burning questions, and for those further along the way to update our sisters and encourage one another.
On Friday, Marianita Sarzosa opened the morning with a rousing meditation on our conference theme, “The Master Is Here and Is Calling for You.” Then Sherry’s teaching session challenged us to look at our lives in the light of simplicity and to consider the freedom that comes with clearing our hearts, minds, and daily lives from unnecessary clutter. Jeanne later talked about pattern of life – prayer times, the importance of accountability to a pastoral leader, the joy of reviewing your life regularly – to get us thinking about how we structure our lives in ways that will help us live out our ideal in everyday life. In discussion groups we shared about the different ways in which each woman seeks to live simplicity in her particular life circumstances, career, and culture.
Our meal times turned into great opportunities to share testimonies and life stories or to simply enjoy the fun and the entertaining “misunderstandings” that came with gathering together women from eight different nationalities across three continents.
The Lord spoke to us clearly – through Scripture and prophetic words – of his love for the women of Bethany and his vision for the association to be a place of warmth, welcome, and refuge. Here are a few of the prophetic words and Scripture passages we received:
Now you will see new things break forth among you – not by your own efforts but by the power of my Spirit. You are now a small stream of water but you will become a deep and flowing river that will bring life and strength and refreshment to the Sword of the Spirit ( Ezekiel 47, 1-9).
The Lord calls us as consecrated women to be a “place of love, rest, and comfort” for one another, for the Sword of the Spirit, and for all whom the Lord allows us to encounter.
Jesus wants to give us new wine (as at Cana).
Sue Cummins (left) and Beth Melchor (right)
On Saturday, Sue Cummins spoke about our inner journey of becoming like God, living in union with him – receiving his love and loving others with the same love that is infinite and present beyond our understanding even in suffering and dark places. In the afternoon, we were invited to attend the local community gathering – which refreshed all of us with enthusiastic, Spirit-filled worship, words of knowledge, prophecies, and prayer ministry. One of the local community coordinators and his family joined us for our Lord’s Day Celebration. The evening ended with a spectacular Ecuadorian entertainment including dances from Guayaquil and Cayambe, Ecuador, performed by community members. The dazzling indoor fireworks eventually sent everyone into fits of coughing and laughter, but made the evening ever more unforgettable.
The conference officially concluded on Sunday with a daytrip to the marketplace in Otavalo and to lunch and a boat tour at Cuicocha, a volcano with a lake in its crater. Some women stayed a few more days to explore the equator – “Mitad del Mundo” (“middle of the earth”) – and the beautiful nature reserve in Mindo.
Each of us returned home strengthened to continue the journey of loving God with singlehearted devotion and zeal – and encouraged by the assurance that we are walking side by side with sisters from around the world into the good works that God has prepared for Bethany Association to do. Through Mae Legaspi’s word, sung in the Spirit, God exhorted the life-long women to ”stand firm” and not to ”let our hands fall limp.”
We ask our brothers and sisters in the Sword of the
Spirit to remember the women of Bethany in your
prayers that we remain faithful now and to the end,
for the sake of the Kingdom. And we particularly ask
your prayers for the young women in discernment who seek
to give all to follow Christ.