12 August 2022 | Stirling, Scotland [Weiers Coetser]
It is Friday evening and having just arrived at the Scottish Mission Women’s retreat feeling stressed and harassed from the busyness of the week, very soon however, you join thirty other women doodling on blank sheets of paper, with an assortment of colourful pens and pencils – and all that tension dissipates. You have arrived – at the right place as the retreat immediately bursts into life with creative interactions filled with colour, story, testimony, song, and self-care.
The retreat held over the weekend of 5-7 August, on the campus of Stirling University, featuring beautiful buildings and a large lake – involved a lot of walking, creating exercise for a good sense of wellbeing, and for creating opportunities to interact and talk while moving between events.
On Friday evening, Simone Coetser, a high school teacher and pastor’s wife from Aberdeenshire gave a talk: “Called to be a queen,” inviting the participants to find connections between the story of Esther and their own lives. Sharing personal experiences from her own in life, including a struggle with depression and isolation, facing down overt racist attitudes during the COVID-19 pandemic, and her quest to find ways to make a difference, she said, “I learned through my life experience, that it is possible to deal with almost anything through the practice of prayer and fasting, deciding to make a plan, and remembering that God is ultimately in control.”
The talk naturally flowed into a workshop on praying in colour – a new method to pray. Doodling pictures and shapes on blank sheets of paper, participants reflected on an awesome God, and then focussed on their personal relationship with God. As they did so, the pages filled with new images and colours. When they began to pray for the issues that were foremost on their minds, and for each other, the doodles and the colours started to coalesce into rich artifacts of personal meaning and value.
“Just what I needed after a busy week,” said one participant, as it allowed her to let go and open a space in herself to engage with the thoughts and events of the weekend. While everyone found this method unusual and different, many found it to be an effective way to pray, leading them into the presence of God, and communicate with God in new and creative ways.
Sabbath brought more creativity and colour into the events of the retreat. Directed by Temitayo Odewosi, six of the retreat participants took on the character and personas of Miriam, Rahab, Deborah, Abigail, Esther, and Mary. The teachable moment of this presentation was that while each biblical character came from a very different background, God used them regardless of their circumstances, and even their mistakes. Miriam was struck with leprosy at one point of her life. Rahab was pagan and lived a questionable life. Esther was an orphan. Mary came from a bad neighbourhood, but all played a vital part in God’s plan.
Jennifer Mendes rounded off the early session skilfully connecting the Sabbath School lesson theme – Christian endurance and strength in times of hardship – and the stories that had just told.
The worship service led by Cedrene Botha, the wife of pastor Jimmy Botha, Scottish Mission president, brought more colour and creativity to the weekend with her talk based on the story of the woman at the well. With a model of an actual well, not filled with water, but with colourful ping-pong balls, each participant was invited to pick a ball from the well. All the women who chose a specific colour grouped together for prayer to start the session.
Cedrene’s presentation was also filled with biographical experience. She shared how she and her husband realised that they would not be able to have children and how they struggled with this. Reflecting on how Jesus connected with the woman at the well, she explained that “Christ meets us where we are. The Samaritan woman was never asked for what she was not able to give. But when she found a connection with Jesus, he challenged her and drew her into a greater potentiality for her life.”
During her presentation, Cedrene collected all the ping-pong balls from the women, and placed them into a jug. The balls now represented the combined experiences of joy and hardship of all who attended the retreat. She then poured water into the jug. The water represented the Holy Spirit. As the water filled the jug, the balls spilled over the edges. This represented the blessings that their lives could become in their interactions with the people around them.
As evening drew near, Jessica Perea, a pastor’s wife from Edinburgh and Dunfermline talked about how the gifts of the Spirit worked in our lives to help us serve out of abundance. She also introduced a practical way to explore the gifts of the spirit in one’s own life: the practice of journaling.
Holistic self-care was an underlying theme throughout the retreat. On Sabbath afternoon Dr Claudette Comersamy, Scottish Mission Health Ministries Sponsor focussed on physical well-being. On Sunday morning, Simone Coetser focussed on being “God’s daughters” and spiritual self-care. Sharing her recent experience of being part of a beauty pageant and winning a title, she spoke about the value of being open to taking risks and letting God lead you and use you – even in unusual places.
Feedback after the event was overwhelmingly positive. As one participant shared, “We left, feeling that our own cups were full and overflowing.” Simone Coetser reflected, “I felt a feeling of acceptance and welcome and sisterhood, making a safe space for each woman to be themselves, to share, to be honest, to be heard, to be able to be yourself – and be supported.”
The original version of this story was posted on the Scottish Mission website. [Photos: James Botha]