I signed up for a Velvet Ashes Retreat in my first year overseas for much the same reason I do anything: desperation and impulsivity.
Out of a desperate attempt to follow God’s calling, and with the impassioned, trusting, ill-researched, yet well-meaning adventurous impulses of my early twenties, I had taken a post in a suburban school in South East Asia.
Once there, I quickly discovered I was isolated in more ways than one. I had come alone, expecting to find other like-minded pilgrims, and instead had discovered that I was one of the only other believers at the school and in the neighborhood. Further separating me from my handful of sisters in the faith was a language and cultural barrier. This barrier unfortunately grew larger as some suspicious co-workers began to label me as that “loose American woman.”
While the rumors were nothing more than rumors, my few fellow believers on the field (in my immediate area) separated themselves to avoid their reputation being tarnished by association. I was now almost completely alone, aside from the Holy Spirit.
Velvet Ashes was a life raft thrown straight from Jordan’s River. I fully believe (without a hint of melodrama—well, maybe a tad) that God brought me to the community to be uplifted, encouraged, and understood in a difficult season on the field. Though I did travel to find a church each Sunday and found comfort in my sending church’s emails, without the camaraderie and understanding of fellow expats – there every week night on my computer in my tiny apartment – it would have been a lonely and dreary year indeed.
This, in turn, showed me a beautiful aspect of God’s character that I would continue to see in my years overseas since: God can really bring streams to the desert. He may not do it in the way you expect, but wherever you are, He will find you and He will bring the fellowship of His body to you!
The retreat was awesome, and I felt as though I were not alone in my struggles, but seen and understood. Women also encouraged me to process through my feelings and what had happened to me on the field, rather than just soldiering through it. I had convinced myself that this season was no big deal, so this was the conviction and care that I needed. The retreat offered some journal prompts and devotions that helped me grow closer to the Lord. But overall what I walked away with –my “takeaway”– was that I was not alone.
All the labels that the enemy had tried to throw at me were lovingly peeled away in the beautiful, tender, online Community.
Now let’s be honest. There are a slew of problems we face overseas. Don’t think you have to be facing slander and near total cultural and spiritual isolation to seek fellowship and haven with a VA retreat. Since that first year, I’ve had seasons where my hardest battle has just been getting enough sleep, or needing to say no to good things (which was mentioned in a recent post/comment and I agree: giving just the best yes is hard work ladies!).
Whether you’re in a crazy, fiery season of refinement, or a quieter season that needs boundaries and grace, the retreat time can be used by God to give you a divine encounter and true rest.
He can use it to bring you what it has brought me: grace, peace, understanding fellowship, wisdom, and a little touch of courage.
When was a time fellowship helped give you courage to tackle your strongholds head-on in the Spirit? What encouragement do you have for your sisters currently walking through a proverbial desert or fire of refinement? What advice do you have concerning boundaries for these seasons?