When Cindy Chamberlin, GLEANER managing editor, suggested a garden theme for this feature I was hesitant. Although I am faithful at cutting my lawn, fertilizing, weeding and spreading bark (and can even set mole traps); I lack a green thumb—on either hand. When I realized even zucchinis would not grow under my care I quit gardening. Most things that come to me green are dead in a few short days. So, you can understand my hesitation.
Over time I got used to the idea and warmed to the thought as I reminisced the most Eden-like garden I've seen. Jere and I were in the Netherlands in the spring of 2007 and spent the better part of a day at the Keukenhof Gardens, touted as the world's largest, most beautiful garden. We commented numerous times how beautiful Heaven must be. Now when I daydream about Heaven, I look forward to knowing how to garden.
Attending three North Pacific Union Conference retreats the past few weekends left me with a lingering desire to savor this right now. Each event was a bit like Heaven's garden. The atmosphere of pure joy, emanating from hundreds of women together for praise, worship, inspiration and outreach gave me the same refreshed and recharged feeling. As I picture those in attendance I see similarities to my favorite garden: diversity in sizes and shapes, color and hue, fragrance and talents. Individually each has her own beauty—but together they make an incredibly awesome scene.
How Does Your Garden Grow?
Women's ministries participants believe God is calling them back to the garden experience. "We observe in wonderment how each flower, unique in beauty and purpose, complements and completes the garden" says Mable Dunbar, Upper Columbia Conference women's ministries director. With similar goals in all the Northwest conferences, the Upper Columbia women's ministries team is focusing on four areas: evangelism, leadership training, outreach ministries and abuse prevention. Dunbar says, "Flowers can be likened to people. Just as Adam and Eve were given the responsibility to tend the garden, so we are given the great privilege to tend the ‘flowers' created in the image of God. We do this by serving and exercising our influence to win souls...
"We do so by making connections that help build a community of women, not a hierarchy, but women young and old, of different nationalities, socio-economic backgrounds, educational levels, cultures, religious persuasions and career choices, working side by side," continues Dunbar.
I Don't Come to the Garden Alone
Since Old Testament times God has always had women eager to touch hearts and make disciples. From the age-old example of Dorcas we recognize one woman's influence can generate charitable, life-changing actions the world over. "Get more women visioning together, and you can't measure the effect," says Diane Pestes, Oregon Conference women's ministries administrative assistant. "Women's Ministries has adopted the North American Division motto: A Ministry for Every Woman...Touch a Heart, Tell the World," Pestes continues. "Women are encouraged to develop their skills and nurture each other through a variety of venues offered by the conference including retreats, training seminars, local and foreign mission projects, trips, regional women's meetings, support groups and Prayer Quests..."
Sprouts, Shoots, Seedlings
As plants produce new shoots, so women's involvement in evangelism overseas excites them to come home and do the same. "It's a joy when you see the seed that God led you to plant and helped you to nurture, grow to harvest and they then plant their own seeds," says Wilma Bing, Washington Conference women's ministries director.
One Northwest woman recently completing her first series of evangelistic meetings comments, "I came back with a Holy boldness I did not have before preaching overseas. Now I am willing, able and eager to witness back home in a new way." One of the new shoots from overseas evangelism will be an eight-night seminar to be presented by women, based on Christ's Object Lessons. The program will be piloted next October in North Pacific Union Conference churches.
When women unite creativity and effort, the sum is much greater than their individual parts. "Women's ministries empowers women into ministry they may have never done without it," says Bev Schultz, who was impressed when the Oregon Conference women's ministries department came to her home town Madras for the event Hope in the Park. "I believe ministry to the community does as much good for those who are ministering as to those being ministered to," continues Schultz.
At Alaska's recent weekend retreat, activities included community outreach to homeless shelters. One participant shares she planned to skip the outreach until encouraged by friends and is so thankful she went and didn't miss the blessings of giving. She is already looking forward to her next outreach.
Leaving a Biblical Footprint
Diana Flores reports the women's ministries team representing Spanish churches in Tri-Cities, Washington, chose the theme Re-ignite the Fire for their Valentine's Day evangelistic celebration. Kennewick and Pasco Spanish churches invited non-Adventist neighbors to the banquet. One event attendee has already committed to Jesus through baptism while the others are attending church. The team invested significant time and energy for the event but the rewards are showing.
Although she was acquainted with Adventism it was not until she attended the annual Women's Retreat at Camp MiVoden that Kimberly James made the decision to be baptized. Women from the Irrigon (Oregon) Church invited her to attend. While there, James announced her decision to be baptized. She and her husband are now baptized members.
Women's ministries would not be what it is without the support of conference administration. The Montana Conference sponsored 15 non-Adventist women to attend their retreat this year. They were to be women who would not otherwise be able to attend. "We had so much fun inviting our non-Adventist friends!" says Linda Glatts, Montana's former women's ministries director. Tina, a sponsored lady, had been attending church for about three years yet still had reservations and had not made a commitment. When she attended the retreat something clicked and she begged to be baptized the next weekend.
Upon sharing her story with the church at baptism, a young man requested to be baptized as well. He said to Tina: "I want that experience that you have."
Responses like these have spurred the Butte (Montana) Church to sponsor retreat attendees. The church board says it transforms the people who go and they are valuable workers who "belong" when they come home.
Growing Out of the Pot
Sometimes women resonate they are comfortable and want to stay in the greenhouse. However, just as plants outgrow pots and transplanting becomes necessary, so getting outside to foreign soil nourishes one's soul.
"Going back to the garden helps us continue learning valuable lessons," says Dunbar. "And as we tend the ‘flowers' we see they will grow in their own time."
Women's ministries invites you to pick up your trowel and join the Garden Club...
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not
give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who
belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:9, 10 NIV).