This past week I was invited to participate in a free 4 day/3 night retreat hosted by Pure Joy International. Pure Joy offers retreats for missionary women around the world. They pick three countries a year, and this year happened to include Tanzania. The entire trip was so meaningful and deeply rejuvenating. Here are a few of the highlights…
· Arriving at a beautiful 4-star resort on the beach in Dar es Salaam and having that feeling of, “Is this for real?” Everything was stunningly beautiful.
· That first feel of air-conditioning…ahhh… the funny part was all the Tanzanian missionaries aren’t used to it, so eventually we had to ask for the temperature to be turned up.
· Meeting the 15-person team that had come to host the retreat. Each of the women came from a church that partners with Pure Joy, and several of them were former missionaries themselves. One of them was even a former Tanzanian missionary who had lived in Shinyanga from 1988-1994. It was so fun to hear her stories of taking her kids to the Mwadui pool J
· Beginning to get to know the other 48 missionary women from all over Tanzania. A few of them I knew from our days in Morogoro and our trip to Dar in May, but most were new faces.
· Our first of many little gifts we would get throughout the retreat. People from various churches had made/bought all kinds of little gifts for us—candy, jewelry, bags, devotion books, a cd, etc.
· Worshipping in English in a large group for the first time in a year. The music was so beautiful. I especially enjoyed the song “Never Once” by Matt Redman.
· The first messages. Over the course of the week, 8 different women would give talks. That particular night, the topics were trusting God when He gives us more than we can handle (because sometimes God will) and taking down the masks that we wear, which is especially hard for missionaries who feel like they have to be perfect/inspiring in order to get funding.
· The first of many delicious buffet meals--so nice to not have to decide what to cook, not have to clean rice, etc.
· Rooming with and catching up with Shantelle, one of my friends from our language school days in Morogoro.
· Talks on being secure in our worth as a child of God, relying on God when we can control so little about our lives, Christ as our immovable rock, paying attention to the dry areas of our life, and trusting God to see and complete the whole picture. I especially appreciated when one of the leaders had the group brainstorm the daily hassles of life in Tanzania, things that clash with our personality, life events we have experienced while here, traumatic events we have walked through, and losses/gains of living here. Suddenly we all felt that we weren’t alone in our experiences.
· Sharing stories, advice, and resources among fellow missionaries.
· More amazing worship and time of prayer
· Free time at the waterpark next door. Apparently there are two water parks in Dar Es Salaam. Who knew?! It was so much fun to be a kid again and zoom down waterslides.
· Movie night. They had brought a trunk full of popcorn and movie theatre candies. It was the first time in ages I’ve had Raisinets. Then we laughed our way through the movie Mom’s Night Out.
· Talks on living a life of faith and gratitude, what we can do in those “What am I doing here?” moments, finding our strength in God, and nurturing our marriages in Christ.
· More amazing worship and getting to know even more people. Several other people were also considering adoption, so I was so happy to be able to pass along what we know.
· More time racing down waterslides J Yes, grown women can make a tube train.
· Individualized gift bags. Months ago, they had asked us about things we miss and things we enjoy, and then individuals filled each of our gallon-sized bags. Mine was full of caramel popcorn, cheesecake jelly bellies and a cheesecake chocolate bar--since they couldn’t send a real cheesecake--, dark chocolate, some fun make-up, and an Amazon Kindle gift card. I loved it all!
· A short walk along the beach
· Letters from people who had been praying for us the whole time
· Last morning worship and closing thoughts
· More books and potential resources to help us as we head back into real life
· Exchanging contact information with people all over Tanzania. Looks like we will have people to stay with if we want to travel! J
· Getting stuck in Dar with one of my new friends—getting stuck in Dar Es Salaam traffic and missing our flight wasn’t fun, but getting to have a last evening by the ocean with seafood and gelato with a friend made it much better
I want to say a special thank you to Pure Joy on behalf of all of us who were nourished by this retreat. I only wish Eric could have experienced something like this too. It was so special! I hope that someday I can pay it forward and help a Pure Joy team in another part of the world. For those of you in the U.S., check out their webpage www.purejoyinternational.org, and if it looks like a ministry you’d like to be a part of, invite Vicki to your church. For those of you who are missionaries, if you’d like to have a Pure Joy retreat in your country, send Vicki an email and she’ll see what she can do J
P.S. If you are wondering why this is such a great ministry, check out this article I came across recently on missionary stress. http://cottrillcompass.com/blog/2012/just-how-stressed-are-missionaries-and-what-can-we-do-about-it.html It also provides some ideas of how those in a missionary’s home country can help reduce missionary stress.