Saturday, March 28, 2015

Soul Care

"Last week, I took a road trip to Kenya."
I never thought I'd say these words, but it's true!

I had the opportunity to attend a women's retreat in Kakamega, Kenya last week. My sweet friends, Shawna and Aimee (also missionaries in Mbarara) were in charge of the retreat this year, and they invited me along. Another Mbarara friend, Crystal, also planned to attended the retreat, so I was not about to pass up an opportunity to spend nine whole days with these precious sisters!

me, Aimee, Shawna, Trippton, and Crystal

This map showing the drive from Mbarara to Kakamega makes me laugh. Seven hours and forty-four minutes? What a joke. I can tell you from personal experience that it's a solid two-day drive.

We left Mbarara bright and early on Friday morning, and our first stop was at the airport in Entebbe, Uganda. There, we picked up two ladies, Cheryl and Renee, who flew in all the way from the States just to minister to the women attending the retreat this year. Bless.

Six ladies, one baby, 12+ suitcases, and a baby bathtub later, we were all packed up and ready to hit the road to make our way to Kenya.

We split the next part of the trip, from Entebbe to Kakamega, into two days. There were traffic jams where we moved approximately five feet in one hour, plenty of roadside stops so baby Tripp could eat, lots of speed bumps, dirt roads, run-of-the-mill police stops, and a border crossing.

Tripp's first time to Kenya

When we reached Rondo Retreat Center on Sunday afternoon, we were thrilled but exhausted. We unloaded the very full van, worked out a few logistical details for all the other women arriving on Monday, and spent the rest of the evening relaxing in the beautiful main house, enjoying one another's company.

Rondo is located at the edge of the Kakamega rainforest, so looking out to see monkeys in the trees or jumping from the roofs was a fun and common occurrence.

Sykes' monkey drinking from a puddle

By Monday afternoon, ladies started arriving from all over: Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Kenya, and Uganda. Some had been driving since the middle of the night, others had babies in tow, and everyone was relieved to finally be at this place dedicated to rest and relaxation. 

Crystal and me checking ladies in 

Over the next five days, we twenty-nine women lived in true community. We shared meals, shared rooms, shared stories, and the babies were passed around and looked after by many. Before the women arrived, we prayed there would be a spirit of openness and trust among all of us. We prayed that it wouldn't take until our final days together for us to become vulnerable with one another. God answered that prayer exceedingly and abundantly. There was a freedom felt in the group to share the deeper things of our souls knowing that it would be received in love and gratitude. 

Old trees are a beautiful thing, and Rondo is full of them. Twice a day we enjoyed tea time under these trees and talked about things that matter. Things of the heart. Things deep in our souls. Love and truth and encouragement were spoken under these protective branches. 

Twenty-nine women showed up at this retreat. And I don't mean in a physical, they-paid-their-registration-fee sense. I mean they showed up in a spiritual, all-in kind of way. They proved themselves courageous. Genuine. Vulnerable. Honest. Tender. Soulful. Strong. 

These beautiful women ministered to me in such needed ways, and the Spirit's work was evident in every conversation and interaction. 
There were tears. Sweet, healing tears.
Lots of laughter. 
Tenderness and exhortation. 
Truth and encouragement. 
People shared their truest struggles and joys in their ministries, marriages, teams, and towns. 

At the end of the week, one lady said, "I feel normal for the first time in a long time." Yes. Normalcy is what we crave. We need to know that we're not alone in our trials and temptations. As women living overseas serving in cultures so different than our own, we desire genuine fellowship with the saints and true communion with one another. With others like us. With people who get us.

Though we each bring our own histories and experiences to the table, we are one in Christ and share a bond that unites us for eternity. Because we know there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ and for those who walk according to the Spirit's leading, we can open our hearts and lives to one another without shame or fear. We can allow ourselves to be vulnerable knowing we'll be met with love and acceptance.

And that, my friends, is life to the soul. 

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called 
to one hope when you were called; 
one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, 
who is over all and through all and in all."
Ephesians 4:4-6

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