This Is What a Preacher Looks Like by Jason Ranke

“Treasure hunter.” Those two words might best describe what I do at the American Baptist Historical Society. More technically, I process collections. But that doesn’t sound nearly as fun as “treasure hunter.”

Many of the collections that arrive on our doorstep are a mess. Aside from knowing to whom the collection originally belonged, we don’t know much more about what we may or may not find. And so it’s my job to sort through the collection, organize it, preserve it, and create a finding guide for future researchers. The fun of the job comes from uncovering the unexpected, hidden treasures tucked away.

I like to believe if I were the archivist processing the collections of Martha Stearns Marshall and Lottie Moon that I might discover that these women were “fashion forward” for their time period. I’m not talking about Dolce and Gabbanna or Abercrombie and Fitch. These two women would probably sport the bright, teal blue colored and bold, white lettered “This Is What a Preacher Looks Like” t-shirt.

Martha Stearns Marshall began her service as a missionary to Native Americans in the New England area. With the start of the French and Indian War, Martha, her husband, and her brother all moved southward and settled in Virginia. Along the way, they became Baptists, received believer’s baptism, and soon started attending a local Particular Baptist church. And then the controversy began. A Baptist church isn’t complete without some good controversy, and Martha brought plenty with her. Church folks didn’t take too kindly to her and her leadership simply because she was a woman. She prayed, preached, and led worship with zeal and gifts that surpassed men. Scandalous! Her preaching has been described as enhancing her husband’s ministry. When Daniel Marshall later sought ordination, some ministers refused to participate because his wife was a preacher. This is what a preacher looks like.

Lottie Moon felt called to missions. She hopped aboard a boat and set sail for China. Lottie “operated a girls’ school, evangelized in villages, and cared for destitute women in her home.” And then the controversy began. She preached. And she agonized over her call to preach. The time period and culture in which she lived said to her and other gifted, called women that they couldn’t preach simply because of their gender. In one of her missionary letters, Lottie wrote, “‘It is not the custom of the Ancient church that women preach to men.’ I could not, however, hinder their calling upon me to lead in prayer. Need I say that, as I tried to lead their devotions, it was hard to keep back the tears of pity for those sheep not having a shepherd.” This is what a preacher looks like.

In these examples, God calls a person to partner with God in God’s extraordinary mission of redemption in the world. God calls. There is some obstacle or problem or roadblock. God doesn’t take “no” for an answer. God is persistent and provides a way. We find a similar story in Luke’s gospel.

It was life as usual—another ordinary day of work. Simon, James, and John had just come in from fishing. They were cleaning their nets. Does any of this sound familiar? We have our set routines and schedules just like these fishermen. Get up. Go to work. Time for home. Bed. Repeat. We know what to expect and when to expect it. There are no surprises. With God, however, we should expect the unexpected. And the unexpected happened with the disciples. Jesus showed up. He asked if Simon would cast the boat out from shore and to let down the nets. The nets were lowered and filled with fish to the point of breaking.

Simon then realized that he was in the presence of the Lord. How often do we go about our daily living and not even realize we are in the presence of the Lord, that Jesus is with us? We are so busy or everything is so mundane that we fail to notice Jesus in our presence. Simon responded: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8b NRSV). We think we can’t serve God simply because of who we are or who society says we are. But God has knitted us together in the womb, and God knows who we are even before our birth. When we choose to follow Jesus, we become part of the body of Christ. We soon discover, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

When we choose to follow Jesus, we are also responding to his call to us to ministry. We are God’s instruments. In describing ministry to the Christ-followers in Corinth, Paul wrote that “we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (II Corinthians 4:7 NRSV). Paul said that the ordinary, common, fragile clay jars contained and ferried the treasure. We are the clay jars, and Jesus Christ is the treasure. We carry within each of us the image of God and life of Jesus Christ. We are the vessel God uses to share God’s love with the world. We are the instrument.

Jesus gave the disciples a new purpose and job. They were to fish for people now. The disciples left all they had and followed Jesus. The call to ministry changed their lives and the lives of other people. Jesus is calling us, too, to proclaim the Good News. How will we respond? Jesus can change our life and the lives of others, too, if only we will let him.

Jason Ranke is a student at McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia.

Planting Seeds of Reconciliation by Missy Ward

Written on the altar of what remains of a Catholic church in Ntamara, rural towns outside of Kigali, Rwanda, are the words: “if you knew me and you knew yourself, you would not have killed me.” These words are a powerful emblem at site where mass murder took place just seventeen years ago. Directly in front of the altar lay belongings and human remains from hundreds of victims who were killed, simply because they were of a different ethnic group.

Such violence is often the result of a systemic dehumanization process resulting in a person or group becoming “the other.” In Rwanda, this dehumanization was communicated through government-sponsored propaganda over several years leading up to the genocide. This campaign was rooted in bitterness and frustration of the unjust economic and social infrastructure established by former colonial powers that favored the Tutsi ethnic group. The years of bitterness and resentment and desire for power manifested itself in 100 days of mass killings of thousands of Tutsi and moderate Hutus throughout Rwanda.

The words at Ntmara will remain forever written on my heart. They are a vivid reminder of the need to combat bitterness with healing, fear with understanding and hatred with love. I had the opportunity to participate in the planting of seeds of reconciliation as an intern last fall with Refuge and Hope, which is a Christian ministry that assists those affected by war and conflict in Uganda. I volunteered as an ESL teacher at the Center of Hope, a community center for urban East African refugees in Kampala, Uganda.

Diversity was a very present reality at the center as seven different countries were represented. Within each country group, there were additional language, class and ethnic divisions. Many countries had experienced war with neighboring states (such as Ethiopia and Eritrea) and/or internal civil war (Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan). These conflicts resulted in resentment, prejudices and division within the Centre’s student body.

Recognizing this division, staff and volunteers sought to bridge understanding and reconciliation through classes and activities. I taught a morning ESL class twice a week that had students from five different countries. When I first began teaching this class in September, students had little to no interaction with people from outside of their own ethnic group. Over the next few months, during class breaks, I took my class outside and played interactive games and activities. One activity that became a favorite was the name game. This game consisted of students saying their name and doing a hand motion, while everyone else repeated their name and motion. This game allowed students the opportunity to interact with one another.

Some of my favorite Uganda memories are standing in a circle with my students, laughing together as they attempted to make the right action as they said “Yvette! Jane! Rose!” By the time that I left in December, students in my classes had become family.

The presence of prejudice made it challenging to reach out and connect with all nationalities represented in Kampala. There is strong prejudice amongst Ugandans and other East African refugees against one nationality group in particular. These societal stigmas made bridging a connection with this group particularly difficult. Although this was one of the largest and poorest refugee populations in Kampala, no students from that ethnic group come to the center.

One day while visiting with friends I had the opportunity to connect with someone from this nationality. While my friends and I were walking down the stairs from their apartment, a woman in her mid-forties smiled at us. We walked over and introduced ourselves. During the first moments of the conversation, her three children came out and introduced themselves. We told them about English, sports, computer, cooking and sewing classes at a community center less than a kilometer from their home.

This conversation was pivotal to the ministry of the center. As a result, twenty more people from this nationality joined classes at the center during the next month. The other students expressed strong reservations and reluctance when these new students first arrived at the center. Over time, deep relationships were built though teaching English, playing Frisbee during class breaks, visiting their homes, and sharing meals and religious holidays together. These families are now an integral part of the Refuge and Hope community.

Refuge and Hope recognizes that students are survivors and have the potential to be key leaders within their communities as they seek to re-build their country and lives. Refuge and Hope seeks to plant seeds of understanding and reconciliation, rooted in the love. I was so inspired throughout my internship last semester to see an organization take seriously the mandate of Christ to be peacemakers in the world.

Missy Ward is a student at McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia.

A Great Company of Women Preachers by Curtis W. Freeman

The Lord gives the command; great is the company of women who bore the tidings. Psalm 68:11 (NRSV)

Earlier this spring I was sitting with a congregation in Durham, North Carolina listening to a “call sermon” by a student. She began by telling the story of the woman at the well from the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel. The woman was just there to get a little water, the preacher explained, but then she met Jesus who gave her living water. The preacher shifted to her story of growing up in a Baptist church in the Deep South, her doctoral education and a teaching career, and her eventual matriculation in divinity school to explore and learn. She confessed to having no intention of becoming a preacher. Like the woman at the well, she was “just there to get a little water.” But Jesus interrupted her plans and told her to go and tell a thirsty world about living water.

Listening to her sermon I was reminded of another young woman named Sarah Wight, who in the spring of 1647 began a fast that lasted seventy-six days. Her family and members of their Baptist congregation gathered around her bedside as she lay weakened to the point of death, blind, and deaf. As she moved in and out of consciousness, she received a series of revelations that offered signs of grace. After calling for a drink of water, she sat up in her bed and began to prophesy. As she recounted her dreams and visions, her sick bed was transformed into a pulpit, and the friends and family at her beside became the gathered community with whom Christ promised to be present. She had no intention of becoming a preacher either. She was just there to get a little water. But preach she did.

The Psalmist envisions a great company of women preachers. In truth its witnesses stretch from the present through voices like Sarah Wight reaching all the way back to the Hebrew prophetesses Miriam (Ex 15:20-21) and Deborah (Judges 4:4, 5:1-31). Yet the historical narrative has some noticeable gaps, especially when it comes to telling the story of preaching women among the Baptists. We know all too well the lives and writings of our Baptist forefathers from John Smyth to John Bunyan, but what about our foremothers? Were there women preachers among the early Baptists? Who were they? Did they leave behind any record of their thoughts in their own words?

A Company of Women Preachers focuses on the writings (1640-1690) of seven Baptist women: Katherine Chidley, Sarah Wight, Elizabeth Poole, Anna Trapnel, Jane Turner, Katherine Sutton, and Anne Wentworth. They were known by their seventeenth century contemporaries as “prophetesses.” Yet the distinction between “preaching,” in which only men could engage, and “prophesying,” which permitted women to exercise their gifts, was difficult to maintain. Preaching and prophesying often came to much the same thing. These women believed their prophetic activity was the fulfillment of God’s promise for a great outpouring of the Spirit and a great overturning of the social order in which women as well as men would proclaim the gospel. It was a subversive hermeneutical vision in a social world where biblical warrants were used to reinforce the subjugation of women. As Sarah Wight put it, “This is but a taste now of what shall be.”

Baptist prophetesses have been understudied by feminist scholarship, in part because they have been perceived to be less radical than the Quakers and some other Dissenters. But what could be more radical than Katherine Chidley, who conceived of herself as Jael the wife of Heber (Judges 4:21), stealthily assaulting the unsuspecting Presbyterian heresy hunter, Thomas Edwards, with the devastating blows of her theological hammer? Or Elizabeth Poole, whose reputation for mixing prophecy and politics earned her an invitation to address the council of the army as they deliberated on the fate of King Charles I? Or Anna Trapnel, whose millenarian visions and prophetic poetry made her a public enemy of Oliver Cromwell and the Protectorate? Or Anne Wentworth, whose spiritual marriage to Jesus and apocalyptic revelations drew the attention of royalty, politicians, and the Baptists?

These women are, to be sure, of more than just historical importance. There is much that they can teach us today about faith, the Spirit, and the church. Anyone seeking spiritual growth and guidance will greatly benefit from reading Jane Turner’s autobiographical account of “an experienced Christian.” Those exploring the depths of praise, worship, and hymn-singing stand to learn from the story of Katherine Sutton’s gift of spiritual singing. A Company of Women Preachers retrieves thirteen texts by seven early Baptist women as they were originally printed so that their voices long silenced may again be heard. Then perhaps of this great company of women it may be said, as it was of the great cloud of witnesses, that they “being dead yet speak” (Hebrews 11:4).

Curtis W. Freeman is research professor of theology and Baptist studies and Director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School. He is a member of the board of directors of Baptist Women in Ministry of North Carolina. A Company of Women Preachers: Baptist Prophetesses in Seventeenth-Century England is 824 pages and is available in hardback edition from Baylor University Press.

Baylor University Press has offered a 30% discount on the book from April 18 to May 15 to Baptist Women in Ministry readers. To get the discount, visit their website at (and insert the code BCWP in the shopping cart) or call the Hopkins Fulfillment Service customer service team at 1-800-537-5487 (and mention the BCWP code).

Talking About Money in Church by Pam Durso

This past Monday I was part of a conversation about women ministers and compensation. Several women spoke of their experiences in negotiating their compensation packages with churches. I was struck by the words of one woman who talked about the culture of secrecy around the issue of money that she had experienced in an earlier church position. I think lots of us Baptists are plagued by that same problem. We don’t talk about money in church.

Okay, we Baptists actually do talk about money in church. We talk about tithing our money. We are asked to give our money to special offerings. We are encouraged to be good stewards of our money.

But we as Baptists DON’T talk much about money when it comes to how much we pay our ministers. Once a year when we see the church budget we might give brief thought to the salaries paid to our church staff members. But even then, with the facts in black and white on a piece of paper right in front of us, we don’t ask too many questions about what those figures really mean. Oh yes, some of us do make comments about how high the salaries seem to be, or we ask whether our church can afford to continue to pay for benefits, but I know of very few churches that have had open conversations about how our pastor’s salary compares to the salaries of church members who have similar educational and work experience backgrounds. I know of few churches who openly discuss whether the children’s minister is receiving adequate benefits. We leave those hard conversations about money to our personnel committees.

I have been pondering why it is that Baptist congregations are hesitant to talk about the money they give the pastoral leaders they have called. Is it shame? Are we ashamed of the embarrassingly low salary we pay our ministers? Or is it fear? Are we frightened that if we talk about money our ministers might ask for better packages? Or is it pride? Are we desperately holding on to the belief that our church is generous and gracious to our ministers? Or is it stinginess? Are we reluctant to give more to our church or make the financial sacrifices it would take to pay competitive salaries? I sure there are many other reasons as well, but the bottom line is that we too often avoid honest talk about money with our ministers.

During Monday’s discussion, I was struck by the words of Allen Abbot, senior benefits consultant with the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board. Allen said that women (and men too) could use the compensation discussion during the call process as an opportunity to provide leadership in the hard conversations about money. During the months of working with a search committee, the candidate can initiate some healthy discussions about compensation and benefits. Of course, to be the leader of such a discussion, the candidate needs to be well informed. She needs to read up on the topic, to gather the facts, and to talk to those who are informed about ministerial tax laws.

I like that idea—being a leader! I like the idea of a candidate helping to shape the call process into a true educational experience for all involved. But being that kind of leader takes courage, and it takes good advice and solid information!

Here are Allen’s suggestions to being that kind of leader—“Seven Things to Think About Before You Say ‘Yes.’”

1. Know your needs! Know your financial needs. Know your personal and family needs. A higher cash salary may be less important if you are a 50+-something minister looking toward retirement than if you are a 20-something minister with small children and educational debt. So know what you need. Make priorities.  Think both long-term and short term.

2. Know what is meant by “compensation.” Compensation is cash salary plus housing allowance plus Social Security offset. Be sure you know what other items contribute toward the salary for which you will be taxed: honoraria, a church-provided car, excessive housing allowance, etc.

3.   Know what is meant by “benefits.” Benefits include a retirement plan, life/disability, medical/dental, maternity/paternity leave, sabbatical, sick leave, holidays/paid vacation, etc.

4.   Know what is meant by “professional expenses.” Those expenses include reimbursement for auto/mileage, continuing education allowance, meetings and dues, books and journals, vestments, and entertainment of church guests. Ministers need to know that the church must set up a reimbursement plan for expenses at the church. If church just allocates a sum toward expenses and hands that amount of cash to the minister, that money is then considered taxable income.

5.   Secure a copy of the church’s personnel policy manual. Does the manual include a policy for annual evaluations? accountability resolution process? pastor-parish relations committee? If the church doesn’t have a manual, ask how the church personnel policy decisions are made.

6.   Know the details of the church’s vacation, sabbatical, flex spending account, and disability policies.

7.   Get your financial package in writing! Asking for a written offer from a church may offend some on the search committee. They might feel they are not being trusted. But having a package in writing protects both the church and the minister.

Allen’s final words of wisdom were: “Get help!” Find resources. Talk to people. Read up on the issues. And a great place to start is on the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Boards website. They offer some very helpful FREE resources! Go to and click on “tools.” MMBB has resources with titles such as “Q&A for Church Treasurers,” “The Laborer Deserves to be Paid,” “The Tax Guide for Ministers.”

Consider this a conversation starter! So what are your questions about compensation and benefits? What experiences have you had in talking about “money” in the church?

Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.

Learning How to Talk Again by Missy Ward

Her name is Mary. She is an eighteen-year-old Rwandan teenager, whose smile brings sunshine to the cloudiest of days. A friend brought her to the center to register for English classes during my second week in Kampala. The only English word she knew was hello. Even though I taught the Beginner’s English Class, all of my students had at least a basic foundation of grammar and conversational phrases.

I decided to privately tutor Mary twice a week in order to catch her up with the other students. She worked really hard over the next several weeks to learn the alphabet, days of the week, and basic conversational phrases. Whenever we would start class, she was always incredibly excited to practice the words she had learned. She would say with joy and excitement “My name is Mary! I am from Rwanda! Today is Wednesday!” We had profoundly connected, through mutual loving action. Although this connection was established, I knew very little about her.

One day as I was writing our practice exercises on the board, Mary was flipping through her notebook. I noticed that she had what looked like an essay on a few of the pages. I smiled as I told her that I was proud that she had written so much. But as she looked up at me, a sullen look overtook her face.

She handed me a letter that was addressed to me . . . written in English. It said:

Dear Missy,
This is Mary, your student. I asked someone to write to you because I cannot know how to tell it to you in English. The first of all I would like to kindly ask you to bear with me and read my long story. Here I start:
I was born in of the camps in Democratic Republic of Congo (Mary’s parents were amongst the thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees who fled to DRC after the genocide). When the 1996 war started, my parents tried to run. I was about three years old. That is what people who found me in the bush where my mom left me told me. Since then, I have been living in the forest near Walikau with the family who took me in. I have never been lucky in that forest. We used to live in fear and despair because men came anytime they want. They take one of the girls or women, and then raped us. I have seen the worst. It is just four months ago when one of the families sent some money and someone to take us from the forest. When we reached Kampala, they told me that they have to go on with their journey to Europe and can’t take me with them. I sat on the floor near the bus and started crying. But, God sent a woman to ask me why I was crying. I told her my story. She took me home with her till now. She told me that I must find a way of living because she also doesn’t have a job. She depends on her husband.
So dear Missy, help me with prayer or any other means so that I can have a stable life. I need God to help me find shelter, food and all the basics in life. When I can find a chance to study I want to be fruitful to the society that I live in. My story does not end here, but I tried to make it short. Wednesday I will come for the last lesson because the family which are relocating to _____. I don’t know where it is but I think it is far. I can’t make it to school. I will always be grateful for your kindness, tenderness and generosity. May God almighty be with you? I love you.

After reading this letter, with her hand in mine, we sat together and cried. I was actually grateful to God for the language barrier that existed between us. It prevented me form attempting to say something to make her feel better. The truth is there is nothing I could have said that would take the terrible memories or pain away. What she really needed in that moment was a friend by her side to listen, take her hand, wipe her tears and pray for her.

Gregory Smith, a Jesuit priest who assisted Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda, described this loss of words as the following: “to preach to this sea of suffering is like learning how to talk again. Herein lies the sobering truth: I am free when I am out of control and when I get out of the way.” It was in moments of listening to the heartbreaking stories of students like Mary that I learned how to talk again and let go of comforts and preconceived notions. I learned how to let go in order to have a deeper trust and reliance on God—who created Mary, loves her, and has the power to bring healing and transformation in her life.

God has placed a passion on my heart to assist the many Marys in our world, female refugees who have experienced sexual assault, trafficking, and domestic violence. My student is one of millions of women throughout the world for whom political instability, violence and vulnerability are a daily reality. Will you join me in praying for these precious sisters and daughters in Christ?

Missy Ward is a student at McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia.

Letter of Hope by Jennifer Harris Dault

Dear Baptist Soon-to-be Women,
Dear Hope of a Women in Ministry Advocate,
Dear Daughters of the Church,

I write to you because you are who I think about. You are in my thoughts when I talk to female colleagues. You are in my thoughts when I have conversations about a woman’s proper place. You are in my thoughts when I am sitting in class, representing you. You are in my thoughts when I urge my coworkers to be mindful of gender pronouns. You are in my thoughts when I plan the next steps of Baptist Women in Ministry-Missouri. You are in my thoughts when I am in tears mourning the lack of opportunities for gifted women of God.

You are in my thoughts because I hope and pray that your journey is easier than mine. I hope that your gifts are being encouraged, that people refer to you as “the future pastor.” I hope that no matter the gender of your pastor (though at this point, I have to assume male) that you have seen women in the pulpit, preaching and ministering and delivering the word of God. I hope that you know ministry is an option for you. I hope that you have church leaders who see your giftedness and give you opportunity to develop it.

I hope that you are in class with others who look like you – and, of course, those who don’t. I hope that being a pastor can be a “back-up” option for you if you decide the academic life isn’t what you want.

I hope that it is assumed that you are what a preacher looks like.  That you are seen as a valuable resource from the moment you step into the room. That you have a prominent role in local clergy groups.

I hope that you are addressed as Preacher and Minister and Proclaimer instead of speaker. I hope your classmates give you nicknames like “Rev” or “Doc” and ask for your insight on their projects. I hope that you can serve in the tradition of your choice and not have to think about whether your calling or denominational preference come first.

I hope Baptist Women in Ministry will be a group of women who enjoy hanging out and brainstorming together instead of a group advocating for a place at the table. I hope that your daughters wear heels and play church, preaching and serving communion and blessing the world.

I hope your voice is always compassionate and full of authority. I hope your voice speaks truth to power and seeks justice for all of God’s people.

And I hope that whatever you are called to be, that you see a way there. I hope that you don’t have to spend nights in tears wondering if there is a place for you.

I hope for you. I think of you. You are my prayer.

With love,

Jennifer Harris Dault is a student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary and is the organizer of Baptist Women in Ministry of Missouri. This post is from her blog.

Hand in Hand by Missy Ward

This past fall I interned with Refuge and Hope (RH), a non-profit directed by Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel, who assist refugees living in East Africa. During my four-and-a-half months of service, I mainly taught English as a Second Language at their community center in Kampala, Uganda. In addition to meeting basic needs within the community, RH also seeks to empower refugees to be leaders of change within their communities by holding conferences throughout the year.

As an RH intern in Uganda, I had the humble privilege of leading a leadership conference for a group of female Bari Sudanese pastors who live in Kampala. These women are between the ages of 20-55. Some have been life-long refugees; others have lived in Kampala for only a few years. All the women have experienced enormous hardships. Although there is currently a ceasefire, Southern Sudan has experienced war off and on since the mid 1950s. Since independence was achieved from Great Britain, the north has dominated the south, and the south has been subjected to one dictator after the other. Only recently through a referendum have the Southern Sudanese been able to express their democratic voice and demand to be separated from the north.

The direct result of decades of war and oppression has been the destruction of villages, rapes, murders, enlistment of child soldiers, and a flourishing slave trade. As an American, these circumstances are difficult to fathom. I could not comprehend what it is like, simply because of skin color, to be called abed (Arabic for slave) by government officials and fellow citizens. I could not understand what it must feel like to see Muraleen soldiers on horseback storm into villages, burn down houses, and kill my parents. I could not imagine walking for hundreds of miles to Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons camps. I could not fathom what it would be like to go for days without adequate food, water, or shelter, wondering if I could make it through the night.

These are the realities that many of these female pastors face. Some had also experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, and abandonment by their spouse. Although these realities are overwhelming, the pastors take comfort in knowing that they serve a God who is bigger than injustice or oppression. They worship a God who is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1).  This dependency on God is evident day in and out of their lives. Members of the church meet several times a week to pray, fast, fellowship, study, and worship together. Their hope is also evident, most significantly in the way in which they worship God. They praise God with their entire body as they jump up and down, clapping their hands. They make a joyful noise at the top of their lungs as they boldly sing praises to God.

On the day of the conference, I had the opportunity to preach a message of transformation and empowerment based on the text of John 4. After the sermon, we had discussions about what it means to be loved and empowered by God. The women spoke of the things that hold them back from experiencing God’s love and transformation. This conversation provided an opportunity to build intimacy and accountability within their community.

We also discussed what it means to love and serve others within their community, specifically persons from different ethnic groups. In Southern Sudan, there are tribal divisions, which are further compounded by differences in appearance, language, and religion. These divisions have been historically re-enforced by political, economic, and social circumstances. The women pastors talked about what these divisions mean as well as the importance of loving those who are different. Although not everyone’s mind was changed by the end of the conference, seeds of reconciliation were planted.

The opportunity to lead this conference was a life changing experience for me. Through discussions and preparation for the day, my heart became more broken for the circumstances that these pastors and millions of other Sudanese face. Through worshipping together, I learned how to jump and sing more boldly than I had before.  Through preaching, I gained a deeper understanding of Christ’s love. And through discussions, I was profoundly humbled and inspired as I ministered and was ministered to by this group of strong, bold and faithful pastors.

Missy Ward is a student at McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia.