Cancun normally falls far short of a site choice for a Come before Winter study seminar. We prefer quiet areas out of the way of noise and traffic and crowds. In Cancun, the hotel PA system boomed with DJs by 11 a.m.--with comics and exercise classes by the pool and a different show on stage each night. "All-Inclusive" meant the liquor flowed free from morning to night for the majority of the hotel's guests. More than once an Elvis Presley movie from my childhood came to mind: "Fun in Acapulco." Unfortunately, no Elvis. Security advisors, specialists in moving people in and out of dangerous locations, had recommended Cancun, though. Unfortunately, Mexico has become a dangerous destination. We were told: Do not host along the border (duh!) or "anywhere on the Pacific coast;" really? Tuluca and Puebla were possibilities, but both required flying into and out of Mexico City (and many of us were flying alone). Even though Cancun was recommended, I received email the week before, telling me about a bombing in one of the city's restaurants.
I have never feared traveling for a CbW event before, but Mexico spooked me. We considered (as we had with Thailand a couple months earlier) calling it off or moving it to Florida. However, four women from Chile had already purchased expensive tickets; they could not get visas into the U.S. without a lot of lead time. It would be Mexico or nothing, and we decided not to cancel. Instead, we would fly in, collect our baggage, and immediately meet "authorized transportation" from the airport to the hotel. We would not leave the hotel during the week, then take the same "authorized transport" back to the airport. No touring or siteseeing--just in and out. It worked well.
Our participants included a group from Mexico and the United States (almost all born and reared in various Central American countries). Carla Lowe had been working with this group for several years. In addition to these, Holly Emery brought three protégés from Santiago--"the Chileans." Angelica Martinez,who works with her husband to serve The Hills Church of Christ in its Spanish speaking ministry, joined us, as well. Including Arlene and I, we were twelve.
Come before Winter now budgets for 2-3 International Development Seminars a year. The events represent the ministry's commitment to serve women in ministry around the world, including those who do not speak English. Whereas our renewals are taught in English and so intricately designed so as to prohibit translation, these seminars are simpler: smaller groups, a team of 1-3, and a program limited to study and worship: three full days of study--only study--eight hours a day. Whereas the renewals are designed with American missionaries in mind, these seminars actually cater to national women--women who serve in their own culture and speak a language other than English. At first I taught these seminars in English to ESL speakers, but by now they are translated. I have been amazed at how well they proceed, though every sentence is spoken twice.
These brief, intense studies renew my spirit. No razzle dazzle--just a serious minded group of friends joined around the table, eating a piece of biblical text. In Cancun, we devoured the gospel of Mark, my favorite.
I am humbled by the women who meet me for these days. They don't complain about the hours of study (they have been told in advance what to expect). Rather, gratitude boils over into gestures of love--hugs, notes, gifts, laughter. Before we left, we set the date for "the twelve" to reunite--perhaps with a few others--in 2011 in Costa Rica when we will study Philippians.
After four years of study, the Russians hosted their own Come before Winter renewal in Russian. The Spanish group has that goal in mind, as well. They have completed step one. From the vantage point of the CbW board, that renewal will symbolize a type graduation. We do not have a goal to "syndicate" our program. We desire to equip. Once our students become proficient enough to host a renewal (with all its bells and whistles), they will have the skills to redefine and retool what they have learned to fit another culture, to take what they have learned and reinvent new and better ways to serve. Neither have we closed the door on the idea of Spanish-speaking Come before Winter teams. Instead, we wait. In this, as in all other tasks and missions laid before us, we have only one question: What does God have in mind? When we know that, we will know what to do.