Last month, a group of Freedom Challenge women brought a much longed-for dream to life as they helped to lead a Christian conference for women in Bangladesh. Here, Nicole Walters shares her reflections on the event…
They walked into the room where the conference would be, seeing desks and chairs; it felt too formal, like a classroom. Five ladies from Freedom Challenge had come to Bangladesh to help facilitate the first ever women’s conference in Bangladesh. I have only lived here for a little over a year, but this country and these ladies are firmly planted in my heart. Others have worked here and dreamed of a conference like this for a decade.
The next morning 43 women would enter this conference room. Many would come from difficult to reach places, some from villages hours away by bus, rickshaw, boat, and on foot. Many of their families have rejected them because they have chosen to follow Christ in a country that is 80% Muslim (with a Hindu minority). One of the ladies told us that she told her family she was going to visit a friend over the weekend and was fearful of what they would do if they found out she was learning about Jesus.
The ladies from Freedom Challenge started unpacking suitcases they had hauled from the United States full of supplies. We had discussed a theme with them, one that had been in the heart of our team leader’s wife for many years: New Life, Notun Jibon in the Bangla these ladies speak.
A room full of butterfiles
We watched in amazement as the team transformed the room from formal classroom to a welcoming space. They moved tables around and put out colorful bags full of art supplies. They atmosphere was full of anticipation as they started hanging colorful paper butterflies from the ceiling. They told us about the plans they had for making bead and paper butterfly crafts, a clear theme emerging.
The butterfly theme hadn’t been discussed, only that we would talk about the new life. Our leader’s wife took out one of the mugs we had made for each participant of the conference—with a butterfly on each one. She had this picture in her mind for years as she dreamed of a conference like this—linking the transformation that happens in a butterfly’s lifecycle to the transformation that occurs as we follow Jesus.
It was clear that God had gone before us, had spoken this image into the hearts of all the people involved in planning this conference. 8000 miles apart from each other, our hearts were one. This weekend was the answer to years of prayer. And now we stood in a room full of butterflies everywhere. After prayers and tears flowed, we walked out of a classroom that had been transformed into a sacred space.
As a communications professional, I often get the distinct vantage point of observer. I watch from the sidelines, taking photos and writing notes to capture the stories of what God is doing here in Bangladesh. Over the next three days I watched in amazement as the entire countenance of women changed. Like the change of that meeting space, I watched as some women entered the conference guarded, some silent. As they received the truth spoken over them, laughed over games and crafts, connected with each other in small groups, and prayed together over shared stories of deep hurts—everything changed.
One woman towered over others, a serious face to go with her strong features. At the end of the day she poured out her story to one team member and they prayed together. Over the next few days we were amazed to see a different woman at the conference. She was full of life and laughter, joy apparent on her face as she hugged other ladies and told jokes during breaks.
I watched another woman withdraw into herself during interactive times. I noticed she was one of a few ladies that couldn’t read or write (many of the women learned to read as they went through literacy or skills programs offered by our teams). We prayed that first night that those that felt left out would feel a connection to others, that God would draw them out. Over the next two days I watched her pour out her heart-wrenching story to a counselor that prayed with her and would simply show up to put a hand on her back when she knew a teaching might be hitting a tender spot for this woman who had lost everything.
The gift of community
At the end of the conference we received communion together and received the gift of community with each other. Every woman in the room hugged each other, wept, and prayed over each other. I’ve never seen such a clear display of the Body of Christ holding each other up, such obvious transformation in the faces of his children in just a few days. Much freedom was gained in those days and I know this is only one small part of what God is doing in these ladies and all over Bangladesh in places we don’t get to witness it.