March 13 and 14, 2020. Over 6000 women. As the world was literally shutting down all around us, societies were panicking, and toilet paper was becoming America’s most prized possession, the name of God was being praised and lifted high in a convention center in Monterrey, Mexico. It was such a weird time to be gathered. Here we were welcoming thousands of women from 29 countries as we read headlines of borders closing and social gatherings being banned back home. It all happened so fast and things were changing every time we looked at our phones. There were lots of conversations about who would be able to get home or who would not, who should change their flights and who was probably ok, who took three hours to get through customs and who breezed through with no problem. Our heads were spinning and at times, honestly, it was difficult to focus on the reason we were there.
Then Friday morning, someone posted a picture on our WhatsApp thread of ladies who had been lined up outside the convention center since 4:30 am, and suddenly, my focus slammed right back where it needed to be. These women had come, at great personal expense, because they were hungry. They were desperate to meet with the Lord. They were so eager to hear from His Word and worship Him that they were braving the chaos and unknown to keep this scheduled appointment with Him.
When the doors finally opened, and the ladies started rushing in, waving flags from their countries and racing to get seats up front, at first we laughed with them in their excitement, but then the tears started to come. I was overcome at all the Lord had done to get them, and me, to that spot at that moment. Those first songs, hearing the name of the God of all the nations being praised in a language that is mostly foreign to me, hearing all the represented countries called out, seeing those white hankies of surrender being waved in the air, seeing hands lifted high all over the room and tears running down cheeks as Christ was worshipped in prayer–I will never forget those moments. My heart felt like it was overflowing and would burst. I felt so very very small, and it felt so right to feel that way.
Too often, we in America can start to subconsciously think of the church in American hues. We picture people who look like us, songs that sound like ours, and definitely words that we can understand. I’d like to think that I’m not guilty of that, but I’m sure it creeps in subtly when I’m unaware. This conference was a wonderful opportunity to take off my star-spangled blinders and have a front row seat to another corner of the global church. Hearing the songs in Spanish, some to tunes I recognized and some to tunes I didn’t, and seeing the lyrics on the screen and not knowing all that they said, caused tears of joy to fill my eyes and a lump to fill my throat until I couldn’t have sung even if I had known what I was singing. Love is the only word I can grasp to even begin to describe it. Love for the God who created us all so gloriously different and yet still all bearing His image. Love for the Savior who knocked down all the barriers between cultures and who offers family and kinship to all races and languages. And love for my sisters (and a few brothers) in Christ who were just like me in the way that matters most.
The speakers at MV 20 were Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, Mary Kassian, Dannah Gresh, Damaris Carbaugh, and Pastor Sujel Michelen. Because of my serving responsibilities, I wasn’t able to hear every session, but the ones I did get to hear were a balm for my soul. Nancy, Mary, and Dannah are English-speakers, so they had a translator on the stage translating line by line, and of course, that meant we were able to understand them, too. Damaris and Pastor Sujel spoke Spanish, and there were headsets available for the English-speakers to hear an English translation as they spoke. I wish that Pastor Sujel’s message from Saturday morning was available in English for me to listen to again and again. The translator summed it up well when he couldn’t help but say, “Man, he really brought it today!” as he wrapped up his translation for us. He reminded us of who we are in Christ and what is true about our past, present, and future because of Christ. But every message was timely and extremely Word-centered. The impact of Nancy’s message on being rooted in trials was magnified by the fact that she shared with us the hard news of her husband’s melanoma diagnosis, received only earlier that week. Mary’s message of what it means to be a woman beautifully designed by God was especially timely because of all the feminist protests, marches, and riots experienced throughout Mexico earlier that week to commemorate International Women’s Day and to cry out against patriarchy. I firmly believe that timing “coincidence” is at least one reason God held off the virus shutdown in Mexico long enough for this conference to take place. The message of hatred and violence was not the last one to be spread through Latin America. By His grace, over 6000 women got to go home with the truth ringing in their ears instead of hollow, empty lies disguised as answers. I still shiver to think about the video footage we saw of the riots, and how God allowed His truth to go forth immediately after them.
The conference ended with possibly the most chaotic moments of all: the book signings. These ladies were bound and determined to have a minute or two with the speakers they love so much. There was talk of cancelling the signings amidst all the virus precautions, but they decided to go ahead. They met ladies and signed books for hours. Ladies were lined up in what looked like chaos but was actually fairly organized, filling the lobby of the convention center, and in Nancy’s line, outside the building and wrapping around the entryway. Most of them were patient and polite and careful to not be selfish with the time when it was their turn, but we quickly saw that a bit more security was needed to stop the breaches at the front of the line, so they recruited the only people crazy enough for the job. It felt a bit like playing Red Rover and trying to keep the other team from breaching our line.
And of course, we built in some time in the days before and after the actual conference to play when we weren’t needed to unload about a hundred boxes of tote bags. Monterrey has a beautiful city park that backs up to the convention center and hotel and extends to the downtown district. I hadn’t been in the country 8 hours before we decided to take a walk through the park. I was admiring the mountains in the distance and the beautiful lights in the trees around the canal and then suddenly the next thing I knew I was harnessed up to a zip line and soaring into the jungle. I never knew I would cave to peer pressure so easily. It all happened very quickly. After that, I pretty much just said yes to whatever was suggested, but that was the most adventurous moment until the bone marrow was served–in the bone–with my tacos on Sunday. And yes, I tried a bit of that, too. If I have to choose one of the two to try a second time, go on and harness me up to the zipline. My Latina friends can have my portion of the marrow.
On Sunday, after the conference was over, the crowds were headed home, and our flights still a day away, we took a boat ride to the other end of the canal and saw a section of the city besides just the convention center, hotel, and park. It was a fun day to relax, rest, experience a little more of the culture, and try not to worry about what madness might await us at the airports or home the next day.
When I left my house at 1:30 am on Tuesday, March 10 to head for Nashville to get on a plane, I could never have foreseen that upon my arrival home just six days later, I would enter an America that was far different from the one I had left. Here I sit, typing these words a full two weeks after arriving home, and the friends I was with in Mexico are still the last people I have seen and had full conversations with in person that I know personally. They are the last people I have hugged besides the people I live with. I came home to a country and a state that had screeched to a halt. So that fact makes these memories all the sweeter. We started to realize while we were there that we would be going home to literally stay in our houses, and I think we cherished each moment with friends and freedom to be out even more. And if I had known ahead of time, and were given a chance to handpick the ones with whom I wanted to spend the last few days of my social life before going into the life of a hermit, I don’t think I would have changed a thing. I will cherish the days and conversations and tears shared with these ladies in this city at this weird time in history for the rest of my life.
And then when I did come home, it was to the sweetest welcoming committee I could have imagined. I loved my time with my friends in Mexico so much, but nothing can replace this crew. I am so grateful for all that the Lord has done and all that He has given me. And most of all, I am grateful to be Arraigada (Rooted) in Him.