While reflecting on God’s faithfulness throughout 2019, I remembered a recent conversation with Alexia Salvatierra at the Evangelical Theological Society. An internationally recognized community organizer and seminary professor, Alexia remembered Archbishop Desmond Tutu saying once, “We are resurrection people!” Yes, God’s resurrection power is not only our hope, but the power and lift in all of our work at CBE International. God’s risen presence led CBE’s community throughout this year and awakened new empathy and resolve in us to balance power between men and women. I hope the stories I share inspire your faith as they have mine.
I enjoy connecting with CBE’s community wherever I travel. While CBE’s community is diverse, one theme held constant this year. Parents are deeply concerned about the impact of complementarian teachings in their churches on their daughters—some of whom have left the church. Compelled to make churches places of welcome, many parents have partnered with CBE to build a more biblical welcome for women leaders. One mother told me she read CBE books out loud with her daughters while they were growing up. One daughter now co-pastors a church with her husband. Imagine the seeds planted in this young woman’s heart that countered the narrative she heard in her family’s complementarian church.
Determined to end abuse in Christian communities, a large Presbyterian church invited me to speak on #MeToo and #ChurchToo. A horrific storm erupted the day of my lecture, yet over a hundred people drove through high water to discuss abuse in the church. The topic also drew lawyers working to improve church and organizational policies. I was moved to see so many of my students from years past. As I watched their faces in the audience, I remembered how some were survivors themselves. God is now using them as leaders and mentors in communities where women are often excluded from shared decision-making. One of my friends had served in a community where she herself heard women beaten in their homes. These memories are very painful and still bring tears to her eyes. I wonder if perhaps our tears are also God’s tears. Empathy often becomes a bridge to ministry beside those who are marginalized.
This year, I was privileged to work with the World Evangelical Alliance Women’s Commission in Amsterdam. For three days, leaders not only shared their experiences and expertise, we spent hours laughing, worshiping, and strategizing together. As women praised God because their ministries flourished despite fierce opposition, I imagined how the apostle Paul must have felt learning that his female coworkers nurtured faith in challenging cities like Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, and Philippi. CBE partnered with these women leaders by distributing hundreds of resources in the languages of the people they serve. As one woman read a small book in her own tongue, God seemed to speak directly to her. Another leader from France emailed later, saying, “I picked up every item you had placed on the book table. I am especially grateful for the resources you sent in French, as this is such an ongoing issue within the church here.”
CBE’s “Created to Thrive” conference in Houston was yet another occasion to observe God’s power working in people’s lives, especially students’ lives. Four college students applied for and received a conference scholarship at the eleventh hour. During an evening of sharing, they talked about how God had been moving in their spirits, leading them beyond male headship in the church and in marriage. As they prayed and searched, they discovered CBE! Within hours of applying, each received a scholarship, and together they jumped into a car and headed for Houston. Tearfully, they shared how God used CBE to strengthen their agency, voice, and vocation—located first and foremost in God’s gifts to them.
Another young couple attended our conference with a strong commitment to anti-trafficking. In speaking with the wife months later, I learned how the lectures altered their marriage and vocation. After hearing scholars address the Greek texts on women’s shared authority, the husband became a confirmed egalitarian reformer. His heart was ignited, and his wife said, “He’s not afraid to speak out, even if he is the only one.” If you missed the event, the keynotes and workshops are available for free online.
Just weeks after saying goodbye to guests in Houston, I headed to Kigali, Rwanda, for the “Man and Woman, One in Christ” conference hosted by CBE and partners in East Africa. The conference lectures exposed the theological roots of genocide and #MeToo in the church. Tearfully, one leader admitted how this altered his views: “Now I see why you care so much for women’s equality as believers.” Hearing the biblical case for women’s leadership confirmed God’s call to another leader. He said, “I’m absolutely certain God is calling me to be part of the solution in Africa!” The conference was even covered by the national news! Conveners were interviewed, and our comments were aired on primetime TV. Only God could orchestrate so much awareness, empathy, and momentum.
CBE finished 2019 strong by partnering with Christa Eisbrenner, Dean of the School of Women in Ministry in Canada. Preparing women for ministry, our lectures celebrated the holy alliance God intended for male and female—one based on mutuality not dominance! Lectures also elevated women’s leadership throughout church history. The entire day was streamed online across Canada! Intriguingly, students were surprised to learn about so many women leaders from history. Yet, history provides models and mentors for women who have few in their own churches. As George Orwell said, “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” History is essential to building healthy churches and communities that balance power between men and women of all racial and ethnic groups.
We celebrate how God’s risen life led CBE throughout 2019, as God has led the church throughout history. Touching lives, building empathy, calling and equipping leaders, God is the giver of all good gifts. May we, as a CBE community, remain intimately united to God’s risen life against which the gates of hell cannot stand. Thank you, everyone, for standing with CBE’s work, in this year and the next, through prayer, your gifts of service, and your financial support.