God often reveals the power of his presence in the most unexpected of places. For example, broken experiences highlight the depravity of one’s surroundings and escalate our ability to taste the mercy of God. Personally, some of the sweetest parts of my faith are found in dark corners and hidden crevices, places I would never naturally look to find Jesus.
Several times over this past year, I have experienced the unexpected beauty of God during visits to a correctional institute for women. As a woman who is passionate about biblical equality, particularly in leadership, I am sensitive about invitations to minister only to women. When I was offered the opportunity to work with the women at this facility, I was ambivalent because of the theological presupposition some hold that the only role for a female pastor is leading other women (or children). While I deeply value the opportunity to fellowship and grow with other women, I do not believe that God desires to limit anyone’s contribution to one demographic of the church body. Although I feared the implications, I decided to embark on this opportunity, trusting that I was needed there.
In November 2009, I led the first of many groups into this facility, and I was blown away. The women we met told stories that grieved our souls—stories of child abuse, of women brutally beaten by their husbands or male lovers, of young women struggling with what it means to be good mothers from prison.
After our first day of visits, we spent the second day working together on the integration of our faith and the teaching of Scripture with practical life skills. In these sessions, the truth about the brokenness of every person in the room—the guards, the facilitators (myself included!), and the prisoners—began to be revealed and exposed. We shared stories of the past. We confessed times we have failed and times others have failed us. As the truth of our brokenness became exposed, the reality of God’s grace, love, and mercy became tangible. We realized that each of us is like a broken shard of glass—rough and jagged around the edges. Sometimes we deeply wound people around us. Other times, as we submit to the process of inner transformation, we have the opportunity for our rough edges to be softened. Like all of us, the women in the facility were deeply broken, and also profoundly beautiful.
Out of the deepest places of pain and weakness, the beauty of God is expressed in all who follow him. This experience was a powerful reminder that regardless of any obstacle, all of us must be obedient to God’s call upon our lives. Had I not been faithful in agreeing to minister with these women—despite the theological presupposition of a “woman’s place”—I would have missed out on a deeply moving and beautiful experience.
Sometimes the call on our lives doesn’t make sense. I continually come face-to-face with people who believe that I shouldn’t be a pastor. I often wonder if God made a mistake when he gifted me and called me to be a leader in the church. Every day, I am forced to make the decision about whether or not I am going to be faithful to the call of God on my life. This means standing firm and asserting myself against the false teachings of complementarianism. The work of God is bigger than human limitations and other’s false perceptions of me. Obedience is foundational for those who submit to being disciples of Christ—regardless of gender. I rest in the promise that despite the brokenness we find in ourselves and in our world, Christ’s redemptive work in us and through us makes us beautiful.