For CBE staff member Sarah Edwards, the significance of the Global Celebration for Women was captured in a single moment: when a group of brilliantly dressed African women began to sing and dance contagiously to the beat of a drum.
“The whole hall full of people drew their attention to the group and joined them,” Edwards said. “You should have seen the line of nations marching around the hall behind the drum, singing at the top of their lungs and enjoying each other in their differences, but also their love of our Creator.”
This spontaneous moment took place a week after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when approximately 10,000 women from 156 countries gathered in Houston, Texas, for the Global Celebration for Women. The event was planned to celebrate the impact women have made around the world for God’s kingdom.
Christians for Biblical Equality and its members participated in the Celebration by hosting a booth, leading workshops, and providing an opportunity for those interested or involved in CBE to meet one another. In addition, the organization’s “Statement on Men, Women and Biblical Equality” was included in each attendee’s registration packet.
Staff and volunteers share equality with excited crowd
CBE staff members Mimi Haddad, Joanne Nystrom Janssen and Sarah Edwards distributed free informational materials about the organization and sold select book titles at the organization’s booth. They were assisted by CBE members Geraldine Glasenapp, Carol Gertz, Sharon New and Ruby Renz.
“When I agreed to volunteer, I frankly had not even a clue of what it might be like,” said Gertz, of Beaumont, Texas. “I was ready for either cold rejection or warm acceptance from the participants.”
The reception she and the others received, however, was one of support and excitement. Gertz said attendees were often drawn in by the book titles, such as “Men Are from Israel, Women Are from Moab,” which then provided an opportunity to share CBE with women from around the world. She noted that she gave CBE literature to women from Africa, Europe, Australia, South America, and North America.
“What a joy to watch their eyes light up, even fill with tears, as they heard that wonderful phrase ‘biblical equality,’ and begin to absorb what that might mean to their lives and ministry,” Gertz added.
Renz, a volunteer from Barker, Texas, described the experience as invigorating: “It was an incredible privilege to introduce the God of equality to hurting women who thought they were all alone in their walk to be what God made them to be, even if it was opposite of what they had been taught by those around them.”
Women say CBE was answered prayer
One of the women Renz was able to introduce to biblical equality was Deborah Wright, a pastor from Rockport, Texas. Wright said she was walking around the booths, discouraged, praying for God to send her to just the right place. When she happened across the CBE booth, she discovered a ministry that spoke to her needs.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Wright said. “The Lord had encouraged me before through others, but never through an organization. Your booth was an absolute miracle to me.”
Susanne Peters from Blair, Neb., was another attendee who encountered the CBE booth. She had been raised in a home and church where women were equal, but during and after college she learned about and became a member of churches where women were not allowed in leadership.
“Because of their interpretation of verses in the New Testament, Paul seemed to only allow men in those positions,” Peters said. “Wives submit, never husbands. Mothers sacrifice, not fathers.”
In spite of these teachings, Peters said God led her to books that taught her that the Bible teaches that men and women are created equally and that Jesus treated men and women equally.
When Peters discovered the CBE booth at the Global Celebration, she said, “I was thrilled! It was an answer to prayer. I asked immediately, ‘Can I work for you?’”
Terrorist attacks reduce attendees but increase significance
Stories like these confirm the importance and impact of this event. Only a week before it was to begin, however, the event planners had to make a difficult decision: Would they hold the Global Celebration for Women?
After the September 11 attacks, the 10 founding partners in the United States had two long conference calls, according to Lorry Lutz, a CBE member who had been involved in the event’s planning from its inception. They evaluated the pros and cons, checked into travel restrictions, and investigated security concerns.
“We actually took a voice count on the phone on Friday before the event,” said Lutz, “and had total agreement that we should go forward.”
Fear and travel difficulties cut attendance dramatically. Lutz said they were expecting between 20,000 and 25,000 people, but approximately 10,000 came.
While the tragedy may have reduced attendance, the timing of the conference added significance for some attendees.
Wright said she became overwhelmed with emotions upon seeing a woman in a Salvation Army uniform, whose badge said she was from New York City. “We just looked at each other and wept,” she said.
“It was incredible that women from all over the world were together praising God and praying for the world only one week after the attack,” said Peters.
Renowned speakers celebrate women’s contributions
The six general sessions celebrated women’s contributions to kingdom building, encouraged them in their giftedness, raised awareness of suffering women, and equipped women to touch the world with the love of Jesus. Keynote speakers included Elizabeth Dole, Anne Graham Lotz, Judy Mbugua, and other authors and women leaders from around the world.
An especially meaningful moment, according to CBE President Mimi Haddad, was when men apologized during one of the general sessions for holding women back from ministry and for devaluing their gifts.
At least eight of the 37 workshops were led by CBE members: Mimi Haddad, Lorry Lutz, Alvera Mickelsen (unable to attend), Catherine Clark Kroeger, Deborah Menken Gill, Kathrine Gathro, Lianne Roembke and Miriam Adeney. Some topics included women in church history, what the Bible says about women in ministry, and understanding Muslim women.
Lianne Roembke of Campus Crusade for Christ International traveled from Germany to offer insight into how to reach women from other cultures. As she discussed cultural differences and how to overcome them, she said she was able to briefly talk about women’s “gifting, responsibility and privilege to fulfill their God-given calling.”
Miriam Adeney, Associate Professor of Global and Urban Ministries at Seattle Pacific University, co-led a workshop about ministering to Muslim women, attended by about 600 women. She said her workshop taught that Muslim women are not passive victims but active decision-makers.
“The response was terrific,” said Adeney. “I think they left empowered to communicate with the Muslim women in their communities.”
CBE friends connect over dinner
Times of learning were balanced with times for building relationships. On the second evening of the conference, 25 CBE members and friends gathered at a local restaurant for encouragement and fellowship. Each person introduced herself and shared about her ministry or her journey to understanding biblical equality.
“I was filled with emotion listening to the different women announcing who they were,” said Deborah Wright, the pastor who had discovered CBE’s booth only hours before. “Some were pastors and some were leaders.”
“What a fascinating variety of women!” added Catherine Allen of Birmingham, Ala. “We had the gamut from CBE founding heroines to first-time inquirers. [Novices] in ministry and veterans. Achievers and strugglers. Laughter and tears. Everybody was welcome and everybody contributed.”
Haddad described this evening as one of her most treasured memories of the week. She said she was especially filled with joy at the stories of the women demonstrating how CBE encouraged their faith, strengthened their marriages and gave them confidence in ministry.
Celebration impacts attendees’ lives
After the Celebration, attendees emphasized its overall importance for their own lives and for the church.
“Women came away with a deep sense of their responsibility to use their gifts to serve God,” said Lutz. “The impact of the international women opened their eyes to the broader body of Christ.”
“Everybody was able to rally around Jesus Christ and the need for global cooperation in making a loving God known, especially to women,” said Allen.
CBE’s message of equality amid such a conference seemed a natural link to staff member Edwards. She said it was important for some of the attendees to be encouraged in their ministries through CBE.
“And, it was an important Christian event supporting women and their gifts and that is what we are about!” Edwards added.
To Peters, CBE’s presence held evangelistic significance: “As Christianity evangelizes more and more of the world, we need to be sure we teach new converts the truth, and help women stand against abuse of any kind. We need more women in ministry to be more effective in reaching the world.”
As one of these women in ministry, Wright testified to CBE’s importance in helping her share Jesus with her community. “Our town is definitely a male-dominated ministry town, and women in ministry are just unheard of,” she said. “But God has given this Texas lady preacher a great vision. You have sparked my boldness again.”