Report of conference, Larnaca, Cyprus 5-8th October 2017
report by Margaret Brown
In warm and sunny Larnaca, Cyprus, twenty-four ladies, plus one man (a pastor), mostly from the Middle East, gathered in the Middle East Reformed Fellowship, John Calvin Centre, from 5th – 8th October. The conference was arranged by the EBWU, particularly for the women of that region, for teaching, encouragement and fellowship, and to learn from each other in times of sharing.
The theme of the conference was ‘Lift up Your Eyes’ taken mainly from Psalm 121, the key verse being 1, ‘I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.’ It was a joy to welcome the ladies who were able to come and also to have a Pastor with us.
On Thursday evening Aniko Ujvari, EBWU President, welcomed everyone. Following the reading of Psalm 121, she took us on a walk up several Scriptural mountains and spoke of their significance – Sinai, Gerazim, Ebal, Nebo, Carmel, Mount of the Beatitudes, Tabor, Olives, Golgotha. She reminded us of the garden tomb and the words spoken by the angel, ‘He is Risen!’ Lift up your eyes; don’t be afraid to climb the mountains, remembering our help comes from the Lord.
Wies Dijkstra, EBWU Vice-President, led in a fun time of getting to know one another where each participant had to draw their own faces and say what feature they liked about themselves. The pictures were then strung up on the wall.
On Friday morning Margaret Brown, EBWU Secretary, led in a reflective reading of Psalm 121 followed by a time of corporate prayer, setting the scene for the day.
Fabienne Seguin, EBWU Treasurer, spoke from Luke 18:35-42 about a blind man who had to lift up his eyes to Jesus from Whom his help came, namely he received his sight from Jesus. There were no medical surgeries for healing this man’s sight – only a miracle was needed. The man realised that this was his time and so he stopped begging and called out loudly to Jesus. It seemed strange that the crowd wanted him to stop as they all knew Jesus was famous for His miracles. Sometimes help doesn’t come from those who ought to be supporting us. It seemed they didn’t want healing for this man. These people could see, but really they were spiritually blind; just like us sometimes. Are we ready to share the gospel with everyone? To Jesus’ question, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ his reply is obvious. He asked for the impossible. He didn’t ask for money, or food, or even someone to look after him. He asked confidently. He asked for the impossible. Jesus didn’t ask his name, He saw the man’s heart and his face and saw all He needed, and gave what was asked of Him. Jesus knows our needs and is well able to meet them. He sees and hears our cries whether loud or silent. Lift up your eyes – our help comes from the Lord.
Didi Oprenova, EBWU Committee Member, then led in small group discussion and feedback from what Fabienne shared.
The afternoon was taken up with sharing and testimonies. Some shared about the work they were involved in in their own churches and fellowships, others of the work they were doing among refugees, displaced people, trafficked women, offering practical help such as food, clothing, shelter, dental and medical help, education and play for children, vocational training, literacy classes, craftwork, and community centres. Spiritual help is also offered, Bibles are given and discipleship programmes with many coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some are seeing God performing miracles. We heard of programmes being run by some of the women – Cup of Cold Water project working with refugees, Muslims, women, children, offering practical and spiritual help. Heart to Handle is another programme training women to work as health aides in their community. Some are involved in family ministry where teaching and workshops are given on marriage relationships and family relationships to enable family life to be strong. Some shared personal testimony of what God has done and is doing for them. Many stories were shared of how God is at work in very difficult situations where war is constantly part of life and one never knows when shooting may start. There is much hardship and sorrow but there is much more love and positivity amongst those who belong to Christ. It was a humbling time. God continues to build His Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The present crisis has presented a marvellous opportunity for churches to open their doors and reach out in the name of Jesus with the love of Jesus in so many various ways. Prayer was offered for each of the countries represented in the sharing time.
An EBWU presentation was given in the evening with the committee members sharing; Aniko gave a power-point presentation; Fabienne spoke of the Day of Prayer; Wies of the News & Views magazine; Didi on being a Vice-President of the BWA, and Synnove shared about our One Woman, One Euro project. An offering was given for the One Euro project.
The Lords supper was observed after the presentation. This was a special time. We all sat in a circle and served one another. The presence of the Lord was truly among us.
Synnove Gasvaar Angen, EBWU Committee Member took the devotions on Saturday morning. She read Psalm 121, saying that is a song the pilgrims sang as they made their way up to Jerusalem to the temple. It is the song of a festival journey specially when climbing. Synnove told of a time when she was young; she was a long-awaited child, much younger than her two elder brothers so her time was mostly spent with her mother. When her mother experienced something which gave her joy she would say, ‘O, Synnove, we are on a real festival journey.’ Although her Mum had lived a life of real hardship her eyes were always lifted up to the Lord. Both Synnove’s mother and grandmother had made the songs of the psalms their own. The themes of security, safety, refuge and salvation were all very precious to them. Although they suffered loss they did not continue in grief and mourning for they knew that the Lord would take care of them. The sun and moon give light, and light casts a shadow. The shadow follows us; it is not always seen, sometimes it’s small, sometimes large. The shadow is the Lord, always there protecting, helping. Both these women were great examples for Synnove to follow as they always lived in God’s presence, no matter how difficult the circumstances. Our lives are not just a festive journey. For most of us there are difficult days but we know our help comes from the Lord. He guards our coming and going, and at the end we come to heaven. Let us be mothers and grandmothers for those who come after us; good examples of our trust in the Lord Who is our Help.
Didi conducted a session about Playing in a Team. We are called to be peacemakers. Many of those present live in conflict areas. Did was brought up in the Balkans and knows something of conflict. She did say that this session was more about personal conflict rather than national, small conflicts which nevertheless affect us greatly, rather than large scale conflict. The better we know ourselves, the better we can handle the situations around us. Whenever there is conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging or deepening the relationship, and that factor is attitude. We ought to learn to work together as a team in order to resolve conflict which can be part of life to a lesser or greater degree.
Each person was given sheets of paper on which two questions were written in pairs; one had to be chosen and then marked on another paper under the headings, Competing; Collaborating; Compromising; Avoiding; Accommodating. Once analysed the answers revealed what kind of person each one was in relation to how they handled conflict, likening each heading to a particular animal, ie shark; owl; fox; turtle; teddy bear. This was the fun part, yet it contained the truth about how each of us handles conflict and how we ought to work together to manage conflict.
In the late afternoon we enjoyed a sail on the sea around Larnaca. It was refreshing and relaxing on this sunset cruise, very much enjoyed.
Our time together ended with Wies sharing a very personal testimony of what happened in their family earlier this year when their son Bart’s fiancé, Karla, was killed in a very bad road traffic accident in London, UK. This had a profound effect on all the family, but Wies chose to share how it affected her. She read Psalm 121, then Psalm 125:1&2, ‘Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and for evermore.’ People often look to the mountains because help comes from above. The Lord watches over us, the Lord watches over our souls. Wies then told of how this sudden, terrible death of Karla affected her personally, of how she coped initially comforting her son and then being with Karla’s parents for the funeral in Brazil (Karla’s home) and later at a memorial service in London. But afterwards, for months she could not sleep, she became depressed and could not focus on anything. All the time people were praying for her and her family. Eventually she began to slowly recover until now she is better able to carry on with life. This was emotional for Wies and for those present, but it was proof that the Lord indeed watches over His people. He walks with us through the difficulties and darkness until we again come into the light.
Aniko brought the conference to a close, having us all stand in a circle with a few of the ladies offering prayer for EBWU, and then Aniko closing in prayer. Our worship times were led by ladies from Lebanon and it was a joy to sing God’s praise with them. We also had times of chat and fellowship in the lounge during coffee breaks and before retiring for the night, when we enjoyed Lebanese coffee and sweet treats, getting to know each other in a more personal way.
Although the conference finished on the Saturday evening, no-one was leaving for home until Sunday, so Sunday morning saw several of us joining the church service in the Centre where we were warmly welcomed. It was a pleasure to share with the local congregation.
We did lift our eyes to the Lord. We experienced His help. We were encouraged to move on and continue the work he has given us to do. To His name be praise and glory!