10 Year Anniversary Celebration
It’s been 10 years since we began our journey working with women to affirm their leadership and nurture their spiritual health. Year after year we’ve seen women growing in their gifts and enjoyed walking with faithful brothers who have encountered a contemplative path to discover their identity in Christ. You are a crucial part of our story and we want to praise God for you and the past decade of ministry!
What a blessing it was to kick off the season of thanksgiving and expectation by celebrating the many lives who have helped us cultivate a legacy of wonder! Thank you to all who came together for a time of laughter, feasting, and vision in the House of Joy on November 5th; especially to our sisters below who shared their stories.
Erika Lee, WOW! Executive Director
Invitation to Wonder
Hello everyone, it has been such a joy to celebrate with you all today. Some of you I’ve only been able to interact with virtually, others I’ve been introduced to the very first time. Thank you for coming from near and far; I’m glad you’re here with us. I want to give a special greeting to our friends present with us virtually too. If you walk away with anything today, I hope it’s the reality that WOW! was birthed and has grown through deep, generous, and long-lasting relationships. I’ve heard WOW! described in many ways, and sometimes that has puzzled me. But it makes perfect sense if we think about WOW! as a who and not a what. Because WOW! is a relational ministry I can share with you that unlike any other ministry I have known, WOW! is committed to the long journey, much like a close friend; caring and loving enough to traverse through the hills and valleys of life and ministry with you.
I was introduced to Grace when I was a single woman leading a parachurch ministry and a friend of mine thought I could use the extra support from someone who has walked ahead of me. Over time, I got engaged, then married to Jeff. Grace was so thrilled and encouraging of his journey towards ministry through seminary. We were even blessed by her presence at our wedding. She was always affirming of my call to ministry alongside him in a way that was equal to and not overshadowed or compromised by his pastoral gifts and calling.
This has been the essence of the gift WOW! has given me; offering me thoughtful and practical ways and spaces to explore, exercise, and embrace possibilities in places where I have felt resigned or confined. Because if I’m honest, over the decade of my marriage to Jeff, we’ve gone through many life transitions and ministry settings where both spoken and unspoken expectations and limitations have shaped our ability to express this calling. At times it has been challenging to find a church space that has been able to cultivate opportunities for us both to offer our full selves in ways that have been life-giving and celebrated.
You’ve already heard from our friends today the beautiful ways WOW! endeavors to invite us into a deep and honest relationship with God and one another. WOW! has been a place where I and many others have found freedom to explore what it looks like to love God and the Church through the different seasons of life, wherever we find ourselves planted. My time with WOW! has truly shown me that God’s family and kingdom is expansive in ways I would not have discovered on my own.
My faith and love for God and hope for the Church has been buoyed by the richness and diversity of the Church body I’ve found in the WOW! community.
As the Church continues to be reshaped, I believe WOW! will be a vital source of God’s steadfast love in the uprooting and replanting in the Kingdom many of us are experiencing. In my time as ED, since early 2020, we have personally been through this process three times. That’s three times in less than three years! I can attribute our longevity and resilience to remain in ministry to the presence and pathways to care and connection of WOW!
None of us could have anticipated how things would unfold in 2020, but even so, Grace, Manni, and May not only entrusted me with leading, but truly empowered me. From the onset, they didn’t hold anything back and gave permission to chart a new course with their full support and participation every step of the way. I’ve been able to experience the power and goodness of collaborative leadership.
Thank you for joining us on this journey. Today I’m inviting you to be part of the sustaining work of WOW! – our hope is for many others to find rest, renewal, and refreshment in their relationship with God through their relationship with this ministry.
Our invitation is to welcome wonder…which often includes wandering, wrestling, and waiting. Sounds time intensive, doesn’t it? To do this well, we need to grow our team. And my hope is to do this in a way that ascribes value: monetary value to those who will join us in this transformative work. Because so much of our work as women is uncompensated and undervalued, especially in the Church. We aspire to be a community that affirms the agency of women and amplifies voices that often are unheard or overlooked. One of our friends said to us that there are many voices, but none that sound like WOW!’s Your partnership carries our voice farther, to people and places who are listening for others who will inspire courage in them.
I first knew about WOW! around 2018 when I was invited to attend the Restoration-themed silent retreat. I went with Krystin, WOW!’s current board member and Erika, WOW!’s Executive Director, before they even held positions at the organization.
This was our first retreat all together at WOW!. For me, I first handedly saw the way that God was healing me in a different way that I never experienced before. There was a gentleness to Him that didn’t belittle me, there was a power to him that didn’t make me feel far, it went deeper than the sinner – savior acknowledgement and conversation that I usually had. Many of WOW!’s events are set up to fully listen and tune in to His mystery.
Specifically my favorite is the retreat, I get to come together with others in intentional silence and have the opportunity to invite God in my journey, and because I said yes I am here to Him, yes I present my full raw self without the external noise and distractions.– he’s shown me all the different ways he communicates with me as a whole person. Now… I’m also an overthinker, planner, researcher, really energetic and competitive at times, and very career-minded as well…and He’s okay with that. I just have to be me with Him and I have absolutely no regrets.
As a woman, I always felt second. I remember a leader quoted the Bible said that women cannot preach, cannot lead.. I was put in the supporter roles, seen as the help, felt I had to compartmentalize and diminish myself for other people’s stories, goals, and dreams. From WOW!’s ministries and community I’ve learned that I not only can support, but also lead in high positions, honor God, His people, and myself. There’s plenty of women in the Bible that have done the same and more. I feel much more empowered and confident to be a woman of faith, to be a woman full of purpose, to be an activator to others…and that’s why we’re not defined by limitations. We’re not defined by lack. WOW! reminded me that we’re defined by love and defined with Wonder. THANK YOU!
I was brought up in the church. Specifically, Retreat Baptist in St. Anne Jamaica. My fondest memories as a child were created at church events. Whether it was our annual beach trip to Duns Rivers Falls, watch night services that I could never stay up for, or summer camps where I got the opportunity to be creative. It was in church where I discovered my love for singing and dancing. I migrated to the U.S. at age 10 and the fun continued at different church communities that I called home.
But as I grew up, it was not as fun anymore and to be honest I have thought of walking away. My experience as a black, undocumented immigrant woman in the U.S. while engaged with a church that viewed my lived experiences and causes of decision led to alot of hurt. My doubts and my questions became burdens met with scriptures that left me feeling like I was a bad Christian. To be honest I came to WOW! to fix that. I wanted to learn in hopes that knowledge would fortify my faith by erasing all doubts, answering my questions, and as a result make me righteous.
I’m grateful that Papa had other plans. I learned about amazing women in the Bible who inspired me to start to see myself through God’s eyes and see the beauty in how He has created me. In addition, I gained a community that has truly been a display of God’s love for me in my life as I navigated transitions and grieved the loss of loved ones and community. The community that has affirmed me, and taken the time to truly care for me. me while challenging my own self doubt.
I also learned a lesson that I truly believe has saved my life, I learned that faith includes doubt and I don’t have to have all the answers to be anchored in Christ. In fact I can have many questions. So my faith was not fortified, not in the way I hope it would be anyway. But I have learned to cling to Papa in times of uncertainty through the beauty of silence. Lessons I learned about amazing silent retreats hosted by WOW!. I was forced to sit with the parts of me I tried to run away from. To lean in to hear what Papa has to say and be aware of His presence evident in all of my senses, in my emotions, when I embrace silence and listen.
Honoring Rev. Dr. Grace May
We’re so thankful for Rev. Grace May’s enthusiastic ‘yes!’ in launching WOW! in 2012 and honor her for her role in empowering so many sisters and brothers to soar. We presented her with a new stoll as God has continuously “clothed her with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.” Her faith-filled journey declares to all who encounter her to ponder “Is anything too wonderful for God?”
We are humbled and grateful Joyce Dalrymple shared as our Keynote Speaker.
Joyce is a former television journalist, pastor, and an attorney. She currently leads Refuge for Strength, a spiritual formation ministry for women in the Chicagoland area.
The consistent theme throughout Joyce’s several careers has been a biblically informed passion for lifting up those on the margins, including vulnerable women, children and immigrants.
She serves on the board of the American Bible Society and the board of Promise686, a Christian nonprofit that partners with churches and families to care for foster and
adoptive children. She co-
hosts a podcast about foster, adoptive and spiritual parenting for Christianity Today
called Adopting Hope.
It’s actually a WONDER that I’m standing here with you all because three years ago, I was lamenting how I only knew one Asian American female pastor. I believe God knew that I desperately needed to be connected to Women of Wonder. By the grace of God, He led me to WOW at a pivotal point in my life.
WOW helps women become rooted in their identity through a supportive spiritual community. As a woman and in my experience as a Chinese American woman, you can feel alone in your call to ministry. You have to forge new paths often without the kind of mentors or support networks that others may have. You also sustain wounds and many micro cuts from those who don’t think you should be preaching or pastoring or leading a ministry. You’re not always invited to the table. But guess what? You don’t need a formal invitation from others, when God has invited you!!!
It takes so much discernment, courage, and perseverance to say YES and keep saying YES to God’s call to ministry when the soil around you is so dry! Look around you – these are amazing women who have said YES and amazing people who support these women to follow their call!
And Rev Grace assured me that I wasn’t deluded in my call to pastor. And there are others out there like me, other Asian American women, who were doing it! They were pastoring, leading, teaching and preaching. WOW! Yes, WOW. Rev Grace connected me to WOW. When I first saw all the beautiful faces of the women on my Zoom screen, my heart was filled with a sense that I had found my people. I belonged to a bigger forest of wise and beautiful trees.
Now my roots are connected to this beloved WOW community.
We will never fully know all the far reaching fruits of WOW’s ministry because it has invested in women who are leading churches, nonprofits and various ministries all over the country. They are pouring into others and in His kingdom in ways that reflect how they have been touched by the ministry of WOW. One of the fruits of WOW in my life is that I started a women’s ministry called Refuge for Strength in the Chicagoland area this year. We have formed 6 cohorts that will meet for a year to focus on spiritual formation and holy listening. I am praying that these women will experience the kind of spiritual nourishment and healing that I have experienced at WOW.
Lastly I’ll leave you with Jeremiah 17: 7-8 – “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
WOW’s legacy is that it has nurtured a forest of healthy trees that will continue to bear fruit that will last. This forest will only continue to grow in the years to come.
[Read the entirety of Joyce’s keynote]
Our newest board member, Lisa Mathews, flew in from Holland, MI and shared from her heart.
Lisa connected with WOW! during a time in her life when “God and I were not on speaking terms.” In that season of grief, the care, community, and sustained engagement she experienced in WOW!’s Soul Care Cohort stirred her heart again.
As a woman who has walked the challenging road of ministry, navigating the inequity of resources available to women in areas of connection, training, and opportunity, her passion is to champion the role and leadership of women in the Church. We look forward to how Lisa’s leadership will shape WOW!’s path ahead.
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WOW! has arrived here today through the prayers and resources of a large collective.
However God leads you to join in the growing WOW! family, we pray you have felt welcomed and affirmed that your full presence is wanted, valued, and necessary in being God’s kingdom here on earth. Your generosity will ensure that we are able to continue this vital work of championing the role of women and men as they partner together so that many may find rest, renewal, and refreshment in their relationship with God through their engagement with this ministry.
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WOW! is a 501c3 Nonprofit organization, Tax ID 45-3705920