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Women of Wonder Keynote

November 23, 2022
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. (More on that later).

I’m going to use the metaphor of a tree to describe WOW! because I love trees and trees are all over Scripture. Trees give us nourishment from its fruit, relief from the heat, a place of refuge, and fresh air to breathe. Some trees like Gingko even have healing properties. I think that those are all apt descriptions of the ministry of WOW!. 

Ten years ago, Rev Dr Grace May and others started with a seed of an idea from God and by faith, planted Women of Wonder.  And now WOW! has grown into a beautiful tree that provides spiritual nourishment and refreshment to so many.  The amazing thing about trees is that they help one another flourish. And did you know that they even help one another survive crises? They do this because they are literally rooted in community.  They are intertwined through a network of latticed fungi in the soil that connects one tree root system to another tree root system.

So trees are then able to communicate their needs and send each other nutrients via this underground network that biologists have dubbed the “wood wide web.” Older, well-connected “Mother Trees” are the cornerstones of the community. They share extra nutrients with younger and more vulnerable ones. Trees can even send warning signals about environmental change and will transfer their nutrients to neighboring plants before they die. Collectively, they regulate the microclimate and air temperature for the common good. God designed trees to be rooted and to flourish in community. 

Similarly, God has created a sacred community through WOW! to help women be rooted in their identity and flourish in their callings for the benefit of the whole kingdom of God.

First, 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!

My parents are Chinese immigrants and I was born and raised in Atlanta, GA. I grew up attending a Chinese immigrant church there. Since I was in college I have discipled women and led Bible studies. When I was in grad school, I started a campus ministry. And later when I became a mom, I helped start and lead a ministry for working moms at my local church. I have always loved doing Christian ministry. But I didn’t even consider becoming a pastor, because I didn’t think it was a path that was open for me. I didn’t see anyone doing it that looked like me.

So it took a long time, but at the age of 38, I left my job as an attorney and enrolled in seminary. At the time, I was part of a conservative denomination where women weren’t allowed to preach or hold the title of pastor. I often got asked: “Why are you getting an MDiv?” And I’ll never forget my first day of preaching class. I was the only woman there and the professor singled me out in front of everyone and asked, “Why are you taking this course?” 

I don’t remember what I said, but I do know that made me even more determined to stay and be the best student in the class. I wrote my first sermon and felt a new desire within me – to preach the Word of God to both men and women. All of this made me wonder – did I hear from God correctly? Am I deluding myself into thinking that I could be a pastor and a preacher? What do I do with these longings in my heart? 

Honestly. I had moments of doubt and thought about quitting seminary… but I kept going back and asking God. And I felt like He kept saying just keep going. I’ll lead you.

Upon graduating seminary, my husband started a new job, which required us to leave Atlanta and move to Wheaton, IL. I did not know anyone there. I had an MDiv in hand, but I had no denominational home, no church, no job, and no clue where I was supposed to go. I also felt rootless. I prayed… Lord, you know I’m following you. Please lead me. 

And God did. Through my spiritual director, God led me to Rev Dr Grace May. She kindly zoomed with me several times for many hours, and I think I cried every time. They were tears of relief that there was someone who completely understood because she had gone before me. She is like the “Mother tree,” sharing extra nutrients with me.  She offered me comfort, wisdom, and HOPE. 

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. The ministry theme for WOW! this year is Ezer community. Ezer is a Hebrew word that means helper. In Genesis 2:18, God said it was not good for man to be alone, so he created women as ezer. For a long time I didn’t know what that meant. It is not an inferior position. The word is used 22x in the Old Testament. Twice it is referred to for the first woman, Eve. 16x, it refers to God as our help, often in a warrior helper sense. Our spiritual DNA as women, is that we are Ezer warrior helpers. 

WOW! has helped women recognize that our spiritual DNA is as strong Ezers– gifted and called. It’s undeniable when I jump on a WOW! Zoom call and see these women that they are all Ezers in the full sense of the word. I feel seen and inspired to fully embrace the identity and calling God has on my life. Each month WOW! hosts a seminar focused on biblical teaching that has expanded my understanding of God’s design for women in leadership and how God has always intended for men and women to lead alongside one another in His kingdom. 

When that design is distorted, the whole kingdom of God suffers. Unfortunately, I experienced that first hand. I did land a job as a pastor of discipleship and connections at a church in Chicagoland. Other pastors and I tried to advocate for women in our congregation who had been hurt and dismissed by the senior leadership and elders. They failed to care for its most wounded members and despite our best efforts, they were unwilling to listen. Sadly that church lost its way when it stopped listening to the wise, compassionate Ezer women in its midst. 

I’m so grateful to Manni, Erika, and May who recognized the signs that I was experiencing church trauma and reached out to Zoom with me privately. It was at this pivotal point. They and WOW! became a lifeline to me.

Conversely, when we as Ezer women are rooted in who God made us to be and are able to use our gifts, the whole kingdom of God benefits. There are so many gifts that women ministers bring to the kingdom. We see and include people on the margins. We listen with empathy to those who are wounded. We build bridges of understanding and practice hospitality. We value all the parts of the body of Christ. We nurture and help others grow in their faith. We are courageous advocates and gentle healers. These biblical truths of who God made us as Ezer warrior women have been sustaining nutrients that I have absorbed from having my roots intertwined with WOW!.

Second, WOW! helps women flourish through deepening our direct connection to streams of living water. The Holy Spirit is the living water that we all need for our spiritual life. Water always flows down, down to the lowest place. WOW! creates paths for the Holy Spirit to flow like water to our roots through teaching spiritual practices. 

Some of those spiritual exercises that WOW! has cultivated include: examen, lectio divina, various kinds of contemplative prayer, group spiritual direction, and silent retreats. These have been sacred spaces to pause and hear from the Lord. I’ve incorporated some of these practices into my own life, which has allowed me to be more attuned to the Spirit. 

One of the highlights of WOW’s ministry for me was participating in a six-session Soul Care Cohort last year [2021]. A group of 8 of us gathered on Zoom to experience communal soul sabbath. We were all ministers and recognized the need for developing a rhythm of self care, so that we could continue ministering to others in our community for the long haul. We were equipped with resources to care for our body, mind, and spirit – to rest and receive from God and others. On the day I resigned from my position at my former church, I attended a Soul Care session and received the loving care, peace, and affirmation of the Lord through these sisters. 

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.

Joyce Koo Dalrymple

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.