In a crowd, in Canada, I was never known as 'the quiet one'. I am extroverted, I love people, I love to tell a good story and I love to get to know people.
Last weekend I participated in a silent "Encontro" (Encounter) weekend. Normally, this would be a challenge for me. This time, however, it was almost a bit of a relief. I didn't have to try to awkwardly paste together words hoping they sounded something like a sentence and at the very least got my point across. It should have been easy, right?
For the most part it was, it levelled the playing field. There were times, however, when the rules were broken and the girls whispered, giggled and chatted. That's when it was hard. I longed to feel a part of it, to share stories, to understand the really funny woman who had everyone in stitches.
I felt almost invisible...although that isn't really the right term because it wasn't as though people were ignoring me, more that I felt like they couldn't SEE me, who I am. I was smiling on the outside but jumping up and down on the inside saying 'I'm in here! There's a person in here longing to get out! Longing to know you!"
Putting my self-pity aside, however, the weekend was an incredible thing to be a part of. The bottom part of the chacara was wrapped in colourful cloth, closing it off to the outside world, one reason being jealousy and infidelity are huge issues here, most men wouldn't allow their wives to go if they knew other men might be here. The other reason was to create a true retreat, removing all distractions.
We were told that for the weekend we were 'princesses of God', we needn't lift a finger, all our needs would be met.
There were many opportunities for the women to receive prayer, to come before God, (sem vergonha) or without shame or embarrassment , to lay their burdens down. The burdens some of these women carry are big, and heavy and have weighed them down for many, many years.
I was struck by how powerful these times were, how heavy the presence of God was, how evident it was in the way the women were weeping. Thousands of miles from home, a different climate and a different culture, same true God.
We were also given some pieces of paper, to write messages to each other. I only wrote a few-some words in portuguese followed by words in english they would have to translate, I felt sad and a bit of vergonha that I couldn't write more. It seemed I was silenced even on paper.
At the end of the weekend, we were all brought into the room where we had shed our flip flops and sat to listen, pray and receive for three days. We were told to sit with our eyes closed while a worship song played. A few minutes later we opened our eyes to find a bright shiny parcel at our feet, with our name on it. In my case 'Jhenifer'. Love it.
I opened my parcel and began to pull out bits of folded paper, messages written in portuguese and some even in english, about how happy they were that our family had moved here, how they really liked me, what they saw in me. I was more than a little touched; I was wrecked. I sat with tears streaming down my face reading each one. They saw me. The unseen was seen. The unsaid was heard. Without saying anything at all.
When it came time to share what God had done for us that weekend, they wanted to hear from the Canadian. I shared with them what their messages had meant to me, I cried, they cried we bonded.
When the weekend was over we all fussed to get ready for church, each of the women feeling like a new person. God had removed the old and replaced it with new and there was a feeling of utter joy.
The men and other family members waited for us at the front of the church, which they had decorated in honour of our return, and as we approached fireworks lit the sky and we all cheered. We remained a group as we stood at the front of the church during worship, singing and cheering and waving our arms in the air like we were at a concert. The moment was 'tremendo' or tremendous and infectious.