By Rebekah Clapp –
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19
“Estamos en Cuba?” I asked myself more than once over the first weekend of March, at the national conference of Celebration Women’s Ministries, held in Houston, Texas. “Are we in Cuba?” The question did not arise because of the damaged water main that caused our four-star hotel to be without water most of a day, leaving us all to freshen up with bottled water, but rather because of the tangible outpouring of the Holy Spirit across this weekend event, the like of which I had only before experienced among Methodist sisters and brothers in Cuba.
In fact, I attended this event because of my connections in Cuba. I was asked to interpret for the conference’s guest speaker, who is a close friend and colleague, Pastor Adria Nuñez Ortiz from Havana Central Methodist Church in Havana, Cuba. This was a first for Celebration Women’s Ministries. Their president and co-founder, Judy Graham, shared with me that they had never before had an interpreter for one of their events and they weren’t sure how it would go.
A number of women told me that before Pastor Nuñez preached they were worried they wouldn’t be able to follow the sermon, since they weren’t accustomed to listening through an interpreter. They were pleasantly surprised to discover it didn’t cause a problem, and in fact they actually enjoyed it. They were mesmerized by the way that two people could work together to share a message across languages.
Because these women were open to bringing a preacher from Cuba, and were willing to risk the uncertainties, an opportunity presented itself: a large number of Cuban and other Latina women from Methodist churches in the Houston area decided to attend the conference, feeling it would be a welcome space for them.
Having worked with diverse groups of Methodists across the United States and around the world, it is always a beautiful thing to see us bridge cultural differences and come together under the powerful movement of the Holy Spirit, which does not belong to any one tribe, nation, or tongue. This is what we experienced at Celebration 2018. The theme of the conference was “Now is the Time” from 2 Corinthians 6:2, “…I tell you now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” This fit nicely with Celebration’s mission focus of salvation, healing, and equipping. Along with Pastor Nuñez, Jennifer Cowart of Harvest Church in Georgia was the other featured speaker, and together these women inspired us with their messages to be courageous and trust in God’s power to save us, heal us, and use us for God’s mission in the world. Pastor Nuñez’s messages focused on the stories of women from the Bible who can be models for us in boldly living out our faith and believing in God’s faithfulness.
After concluding each dynamic and lively sermon, which involved both of us running around the ballroom, Pastor Nuñez closed with a time of prayer. She invited the women to come forward for healing prayer and for impartation. Together with Celebration’s prayer team, we spent hours each night laying on hands, interceding, and inviting the Spirit’s presence – in English and in Spanish – to touch the lives and hearts of these women, to heal them, to equip them, and to empower them. Tears and trembling. Kneeling and dancing. Falling over and jumping for joy.
It looked and felt like worship in Cuba. While I know that these things happen in some churches in the United States, too, most of us, especially United Methodists, aren’t all that comfortable with much moving and shaking and miracle-talk. It’s easy to dismiss charismatic faith expressions in our postmodern society. To chalk it up to cultural differences and contextualization. But, we weren’t in Cuba. And most of the women at this event didn’t have much experience with the Spirit manifesting in these ways. But it wasn’t just the Latina women who were falling in the Spirit or being healed. We all gathered together in the Spirit’s presence with a diverse group of women from across the United States: white, black, and Hispanic; praying in English, Spanish, and in heavenly languages, and women were healed. Across the weekend, we heard testimonies of salvation and recommitment of faith. Testimonies of physical and emotional healing. Testimonies of restoration and peace.
I have seen it in Cuba and in the United States, and many other countries as well. Among Latinos and Americans. God is moving and working and seeking to bring all people to himself. God’s Spirit knows no boundaries. When we gather together in unity of the Spirit and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, captives are released, the oppressed go free, and the sick are healed. It’s happening right now around the world, because now is the time of God’s favor. The year of Jubilee has come.
Rebekah Clapp is a United Methodist clergyperson, graduate of United Theological Seminary, and doctoral student at Asbury Theological Seminary. She is the Strategy Coordinator for Hispanic/Latino Ministries of the West Ohio Annual Conference.
Next year’s Celebration National Conference in Houston will be held April 5-7, 2019. The Rev. Carolyn Moore will be the speaker. For details contact Judy Graham at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.celebrationministries.org.