Florida women gather for ‘Celebrate’ retreat By: Maria Matheus
The Salvation Army’s Florida Division held the 2022 Women’s Gathering at the Calvary Orlando Church on the weekend of March 18-19, two years after the Pandemic stopped them from coming together in person. The theme of the conference was one of celebration, aptly titled ‘Celebrate,’ and focused on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Hundreds of attendees from near and far engaged in worship services and breakout sessions, while also listening to a variety of speakers in carefully prepared spaces that enabled the women to celebrate, pray, and give thanks to God through their experience.
Major Benita Morris, divisional secretary of women’s ministries, in charge of organizing her first women’s gathering for the Florida Division, not only curated the colorful, festive ‘Celebrate’ theme but also vetted the keynote speakers for the retreat, Colonel Susan Bukiewicz, territorial secretary for ministry to women & officer development secretary, Jeniffer Dake, motivational speaker and guest teacher, and Apostle Laequinla Hunter, the cousin of Major Henry Morris, all whom brought equal measure of excitement and enthusiasm to the attendees over the weekend.
“I do not know about you, but the last two years felt like life was being controlled by fear, and for a believer that is just not right,” said Colonel Susan Bukiewicz, encouraging everyone to party and celebrate in a video message taped earlier before the gathering. “The enemy of our soul uses fear and discouragement to cause us to walk in defeat. But in Christ there is nothing to fear, and there is everything to celebrate.”
“Just the fact that we had been locked down for two and a half years, for me, seeing the faces of the ladies in person, being able to come together once again, it did my heart good,” said Major Benita Morris. “One could see they were hungry; they were hungry for fellowship, they were hungry for the ‘word,’ and they were thankful to be present. All the planning we did was to see the women at the gathering go away fulfilled, happy, full of the Word, pleased in fellowship, pleased with the reception.”
One attendee, Geurdie Joseph, 22, Orlando, said, “I really, really love seeing people of all ages, women of all ages, worshipping God. I look at the older women and imagine being, when I come to that age, setting the same example to a younger generation. Regardless of one’s pain, or one’s struggle in ‘their walk,’ one may still give as much as they can to God. You are never too old; you are never too young to worship and give yourself to God.”
Apostle Hunter encouraged women to look out for each other, referencing Mary and Elizabeth in the First Chapter of Luke in the Bible, whom were each pregnant, one with the Messiah, the other after being infertile for many years, by simply being present for one another as sisters. Like Mary, who went to stay with her cousin Elizabeth for three months, Apostle Hunter appealed to God to send people to bless and inspire the women present, and to come alongside them as they celebrate and support one another.
The opportunity to come as one at the Celebrate Gathering was not missed as Apostle Hunter’s sermon brought more than forty attendees from varied backgrounds to stand at alter call together, perhaps a testament to the necessity of humanity coming together in Christ, transitioning back to normalcy after a prolonged absence from one another and Him in His light.
Similarly, Dake also encouraged and inspired the attendees by asking them: “How do you celebrate the Lord?” before sharing the anecdote of her friend ‘Katie’, who by carrying the “weight of a dead dog” in a travel suitcase could not think about celebrating Christ when she was too preoccupied with the ‘burden’ she was carrying.
“If you give it to Jesus, you can walk freely in any direction, trust in God to take your burdens away, leave it here with you, don’t take it home.”
Bearing this in mind, Dake encouraged others to celebrate Jesus by giving up their concerns to Him.
Opportunities to celebrate the Lord were interweaved throughout the women’s gathering weekend as attendees were treated to a carefully prepared program guide, featuring both active and educational breakout sessions ranging from Dance and Art to Self-Care and Improvement to choose from. One could also support the Mexico Children’s Home by shopping unique vendor items, in addition to selecting a scrumptious lunch provided by local food trucks onsite. The sunny, warm Florida weather was a perfect backdrop to a long-awaited reunion in sisterhood, a gathering centered in celebration, rejoicing in His light, guided by the shining lamps of the speakers, in His steadfast love for all.