Women working in ministry around the South Pacific Division (SPD) have come together for a special time of inspiration, affirmation, empowerment and connection.
The SPD is this week hosting Women in Ministry Conference 2020 on the Gold Coast in Queensland. There are 132 delegates from Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji and Australia. The last SPD women in ministry conference was held 10 years ago.
“Held” is the theme of the conference: “a time to connect, reflect and experience once again what it is to be held by God and each other”. Guest speakers include Dr Kendra Haloviak Valentine, professor of New Testament Studies in the HMS Richards Divinity School at La Sierra University, and Pastor Esther Knott, associate director for the Northern American Division Ministerial Association and the director of the MA in Pastoral Ministry program at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. Lanelle Cobbin, who has a long career in children’s ministry, is also one of the presenters.
Yesterday, Pastor Knott shared her own journey as a woman in ministry, including the challenges and heartaches she has encountered along the way. She said it’s our personality that determines how we address life’s hurdles.
“You give me a challenge, that’s when I thrive, you tell me that’s impossible, that’s when I am going to make it happen, so we look at challenges in many different ways,” she said.
Pastor Knott encouraged the attendees to consider what it means to be a Romans 12 woman, to “outdo one another in showing honour”. “As we live that way God will be able to transform us and those around us,” she said.
One of the key focuses of the conference is making connections—a goal of Tonga Mission volunteer prayer coordinator Silia Tupou.
“I’m really enjoying this conference where I can get to meet more women in ministry who will also help and support me,” she said.
“At this conference I have come to learn a lot, and just listening to the women who have been presenting last night and this morning, it’s been really powerful. Just sitting there on the table with my group and sharing the praises, it’s amazing.”
For Kim Parmenter, who is in her second year as a pastor at the Haven campus church on the Central Coast (NSW), the conference has provided her with reassurance.
“I guess being new to ministry something that has stood out so blatantly is just how few women there are,” she said. “And to be able to see a whole room of women who are doing the same thing as me you feel like ‘I’m not actually alone in this’ and there are others who are in the same boat and that have the same struggles. And we are all here for the same reason—we are all called by the same God. I just think that’s really exciting to get that reassurance that it’s a shared collective, not just me in my church on my own.”
Nan Myat Kyaw, a leader at the Werribee Karen Adventist church in Melbourne (Vic), said, “I was very grateful for this conference because we can meet SPD ladies who God uses in His ministry to glorify His name in our different ways.
“This conference, we are all very happy and grateful to the SPD and also our Union, we are very happy to see each other, to be refreshed and encouraged. We are learning a lot from the speakers, we are so thankful for that. This is just like a little heaven on earth.”
Phalguni James, Adventist Health director for the Vanuatu Mission, said it can be challenging at times working in a male-dominated environment, with “all these little hurdles that you have to cross”. She is finding the conference uplifting.
“Just seeing all these women and feeling that I’m not alone, I’m not the only one out there, and we are a team and there’s support,” she said.
“I can feel that warmth of being held by God and saying we do care and you’re valued, and this conference is really making me feel like I’m valued, and I’m sure all the other ladies are feeling that way.”
One of the many highlights of the conference was last night’s agape feast. There have also been panel discussions, morning reflections and worship music led by Ali and Leighton Heise. The closing session will be presented tonight by Pastor Knott.