Memories from Widgee Passover, 2017

Posted Apr 28, 2017 by Marlise Schneider in Praise Fellowship Feedback and Sharing Hits: 306

As the afterglow of Widgee Passover 2017, my first feast, lingers, I wanted to write down some of the things that are on my mind. The experience has been so life-changing that I don’t want any of the impressions to get lost as my memory fades with time.

Before coming to Widgee, I really didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t had a chance to study much about the feasts (the calendar is still horribly confusing to me), and I kept hearing people mention “the special outpouring of God’s Spirit during this time”. Deep down I wondered… could this be true? I wanted it to be true, but part of me had a hard time believing it. I’ve been to so many weeks of prayer sessions in which “the Spirit of God pours down on us”, and then the day after, everyone is back to their old selves, and nothing has changed. Could the Passover be any different?

The first thing that impacted me was the overflowing, generous hospitality we received as soon as we got to Adrian’s house. It was such a joy to personally meet people that, until then, I’d only seen on Skype or Facebook. And do you know what? These people are even lovelier in person than online! Then we were taken to a member’s home, where we were treated with the highest level of care and hospitality. I hope some of our new family members can one day visit our home so we can return the love!

I’m quite a light packer, and unfortunately I under-packed when it came to warm clothing (I packed for 16 degrees C minimum; it was way colder than that at night!). Just as I was looking into going to town to buy some cheap jackets for the evenings, Fiona and Di came to the camp loaded with extra jackets and warm pajamas for anyone who might need them. I was so touched, and so thankful.

Once we arrived at the camp (we arrived a couple of days early), I wondered what we were going to do there, all that time. I was a little disappointed that we wouldn’t have time to do any sight-seeing (this was my first non-transit visit to Australia), and I really wanted to see a kangaroo! Yet those two days prior to the feast were a huge blessing. Being forced to slow down, being able to be outside, enjoying pleasant weather practically the whole day, and having time to chat with the few other people who were there, were such a treat that I wouldn’t change it for anything.

As the people started coming in, I was surprised at how easy it was to talk to each other and to instantly feel connected. We were all from such different backgrounds – cultural, ethnic, linguistic, economic and even religious! Yet I felt an affinity to each of these people that cannot be explained. Age differences seemed to melt away, too. We were there because we had at least one thing in common: the desire to know God and follow Him. We were there with gratitude because of what God has done for us. Every single person in this group has a story – none of us was born into all of the truths we are now learning. I listened to all the stories with interest – and what I heard is just the tip of the iceberg, because I only got to hear stories from a fraction of the people there, because of time constraints. And with amazement, I realized that I have a story of conversion, too. And my whole life I thought I didn’t…

It’s been years since I gave and received so many hugs in one week. I can’t even count them. They felt so comforting. Back when I was a student in Argentina, we’d hug a lot, because that’s what Argentineans do – they hug and kiss. But I don’t live there anymore, and I’m not a university student anymore, so now my hugs are limited to my husband and children. I don’t even have friends who hug (cultural reasons, I guess). You have to feel very comfortable with a person now to hug them. Well, with our beautiful group at Widgee, we did. Hugs were heartfelt. Hugs were comfortable.

The group… I feel I’ve spent my whole life trying to fit into one group or another. And I’ve been blessed with groups – I can’t lie. I’ve had beautiful friendships. Yet it’s always taken time and effort to “fit in”, to be eligible for being part of a group. Living in a foreign country has made it even more difficult – while I love my friends, I often feel like I’m standing on the fringes, trying to understand what to do, say, not do or not say to integrate. And once in a while, something happens that reminds me that I am and will always be a clueless foreigner. I’ve (mostly) learned to live with it and accept what comes my way, but I’d given up on the idea of ever really fitting into a group and having intimate friendships. Fitting in just doesn’t seem to happen after you leave university, does it? Yet within a few hours of observing everyone, I realized with amazement that the only requirement for fitting in with this group was to desire to be a part of it, and to believe that you are a part of it. Could it really be that simple? It was! “Adding value” to the group in the way of good cooking, music, a testimonial, a baptism or a presentation did not affect our acceptance in the least bit (though it was greatly appreciated). We weren’t “more important” for doing any of those things; we weren’t “less valuable” for not doing any of those things. What was important was being together and thanking God for what He did, for His glory, through each of us. Without each of the people present, the gathering would not have been the same – I especially noticed that when the first few had to leave earlier. I missed them.

Some hours before the first evening meeting on Tuesday, God’s Spirit began to work in my heart. Some unpleasant things about myself surfaced in my thoughts, and I felt God telling me, “If you hold onto this, you won’t be able to taste the blessings I have for you during these meetings. What’s more – your holding onto this could block other people from being blessed, too.” This wasn’t comfortable, but at the same time, it was presented to me in such a way that I knew that He was not doing this to me to make me feel crushed and worthless, but rather, to help me and restore me. I prayed helplessly, “Lord, I can’t get rid of it myself, please take it away. I really don’t want it. I want what you have for me. And I don’t want to block this experience for everyone else. I’m so sorry… Please take it away!” And He did. I’m so thankful!

For the first time in my life I experienced a taste of what it means to be “all with one accord in one place”. I learnt a lot by observing others who’ve been here before me, watching how they lavished others with love and acceptance. To my amazement, I noticed that things that would usually have really bothered me to the point of putting me into a bad mood were not issues anymore. Yes, I noticed them – but just as I would think about these things, God would bring in different thoughts, thoughts about what could be causing people to behave in this way, and why it wasn’t entirely their fault. I felt more understanding and love towards others than I’ve ever felt in a group situation. We spent almost two weeks together, sharing facilities, food and spaces, yet I did not come to the point where anyone seemed annoying or irritating. Watching how others offered unconditional love and acceptance – this was huge for me, and I want to follow that example from now on.

There was a moment of darkness for me. It all started during breakfast that first Thursday (which was a day of Holy Convocation and I had no idea). I started asking around if anyone was going to town that day. I had plans: I needed to buy a birthday cake for Lukas, and maybe some other treats. We were low on nappies. We hardly had any veggies and fruits left. And our laundry was overflowing. So many things to do! But I was crushed when I heard that “it’s a Sabbath”. A what? How come I didn’t know? “But my son’s birthday is tomorrow! I didn’t know! I can’t just not do anything!” As I thought through all the options, my day darkened more and more. On Friday shops would be closed anyway – until Sunday or Monday, because of Easter break. We really wouldn’t have enough food by then. And the cake? Even if I bought it on Friday, it wouldn’t be special; I like to start birthdays with a special treat, not wait until evening. This just wasn’t going to work. And nappies? What was I going to use? Dirty t-shirts? Which reminded me – we are light packers and really, really needed to do laundry TODAY! I started feeling angry. “How come I didn’t know these things? I’ll bet Daniel knew, but he didn’t tell me. He doesn’t think about food and laundry and birthday treats all day like I do. Oh, I’m so annoyed at Daniel now... Should I ignore the birthday until Monday? I can’t do that. Lukas is so excited and looking forward to his special day, and he knows it’s tomorrow. I don’t want to break the Sabbath. But if only I’d known! I could’ve done all these things yesterday. Why didn’t anyone tell us? And why are we so legalistic anyway? I thought we were coming away from that! I don’t like this at all! Maybe the feasts are not for me. I don’t understand them anyway… Is this how people sometimes feel when they’re learning to keep the Sabbath? Oh no…”

All the beautiful feelings of the past days were gone. I struggled through the first meetings – my mind was somewhere else. Then during a break, I saw people hanging laundry to dry. Huh? I started talking with someone about it and finally opened up. She was very comforting. I said, “If they’re hanging laundry, then I’ll do my laundry too. And I can’t have anything special for my son’s birthday. I’m not into big birthday parties or anything, but there has to be a cake, and something he doesn’t get to eat every day…” Then, against my will, I started crying. I excused myself and headed for our camper. But someone else caught me on the way. She was very helpful and comforting, and she assured us we could go to town and get what we needed. I felt much better after that. There was no legalism here – just understanding and help. We were able to get what we needed and after that there was nothing that marred the spirit of love and harmony that was felt all those days. (PS: Please don’t condemn the person who told me it was a Sabbath. I know that person had no bad intentions whatsoever and was unaware of how many things I needed from town that day). And Lukas’ birthday was so simple, yet it was very special and significant. Celebrating it with so many new friends with whom we share these precious truths was very special.

Ellen White says God gives special strength during these times. This was especially interesting to me, since I’m recovering from Chronic Fatigue and wasn’t sure how I’d fare with all the physical demands of camping and all. There were a couple of days – especially the last Tuesday – when I felt my body shutting down and the need to slow down and rest. And when I felt especially tired, God would send someone to help. On the first Thursday, a kind soul insisted on hanging up my laundry – this is how much people looked out for each other! After that, my strength came back. On the last Tuesday I had a significant drop in energy and got a bit cranky (it’s terrifying to feel your body shutting down and not being able to do anything, yet you still have things to do), but my husband took over and I was able to get some rest. Aside from that, I had normal energy levels and was amazed I’d been able to take on so much. Usually when I have a drop in energy, it takes me a few days, not a few hours, to regain strength. Amazing.

Then there were the simple answered prayers and small surprises that showed me that God was at work here. The first happened on the Friday morning. I’d been hearing people say they’d seen kangaroos around in the morning, but I hadn’t seen any. And since we wouldn’t have any time for sightseeing after the camp, I really wanted to see a kangaroo. Friday morning I got up extra early and took a walk around the property. I prayed to see a kangaroo. “I’d really like to see one, since for all I know, this might be my only visit to Australia. Please?” I prayed. Then my thoughts went to other things, and for a while, as I walked, I forgot about kangaroos. I thought about a spiritual topic that had bothered me my whole life and I was now finally beginning to understand. The thought made me feel exhilarated and joyful. And as I was nearing the end of my walk, I saw it: a kangaroo hopping near some tents. The scene lasted three seconds, because soon the animal had disappeared into the bushes. I don’t ever want to forget how special that moment felt. God let me see the kangaroo! What other things does He have in store for us? I can’t wait to see!

Another surprise happened one day while I was cooking lunch. I looked at my packet of spaghetti and wondered how much of it to cook for five people. The whole packet might be too much. But I felt impressed to cook all of it. I had no spaghetti sauce, so I made some kind of veggie stir-fry to use as a sauce. How much of the veggies should I add? I cut them all up and started cooking half the lot. I figured I’d save the rest for a future meal. But then I felt impressed to cook all of it. “Really? This is too much food!” I thought. But I added it all. “I must be a little crazy”, I thought. Just as I’d finished cooking, I found out another family had run out of food. All that extra cooking happened to be enough for all of us! I was amazed at God’s provision.

The other surprise was the unexpected amount of laughter we shared all those days. It was a different kind of laughter than what you see out there – it was joyful laughter, and finding humour in unusual (innocent) things. The laughter was never at the expense of anyone, nor was it triggered by dirty topics. It was just clean, pure laughter – and it felt so good. I need more of that type of humour in my life! I actually haven’t laughed this much, this hard, this often, for a very, very long time.

One more surprise: the sense of community. As foreigners in a far-off land, we’re not used to leaving our children with others – much less having our children safely go off with another adult without us knowing. On Sabbath afternoon we had a baptism. Just after the baptism, I was so caught up talking to people that I lost sight of Sarah. “Where’s Sarah?” For a few minutes we went into a panic. Had she run off? Had she fallen into the creek? People communicated via cell phone and we soon found out that Sarah had happily taken someone’s hand and walked back to the camp with them. I kept thinking how lovely it would be to live in a community like this, where people look out for each other and our children are safe with the other adults. A little taste of heaven, I think.

As the days went by, I thought that heaven must feel like this, just magnified. We genuinely enjoyed being together. People opened up and shared things about their lives. We felt safe. We hugged. We ate together. We bonded and wished we could all live together in a permanent community. Me made friendships in less time than it usually takes in the “real world”, because barriers of mistrust were lower than usual. I can see now that it’s possible for God’s Spirit to unite us in one accord, if only we will cling to Him and allow Him to cleanse us and remove all those character traits that are in the way.

I’m so thankful God made the way for us to be there and experience our first feast. He had to be creative to get us to go, using a funny confusion of names to get us to consider going. Then, once we’d made the decision, we unexpectedly received a monetary gift that helped to cover the travel expenses. I’m convinced God wanted us, and everyone else, there. He wants to keep on giving us these experiences until we are finally sealed. He wants others to join us and experience this, too. I pray we can listen to His leading to know how best to share these truths with others. Because, much as I enjoyed the feast and look forward to upcoming ones, what I really want is the real thing; I want us all to be in our permanent home, with our Father and His Son, where we will have no more sorrow, pain or cares.