When I came to Rachel's Hope I was a Christian, but one with verrrryyy shallow roots. And I was being buffeted by a storm. No it wasn't a storm, it was a full head-on tsunami and I was close to being swept away. Rachel's Hope threw me a life line and those women held on with all their might.
Rachel's Hope was a women's Bible study group that explored biblical perspectives on handling discouragement, depression, anxiety, and/or self-esteem issues.
This is what the Lord says:
“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Rachel's Hope was not a therapy group. The leaders were discussion facilitators; not counselors or psychologists. The group was a Bible study small group and was under the guidance of the small group coordinator and the community care leader at our church. We worked through studies that relate to self-esteem issues, depression, discouragement, and anxiety. We gave a lot of support to each other and shared on a very personal level. The purpose of the group was not to dwell on issues, but rather to seek God's perspective on them and to grow in increasing knowledge of Christ and the abundant life He promises.
The woman who began Rachel's Hope saw a need and felt a calling to minister to women who were hurting. She hosted the group in her home. A friend who knew what I was going through invited me to join Rachel's Hope. I joined about three years after the group began.
I remember the leader of the group welcoming me at her front door that first night. Her home was comfortable and inviting. She had a beverage station set up and some snacks. Chairs arranged in a circle in her great room. We all put on name tags. I came to find out in the coming years that the format did not change. People like consistency. The first week was an introduction night where we introduced each other, did a game or ice breaker and we went over the group's covenants.
The covenants were a list of solemn promises we made with each other so that we were all on the same page - so that we understood what to expect of others and what was expected of us. We went over the covenants line by line and they were sent home with us and we were to sign and date them and return them the first night of the study. As you can see these covenants basically said we would encourage each other, pray for each other, allow God to work in each other's lives, and the confidentiality of the group was emphasized. Because we shared on a deeply personal level, we had to maintain a safe environment for everyone.
On the introduction night the leader always explained about prayer requests and praise reports and how we must not be gossipy when making or sharing them. In other words the difference between saying, "Please pray for my neighbor Michelle as she is going through a difficult time." (fine) and "Please pray for my neighbor Michelle as she just found her husband is having an affair and he left her and won't pay the bills and..." (definitely not fine).
Our Prayer Diary:
We were asked to encourage each other. Each week we drew an encouragement card with a name on it.
The studies were chosen with purpose to help us heal. We met weekly. 7:00-7:10pm was get your beverage and settle in. We began with prayer and discussed that week's chapter of the study. At 8:15pm we asked for prayer requests. At 8:30pm we closed in prayer. As the vast majority of these women worked outside the home and had lives to live, we honored their time by ending on time. Women could hang around from 8:30-9:00pm to visit.
You were expected to show up each week and to have done the study because healing and spiritual growth doesn't happen if you aren't purposeful about it. Being part of Rachel's Hope was a time commitment but it was one with profound rewards.
Week in and week out we met. Month after month. Year after year. Women joined the group and left the group. And yet the group continued growing and eventually broke into two group's meeting in different rooms of the same home at the same time. Then moving to my house and breaking into three groups - one that met in the great room, one in the dining room, and one in the basement! At one point we were up to 24 women. Way too many and parking became an issue! But there are so many hurting people out there that need a group like this and we just couldn't turn them away.
What one woman started grew into a large group that had four leaders.
That's all information on the mechanics of the group. What I'm going to have a hard time explaining is what this group of women meant to each other. How broken women came in and healing happened. We cried together at times and at other times we giggled and belly laughed. We encouraged each other. We prayed for each other. We prayed for each other's children, spouses, parents, co-workers, jobs, marriages,... We experienced the power of prayer. We experienced the transforming power of studying God's word together. We gave praise reports. We celebrated each other. God's hand was among us holding us all up and guiding us.
In the world, in our daily lives, you just don't really know who you can trust with your pain. But in this group, Rachel's Hope, we knew we could trust each other. We knew we were there for each other. These women would send me encouragement cards. Take my hand and tell me they were praying for me. Email me or call on me to see if I was alright. That is a very rare thing. It was such a blessing to have.
In this group I experienced change like I never thought possible. I not only healed, but my faith grew deep. I became healthy not only in my heart, but in my soul. I came to know God in a way I had never known Him prior to that. I experienced Him acting and moving in my life and in the lives of the other women. Through these women I found out what it was like to do Christian Community.
Rachel's Hope ran for about 11 years. I was in it for about 8 years. The woman who started RH was working full time and taking care of her mother. She needed to focus on that and stepped down after about 10 years. I tried to keep it going, but my heart wasn't in it like it should have been. I was tired of doing those type of Bible studies and I wanted to go in a different route. I stepped down from Rachel's Hope, hoping someone would step up and host it and lead it. Sadly, no one did.
The women who I did life with for all those years are to this day my dearest friends. I look back on that time in my life with great fondness. It was a huge part of my spiritual journey. I experienced God in my life. He showed up in a big way - a real and tangible way. He answered prayers. He comforted. He healed. And in a very strange way I am so very grateful for the tsunami I experienced because it brought me to this group and changed my life forever.
It was Christians modeling what it really means to be a Christian in this world.
In Rachel's Hope I grew deep roots and I learned the reality of having inner peace and hope and how to live an abundant life.
May the Lord bless you with a Christian community like that.