By Jennifer Johnson
In 2009, Gayla Congdon attended a planning meeting for the International Conference on Missions and realized she was one of only three women in the group of more than 60 people.
“Our guest speaker, a man from Wycliffe Bible Translators, pointed out the discrepancy,” she says. “Then he said one of the biggest demographic groups in developed countries, and especially in the United States, is educated women age 55 and older who have discretionary income and are looking for meaningful experiences. I was reminded of the Barna study reporting that, for the first time in U.S. history, growing numbers of women are leaving the church. My wheels started turning.”
Congdon is founder and “chief spiritual officer” at Amor (San Diego, CA), a ministry that works to meet the tangible needs of the poor around the world, and which offers a variety of mission trip opportunities. She began working with her team to develop a new opportunity exclusively for women, and in 2012 launched Women of Strength, a nine-day experience in South Africa.
“We not only build houses, but also tour the city of Soweto, participate in cultural activities, worship together, discuss our experience in small groups, learn about apartheid, and connect with the people there,” Congdon says. Eighty-seven women from six countries participated in the first trip; many returned for the second trip in 2014, and the Amor team is now planning a third for 2016. A documentary filmmaker will accompany them to make a movie about the experience.
“Ten of the 87 women on that first trip had left the church,” Congdon says. “The small group leaders were trained to help them find a church back home and follow up with them afterward.” She says many of the women also stay in touch with each other after returning home.
And while the idea for Women of Strength was originally conceived as a way to connect and involve older women, the trip is open to ladies of all ages—girls as young as 12 and women as old as 85 have participated.
“Women are coming from all over the globe to be part of this experience, and they’re having a global conversation about what it means to be a woman in the church and in the world,” Congdon says. “These women are connecting deeply with each other and having a transformational experience so they can return home and keep making a difference.”
Registration for the 2016 Women of Strength trip begins in February; visit www.amor.org/wos to learn more.