More than 260 women were blessed during the 2023 Kentucky-Tennessee Conference Women’s Retreat in the United States. Among that number was a special group of nine women who traveled all the way from Londonderry, Northern Ireland to join the event.
The connection between the Irish visitors and the Kentucky-Tennessee group began after Gail McKenzie, women’s ministries director for the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference, led an online spiritual retreat with the Irish women in June 2021. She had been contacted by Pamela Petersen, who is the wife of a local pastor in Northern Ireland. Subsequently, McKenzie led an online Bible study in October and November of 2021. The Zoom meetings sparked a friendship between the participants, and on June 15, 2022, 36 Kentucky-Tennessee women traveled to Northern Ireland to meet with 30 Irish women for an unforgettable retreat.
“We really bonded with the women [during this trip],” McKenzie said. “So, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if they could experience our Conference’s women’s retreat?’ Because they do not have these kinds of events in Northern Ireland.”
This ambitious project was aptly named “Reversed Mission.” With McKenzie and Petersen’s leadership, as well as the conference’s financial support, this dream became a reality when nine Irish women and two men landed at the Nashville, Tenn., International Airport in early September 2023.
During their stay, the group had the opportunity to visit a few tourist attractions such as the Ark Encounter, Mammoth Cave, Broadway Street, and Dollywood. They also visited some local Adventist institutions, including Highland Academy, Madison Academy, and Southern Adventist University.
“We didn’t believe that we would be able to come, but God opened the doors,” said Gosia Geslak, member of the Londonderry Church in Northern Ireland. “We are definitely very grateful for this experience.”
The journey ended at the Kentucky-Tennessee Women’s Retreat at Indian Creek Camp, which took place in September. This event provided an opportunity for the Irish women to reconnect with old friends and also make new ones.
“The Adventist community in Ireland is very small that sometimes you feel isolated,” Petersen said. “This trip was important because it helped the Irish ladies realize that they are part of something bigger … we belong to a bigger family.”
Though it was difficult to say goodbye, the Irish women shared they have been inspired to take this experience at Kentucky-Tennessee to be a light in their communities.
“I have always wanted to live near [an Adventist community],” Ann Mcmally, member of the Londonderry Church, said. “I wanted it for me and my children. Coming here has made me realize that, while I love this environment, I’m meant to be where I am. That’s the mission God gave me.”
Now the friendship and mission continue as McKenzie and Petersen plan a prayer conference in Scotland for next year.