Better Together | A Work of the Spirit - by Niels Jeyasegara

Vineyard Canada, May 8, 2024, 8:54 PM
Vineyard Canada Global Moderator

In April I had the opportunity to participate in the VUSA Better Together conference in Columbus, Ohio. It was an incredible conference, and to this day I am still processing all the Holy Spirit did. The Women's Association kicked off the conference on Monday morning and then it shifted to a multi-ethnic focus with the rest of the associations joining Tuesday evening. While most attendees arrived on Tuesday evening, I felt it necessary and a personal conviction to be there for the women's portion of the conference. Melanie Forsythe-Lee, who leads the VUSA Women's Association was the speaker for the Monday morning session. What stood out to me was her statement that "Women have sacrificed greatly for the Kingdom of God." I must mention that for me, it was a lovely gentle message in which there was no guilt or shame towards the men, as she shared how women have been treated poorly in the Church. She shared her challenges, while also challenging us to entrust our calling to God and not to others. I wish more men would have heard it, as there were not that many in the room that morning.

During the ministry time I began to be stirred where I was standing at my seat. I began to weep as the Spirit allowed me to feel the pain that women in ministry have experienced. My chest got heavy, and I could feel the weight of it - I believe this is referred to as 'empathetic intercession', and was not something I had experienced before. This experience wasn't in response to anything Melanie said, but something I believe the Spirit allowed me to feel in this moment. Immediately, I texted my wife Gayle about what was happening. Then someone Gayle and I have been journeying with, who is going through a difficult situation in another denomination, came to mind, and I could feel her pain. It's not that I was sympathetic as I had previously been, but I seriously empathized. I shared this with Krista Heide, who was part of the Vineyard Canada team at the conference, and she asked me where I was physically feeling it, to which I responded, "Mainly in my chest and upwards into my throat." It was almost like the onset of a gag and potentially being weighed down and not being able to speak. I cannot imagine the pain that women in leadership have gone through to get to where they are today, as some have literally paved the way for me to flourish in ministry. I won't take this experience the Holy Spirit gave me lightly, and I'm asking God that going forward, He will empower me to stand as an ally and empower women in leadership into all that He has for them.

A second profound encounter I had with the Holy Spirit was during the final session on Thursday evening. Rev. Dr. Alexia Salvatierra, Academic Dean for Centro Latino at Fuller Theological Seminary, gave a powerful message, sharing stories of the struggles people have faced immigrating to the U.S. and how we should love them. She explained that while we need borders, we should not have borders around our hearts. During the ministry time, a question was asked, "Who is an immigrant to this country? If so, please raise your hand." While I was one of five Canadians at this American conference, I raised my hand since I immigrated to Canada. We were then invited to come to the front to receive a prayer of blessing by those who were not immigrants. At first, I hesitated to go up as I was seated between Dawn Humphreys on my left, Krista Heide on my right. Then Krista got out of her seat and moved into the aisle and looked at me and asked, "Aren't you going up?" I really appreciated Krista's encouragement and likely needed that boost. As I went to the front, a man came to pray for me and saw my name and that I was from Vineyard Ottawa. He prayed, "Come, Holy Spirit" and we waited for a minute or so. He then said, "Niels, two words keep coming to my mind, 'Welcome Home'". At that moment I burst into tears and cried deeply.

The reason why those words are significant is our family recently moved from Winnipeg to Ottawa, as I started a new pastoral role in early March. On March 17 at Vineyard Ottawa, Christine Woods preached an incredible message and what impacted me was the way she taught about God's unconditional love for us. In closing the service, I could sense that the Lord wanted to release His love on people, so I said, "There are two words that keep coming to mind and they are 'welcome home'". I repeated the words "welcome home" 7-8 times as I looked at people throughout the room. It was a profound moment, which has been impactful not just for our family, but for our church community, and maybe especially for some who are newer immigrants. The theme of "welcome home" seems to be resonating for many. This was a second work of the Holy Spirit at the Better Together conference I will be carrying with me for a long time to come. My big takeaways from the conference, which perhaps should be no surprise for a Vineyard pastor, was the work of the Holy Spirit truly making us "Better Together."