Nurturing powerful women of God – interview with Bev Richardson

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Bev Richardson is a former MA student with CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training. She went on to work with CMS in Paraguay and is currently in the UK and preparing to return to Paraguay as a CMS mission partner. I spoke to her about her work there and here, and how she is being inspired for the future as she studies an online module with us.

HH: What drew you into CMS and pioneering mission in the first place?

BR: My passion for mission goes back a very long time, in fact almost 30 years, to when my family lived in Barcelona in Spain in 1991 and I studied with missionaries at Spanish language school.

It was really when I was serving as the mission coordinator at my local Anglican church in the UK that I first discovered much more about CMS.

When I went on my first short-term visit to Paraguay I spent time with our UK church’s link mission partner, Caroline Gilmour-White, who upon her retirement back to the UK, during a church mission evening we hosted for her, presented me with the CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training information leaflet saying, “I think this is for you.”

I completed my three year MA with Pioneer Mission Leadership Training in 2016, subsequently served as a CMS short term volunteer in Paraguay for two years and then returned in December 2019. Since January I’ve been living in community and studying in Oxford with CMS as part of the formation training for my new role as a CMS mission partner in Paraguay.

Prior to lockdown I was also visiting my UK link churches at weekends and meeting new mission supporters, who are all amazing and have been faithfully helping me to raise the funds needed for my return to Paraguay for the next three years.

Bev with the “Chicas de Dios”, spending time over merienda, discipling young women during the hot summer holidays in pre-lockdown Paraguay.

 

HH: Can you tell us about your role in Paraguay?

BR: My role has evolved quite a lot since first having arrived as a volunteer in Asuncion in 2017.

Initially, I was invited by the Bishop of the Anglican Church in Paraguay to come and serve as a TEFL teacher in the Christian bi-lingual school of Colegio San Andres and to serve in the weekly English-speaking chapel services.

After several changes happening in my context, I began serving in February 2019 as the new school chaplain to the female staff, students and teachers of Colegio San Andres. I also served as the new licensed pastoral worker and on the pastoral leadership at St Andrew’s Chapel from September 2019.

HH: You’ve told me a bit about being a spiritual mother to many, through fostering and now through your work overseas, can you tell us what it means to be a spiritual mother?

BR: I suppose all the young women that I have had the privilege of being involved in aspects of their personal lives, would call me a spiritual mother. Over the years when I was a foster carer in the UK; later, in women’s ministry in UK churches speaking about forgiveness and reconciliation; and now as I disciple young women in Paraguay.

For me personally, to be a spiritual mother means that I am, to these women, someone who has also struggled, that I can testify to the transformation in my own life and in my own personal relationships. I’m someone to confide in, to trust, and encourage them. I am also someone to disciple them and to act as a role model, which I hope will enable and empower them to value themselves and see themselves as God created them to be, as incredible, powerful women of God.

I am often found hanging out with these young women in local meeting places,  perhaps over coffee, on the phone, in our times sharing in our small group or by WhatsApp, or sharing together over merienda (a kind of afternoon tea in Paraguay). Just being present and willing to be available to love, be loved and to support these young women.

These Paraguayan women know that they can ask me anything, no matter how personal, about the important questions in their lives right now and I can help them to really know who they are in Christ, in developing their own relationship with Jesus that gives them a hope for a better future and transformed lives.

HH: You are heading back to Paraguay, what do you think awaits you there?

I am excited to return as soon as God allows. I will be returning to a changing context, where the leaderships of the school, the Anglican church and the new government (the president is an alumnus of Colegio San Andres) are in transition.

I am looking forward very much to joining in with God’s mission and being part of seeing lives transformed, particularly for the next generation of women to become Paraguayan Christian leaders in the future.

group of female schoolteachers
Bev celebrating with staff at Colegio San Andres

 

HH: I know you are doing a remote access module and plan to do anther as well. Can you tell us your experience of study as part of the remote access classes? How does it compare to previous study you have done with CMS?

BR: One of the positives for me personally has really been seeing this time as an unexpected gift from God. Part of my prayers before I came to the UK in January was to be able to return to Paraguay with some Christian Education resources and the tools to equip me better in my role in the Anglican church as we reimagine the future together, both in my chaplaincy at the school and also as a licensed lay pastoral worker in the Anglican church.

With this unexpected gift of time and space, I have already been able to participate in a few online courses. I attended a Ripon College Cuddesdon ordinands’ weekend and am now halfway through an online training course on Christian Mindfulness.

I was also inspired to start a weekly online confirmation class with students in Paraguay who are preparing to serve and lead in the Anglican chapel.

But back to your question! I have just completed my second week of auditing a CMS pioneer online undergraduate module, Developing Ministry and Worship in Context, and have really been enjoying the experience of re-engaging with pioneer students and lectures again at CMS.

The online environment hasn’t affected the quality of learning for me: the resources on Moodle, the reading and activities, the discussion groups via Zoom and the reflective practice via Forum are perhaps new ways of studying but have a real familiarity to them which I enjoy.

As a visionary person and pragmatic learner, the main thing I have got out of it so far personally is in being able to re-imagine how this remote access module might also serve as a valuable tool and learning resource for international students in Paraguay.

I’m already reimagining how this could happen in the future, perhaps for those in our secondary school being offered opportunities to study this practical module online with CMS to gain more experience of developing ministry and worship in their own context and perhaps even leading on to a gap-year mission opportunity to come to the UK and study here before going on to university.

I’d like to develop further opportunities to include the indigenous churches in the Chaco too and I’m already talking to one of my mission partner colleagues in the Chaco about how we might translate some discipleship resources into Enxet to use for remote access training with the Chaco women and children!

My real prayer is that when all of this lockdown is over I do hope we can all use this ‘unexpected gift from God’ and not simply return to ‘business as usual’ but instead be inspired to re-imagine a new future in mission and ministry using the new skills in online technology and innovation that we have all gained, to grow and disciple the next generation of Christ’s church in Paraguay and around the world!

HH: How can we pray for you?

BR:

  • for my own health
  • for God’s continued protection and guidance, particularly regarding when will be the right time for me to return to Paraguay
  • for wisdom and discernment from God to know how best to apply all I have learned
  • for my own children and family working as key workers here in the UK and family living in other parts of the world

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