The weekend begins as thousands of women arrive at a huge arena on a Friday, a restorative two-day retreat in mind. But the event doesn't always begin as the relaxed getaway for which they're hoping.

$quot;It takes a lot to get there—they have to arrange for babysitters, prepare for meals, and maybe they've had a hard day at work,$quot; describes recording artist, author and Women of Faith speaker Sheila Walsh. $quot;And they kind of finally flop down in the arena, usually kind of exhausted, thinking, I'm not sure this was the best choice of my time.$quot;

But as this group of women settle into their seats and begin to leave behind the worries of the day, they are enveloped into a massive 17,000-voice chorus of worship. This assimilation of working women, daughters, single moms, wives and sisters hear Women of Faith's messages of the Sensational Life we have in Christ (2002), God's Boundless Love (2001), His Extravagant Grace (2000), and this year's theme, the Irrepressible Hope we find in Him.

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The power and passion of the Women of Faith conferences continues to draw hundreds of thousands every year, with a total of over 2.3 million women attending the events since they began in the mid-‘90s. While last year's The Great Adventure events drew 362,000 women, this year's Irrepressible Hope-themed conferences are expected to attract more than 380,000. And for the first time, Women of Faith has created a national conference, slated for March 18 – 20 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas—an arena that seats 65,000.

Along with well-known authors Patsy Clairmont, Marilyn Meberg, Luci Swindoll and Thelma Wells, Walsh is one of a handful of women who has been a core speaker for these events almost since their inception. She has seen Women of Faith grow exponentially as the word spread from woman to woman about the conferences.

$quot;In the first two or three years at Women of Faith events, I think a lot of people came thinking, Oh, this will be like a girls' weekend out—which it is,$quot; she says. $quot;But God had a bigger mule in store for us than I think we realized. As the years have gone on, he's begun to unpack things before us that have touched us at levels that I didn't anticipate.$quot;

This year's message of Irrepressible Hope has a real connection for Walsh. $quot;When I went to my doctor a couple of weeks ago, she said to me, Is this the year you're going to get into some kind of exercise program? And I said, Well, I hope so! And she replied, Well, I guess that means no,$quot; Sheila says, laughing.

$quot;There is that sort of thing—I think I could do this. I hope I could do it,$quot; she continues. $quot;But that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about what we've absolutely been promised by the word of God, that we can stake our lives on. My prayer for the conference this year is that I could encourage women who've lost hope to lift their heads again and remember who it is that they've place their hope in, and that their hope is eternal.$quot;

Integral to the message of Women of Faith is worship. Pierre, worship team leader for the 2004 Irrepressible Hope conferences, relates how thousands of women rise to their feet at the events, swaying, dancing, lifting and clapping their hands, crying and smiling, as they sing songs of praise and worship.

$quot;Worship is a vital part of the Women of Faith experience,$quot; says Pierre, who has been a part of the worship team for over five years. $quot;Everyone attending has the opportunity to give a response to God for who He is and all He's done in and around us. So many women comment that standing together in an arena filled with 15,000 women, all praising God together, is an awesome thing to be a part of—a little taste of what it will be like in Heaven.$quot;