Laughter, Tears, Worship and Irrepressible Hope
- Melissa Hambrick Contributing Writer
- 2004 25 Feb
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.
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;
WOMEN AT WORSHIP
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;
Walsh agrees. $quot;Worship plays a huge role. It's how we begin each conference, it's how we end, and it's woven throughout the entire weekend. We begin by calling people into the throne room of grace, and then we have messages, then there's an opportunity for women to respond and worship to what God has said.$quot;
Part of that response includes taking back the joy and hope that they find at these events to their own homes and churches.
$quot;Women of Faith is calling together women of different denominations, different age groups, different social backgrounds. We come together in this one flat place, where we can stand and worship together,$quot; Walsh describes. $quot;We receive messages and then want to take them back and implement them in our family or our church. And at Women of Faith, we very much want to support the local church, to send women back that are servants within the church and more-equipped worshippers.$quot;
Among the WOF books and resources is the annual worship collection put together by Integrity Music and the Women of Faith worship team. Relying on each year's theme of the nationwide conferences and celebrating the music that is a part of Women of Faith, these annual recordings help support women in their homes and communities, long after the event is over.
$quot;What is hope? What are we promised?$quot; asks Walsh. $quot;Is it just that we hobble home knowing we have an eternal hope, or is there something that Christ has promised for right now, no matter what news we receive tomorrow or next week or next month? The songs on this year's Irrepressible Hope worship CD that the worship team has recorded are reminders of who God is in our everyday lives.$quot;
Pierre, who leads the choir of voices on the project's upbeat Latin/gospel blend, $quot;Crown You With Praise,$quot; echoes Walsh's sentiments. $quot;The album encourages women to stand firm in their faith, and welcomes all of us to accept His forgiveness and offering of hope as promised in Jeremiah 29:11. I'm excited about the fact that we have a Savior that gives hope to a world that desperately needs it. And at Women of Faith, we get to share and sing about this hope with everyone that attends.$quot;