More than 1,500 women from the Central Territory and beyond gathered at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare for the Arise and Shine Conference, a weekend of powerful praise, prayer and personal reflection. From the start, delegates’ excitement and expectation filled the air. The event, led by Commissioner Heidi Bailey and Colonel Janice Howard, and supported by the territorial women’s ministries department, didn’t disappoint.
“It takes a lot of effort, courage and coordination for a woman to leave home for the weekend,” said Captain Catherine Mount, Royal Oak, Mich., corps officer who brought the largest corps delegation—44 women—to the conference. “Through support from the corps, divisional and territorial headquarters, our women made the effort to invite friends, raise money and have a great weekend!”
The preconference drew nearly 200 women to learn about their privilege of joining God’s work in the world. They were inspired in sessions by Katelyn Beaty, former Christianity Today editor and author of A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World, and the Rev. Bonnie Camarda, who taught on women leaders breaking through the “glass ceiling,” based on the book of Esther, a workshop she also taught in Spanish the next day.
All preconference delegates also enjoyed a presentation by Kristin Schell, author of The Turquoise Table, who shared how she redeemed her front yard for God’s glory by creating a space of hospitality and community in her neighborhood in the form of a turquoise picnic table.
“I’ve been inspired to prepare a comfortable, safe place at my corps, similar to a turquoise table where people can gather,” said Captain Catherine Fitzgerald, New Albany, Ind., corps officer.
At the end of the preconference luncheon, a turquoise table was auctioned off to raise funds for The Salvation Army World Service Office’s WORTH program in Kenya which empowers women through literacy and finance education, work-skills training and microfinancing. This life-changing program provides opportunities for them to start their own businesses, contribute income to their households and meet the needs of their children. Over the entire weekend, with the impetus of women helping women, more than $29,000 was raised for WORTH.
Conference workshops offered a plethora of opportunities and proved popular with standing-room only. They ranged from “Spiritual Formation for Children” and “Living and Loving the Word of God” to “Being the Bridge in a Divided World” and “Balance and Self-Care Strategies.” Among the most popular was “Soulful Motion,” a fitness class appealing to delegates of all ages. The buzz and laughter during the workshops and as women left confirmed the content had resonated with them.
Each united session was blessing filled as delegates drew from the experiences of others. They heard moving testimonies of God’s intervention in women’s lives, how He changed them from being victims to victors and equipped them to lead and love others. On Saturday morning Sheri Martin’s remarkable life story brought delegates to their feet as they cheered her on. An intense panel discussion about entering into the lives of others and sharing God’s love followed.
Conference guests included author, pastor and speaker Jo Saxton, gang-intervention specialist Amy Williams, and singer/ songwriter and spoken word artist Sharon Irving. In the keynote session, Jo Saxton compelled women to rise above life’s circumstances and shine for Christ. She unpacked the scripture in a simple yet profound—and at times humorous—way. Many women responded to her invitation to allow the Lord to intervene in every area of their lives.
“I felt challenged, encouraged, stretched,” said Ann Jones from the Milwaukee West, Wis., Corps. “It was a whole lot of God speaking to me.”
Occasionally using street speech in her two messages, Amy Williams gave a glimpse into her ministry and work with gangs and incarcerated youth. Her words conjured many emotions for delegates as the inherent value of every individual and God’s redemptive power was driven home.
“I learned God can use you even when you’re broken,” said Genesis Alvarez from the Kansas City Blue Valley, Mo., Corps. “Sometimes His light can shine brighter through the cracks.”
In contrast, Shanell Allen, Blue Island, Ill., Corps soldier, shared, “I’ve been challenged to scream about injustice on behalf of those who don’t have a voice.”
Delegates also were blessed by the ministry of Sharon Irving, who was used by the Holy Spirit to usher them into God’s presence with a united focus through music. Sharon also provided background music for the Saturday evening, floral-themed banquet where women engaged in casual conversations and shared on a deeper level prompted by questions from the women’s ministries Embrace program.
Throughout the conference delegates interacted with each other. Groups gathered at photo booths to capture memories. Mothers and daughters shared the weekend and held hands and prayed. Old friendships were reignited, and new ones made.
In the final message, Commissioner Bailey challenged women to live out the Kingdom of God. “The Kingdom of God is not about how loudly we declare it,” she said. “But it’s about how soundly we live it.” At its conclusion, many women knelt at the altar, while others responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit where they sat. God’s anointing on the event was evident, and many returned home inspired and empowered.
“One of my women told me as I dropped her off at 2:00 a.m., ‘I called my daughter and told her we’ve found our church. I’m ready to be a soldier,’” reported Captain Judi Fetzer, Pontiac, Mich., corps officer.
Kirsten Hull from the Indianapolis Eagle Creek, Ind., Corps, captured the conference’s essence, “I love how we can come together and grow in our faith, but the best part is being sent out to make our family bigger and better.”