BENTON, ARK – “We’ve never done it this way before,” is not a phrase one would hear from the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) leadership in Arkansas or the planning team for Inspire Women’s Conference. These two groups joined together to create one awesome event for the ladies of Arkansas Baptist churches on Saturday, September 24.
Andrea Lennon, ABSC Women’s Ministry Specialist, said, “Inspire 2022 is one we will never forget! After two years of not being able to gather in one location, it was special to have all Arkansas Baptists Women together for a day of powerful worship, dynamic teaching, and meaningful times of connection. It is our prayer that everyone who attended will be ready to give an answer for the hope they have in and through Jesus!”
WMU Executive Director Debbie Moore stated, “Our WMU theme for 2022-2024 is Hope in Christ. The Inspire planning team had no idea about that when they decided on “Hope” as this year’s Inspire theme. That’s one way, I believe, that God was working ahead of us to bring all women of Arkansas together for worship, fellowship, ministry, and missions celebration.”
Planning for the Inspire Women’s Conference begins at least one year before the actual event. It involves a team of women from around the state, who bring a variety of gifts that are implemented throughout the planning process. A ten week prayer focus began in July and culminated during the week of Inspire. In addition, a focused time of prayer occurred on the evening before the event as members of the Inspire Team and Network Team prayer-walked through the church, praying over every aspect of the conference, and especially for the women who would be attending.
Melanie Jenkins and the praise team from FBC Benton, led by Joel Winters set the stage for a morning of worship. Darla Baerg, who grew up in Little Rock where she attended First Baptist Church, shared an inspiring message of hope and joy as she unpacked the theme verse of Romans 15:13. Baerg reminded that joy does not depend on circumstances but can still be felt in spite of circumstances as she pointed out the context of Paul’s imprisonment when he wrote in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Connection Groups were a feature of the Inspire conference this year, as the Inspire team wanted to build in purposed time for women to have intentional interactive opportunities. Following the morning session, the women were divided into groups which met in locations around the church. Each group had two group leaders who led them through a time of sharing their stories of hope with each other.
Shannon Calhoun, a member of The Church at Rock Creek said, “When we shared what hope means to each of us, the Lord opened the door for a few moments of deep conversation. We shared some intense hurts and concerns in a very short amount of time, but also some examples of how our Heavenly Father is taking care of every need. We told stories of his faithfulness. We didn’t make it through all the questions, but He knew what our table would talk over, and He placed us together, no doubt. A small table of women from different parts of our state prayed for a woman sitting with us right then, and I’m convinced we will continue to pray for one another.”
Another new aspect was the Arkansas Baptist Women Network Team in the vendor area. Network Leaders from 10 regions of Arkansas were available to meet and talk with women’s ministry leaders to help connect them with resources and to build relationships together. It is the hope of Arkansas Baptist Women that these connections will serve to establish and cultivate thriving women’s ministries that challenge women in churches across Arkansas to carry out the Great Commission in their communities.
Approximately 100 WMU members from across the state moved into their annual meeting while the rest of the 700 in attendance dispersed into the Connection Groups.
There was a feeling of celebration as Arkansas WMU President Laura Bramlett noted key highlights and ministries such as
- 20 new missions discipleship groups started between Jan. 1 and Sept. 24, 2022;
- Four Christian Women’s Job Corp sites currently discipling women through mentoring, Bible study, job readiness and life skills training, with one more scheduled to open in Beebe in 2023;
- WMU Executive Board members led breakout sessions at Engage Student Missions Camp during the summer.
The celebration continued as the group honored Retired Arkansas WMU Executive Director Julia Ketner by singing “Happy Birthday” to her on her eightieth birthday in addition to praying for all missionaries who were celebrating birthdays on this day. Ketner was asked to pray for Linda Gray, who is currently on stateside assignment from Romania where she has been moved from Ukraine. Gray said that one Ukrainian pastor said, “We have no water, electricity or heat, but we have faith.”
Kellie Turner, who serves with the IMB in the Philippines, shared how God has worked among their people group even when the country was shut down during Covid. She told of how a family was brought to their city for surgery for their children and were unable to return to the island they were from, which enabled them to minister to the mother and her two children. The daughter became a believer after returning home and making a connection with another IMB family.
National WMU President Connie Dixon addressed the group as she shared four areas that Paul exhorted believers to do in Romans 12:9-13—to be genuine in love, patient in affliction, constant in prayer, and compassionate to all. WMU compassion ministries of Christian Women’s/Men’s Job Corps, Pure Water/Pure Love and World Crafts afford opportunities to excel in each of these areas. Dixon also noted the 2022-2023 Project Help emphasis of mental health awareness.
The afternoon session of Inspire featured a panel discussion with Lennon, Debi Walker, Director of Desired Haven Family Care, a ministry of Arkansas Baptist Children & Family Ministries; Julia Baird, IMB NextGen Mobilization Strategist; and Shari Edwards, Women’s Ministry Leader and adjunct instructor at Ouachita Baptist University. As Lennon prompted, each lady shared about her spiritual journey and how God had prepared them to serve in their current place.
The ministries of Desired Haven and Christian Women’s Job Corps’ Women Equipped Benton location benefited as participants brought cleaning supplies for Desired Haven and breakfast bars and notebook paper for Women Equipped.