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If Gathering: Hope from Connection

IF: Gathering --Not What I Expected

by April Jones 

Before we begin, I should confess something to you up front--I am not a huge fan of gender specific ministry.  The quickest way to have me run for the hills is to tell me you want me to join the "Women's Ministry."  My mind conjures up images of pastel colors, flowery dresses, shopping, baking, Pinterest-ing, gossip sessions, and self-help discussions.

I am not crafty and look awful in pastels; I only bake when there is no way to avoid it; and as for self-help--25 years of Oprah pretty much took care of that. But I love ministry, I love study and I love WOMEN. Women are complicated. Women are challenging. Women are messy. Women are beautiful. Women are fascinating. Women are brilliant. Women approach God's Word and study in a completely unique way. Some women are hard to know. Some women are wide open. Some women are boisterous. Some women are introverted. The awesome diversity that is Woman is one of God's most impressive displays of creativity. 

Earlier this year, over 200 of these fantastically diverse women gathered together at Hope Church to attend the IF: Gathering--a two-day, world-wide simulcast event featuring a "secret" line-up of Bible-believing speakers, panelists, worship leaders and activists. I was one of those 200 women.

Despite my general aversion to organized women's ministry, I find incredible value in the gathering of women for the purpose of studying God's Word. I am a huge fan of Beth Moore, Pricilla Shirer and Christine Caine. I love the idea of dedicating specific time to the study of the Scripture. I want to dig out nuggets that I haven't before seen. I want to suck the marrow out of the living words of God and find applications for my everyday life. I long to hear from women with different life experience who have specific illustrations of how God ordered their steps, directed their paths, and opened doors--I want that--I need that. So, I approached this weekend as an opportunity for God to show me something I hadn't seen before, reiterate things He had shown me several times before, or just be present in a new way. 

I'm sure my preparation for the conference was similar to many others who attended. I found child care for my daughter; deliberated over what outfit to wear--we women definitely try to look our best for each other; purchased just the "right" notebook and pen to take notes--I am a sucker for office supplies and a conference full of speakers lends itself to making sure one has the perfect writing tools to capture it all; and made plans to meet up with my girlfriends who were also attending. 

As it turned out, however, despite my diligent planning, I was not at all prepared for what would occur over the next two days. God rocked my world from the moment I walked into the building, found my group and sat down for the first session . . . from that point on, I have to tell you, the God and Creator of the Universe showed up and showed why He is I AM . . . I have tried many times over the last few months to put into my own words what happened that weekend . . . I can't do it. From worship and praise, to prayer and meditation, to confession--nothing that occurred in Texas (where the conference was held) or Springfield, IL (where I was) can be explained by the human tongue. 

From the moment the conference kicked off with a truly anointed worship session, through each speaker and time for response and connection--this conference has had a lasting impact on my heart and mind. I am a woman who struggles against finding my value in being valued by others. Eugene Cho took to the stage and got right into my business--water your own grass--April--quit worrying about how it compares to someone else's!

For a girl who has never felt like she was the right kind of enough, Jennie Allen rocked my ever-loving world. I think we all strive so hard to prove that we are worthy, to protect our status or reputation that we don't even consider what we would dare if we didn't expend so much energy in that negative direction. 

Throughout the weekend God revealed a new and fresh encouragement to my heart. He ripped away some comfort crutches I had been leaning on for years and He just loved on me. I connected with old friends and made some new. I reveled in the anointing that was tangible when, with one voice, this gathering of women proclaimed their love for their God. 

I asked Chantell why she worked so hard to bring IF to Hope. This was her response: "As I looked around at the women of Hope, I wanted them to connect with God and with each other in a deeper, more sincere way. I felt like IF: Hope Church could do that."  

All I have to say is "Mission accomplished, Chantell"--Heaven alone will measure the impact of this event.