- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 8, 2004

Thousands of Christian women filled the MCI Center yesterday to recharge their spirits and reaffirm their faith in God.

About 15,000 women from around the metropolitan area gathered for the second and final day of the annual Women of Faith Conference at the arena in Northwest. Inspirational female speakers, many over 60, echoed the theme “Irrepressible Hope” by sharing their stories and testimony with the multigenerational, multidenominational audience.

Marilyn Meberg, 65, a Women of Faith speaker for nine years, said the ladies feel a oneness and connection at the conferences. That’s the appeal, she said.

“Those of us who are on the speakers’ team have all been hurt — just like the audience. But God loves us,” Mrs. Meberg said. “There’s a camaraderie among us. And 2.75 million women have come to the conferences over nine years. You get recharged and know that you are loved.”

Members of the organization believe their purpose is “to live a godly life and to grow in the knowledge of God and Christian obedience.”

Speakers discussed loss and grief, fear and marriage. They quoted Bible passages and talked about elderly parents and the toll that debilitating illnesses such as Alzheimer’s take on loved ones. Each speaker stressed hope and belief in Jesus Christ in her message.

Samantha Rathbone, 35, traveled from Spotsylvania, Va., with other members of her church’s congregation.

“The fellowship is wonderful — meeting so many different women with shared experiences,” Mrs. Rathbone said, smiling. “Everybody is at peace [despite the terrorism threat]. And we get to get away from the husbands and the children for a weekend.”

Mrs. Rathbone wore a lavender-and-white T-shirt with “Irrepressible Hope” emblazoned on the front. The back read: “Craig’s Baptist Church, Spotsylvania, Va.”

Women of Faith, which organized the two-day event, is based in Dallas. In 1996, family counselor Steve Arterburn founded the organization after he was inspired by a motivational rally.

Mr. Arterburn assembled speakers for Women of Faith events in churches — each time with a waiting list at least as large as the audience. Once the concept moved into arenas, he added more speakers and brought on board Mary Graham, current Women of Faith president, to help coordinate the conferences.

Yesterday, Mrs. Rathbone was looking forward to the candid and comic stories of Patsy Clairmont, a favorite speaker, who at one time suffered from agoraphobia.

For 17 years, Mrs. Clairmont was afraid to go outside or travel. During a rare outing with a friend for a Christian retreat, she decided to follow the example of a biblical prophet by declaring to God that she had had enough of being agoraphobic.

“She’s so honest and so funny,” Mrs. Rathbone said of Mrs. Clairmont. “She makes you think that God has a sense of humor. She is so uplifting. Irrepressible hope is what I get from listening to her.”

The Women of Faith Conference travels among 30 cities, with the District the 17th city on the tour. The conference will be in Omaha, Neb., Philadelphia and Orlando, Fla.

The weekend respites attract hundreds of thousands of women for laughter, fun, friendship and hope grounded in their Christian faith.

Thelma Wells cracked up the crowd yesterday by discussing some of her conversations with God about her marriage.

“I have asked a lot of things of the Lord, and He has said ‘no.’ But I asked,” Mrs. Wells said.

Citing Scripture, she said she knocked on God’s door for 15 years.

“Lord, when are you going to fix this marriage?” she would pray.

“When you are ready to receive God’s blessing, He will give it to you,” Mrs. Wells told the audience. “Well, the Lord spoke to my husband, and my husband came to me and said, ‘I don’t like arguing. Let’s agree not to go to bed angry.’”

Mrs. Meberg, a spry, silver-haired senior from Dallas, told about the rape of her 17-year-old daughter.

“Life is full of bad stuff — my husband, my daughter and I chose to believe God is greater. Today, my daughter is a counselor who works with rape victims,” she said.

The event culminated with gospel singer CeCe Winans, who belted out songs and talked about the priority of praising God.

“How many know He is a keeper? How many know He is a healer? The more you praise Him, the more He will do for you,” Miss Winans said as the crowd rose to its feet. “There are no denominations in the Throne Room.”

Linda Gary of Lanham described the conference as “awesome.”

“I think this is breaking down barriers for women,” Mrs. Gary said. “Women need to support one another. I believe God takes us through stuff so we can share with other women. You are never going through something alone.”

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