I didn’t know what to expect when I walked through the doors of the Great Hall. I grasped my conference binder in one hand and lugged a heavy tote bag in the other. The large conference room was filled with round tables and smiling faces. A friend warmly greeted me and invited me to her table. I breathed a sigh of relief and began to relax. “This is going to be good.” I thought to myself.
Little did I know, the 2017 Speak Up Conference in Grand Rapids, MI would be more than “good”. It was more than a gathering of nice people with picture-perfect lives and white picket fences.
It was life-changing.
By the end of the conference, I realized I was sitting among men and women who did not merely write and talk about Jesus–they were people who have had powerful encounters with the God of the universe.
I received phenomenal training in the breakout sessions and excellent instruction on effective writing and speaking. Like an empty cup, I drank in all that I could learn in the presence of such amazing communicators.
I developed friendships with brothers and sisters in Christ from all over the continent. We instantly formed a connection through our love for ministry and passion for Jesus.
Perhaps what most impacted me throughout this powerful weekend were the compelling stories of each individual I met. Stories of great love and heart-wrenching loss. Stories of tragedy and triumph. Stories of grace, grit, and the glorious grandeur of the God who has woven our stories together in His tapestry of hope and healing.
At the end of the conference behind the doors of the Great Hall, we formed a circle and joined hands, as if to say, “We’re in this together. Don’t give up. Keep writing. Keep speaking. Keep proclaiming to the world that our Redeemer lives.”
We prayed. We cried. Among the prayers and melodic piano music, I realized that I was standing among a great cloud of witnesses of God’s great mercy and everlasting faithfulness.I was standing among a great cloud of witnesses of God's great mercy#speakup2017... Click To Tweet
The writer of Hebrews lays out a powerful litany of the saints of old who traveled the path of faith before us:
Noah built an ark…
Abraham walked with God…
Jacob blessed his sons…
Moses led the people of God to freedom…
All of these people mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” faced insurmountable challenges, setbacks, failures and regrets.
But God was faithful.
We now join with those caught up in this wondrous cloud, and it’s time to tell our stories. Our stories of faith, failure, illness, betrayal, grief, addiction and abandonment. The traces of our stories have strengthened our faith and given us a tenacious hope. Our pain, as Carol Kent beautifully stated in her keynote address, often births a ministry that points others to the Author and Perfector of our faith.
I have learned through the Speak Up conference that we cannot be silent and let our stories go untold. We must join together amid that great throng of witnesses, and invite the world to behold the glory of God.
So thank you, planners and staff of such a tremendous conference!
Thank you for reminding me that I am part of that cloud.
And so are you, dear friend. Your story matters. Please tell someone today of the grace, love and power of God through your story!
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.
Left: Me and the beautiful Lori Schumaker!
Middle: Speak Up Q&A session
Right: Me, Sandi Banks and Elayna Deitrich–new friends!