Singapore’s first Christian women’s conference this week sounded a call to all women to rise to their destiny, forsaking fear for faith.
By Yong Yung Shin
Some were challenged, some refreshed, and some enlightened—but every one of the 1,600-odd women of varying ages, backgrounds and denominations took something home with them in their hearts at the conclusion of the first ever National Christian Women’s Conference in Singapore.
The conference, held at Bethesda Cathedral in Bedok, was initiated by Rev. Canon Dr. James Wong and his wife, Esther Wong. Deeply inspired by the role of women in ministry as found in Psalm 68:11, “the women who announce the great news are a great host”, “Sister Esther”, as Wong is affectionately known, and her inter-denominational organizing committee brought to fruition a vision to inaugurate a gathering that “cuts through artificial boundaries created by us that hamper our ministry.”
“Arise & Soar” was the theme of the conference, which aimed, in the committee’s words, to “enlighten, engage, equip and empower women to recognize and rise up to their God-given destiny together to change the world beginning with themselves, families, communities and societies.”
At the heart of it was the desire to see more unity among women, Wong explained during the conference. “You know sometimes among women there’s this competition. We want to break the ‘cattiness’, that spirit of competition, and instead release love and see each other as equals.”
The conference met this aim, Wong said. “I loved seeing women from all ages, denominations, small churches, big churches, come together for this event, praying for one another, bonding with each other. It’s not about who is more mature, but who we minister to with that maturity.”
Unfortunately, a lot of churches keep their women to themselves, and they are the poorer for it, because their world becomes so small, she said, adding, “The vision is to ultimately see our women coming together to minister beyond Singapore, to the rest of the region. This is just the starting point of what is bigger than just my church or another person’s church.”
Anchoring the keynote sessions were renowned speaker and author Lisa Bevere, who co-hosts the weekly television program The Messenger in the USA with her husband, John Bevere, and Naomi Dowdy, the former senior pastor of the local Trinity Christian Centre who grew the church from 42 members to more than 4,000 in 30 years.
Attributing her dynamic self to years of walking with God, Bevere revealed that 18 years ago, she was shy, disliked befriending other women and, with three boys and another on the way, she was exhausted all the time. But a powerful encounter with God led her to ultimately find her calling to minister to her fellow sisters all around the world.
Every season in a woman’s life bears forth different fruit. “Get the fruit of that season,” she exhorted. “Never regret pouring your life into your family when your kids are young. Your children will not remember how clean your floor was, they will only remember how much time you spent with them playing on that floor.”
She also spoke on discipleship, just as the Bible commands older women to teach and train the younger women. “True success is not what I have, but what I pass on. True success is about legacy.”
She encouraged the women to go after what they feel God is calling them to. “You will be misjudged, misunderstood, and you’ll probably make mistakes, but it’s okay.
“God likes to make you face what you fear because when you face what you fear, you become fearless.”
Bevere spoke on women from the Bible—Rahab, Jael, Mary, Esther, Abigail, Deborah and Tamar, all of whom fulfilled their destiny not by holding back in fear but by taking action in faith and obedience.
“Fear attacks your ability to love others. Fear attacks your authority, it gets you to back down in disbelief. And yet, it’s not something you can reason away, because it’s a spirit,” she explained.
With that, she led the women in a corporate declaration, “I refuse to yield to the spirit of fear. I refuse to listen to its counsel. I will speak the Word of God and come forth in strength. I will find my voice, speak His promises, not draw back. I will be a voice to those who have no voice. I will be for signs, wonders and miracles.”
She also shared, “Faith prays scary prayers. Fear pray worried prayers. We don’t allow worry and current events to form our prayers. We allow the Word of God to form our prayers.” In essence, Christians are to stand in the gap between how things are and how things should be.
Reinforcing Bevere’s theme of not holding back in fear, Dowdy shared from 1 Samuel 13:5-6 on how Saul lost his call to be king over his people by disobeying God and acting out of fear. Dowdy reinforced the theme of not holding back in fear. “We can lose God’s best for us if we choose to go on the defensive instead of taking an offensive position,” she explained.
So where does that leave the participants? Dowdy shared that for change to happen, resolute decision must be followed by resolute action. “It’s about first becoming aware of the need for change, and then having the boldness to do what must be done.”
A salient point of prayer she led the women in was for each individual to obtain clarity about the purpose of God in their lives. “God will speak to anyone who has positioned themselves to hear His voice,” she encouraged.
“I feel refreshed and renewed in my mind;” said attendee Esther Yap, 29, a CHC School of Theology student. “One thing I learned is that we women don’t just stand behind the men, but we work alongside them and support them. We break out for God to break in to our lives!”
Girl Talk At The Next Level
In addition to the keynote sessions, participants were greatly ministered to by 12 workshop speakers who shared about parenting, marriage and impacting the marketplace, among others. American Janet Boynes shared about her harrowing childhood marred by physical and sexual abuse, as well as her subsequent struggles with a lifestyle of homosexuality, alcohol and drugs.
The turning point came when she joined a church. She remembers introducing herself at a women’s meeting, “My name is Janet Boynes, and I am living a homosexual life. But if you help me, I will serve the Lord.”
Ultimately, by the power of God’s redemptive love, she left her former life, and now runs a ministry helping those seeking an escape from the homosexual lifestyle. “The fear of the Lord is really the fear of being separated from Him,” said Boynes, whose testimony underscored the faithfulness of a God who never fails to offer a way out to those who draw near to Him.
It was a brave and heartfelt testimony of how one woman’s search for love and belonging came full circle, but equally as brave were the participants who responded to Boynes’ altar call to be ministered to in the area of struggling with the temptation of same sex attraction.
Members from CHC, founder and president of retail chain 77th Street Elim Chew and business coach Nanz Chong-Komo shared about what it means to be a marketplace minister, while CHC Children’s Church pastor Eileen Toh spoke candidly yet succinctly about finding one’s life partner.
Other speakers included social enterprise trailblazer Kuik Shiao-Yin, co-founder of The Thought Collective group of companies aimed at social and creative innovation, and Joni Ong, managing director of thYnk Consulting Group, who shared about experiencing fulfillment and joy in one’s marriage.
Challenge, Consecration And Commissioning
Among the topics brought up during a panel session with five members on women in ministry on the final day were obeying the call of God, balancing family and ministry and avoiding burnout. Lilian Tng, senior pastor of The Rock International Church in Sydney, shared three practical points.
“Many times, it’s not busyness or hard work that gets to you. Firstly, guard your heart; don’t let criticism get to you. A lot of times, we burn out because we try to live up to the expectation of others instead of listening to our body,” she said.
Secondly, do not be too stressed about the outcome of our work, and finally, the key is to complement, not compete—“when you compete, you will burn out.”
As the conference came to a close, Dowdy anointed every attendee’s forehead with oil as they came up to the front in a single file.
“Joni shared at the workshop that a woman can indeed have it all—just not all at the same time. That was my biggest takeaway for this season in my life, [it helped me realign] my priorities,” shared 30something Wu Wei Lin.
For others, it was not a matter of change, but of soldiering on, with renewed fire. “This conference spurred me on,” shared a 54-year-old homemaker who only wanted to be identified as Laureen. “I believe I can go further.”