The Deborah Project: From Beginning to Now
There are times when a woman in leadership needs to hear the voice of encouragement and power in her life. She needs to hear other women say “Walk through the door God has opened. Be the woman of God you are called to be. Pick up the yoke of leadership and walk forward!” This has been the mission of Deborah Project since it began in 2012 and continues now in 2015!
This past weekend I had the chance to attend one night of The Deborah Project conference in St. Louis, MO hosted by the Urshan Community. I saw many women who were walking forward into their calling and into different places of service. Each of them needed to hear “You are on the right track. Keep following Jesus. Be encouraged in your Spirit.” Women ministers and leaders need to be surrounded by other women and men in leadership who believe in their dreams and believe in their calling and ministry. Leaders need support and encouragement, because without this support there is a lot of questioning which takes place in the mind.
It was beautiful to see all of these women praising God and thinking about their calling and ministry at The Deborah Project. As I looked at all the women and how the conference has evolved since 2012, I really felt the almighty presence of God.
I remember about five years ago when a few of us girls got together in my room at the school and started planning for a women in ministry conference (Natalie, Miranda, Rebecca, and others). It was in 2010 and occurred at the same time the UGST symposium happened. We named the conference “Fulfilling the Call.” We sat and brainstormed in my room, and we prayed for God to make this conference a success. I remember one night I felt fear and was afraid, and God told me “Build it and they will come.” This was the first year we had a women in ministry conference at Gateway/UGST I believe. We invited Sister Claudette Walker, Ashley (Stewart at the time) Leppo, Gwyn Oakes, Nancy Norris, and Melody Reever to come and be with us. I remember the beautiful folders Rebecca (then Streety) now Johnson made. They were so wonderful, and she spent a lot of time making them. We had fifty women come to that time together, and I remember the commissioning service we had at the end of the conference. It was powerful! Soon after, Sister Claudette Walker started a ministry called Open Hearts at the school. She would fly into St. Louis, stay in the dorms, and just “live” with us. I remember some powerful teaching and prayer times during these meetings. She mentored many young women, myself included. It was so special. It taught me about true mentoring, and how you do not have to go to the same church or even live in the same state to be mentored by someone. Real mentoring was the love and care she provided, the teaching and wisdom she had, and the intentionality she gave to come and be with a group of young hyphen aged women!
Then in 2012, Brother Norris came to me and said he had reserved Brother Bernard for a Pizza gathering at the Sanctuary. A lot of the professors were busy and there was a lot of transition occurring that year. He asked me to help coordinate and put the conference together. At first it wasn’t a conference, it was just going to be a night to eat pizza and have a conversation with the Bernards. That all changed though when women from around the state and country got interested and vested in coming together for a time committed to ministry and leadership. It was not just another women’s conference, but it was a conference specifically focused on encouraging young women to get involved in ministry and leadership. While on a chorale trip Brother Norris came up with the name the Deborah Project. He did some brain storming with some of the students I think. After that, I asked a student to help me with the design and we put out a flyer to the district. It was awesome, because everyone was volunteering their time, and there was no money/budget/or anything. I remember sitting in Sister Yoder’s office stuffing envelopes and mailing them to pastors in the section, hoping to get the word out in time! We were trying to think of this conference in like to the Timothy Group which is a district sponsored event for young male ministers interested in leadership and ministry. So I started an email account, set up a Facebook account, and me and Sister Norris advertised like crazy all summer. People kept sharing the event on Facebook and more and more people said they were coming. The Bernards were our key speakers and we just planned in faith. I also got married that summer, so I was planning my wedding and The Deborah Project. I remember getting emails from women around the state and country. It was so exciting! A few weeks before the conference we realized we would be over a hundred in attendance, and by the time it was all said and done we had over 150 women attend that first conference at The Sanctuary. No one expected this many to show up, but they did! It was incredible! We were so grateful for everyone who helped. Sister Morehead helped with some of the administrative details like putting together the folders and helping to MC, and Sister Marlene Favorite planned the meals and got the Sanctuary set up. It was so wonderful to see this conference really happening! We invited Ashley Leppo and Angela Harwood to be our speakers, and Angela ended up being the MC too. I think Sister Walker also spoke if I remember correctly. Several other Gateway/UC students shared their testimonies and stories, and it was a time for sharing life and sharing stories. We also had a commissioning service at the end. It was powerful!
This year at the Deborah Project it was amazing to see the sovereign move of God. As Ashley Leppo led the musical portion on Friday evening, you could feel God’s incredible presence. The songs which were selected spoke to the hearts of all who attended, and hands were raised and hearts were connected all around the sanctuary at Urshan. The lyrics for “Worthy”
are still encrypted into my memory and spirit. “You thought I was worth saving…” I also really enjoyed Sister Coltharp’s message, which she based on the theme of Outside the Lines. She used a complex puzzle as a sermon illustration, and talked about one of her favorite stories in the Bible and a character she identified most with. She talked about ministry, and about the wide range of ministry which takes place as people are serving God and others. She used laughter and hope to help connect. I also really enjoyed the Bernard’s session, and how they talked about ministry and life. I loved to hear about their story of how they fell in love, their different experiences in ministry, and how they talked plainly-openly-and honestly about ministry and calling. I am grateful for the support women have from the top of leadership. It means the world to know our general superintendent and his wife support women in ministry and leadership and are creating spaces for women. I heard the other day that 435 women have their license with the UPCI this past year! That is incredible! I also found out last week that Sister Leanne Alexander is an executive with the UPCI. She is one of the high level editors, and is doing a wonderful work for the Lord. I did not have the chance to attend on Saturday at TDP, but all the pictures helped me see that it was an amazing day for women in ministry and leadership. There were a lot of sessions, and times for fellowship. I am so grateful for all of those who planned and helped out for TDP. I believe Angela Harwood co-chaired the committee and others like Jennie Russell, David Molina, Pebble Wisdom, Hannah Billinglsey, Ashley Jabs, Johannah, Jessica N, and others helped out. I am also grateful to the Urshan people who did a lot of the behind the scenes work, like Dinecia Gates and others who set up and made things happen to help the conference be incredible. It takes a lot of people to make a conference a success. There were probably a ton more people involved, but I was just an attendee so I am only saying thank you to the people I noticed.
So, as I thought about the Deborah Project this year and how it has developed and transitioned into its own conference, I was inspired. Now there is a committee who plans the Deborah Project, and there are a lot of people involved in helping and making the conference happen. It is neat to see God at work and using so many to help the Kingdom. I’m especially grateful to Brother David and Sister Nancy Norris for The Deborah Project. They dreamed a dream, watered with encouragement and faith, and it happened!
Copyright 2015 Crystal Schmalz Ministries