At first glance, the Prestonwood Women’s Ministry Conference, She Is… A Gathering of Generations, might seem a bit different than similar events in the past.
There’s a good reason for that.
“We’ve never done anything quite like this before,” says Chrissie Dunham, Director of Women’s Ministry. “But in my world, I would say probably the 35-and-under group, maybe up to the 40-range, doesn’t participate in a lot of women’s ministry events. I’m trying to bridge that gap.”
To do that, Chrissie and her staff have put together a group of speakers for the March 31–April 1 event who will focus on a range of contemporary topics, but with “a fun twist,” she said.
“The girls coming in are younger teachers,” Chrissie said, “and they’re just trying to teach people how to read and relate to the Bible.”
Nicki Koziarz is a Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker and the best-selling author of 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn’t Quit and the Lifeway Bible Study of the same name. Married and the mother of three girls, she lives near Charlotte, N.C.
Amanda Bible Williams (and yes, “Bible” is her maiden name) is the mom of three and holds degrees in English and psychology and is completing her master’s degree in religion. Amanda is the chief content officer of She Reads Truth, which creates Bible study programs for women.
Raechel Myers, co-founder and CEO of She Reads Truth, says she “is always on the lookout for beauty, goodness and truth in everyday life.” She lives outside of Nashville with her family.
On the surface, Susan DeFace Washington seemed to live a charmed life as a popular cheerleader and straight-A student at Skyline High School in Dallas. But the truth wasn’t even close. Susan and her family endured heart-breaking tragedies and crippling addiction. But God never gave up on Susan. Now a devout Christian, an author and motivational speaker, she brings hope and help through her own experiences.
It’s the fifth speaker, though, who seems to have generated the most interest, Chrissie said.
She is Candace Payne, “a church kid in every sense of the word,” she said, but best known to millions as “Chewbacca Mom.”
Her public life began with a quick trip to a Kohl’s department store near Dallas, where she noticed a Chewbacca mask.
“It made a noise and startled me, then it made me laugh!” Candace said. “I knew I had to buy it!”
She was so taken with the mask of the Star Wars creature that she decided to post a video on Facebook. By the next morning, she said, the video had more than 30 million views—the current count is 160 million-plus—and she had messages from major media outlets, all taken with her exuberant, contagious laugh.
Her obvious joy has translated to speaking engagements across the country.
“I’m not typically asked to speak about my faith, but rather my thoughts and perspectives on joy,” Candace said. “It just so happens that I also love Jesus—and when you love someone or something, it will leak out in your conversations naturally.”
And her faith runs deep.
“I definitely grew up in the church, and attended a Christian university, Ouachita Baptist. I met my husband when we were both youth workers,” she said. “I’m a volunteer worship leader at my home church, The Oaks, here in the Metroplex.”
But having a relationship with Jesus doesn’t mean you’ll have a life without turmoil, Candace said. “I’ve definitely experienced peaks and valleys in my life, but Jesus has been near and a constant source of joy, even through the storms.”
Hundreds of women of all ages are expected to attend She Is … A Gathering of Generations.
She writes about those struggles in her book, Laugh It Up, which will be published in November by Zondervan.
“I can’t wait to share some of these things with people who have asked how I can remain joyful even in the midst of hard times—I hope it will encourage others who are searching for joy!”
Like “Chewbacca Mom,” the She Is conference won’t be the same old thing, Chrissie said. The list of speakers should please a diverse crowd, and she prays it plants the seeds for a thriving multi-generational ministry for women at Prestonwood.
It’s possible, Chrissie said, that a few multi-generational families will attend She Is—grandmother, mother and daughter. At least one three-generation family will be there for sure.
Lisa Ruano, her mom, Patti Weatherall, and her 17-year-old daughter, Gracie, can’t wait, Lisa said.
“We’re all really excited,” said Lisa, who works in the Student Ministry. “My mom and I were both raised Catholic, so we really find it neat to share things, to have scriptural conversations. There was so much we didn’t learn about or talk about and now it just stays new for us.
“And we all love the ladies from She Reads Truth,” she said. “So it will be great to go to lunch together afterward and say, ‘I liked this’ and ‘I liked that’ and just share.
“My mom came with me two years ago—she liked it a lot—and when I talked about it this year, she said, ‘I’ll be there!’”
That multigenerational approach helps explain the conference name as well—no specific age group, no “that’s my mom’s ministry,” no glancing at a brochure and deciding “this isn’t really for me.”
It’s She Is … and that includes every woman.