conference

Peeking In at The Pure Life Conference

Let me give you a little behind-the-curtain peek into The Pure Life Conference this weekend. As with any event, this conference started long before this weekend.

And if you need a soundtrack to read by, I recommend “God is Working” by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. This has been my theme song for the past week.

Actually, the format of The Pure Life Conference came out of a vision Allison had dreamed up with her then-coworker, Bob. They saw a critical need for the family and the church to gather and be trained in what it looks like to live the pure life that God desires. So last August, we sat around my kitchen table painting the broad brushstrokes for what a conference like this would involve. We made a list of people who had spoken into our lives to invite to speak into others’ lives at this conference. Over lunch at Panera, we wrote out a tentative schedule. We prayed over our ideas. And we started talking to people.

Allison let us know toward the end of September that she had contacted a church for the venue. We had a couple of places in mind, but God brought to mind Victory Hills Church of the Nazarene on Parallel Parkway in Kansas City. It is centrally located in the metro area and has a lot of space for holding large groups of people as well as breakout groups, and she had partnered with them in the past through her church. She met with the pastoral staff, who blew us away with their offer: an arms-wide-open invitation to bring the conference, no charge, and the promise of volunteers. This doesn’t just happen! I can’t tell you what a comfort it is to know you are working with people who fully stand behind your mission and offer their support in tangible ways.

img_1883Over the next few months, we talked to everyone we knew, sent out letters and flyers to pastors, stormed social media with promotions, and even sent out Christmas cards. People were getting excited, but we didn’t have a lot of attendee commitment nailed down.

As the event drew nearer, we realized just how much youth groups procrastinate (seriously, I ought to know how teens think! 🙂 ) and began to have doubts about the conference. What if no one shows up? What if our efforts are all wasted? Friends and mentors walked with us through some tricky days. Let me tell you: the VIP ladies have the spirit of encouragement alive & well within them! Texts between us daily kept us from attitudes of despair or worry. This team rallied around each other, from moving 2 of the VIP Ladies a couple of weeks into a house before this weekend, to crazy day jobs, to responding to attacks on the conference from the Enemy.

One of the most powerful summits occurred the Wednesday evening prior to the conference. The first part of the week brought several unexpected complications and left some roles up the air. We still had some major details to iron out. We did make back-up plans, but we chose to move forward in faith, trusting that God had this under control. As we sat around Allison and Katrina’s dining room table, we went to the Lord in prayer, asking Him to lead the conference and build our faith. This is God’s reputation on the line, not ours. He called us to be faithful.

The next day became what I refer to as the Thursday of Blessing. All the speakers confirmed their spots, leaving no gaps. We made a few adjustments to the breakout sessions that were looking beautiful. The band had confirmed with Katrina earlier in the week, and they finalized arrangements Thursday. We’d never heard of this band who were friends-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, but they were willing to play throughout the whole conference. We had more volunteer help than we thought. All the food was purchased and stored in the church fridge. Hotel arrangements were finalized. One youth group that originally told us no one could come asked if a pocket of students could come. And we received an unexpected message from a mother who heard about us through the grapevine and wondered if they could still come.

I dedicated most of Thursday evening and Friday morning and afternoon to preparing to speak. When looking at inviting speakers, we had one plan for the Friday evening opening session. But God had another. As we were talking through the speakers, we realized we didn’t have anyone to open the conference and speak on identity. “That’s been your portion in other conferences,” Allison and Katrina said to me. “Why don’t you do it?” I guess I answered affirmatively, but I didn’t fully realize what I’d agreed to do until a month later. I had jotted down notes for months and even taken a day off of work to prep for all my speaking engagements. But I wasn’t feeling prepared. I’m the quiet kid who doesn’t share in front of large groups. My voice gets lost in the crowd. Why on earth does God call me to speak?

Friday morning, God reminded me of the stuttering old shepherd in the Bible whom God called to lead a nation of millions of slaves to inherit their promised land. God has a good chat with Moses.

“Moses said to the Lord, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.’ The Lord said to him, ‘Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say'” (Exodus 4:10-12).              

Katrina came over late morning to load up some of our merch in her car. I also made her stay and listen to my sermon. She kindly obliged, curling up under a fuzzy blanket in my living room in a chair right next to the Kleenex box. Katrina had been fighting a cold for the last week, and she wasn’t feeling her best. After she left, I had lunch and practiced my message again a couple times, creating a voice recording on my phone once. As I recorded, my brain froze up constantly. I realized I had worn myself out before the conference! I rested for a few minutes, then loaded up my car and headed up to the church.

When I arrived, the volunteers were unloading T-shirts and notebooks onto the merch table. We finalized the rooms for the breakout sessions and started printing up the final signs and folder inserts. We set up the rooms and evening desserts. We decided to order pizza for the evening. Then we realized we’d left our credit card swiper at home. There sat the new one in a box on a shelf at my house. 30 minutes away without traffic. But it was now a little after 3pm on a Friday afternoon. So I headed back out.

The extra driving time actually gave me extra time to relax and prepare my message. I listened to the message I’d recorded that afternoon, polishing it up in my mind as I navigated rush hour traffic. I detoured off of I-35 Southbound when traffic slowed to a crawl due to accidents miles ahead, which made my drive home over an hour long. I found the prodigal credit card accessory, checked the traffic report, stopped to fill my gas tank, and headed back up a different route. Traffic was night and day different on the way back up: apparently I-435 Northbound is not used as frequently. I’m so thankful for no accidents along the way either. I pulled into the Victory Hills parking lot as I finished up the second run through the message.

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The pizza arrived soon after, as did the band. They pulled up in their van, and one guy hopped out to make sure they were in the right place. Hearing Katrina’s name and

meeting the 3 of us assured them they were  in the right spot. So they opened the van and started to pull out instruments.

And people.

They brought 12 people! We were blow away! They greeted us warmly with

blessings and in a whirlwind had the stage set up and began practicing. Again they blew us away – these young people knew how to praise Jesus with musical talent! The check-in time erupted with the sound of this vibrant band, exploding life into The Pure Life Conference.

 

I snuck away to prepare my message one last time and to change clothes. My mind was running in a million different directions, and none of which seemed to be toward recalling what I’d prepared. I sat in prayer for a few minutes, choosing to trust in the provision of our great God. When I came upstairs, Allison and Katrina snagged me to go pray. We stood in a circle echoing the echo of the echo of the prayer before us. 🙂 Hey, when your friends pray powerfully over you and what you’re called to do, you position yourself in full agreement in faith.

Allison welcomed everyone to the conference, prayed, and introduced the band, which we were allowed to call JBP. Our Spanish was nowhere near as good as their English. 🙂 They told us after the evening service that they were a little nervous about doing this conference because this was their first time to sing together in English. They are from a Spanish church in KCMO who sings a lot of Hillsong songs in Spanish. But they had no fear: they just had to translate their songs before they got up to sing! They asked us what songs we wanted, and we left things open to them. They started naming off a dozen songs they loved and wanted to sing! This band boldly proclaimed the praise of the Lord, and I’ve no doubt they do this every week in their local church. These young people have an unquenchable amount of life about them. And it’s not just because they’re young: they truly radiate from being in the presence of God.

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I got up to speak, praying that these would be His words, not mine. We had a small hiccup with the video, but otherwise it went smoothly. The band had asked me prior to service what they wanted us to do at the end. I kept directions simple: play something reflective, and the message was on finding your identity in Christ. They chose “Arms Wide Open,” which fit and allowed God to continue to speak.

Attendees finished up their desserts and headed home, eager for what Saturday would bring. After we talked with the band, they looked over our merch table and all decided to buy our shirts to wear for Saturday! Then they left for dinner and translating worship songs. One of the members promised to bring us Mexican bread in the morning for breakfast, and he brought enough for everyone!

With the church cleaned and locked, we said good-night to our volunteers and headed for the hotel. Unfortunately, it was not a very restful night. But Katrina seemed to sleep peacefully, which she needed as she fought the cold and prepared to speak Saturday morning.

img_2586Katrina told us her cold hadn’t bothered her Friday evening when she was up and moving around (which had been all afternoon and evening). When she got in her car to leave, she sneezed for the first time in hours! We kept her stocked with cold medicine, vitamins, and peppermint oil and prayed over her and her session just before the morning service began. As she spoke, her voice was clear and free of sounding congested. She didn’t cough, sneeze, or even need to wipe her nose!

Katrina’s message on boundaries laid the foundation for morning breakout sessions to discuss what it looks like to build and apply healthy boundaries to life. As soon as we closed, we ran downstairs to ensure media was ready to go. Marvin, the speaker for the boys, was ready to start right away. He introduced himself as some of the young men entered the room. I could hear so much love for reaching these students as he began to explain what he did as a chaplain. His voice carried through probably half of the church as he talked in a very real way about how to set good boundaries in these young mens’ lives. Sister Cofield’s room next door held the girls’ breakout session. She had multiple commitments that morning and was slightly delayed. I enjoyed getting to know all of the girls a little bit, and Allison kicked off discussion until Sister Cofield could arrive. Joe and Rachelle brought challenges to the church leaders and then Allison and Bob facilitated conversation on healthy boundaries for parents. I heard reports of the parents and church leaders’ joint session bringing about honest conversation that so desperately needed to take place for too long.

We enjoyed Pastor Cofield’s BBQ for lunch – an abundance of brisket and pork. Several conference attendees knew of the special treat that is his catering. I saw people from all different churches and backgrounds sitting together and enjoying fellowship with people who had been strangers mere hours before. The conference ended up being a smaller, more intimate event that fostered the spirit of fellowship so well.

We again broke into small groups for the afternoon session on living a life of sexual purity. Parents and church leaders were invited to continue discussions from the morning while the students broke into age-appropriate groups. Our dear friend and former partner, Stephanie, returned to Value in Purity Conferences to share her story with the senior high girls while her husband, Zach, shared his story with the high school boys. They combined the group at the end to talk about how they practiced good boundaries and achieved a God-honoring relationship as they were dating and getting married. Stuart, one of the associate pastors of Victory Hills, stepped out of the media booth and took on the middle school boys session. Afterwards, he had a new friend helping him out in the media booth for the closing session. I spoke to the middle school girls and invited Allison to come share with them toward the end.

The band returned in the afternoon and welcomed us back into the sanctuary warming up their worship songs. We started the closing session with one of our favorite videos, Church Appropriate Dance Moves. If you haven’t seen this, go look it up on the Youtube. img_2593-copyClear some space around you and get ready for a fun workout! We held our drawing for door prizes and dove back into worship.

Katrina welcomed Pastor Tim Fritson, who has been her pastor for the past year. He shared an amazing message from 1 Peter 1 on preparing and living a life of holiness to wrap up the conference. Teens that came from my youth group noted connecting well with his message, despite it coming after sitting through a whole day of conference.

Then it was time to head home. Attendees left, we packed up and cleaned the church, and took photos with the band. We left feeling exhausted but overwhelmingly thankful for God working and moving this weekend at The Pure Life Conference.

And we can’t thank everyone enough. We loved meeting everyone who came to The Pure Life Conference! We had an army of volunteers helping us with food, media, registration, merch table, cleanup, and security. Family and friends pulled together behind the scenes so the conference was seamless. Our Board was all in attendance, some speaking for us and all praying like warriors over the conference and us. And our new friends from Victory Hills Church of the Nazarene dedicated so much of their busy weekend to the conference without even knowing us!

Countless individuals have prayed for VIP for years. God is bringing your prayers offered in faith to fruition.

I also want to mention that Facebook Live videos are available on our Facebook page of the main sessions. Go like our page and check out the videos and pictures we’ve posted from the weekend.

If you missed this weekend, don’t worry: we will have more conferences in the future. The word is out how God is moving in Value in Purity Conferences, Inc.

-Sarah

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