Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, '700 Club Canada' co-host, shares her story of restoration at the Women's Journey of Faith Restore Conference in Saskatoon, Canada. (Riley Semchuk)
Original Title: When God Restores Christian Women Marked by Bad Marriages, Divorce and Crazy Kids
Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson had been married twice with her second marriage that involved police incidents. Melinda Estabrook was a high-profile Christian TV celebrity who announced her divorce on her network. Lorie Hartshorn is a Christian leader who had three children who became ensnared to drugs, alcohol and the partying lifestyle.
Thompson, a 700 Club Canada co-host with Estabrook and Hartshorn, shared their stories with transparency and vulnerability at the 16th Annual Women's Journey of Faith Conference in Saskatoon, Canada. Over 1,200 women gathered for that conference from across Canada. The interdenominational organization has broken barriers such as race, denomination and religious affiliation for women.
"I grew up in a good Christian home," says Thompson. "My parents were missionaries in Uganda, but when I turned 18, I wanted to go my own way." She married against her parents' wishes and then became involved with another man during that marriage. She divorced her first husband and married for a second time but that relationship became volatile.
"I felt like I had messed up too much for God to want me," says Thompson. "I knew better and yet I made bad choices and I was paying for them." Her mom invited her to church where the pastor asked everyone to write their three sins down and to nail the piece of paper on the cross.
"I didn't want to write them down because they were the big ones, the ones mentioned in the Ten Commandments," she told the audience. "I realized that if I didn't respond that I would have to write down a fourth sin of rebellion." She wrote her sins down in illegible writing because she didn't want anyone to know about the shame of her sin.
When she posted that note on the life-sized cross, she realized how much of a price that Jesus paid for her sins. That night began a journey for Thompson as God miraculously opened doors for her in TV to share His message.
Hartshorn is a discipleship pastor for C4 Church in Ontario. She shared with SpiritLed Woman about the challenge of walking through the season of when her three children raised in church rejected their faith.
Hartshorn realized when her oldest son was in the hospital after getting drunk, that this was a spiritual war for her children's destiny. "He got up from the hospital bed and began screaming at the wall 'stop laughing at me.' We felt a dark presence in the room and we knew that the enemy was after our son." Hartshorn and her husband began to pray regularly for her children and God opened up the reality of demonic activity in the lives of her children. She wrote a Bible Study and DVD called Finding Freedom with the wake-up call for spiritual warfare.
Today, Hartshorn's three children are headed into the ministry. "You would have never saw that five years ago," she said. "It took years, and my husband and I connected with other parents and began to pray regularly for our children." Prayer carried Estabrook when she announced her situation on a Christian TV show for women, Full Circle.
"After I made that announcement and we went off the air, my camera man started clapping," Estabrook says. "Then everyone in the room started clapping and I realized that the fallout and judgment that I expected from Christians wasn't there."
Estabrook and Hartshorn say that the first thing that Christians want to do is isolate themselves when they have troubled kids or they're going through a divorce because they are ashamed of their perceived failures.
"I told a few close friends what was happening to me," says Estabrook. "I had people who were close to me hold me accountable. You can be tempted to quit going to church, but this is when you need the community of faith the most." The network had created a 1-800 line in anticipation of the onslaught if critical calls from Christians but those calls never came.
Instead, Estabrook says she received support, encouragement and help for restoration. Hartshorn also received support and prayer from fellow Christians at her church. Thompson discovered her place in the church as God opened up doors of service in TV ministry.
The three women shared their testimonies of being restored at the conference. The Bethel Band from Redding, California, led worship. "I loved Laura-Lynn's journey of faith empowerment," says Juliet Amuijo, an attorney from Uganda. "The two messages that I listened to empowered me to carry His glory."
Lorna Egungu, Juliet's 71-year-old mother, said that she liked the practical message of "how we want to hide so many things to impress the public. But there's nothing you can hide from God." Egungu added that she was set free from trying to hide so many things.
Sarah Peters, a 31-year-old Mennonite from Alberta, Canada, says, "I feel connected with God. I felt His presence, and it felt good to be connected with like-minded people. Her 18-year-old friend Nancy Dyck says this was the first time that she was at the conference and she had a fresh hunger for God's presence.
"I feel restored to God," says Dyck. "I realized that I don't spend time with God on a daily basis and that I needed to make him a priority." Bringing women together to make God a priority is one of the goals for Women's Journey of Faith.
"In 1999 I came here (TCU Place: Saskatoon Arts & Convention Center) to go to a 'body, spirit and soul' conference," says Jodi Kozan. "One of the panelist speakers was a Christian and I asked her about her faith during the Q&A. She couldn't answer me, and I later learned that she was asked to not speak specifically about her faith."
Kozan got the vision for hosting an interdenominational gathering to promote unity, spiritual growth and fellowship for women. The first conference attracted 850 women at Saskatoon Inn, and 300 women had to be turned away. Since then, the organization has expanded with speaker tours, equipping conferences and tours of Israel. "We're in our 16th year, and now our speakers are traveling from neighboring provinces," says Maureen Brown, a former board member.
The organization has become a bridge into the native population with speakers ministering at reservations. "We are a bridge between white people and Native Americans," says Brown. With women of all ages, from every race and denomination across Canada, Women's Journey of Faith is poised to increase the reach of the gospel.