By Martine Bates Fairbanks
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist
There was a deafening sound of worship and broken hearts crying out to God,” said Debbie Waldrep, “and it was beautiful.”
The first ever international Women of Joy conference, sponsored by Phil Waldrep Ministries, was held Jan. 19, in the Dominican Republic (DR).
More than 6,000 women gathered in the Juan Pablo Olympic Volleyball Arena in Santo Domingo, the capital city. For most of the women, it was the first time they had experienced anything like the conference. Many of the eager participants had traveled over four hours to attend.
The conference, titled “To the DR with Love,” came about as a result of a conversation between Debbie Waldrep and a representative of Compassion International, which has a presence in the DR already.
Hosting an international event outside the United States can be difficult and Compassion International’s access to lighting, sound, translators and facility teams in the country made the partnership a good choice, Debbie Waldrep said.
Even with the partnership the ministry faced some challenges with the language barrier and having to rely on others.
Rely on God
“When we do our events in the United States we are more in control of what happens. If something breaks or goes wrong we pretty much know how to fix it. In the Dominican we had to rely on other people and God. It was out of our hands,” Phil Waldrep said.
Women of Joy invited girls sponsored by Compassion International, their mothers and their mentors at no cost to them. The ministry also provided lunch, a Bible and a backpack to each of the participants, and a program lineup comparable to the Women of Joy conferences in the United States.
Bathed in love
“It was very important that we gave them a quality event with the big stage, screens, music and speakers just like we do at our events back home,” said Debbie Waldrep. “I think we did just that.”
For one day the women had the opportunity to leave the struggles of daily life behind and get bathed in love and encouragement. Women in the Dominican Republic are often subjected to sexual abuse, human trafficking, poverty and even murder.
“To these women, the conference is like a well. This water will energize their souls, their hearts,” said Jonathan Altamonte, youth specialist for Compassion International in the Dominican Republic.
Phil Waldrep noted the gratefulness of the women for the conference.
“They don’t have a sense of entitlement,” he said, “but a very deep sense of gratitude.”
Translators frequently relayed the message from the attendees, “Thank you for coming to our country.”
Senator Cristina Lizardo, the first woman elected to serve in the Dominican Senate, attended the event and echoed the same sentiment.
“It is a huge satisfaction for our country to have Women of Joy on our stage,” she said.
The speakers included writers and speakers Liz Curtis Higgs, Lisa Harper and Margaret Feinberg; popular Dominican singer Lilly Goodman; and Christine Cain, founder of the anti-human trafficking organization A21.
More than 1,200 women accepted Christ at the conference.
“Knowing that many women committed their lives to Christ made every part of the event worth it. Hearing the women worshipping and seeing how grateful they were was life changing,” said Debbie Waldrep.
The first church built in the Americas was located in the Dominican Republic and the country is the only one whose flag includes an emblem of the Bible. Even so the culture is strongly steeped in voodooism; approximately half of the women attending the conference were hearing the gospel for the first time.
With such a fertile field for evangelism the ministry plans to return to the Dominican Republic in 2021, but this time the team is looking for a larger venue with the hope they can reach even more people.
Compassion International is a global child sponsorship organization working “to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name.” For the last five years Phil Waldrep Ministries has partnered with the organization and gained sponsorships for over 1,900 children through its Women of Joy, Gridiron and Celebrators’ conferences.
Phil Waldrep Ministries, located in Decatur, also holds speaking engagements, online devotionals and pastors’ encouragement retreats.
Phil and Debbie Waldrep are members of Central Baptist Church, Decatur, in Morgan Baptist Association.