Three hundred churches throughout the Memphis area sponsored a multicultural, multigenerational revival for women this past weekend. In doing so, they answered Ellen Olford’s heartfelt prayer.
Redemption 2009, the free two-day gathering held March 27 and 28 at the Cook Convention Center, drew 7,000-8,000 women on balmy Friday night while 5,000-6,000 braved gusty winds and rain on Saturday morning.
Sharen Rooks, a conference volunteer and a member of Morning Chapel Missionary Baptist, found many reasons to celebrate as people of different backgrounds came together in a shared act of faith. Morning Chapel was among the African-American churches partnering with local white churches in the revival effort, and the bond already has produced interesting results.
“There are changes taking place because of Trinity Baptist and Morning Chapel,” said Rooks, as she, Redemption 2009 event co-chair Vicki Reed and Linda Stephens of Central Church completed final preparations on Friday. “I think this is going to stick. You can see it now and the event hasn’t even taken place,” said Rooks, a minister’s wife and author of “What Happens When God Moves.”
The revival comes at the end of the story, however. This tale unfolds 4 ½ years ago when Ellen Olford and husband, David, of Memphis met Priscilla and Jerry Shirer of Dallas. Shortly thereafter, Ellen, who is white, shared her vision – her burden – with Priscilla, an African American who is an internationally-known speaker, author and the daughter of well-known minister Dr. Tony Evans.
The multiracial, multigenerational relationship established a foundational guideline for the Redemption movement: prayer partners not only from different churches but from different races and cultural groups.
“Four and a half years ago, I said to Priscilla, ‘Would you be my friend? Would you be my prayer partner?’” Olford recounted at Saturday’s gathering.
Olford, chair of Redemption 2009 and a member of Central Church, said, “Memphis is a great city with great people and great churches – a town that needs Jesus (to remove) racism and other-isms that separate us.”
Prayer partners are encouraged to meet weekly to pray by phone together and once a month in person.
The second step is participation in upcoming prayer meetings that will be taking place in the Memphis area, where area coordinators have been assigned in Orange Mound, Whitehaven, Uptown, Midtown, Hickory Hill, East Memphis and Frayser as well as Bartlett, Collierville, Cordova, Germantown, Southeast Shelby County, Southaven, Miss., and Marshall County, Miss.
Finally, Olford is asking for more black-white church partnerships, like those shared by Trinity Baptist and Morning Chapel, Bellevue Baptist and Impact Ministries, and Central Church and Mt. Moriah East Baptist, just to name a few.
A Rainbow of Faiths
According to the Web site (www.redemption2009.com), movement leaders, volunteers and participants are “Godly women with hearts burning to see evangelical Christians of different races unite to further God’s kingdom (who) have been dreaming and praying and planning …to see revival sweep the Mid-South…. Churches will come together for Redemption 2009 to create a catalyst for unity and reconciliation among sisters in Christ, spanning generations, evangelical backgrounds, neighborhoods, cultures and races.”
The unity among sisters was evident as dozens of women stopped by the Marriott Hotel’s Magnolia Grille, across the street from the convention center, to eat before for the conference. Black women and white women sat together at tables, engaged in both light and meaningful conversations.
Young women from Fellowship Memphis were among restaurant-goers. Group leader Suzanne Presley said 100 members of the multicultural church were attending the revival and they were expecting a “word from the Lord.”
“We’ve just been praying for it,” said Ariyana Rimson.
In addition to first-rate expository teaching, Redemption 2009 showcased contemporary and hard-core gospel music. Priscilla Shirer’s brother, recording artist Anthony Evans and his band performed contemporary gospel, such as “You Are Good,” “Everlasting God,” and “Mighty to Save.”
Grammy-nominated gospel vocalist Beverly Crawford brought the hard-core gospel with “If the Lord Never Does Anything Else” and other songs.
Ephie Johnson directed the Unity Choir, a city-wide group from 30 churches that performed and backed up Crawford and Evans. A member of Hope Presbyterian and director of Neighborhood Christian Centers, Johnson said the choir has 115 members.
Her participation extends beyond the choir , however, as she has several prayer partners, including Kelly Johnson, executive director of Two by Two Ministry. who is 40 and Ephie’s same age; Lucy Long, a 50-something and Carlee Pettis, 70. “They influence me in my walk with Christ,” said Johnson.
For her part, the Unity choir director is well ready for a Memphis revival. “This is an integral moment. People are ready to rise up and be a city of pride, leadership and unity.”
“My goal is to encourage and help Memphis sing again,” said Johnson, who is the daughter of JoeAnn Ballard and has been directing choirs since age 13.
“In some ways, we lost our song.”