One of Shirley Singleton's last wishes was that the Women's Encounter conference she founded 21 years ago would continue.
Singleton, a minister and teacher for more than 30 years, died two weeks after last year's conference, which helps women get their children ready for the school year and offers an encounter with God.
Her legacy will continue.
The 2018 Women's Encounter is set for 7 p.m. Aug. 17 and 8 a.m. Aug. 18 at the Mount Pilgrim Life Center, 9700 Scenic Highway in Baton Rouge.
"She put everything she had into those conferences every year — spiritually, emotionally, financially. The show was going to go on," said Carla Borskey, who worked with Singleton from the inception and is one of the organizers of this year's event. "Every year, it exceeds what we expect."
Pam Meno, Singleton's daughter, said her mother started the conference with 12 people at True Light Baptist Church in Ethel.
"Her thing was 'I've been doing this for so many years. This is my baby. Don't drop my baby. If something happens to me, don't let the baby fall. Keep it going,' " Meno said.
The conference is being presented by Sister Keeper International-Baton Rouge, which is part of a network of more than 200 ministries from around the nation.
Speakers will include Dr. Yvonne Capehart, of Pensacola, Florida, founder of Sister Keeper International Ministries, who took the conference under her wings when Singleton died; Dr. Antoine Barlow; Evangelist Melonie Pichon; Prophetess Cycelia Matthews; Rosalind O'Conner; and Stacy Austin.
Also speaking will be Angela Gabriel, a Baton Rouge mother of four, who was left paralyzed from a domestic violence shooting in 2017.
The conference will open Friday with a couple of speakers and corporate prayer stressing "The Power of a Thousand."
"If we can get each of those 200 contacts to bring just five people, that would give us our 1,000 as we gather to come on one accord to pray against crime, domestic violence, child abuse and other things that plague our community, state, nation and world," Meno said.
Saturday's portion of the conference has a $25 registration fee and will include more speakers, gifts and a lunch. Meno said Singleton always wanted attendees to have something to eat.
"We had people to come from the battered women's shelter, homeless, all those folks to come," Meno said. "She wanted to make sure everyone had a hot meal."
The theme for this year's conference is "Rescue 911: Help is here."
"You don't have to call 911 anymore," said Meno, a member of House of Grace. "We're here, and we're going to be here for you."
"This year, we said we weren't worried about money or anything like that," said Borskey, who attends Rosehill Baptist Church. "We said we wanted to do something with the battered women's shelter, if it was nothing more than donating supplies."
Men are also welcome, Meno said.
"We always talk about lifting up that woman. We lift up a lot of men as well because they need that support and instruction to help them," Meno said.
Borskey, 51, said being able to help others is a good feeling.
"It feels like you've accomplished what you set out to do," she said.
"It's just been a wonderful blessing to all of us," added Meno, 60. "It's about building your sister up and keeping her up."
Gwen Thompson, 63, is testimony to the life-changing power of the conference. She first attended two years ago during a difficult time in her life.
"It literally saved my life. I was going through a storm in my life," said Thompson, a member of Bethany Church.
She was grieving three deaths in a year, her grandson going to juvenile prison and nearly dying during an emergency surgery.
"When it rains, it pours," she said. "It came at me all at one time. I just gave up the will to live."
Then Thompson remembered an invitation to the conference.
"I went to the conference and literally God restored me back to life because he put mother, Elder Shirley Singleton, in my life," Thompson said.
Thompson said Singleton spoke the word of God over her life and continued to call her long after the conference.
"Now I'm part of this great organization and I'm an intercessor," Thompson said. "Now, I'm helping others."
That's the kind of attitude Singleton instilled within people and the kindness she showed, Meno said.
"If you knew my mother, you knew she helped people," Meno said.
It started with her husband and five children.
"She went back to school and started working after she raised us," said Meno, who has taught for more than 30 years at the Louisiana School for the Deaf.
Meno said many of the 600 people — including former Glen Oaks High School students — who attended her mother's funeral shared stories of the impact Singleton had on their lives.
"We told the people we just see all of you as brothers and sisters because of how she treated you all," Meno said. "They all thought they were that special one. ... She made everyone feel special."
"There were kids from Glen Oaks — they're all grown now — who she literally saved their lives from committing suicide," Borskey said.
She said her mother suffered a stroke a few months before her last conference, and didn't regain her voice until the conference, when she gave an inspiring testimony.
Singleton often gave different women and men opportunities to share their God-given abilities on the stage. But Borskey, who handles everything from finances to food preparations, said her calling and that of many other women is to work behind the scenes.
"We pray in the background," she said. "We were her legs, hands and her feet. Whatever, she wanted, went out and did it."
Others also contribute to keep the conference going, Meno said.
"They've already bought things that we need," Meno said. "We don't ever need to ask. They're calling all the time, and texting and emailing. They have adopted other females that can't afford to pay and pay for them."
Star Hill Baptist Church and Living Faith Christian Center are leading the inaugural Baton Rouge Prayer Patrol set to start at 9 a.m. Aug. 11 at Star Hill, 1400 N. Foster St.
"We're going to walk through our community," said the Rev. Lynwood C. Spell, Star Hill's pastor. "We're going to touch hands. We're going to pray with folks. We're going to love on folks. We're going to be the church."
Spell said the church needs to step up where five people have been killed within a 1-mile radius this year.
"The church has left its responsibility in where it does not belong," he said. "It's our job to love. It's our job to teach love. It is our job to care for our communities. And we are expecting others to do our work."
For more information, call the church at (225) 925-3133.
Another day, another blessing
There’s a billboard near the LSU Lakes that flashes a big purple screen with gold numbers. There’s no words, no explanation — just a different number each day in descending order.
For many, it needs no explanation. A majority of LSU fans immediately know the numbers represent the countdown to the start of the LSU football season on Sept. 2.
While I’m looking forward to the kickoff, that billboard countdown also brought to mind two sobering thoughts as I was on the way to a funeral recently. The first thought was of my late brother, who around this time last summer was counting down to another LSU and Saints season. He didn't get to see his beloved Saints enjoy their best season since winning the Super Bowl.
My second thought was how the days are counting down and to take one day at a time. I realize that there’s no guarantee that God will allow me to see those 20 or so days until this year's kickoff and the days after that. Psalms 90: 10, 12 puts it into perspective: "Our days may come to 70 years, or 80, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. … Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
We’re not guaranteed 70 years or 80 years or even tomorrow. The psalmist asked God to teach us to number our days. In other words, he recognized how short our time on earth really is and to live well and in wisdom. May God teach us to number our days, not with stressful, fearful and anxious lives but with joy and anticipation.
God's peace officers
Director Calvin Woods asked more than 200 campers to stand during the closing ceremony of the recent Louisiana Baptist Church Youth Encampment at Dillard University in New Orleans.
Woods, pastor of Greater Liberty Baptist Church in New Orleans, then asked campers to recite their pledge to be "peace officers" for God.
"The purpose for that is to deputize them and commission them to be peace officers in their communities," Woods said. "Their job is (to) go and bring peace in schools, home, communities. It's all about bringing peace."
"Perfecting Peace" was the theme of the camp held July 22-26 for youth ages 12 to 21 from throughout the state. Campers took classes centered around the theme based on Philippians 4:6-8. Lessons focused on how our youth can allow God's perfect peace in their daily lives.
"When we bring peace within ourselves, it's a blessing to share peace," he said. "That will reduce crime and violence in our community because we'll have more peacekeepers, people who long for God's peace."
In addition to classes, campers also participated in dance, mime, singing, Bible study and activities. Their talents were on full display during an emotional closing ceremony.
Nicholas Ramsey, 18, of New Orleans, participated in his first Youth Encampment.
"This camp experience was a blessing," said Ramsey, a senior Holy Cross High School. "God moved through each and every young person that was here. I've never seen anything like it."
Ramsey was part of the Youth Encampment choir.
"This has been a great experience meeting other people and to get to talk to them and see the different cultures and their backgrounds and how we might have some similarities and how we might be different in spirituality and cultures," Ramsey said.
Ramsey said the camp experience gave him more guidance in ministry. He answered his call to ministry at age 15.
"It gives me the faith to keep on going, and it gives me the courage to keep on going and to do God's work," said Ramsey, who plans to study public administration, theology and law after graduation.
Woods said summer Youth Encampment under the Louisiana Missionary Baptist State Convention has been around for 70 years mostly on college campuses.
"It's to empower the young people to know God and to experience college life. It empowers them to know they can succeed," he said.
Woods, 60, said being around Youth Encampment has also been a blessing to him the past 14 years. This summer was Wood's last year as director; he is stepping down to spend more time in his new post as the historian for the Louisiana Missionary Baptist State Convention.
"That job is going to take some of my time. I'll be working with this (Youth Encampment), but that's a bigger picture — preserving the history," Woods said. "I want to maintain the history of our State Convention."
In his historian role, Woods hopes to update the website and increase the publishing and production of content.
"When we do that, that makes all the difference," Woods said.
Woods also has a vision of an archive and museum site for the Louisiana Missionary Baptist State Convention. The organization owns and has started collecting data at the T.J. Jemison Baptist Center at Southern University.
"We already have a facility. We can use what we have to start off and go from there," he said.
Woods said his position may require him to spend more time in Baton Rouge while also continuing to pastor Greater Liberty, where he has pastored for 31 years.