The planning and prayers of a few became the call to action for many at Access Church April 8 and 9. A team of women from Access Church hosted the second annual, two-day IF:Jacksonville gathering. The original IF:Gathering took place in February in Austin, Texas, but that event is capped at 2,200 women in order to encourage groups to meet in their own communities and places of influence. IF:Jacksonville included the speakers from the Austin event, but the Access team molded the event into something that would be relevant for the Jacksonville area.
The IF:Gathering theme this year was, “What if we lived like Jesus?” Stephanie Barrett, one of the IF:Jacksonville organizers, said the event began to take shape when they asked the more specific questions, “What does it look like to live like Jesus in our area? What does it mean to be the hands and feet of Jesus here in Jacksonville?”
Stephanie shared that there are so many ways to share Jesus’ love with a broken world, but the team felt it was important to follow the call of Jesus to care for “the least of these.” In Matthew 25:40 Jesus tells his followers that caring for the broken and helpless of society is the same as caring for him, so the women of Access made it their mission to show Jesus’ love to children in foster care and awaiting adoption right here in Jacksonville.
Friday night began with communion and confession. “It was important to empty the junk out and prepare our hearts to receive what God wanted to say through the weekend,” Stephanie said.
The band from Access volunteered their time to provide live worship. And peppered in between lessons from renowned speakers like Jo Saxton, Jennie Allen, and David Platt, were conversations started by individuals from Access sharing their adoption and fostering stories. One of the most meaningful aspects of the weekend was seeing women get involved in practical ways. “We want to raise the topic of foster care and adoption because God may be pulling at someone’s heart to step out in faith,” Stephanie said. “But for those not in a position to move forward in that way, we gave some practical ‘next steps’ that will assist foster families and organizations that help children.” One of these organizations is Seamark Ranch, a Jacksonville home that provides children in crisis with a loving and nurturing home environment.
While much of IF:Jacksonville focused on making an impact outside the Access Church walls, the women also experienced personal growth in their faith and in their relationship with Christ. Cheryl Grass, an attendee, shared that the sessions she loved most centered on finding contentment in her circumstances. “Eugene Cho focused on how we always think the grass is greener on the other side, but we just need to spend more time watering the grass in our own yard,” she said. “That really stuck with me as I left the event. It made me think about the great things in my life that I need to spend more time and energy on.” Cheryl complimented the organizers of IF:Jacksonville on their attention to detail. “The food was wonderful, the conversations were uplifting, and I felt comfortable inviting my aunt to join me in this experience at Access,” she said.
Another focus of IF:Jacksonville was to bring together women from different seasons of life and in different places in their faith journeys. As a follow-up to IF:Jacksonville, Access is offering IF:Table during the summer months. This is an opportunity for groups of six women to sit together over a meal and share their joys and struggles. Stephanie was thrilled to see that more than 36 women signed up. “That’s half of the attendees from this event!” she said.
Cheryl is excited about this new opportunity. “I can’t wait for IF:Table!” she said. “I know it will be a great opportunity to make new friends and talk openly about my faith and God.”
If you’d like to join Access Church in helping children in foster care or awaiting adoption, or if you’d like to join an IF:Table, email Stephanie.