I want to introduce you to Renae Hughart, the Women’s Outdoor Ministry Leader in Greenwood, Arkansas. When I heard about this unique ministry, I couldn’t wait to have her share the details with you!
The Women’s Outdoor Ministry at First Baptist Church in Greenwood, AR, was started in Oct. 2011, as a consequence of our outstanding Men’s Ministry. The weekly bulletin always included announcements of upcoming events for the men like rock climbing, fishing, target shooting, canoeing, & ATV rides just to name a few. I would often comment that I wish women could be included in some of those things. It looked like the guys were having so much fun.
Rae Deal, our pastor’s wife and Women’s Ministry Coordinator, heard of my comments and contacted me and asked if I’d lead an Outdoor Ministry for women. I was so excited about the idea and still am today. God has blessed me abundantly and led me to a ministry that is pure fun. I plan one event each month and try to vary the dates to allow more women to participate.
Our events so far have included hiking, kayaking, camping, canoeing, horseback riding, rafting, digging for diamonds, and zip lining. Our church provides transportation with our 15 passenger van or our people mover and I always shop around for places with the lowest prices. I have everyone bring a sack lunch & drink. We do a lot of (free) hiking in the colder months. Arkansas has so many beautiful State Parks with resources perfect for this ministry. We can travel less than 2 hours to many of them. The State Parks have visitor centers with nice clean restrooms, maps of the trails, all have picnic facilities where we eat our sack lunches, and many have rentals of kayaks, canoes, horseback rides, ATV rides, and campsites at very affordable prices.
Our events are printed in the weekly bulletin and are shown on the big screens before services begin with a note to contact me to sign up. I learned the hard way that I should have sign-ups. It was a very cold Saturday morning in December, 2011, when I arrived at the church early to defrost and warm up the van for our outing to a nearby nature center for archery target shooting. I sat shivering in the van with anticipation. I sat there a long time and finally realized no one was coming. I had also worked diligently with the nature center to make special reservations for our group and had to call and cancel. That was embarrassing but it was a lesson learned.
I also print announcements on my facebook page and invite any woman interested to join us. I’m using the ministry as an outreach tool and it has been very successful. I haven’t mentioned that I’m an accountant by profession and so numbers and statistics interest me. To date we’ve had 100 women and young ladies participate in our outings. Of those 100, 31 are not members of our church and I know some of those 31 are un-churched.
We now have a facebook page for the Women’s Outdoor Ministry where the events are posted and ladies can sign up. The ladies post pictures from the outings and share comments of the fun they’ve had.
We begin our outings in prayer before we leave the parking lot. We ask God’s blessing on our food before we eat our sack lunches and I always share a devotional on the outing. I pray for God to give me the message He wants me to share. It’s always been a personal experience that I’ve shared & my relationship with God has grown stronger through these devotionals. But the wonderful part has been that I’ve almost always gotten feedback on the devotionals from women who text me or email me or even call me and tell me what an impact the devotional made on them, or how it was exactly what they needed to hear for guidance or encouragement for a situation they’re going through. I know these devotionals are the only time some of these women hear God’s word from the Bible.
I’ve also seen so many relationships formed between the women. This is special because I know we need relationships but also because so many of the women have told me how much they enjoy the ministry because they wanted to do things but “just don’t have anyone to do it with” or they told me “I see all these ladies at church but I don’t know who they are.” We’re getting to know each other, we’re sharing life experiences with each other and we’re sharing God’s word.
Just a few examples of how this ministry has worked are an email I received from a woman who was a recently divorced mother of 2 teenage girls who was new to our area and had been visiting our church and was looking for a way to fit in and get to know other ladies. She saw the Women’s Outdoor Ministry announcement in the bulletin and contacted me because she said this was something she would feel comfortable with and she could do with her daughters.
Another story involves a woman who went on the very first hike in Oct, 2011. I was chatting with her and found out she goes to our church but wasn’t in a Sunday School class. I invited her to my class and she’s been coming faithfully ever since.
One story that is special to me involves a member of our church who brought her un-churched friend to a number of our outings. The friend finally accompanied her to Sunday School one morning and was so happy and felt so comfortable because she already knew some of the other ladies through the Outdoor Ministry. She has visited 3 times now.
Another story I will share with you involves a lady I graduated college with. She saw my notices on facebook and asked to join us. She’s been on almost every outing since. The wonderful part is that she’s Catholic and yet feels very comfortable joining in on our Baptist ministry.
Finally, an exciting story is to tell you about our float trip in July last year. It was our biggest attended event with 21 participating, the youngest was 11 and the oldest was 71. That’s a 60 year difference in age and we all went out and had the best time together.
This ministry grows every month with more women joining us. Relationships are being formed with prayer & support for each other. God’s word is being shared with women who need it. A LOT OF FUN is had by all! It never fails that while we’re on an outing someone will ask “what are we doing next month?” They’re as excited about this ministry as I am.
Renae Hughart is a 51 year old wife and mother of a 22 year old daughter. She has lived in Greenwood, AR, for the past 22 years and has been a member of First Baptist Church for all of those years. She teaches a ladies Life Group/Sunday School class with members ranging in age from 17 to 74. She is a graduate of Arkansas State University and is an accountant in Fort Smith, AR. Renae was a Girl Scout leader for many years and acquired any outdoor skills she has from that experience.
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