Quoting from Acts 11 (verses 19 to 24), Letitia Shelton emphasizes the importance of scattering God’s word to the four corners of the globe and then recounts her path from insular Christian to proactive leader committed to spreading the gospel throughout her city and beyond.
Part of her journey began with the first girls’ getaway weekend that she organized 14 years ago. “At the end of the camp, one girl was so excited to see her mum. She told her ‘I’ve received so many hugs this weekend,” Shelton recounts. “Her mum said, ‘Who’d want to hug you?’”
A follow up visit to the girl’s home revealed more. “A sign outside read, ‘This house is cursed; we have children.”’
Catalyst for Change
For Shelton, this incident was an “ah ha” moment that catalyzed what has become a long-term initiative to spread God’s love outside the wall’s of her church and scatter it throughout her city: Toowoomba (pop. 114,000) nicknamed “The Garden City” and located in Australia’s Queensland region.
“God showed me the sickness in my city,” she says. “Unfortunately in our nation of Australia, we’ve been about gathering church to ourselves. We’ve been about keeping our people happy and really busy. This is not God’s intention. He will use whatever it takes to reach the four corners of the world.”
Inspiration came from a meeting with Toowoomba’s then mayor Dianne “Di” Thorley. “We had a mayor, a woman, who told us, ‘You ladies do great things inside your churches, but not in the community,” she recalls. “She didn’t persecute us, but she did swear at us.”
Scattering Support for Women & Girls
Thorley’s tough love worked. “At that time God opened my ears to the pain in my city,” says Shelton. Since then, she’s led almost 50 girls getaway weekends with “over 3,000 girls in our cities, hearing about the Gospel of Jesus,” she says. “The weekend includes a session with a gusted male who apologizes to girls for the pain men have caused in their lives. On Sunday morning they bring in grandpas…older grandpas who speak prophetic words to these girls.”
Shelton adds, “Men have a huge role to play in healing of our community,” where far too many girls are sexually assaulted, often by
For over a decade now, Toowoomba’s women have been making a tremendous difference. Several years ago, Shelton and women from churches across Toowoomba have put together a home for girls age 16 to 19, “a place of healing for Christian women from different churches—a place of family and healing.”
Christian Support for Single Mothers
Five years ago, they launched a center to support women and teenage girls to receive support during unplanned pregnancies. The center has supported hundreds of women through unplanned pregnancies. “Recently, three women who visited our center requesting abortions, decided to have their babies instead.”
Toowoomba’s Christian women and men are having an impact in the schools, sending teams in to teach “girls of their value and their worth.” Shelton adds that younger creative women have produced a magazine for teenagers that “counteracts the sexualization” of their culture.
Shelton says this proactive approach to spreading the Gospel and improving lives has spread to the Toowoomba’s men too. “They’ve been collaborating to make a city free from pornography. It’s the passion of our mayor and other key leaders,” she says. Several hundred men met in front of the town hall to free the city from pornography.
“We need to bring hope in this area (pornography). It only happens as we work together.”
Words of Compassion
Shelton, who traveled thousands of miles with 12 members of her congregation to be in New York for Movement Day Global Cities 2016, concluded her brief address with these words, “I want to leave you with this. Our heavenly father desires a church that is scattered outside the four walls of our cities. He uses a united church. It takes a citywide church to win a citywide battle. We’re on the same team. All that I’ve shared this morning could only happen through prayer. Many of the pastors have been willing to release their women into the city to scatter and work with other Christian women in their cities.
“Women have great compassion,” Shelton says. “The girls in our cities are our responsibility. They’re our daughters. They’re our young people that we fight for.”