BR women serve, study through Aglow International
Though their numbers are small, those in the Baton Rouge chapter of Aglow International work to help women put Christ’s teachings into action in sometimes “dark” places where people are hurting.
The Baton Rouge Aglow Community Lighthouse is not a church, said Janice Durnin, president of the Baton Rouge chapter of Aglow International. “We’re an arm to the church and to the community.”
Participants in the nondenominational group gather as a “symbolic lighthouse” at the Baton Rouge Garden Center, where 20 to 25 women meet to pray, conduct Bible studies, share testimonies and plan outreach work in the inner city, Durnin said.
“We’re really leaning on God’s guidance on where we need to be, and he’s sometimes sending us to dark places where people don’t want to go,” Durnin said “But we have that spiritual protection. God has a plan for this organization, and it’s not just us having a monthly meeting. We want to minister to people, provide resources and educate people.”
Women have something to give, and Aglow provides a safe place where they can be equipped with guidance, support and encouragement to help them reach out to the community and address such issues as domestic violence, Durnin said.
Aglow women also reach out to disadvantaged children in troubled situations or to support incarcerated women with no family support, she said. For example, Aglow volunteers pray, evangelize and provide Bibles, toiletries, eyeglasses and other resources to women in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison system or to women at the Battered Women’s Shelter and elsewhere.
“We reach into places where people are sometimes overlooked,” Durnin said.
Aglow International started in 1967 in Seattle, Wash., where four women gathered to share their faith, pray and to evangelize, Durnin said. By 1972, the group swelled to some 60 groups throughout the country. It became international in 1973 as fellowships began in Canada and in New Zealand, Durnin said.
The Baton Rouge group formed in 1979 and is among about 4,600 Aglow groups ministering in communities nationwide.
“I was on the first board at that time when it was established,” Durnin said. During that time, she also became close friends with Bess Gardner, another group participant who is the Baton Rouge group’s treasurer.
The Baton Rouge group initially started with Bible studies, but participants wanted to do more.
“We wanted to do more than study the Bible,” Gardner said. “We wanted to serve others because that’s the heart of Aglow.”
To establish Aglow, the women had to follow a set of guidelines, including gaining their pastors’ approval and their husbands’ approval to start one. They also had to bring in male advisers at the time. Advisers can now be women, Gardner said.
While training women as leaders is a key part of Aglow’s mission, Gardner explained how the women see getting permission from their pastors and husbands to form and join Aglow groups as important for following God’s hierarchy as set out in the Bible.
“We call it our covering,” she said. “We have their permission. … We attend our own churches, and we are under the covenant of our pastors.”
The Aglow name is drawn from the idea of God’s light that people can come to for safety as they have prayer together under God’s covering and laws, Gardner said.
Aglow Lighthouses provided an avenue for women who needed to connect to an organization that could offer them prayer, support and evangelistic activities, Durnin said.
“Women give testimony of how God has touched our lives,” Gardner said.
Participants also attend vital training conferences that help prepare them for their ministries, she said. “As the world evolves and changes, we have to be trained into being leaders.”
One of the goals is to help break down cultural and racial barriers that sometimes exist, Gardner said.
Durin said the Baton Rouge Aglow organization formed at a time when many churches weren’t offering women’s ministries. “When it was first established (in Baton Rouge area), there were not a lot of large churches like there are now.”
As more churches were built in the late 1980s and ’90s, participation in lighthouses began to diminish and fewer were needed. “A lot of women’s needs were becoming met as other churches came,” Durnin said.
Gardner agreed. There were 25 Aglow lighthouses in Louisiana between the late ’70s through the early ’80s, she said. Today, there are six lighthouses throughout the state and one in Baton Rouge.
Gardner said some of the change occurred as women began working more and working later. “We used to have night meetings, but with women working, it was hard to do that,” she said.
However, Durnin and Gardner said there has been a resurgence in interest lately from among younger women.
“We’re looking to the younger ones in their 30s and 40s and looking to those ministering to the younger generation,” Gardner said.
The common thread among Aglow participants is the opportunity to serve, Gardner said
“A lot of women coming in who are new come in because they are looking for a different kind of fellowship,” Durnin said.
Aglow also helps women learn to develop their strengths and talents. Durnin said. “Women are encouraged to grow in their gift. … It gives them a chance to grow in their church and in their identity. We are being used to raise up women and their identity, and so we are always encouraging women that they have something to give.”
One way Durnin and other participants have reached women and families is through a community partnership with Glory House, ongoing since the early 1990s. Glory House provides services for struggling families and teens including providing counseling and educational services.
“That’s where we felt like we needed to go,” Durnin said. “That was my first opportunity to work in a situation like that. You saw good family situations and the bad.”
Some children were living in a drug-infested environment while others were living in homes where one or more parents were serving time in prison, she said.
“That’s when I saw the need,” Durnin said. “You could see people hurting all around you.”
Durnin and other women in the Baton Rouge group help incarcerated women. They participated in a family event Tuesday at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, where they set up a booth to minister to and to pass out various items to women.
“The prison ministry has opened up to us,” Durnin said. “I found out what it was like to be incarcerated and without a family (through one woman’s experience). We bought one woman clothing and other supplies because she did not even have money for a stamp.”
The group has also served lunch and passed out toiletry items for women at the Battered Women’s Shelter.
“We do whatever we can do to let people know they are cared about and special,” Durnin said. “We’re able to one-on-one touch lives, and if they need direction to a church or something, we guide them and we can talk to them, listen and encourage them.”
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