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Deborah Fillerup Weagel
Ann Washburn speaks on body language at the Women of Light Convention at the Albuquerque Convention Center on Saturday 16, 2017.

Albuquerque, N.M. — About two years ago as Andrea Monfredi listened to President Russell M. Nelson speak to women at the October 2015 general conference, she felt deeply inspired by his words. In the talk, President Nelson issued a “plea” to sisters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to take their “rightful and needful place” in their homes, in their communities and in the kingdom of God. He promised that as women did so, the Holy Ghost would “magnify” their “influence in an unprecedented way.”

A resident of New Mexico, Monfredi began to consider how she might engage more in her community to reach out beyond the boundaries of her own religion. Having grown up in California in a family of successful event planners (who could organize anything from a backyard party to a presidential campaign fundraiser), she envisioned a large-scale gathering of women that would include both diversity and unity.

She began to organize the Women of Light Convention with the desire to bring together women of all faiths and backgrounds. This wife and mother of four sought to break down boundaries that exist in religion, politics, socio-economic hierarchies, education, culture and race. She wanted women to work together in unity and to bring greater light to the community through “inspiration, connection and service.”

Her vision came to fruition on Saturday, Sept. 16, at the Women of Light Convention held at the Albuquerque Convention Center in New Mexico. Over 1,500 women from 13 states and three countries attended this inaugural gathering. Approximately 25 speakers presented on topics such as survival, service, personal development, business, family relations, personal finance and faith. There was also a marketplace that included exhibitors who sold services and wares to attendees. Entertainment was provided throughout the day by dancers, musicians, models and other participants.

The presenters, including keynote speaker Elizabeth Smart, provided messages that encouraged and inspired many of the attendees. Smart, who was kidnapped at knifepoint from her home in Salt Lake City, calmly described her abduction. After nine months of captivity and prayers offered in her behalf throughout the country, policemen discovered her in Salt Lake City and she was reunited with her family.

Smart is now an advocate for change regarding child abduction, and through the Elizabeth Smart Foundation she helps children on an international basis. She reminded the attendees that “pain is pain” and every experience is valid. We do ourselves and others a disservice by comparing ourselves to others; each of us has unique challenges and struggles to overcome.

Another advocate for children was speaker Lenya Heitzig, a pastor’s wife affiliated with the Calgary Albuquerque ministry. She encouraged attendees to listen to the “still small voice” of God and to trust in him. By doing this in her own life, she has been able to assist children around the world who have been traumatized by terrorism. By establishing the organization Reload Love, she and her colleagues build playgrounds for oppressed and orphaned children in areas such as Iraq, Jordan, Myanmar (Burma) and Cambodia.

In addition, Samia Assed, coordinating council president of the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice, spoke about the need for empathy in our communities. She is a third generation Palestinian-American Muslim who advocates for human equality, and has been the target of bigoted aggression. She told the women, “There is a 911 call right now for us to rise up and be empathetic to one another.” This means making eye contact, listening to others and not separating ourselves from the broader community.

Attendee Meagan Haslam Henrie was struck by Assed’s declaration of women’s unique role in bringing communities together. Henrie observed that the need for empathy was immediate as many women attending Assed’s breakout session were unfamiliar with her religion and culture. Henrie reflects, “I think the first step to empathy is acknowledging someone else’s life experiences and opinions even if we don’t agree with them.”

Another attendee, Rebecca Manning, went to the convention with her mother specifically to hear closing speaker Stephanie Nielson, who is a wife, mother of five, burn survivor, author and celebrated blogger. Manning had followed Nielson’s blog for years and was further inspired by her words of encouragement at the convention. Manning explained, “When I feel that motherhood is hard, I think of Stephanie Nielson and her challenges, and then I realize my own life is not so difficult. I really enjoyed the convention, but appreciated her presentation in particular.” Nielson, who felt like a “disfigured monster” after her burn accident, explained that “our trials and pain can be our greatest strengths.”

This event could not have taken place without the mutual cooperation and service of many people. “Nobody became rich from this convention,” Monfredi said. “It was a consecrated effort on behalf of those involved.” It included the help of family, friends, a very capable board of directors, contributors, committed volunteers, exhibitors, advertisers, performers and speakers. She believes that through the efforts of everyone involved, President Nelson’s promise came to pass: the Holy Ghost magnified their influence as women in an unprecedented way.