It started with an observation.
Brenda Rincones noticed that young women didn’t seem to be showing up for centennial celebrations in honor of the Woman’s Missionary Union of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas.
When she remarked on this to her director, the response was, “You know what? Let’s do something very intentional next year to reach out to them. I want you to do it.”
With this mandate, Rincones founded the SHINE Girls Conference, a two-day, statewide gathering of 450 Latina girls and women in San Antonio, Texas.
The conference -- its name is not an acronym but refers to Matthew 5:16 -- aims to educate, empower and inspire young Christian women across Texas (you don’t have to be Baptist or Latina to attend).
The speakers and workshops are led by young women, and the topics are determined by asking young women what they want to talk about. Some are quite serious: suicide, bullying, teen pregnancy and drugs.
Since the second annual conference in February, some participants have been setting up local Bible study groups to continue the work of the SHINE conference.
“We have to reach out to this generation, because they are so, so amazing. It’s just such a beautiful, talented and gutsy group of people, and they define us, especially here in Texas,” Rincones said.
Rincones spoke with Faith & Leadership about the SHINE conference and her hopes for the future of the project. The following is an edited transcript.
Q: What was the motivation for organizing this conference?
We reach out to Latina teens, and we try to educate and empower and encourage these young girls. We start at the teenage years, but we also want to work with young Latina women, because they help us empower those younger girls as well. We are in San Antonio, Texas, and to me, this is the gateway to our Hispanic new generation.
In 2016, we were celebrating 100 years of Hispanic Baptist women working in Texas. We had incorporated 100 years ago as Woman’s Missionary Union, which in Spanish is Unión Femenil Misionera. So we were going around the state, and even in Mexico and other places, to do these little rallies for our centennial.
And we were on our way to Mexico when I told our director, “You know, we have been at this all year, and none of our young girls attend. My daughter, your granddaughter -- they’re not coming.”
And she said, “You know what? Let’s do something very intentional next year to reach out to them. I want you to do it.” And I was like, “Wait, I was just ...”
Q: You were just making an observation.
Right, exactly. And so she said, “No, really, I want you to run with that and do something about it.”
The only thing we knew to do was pray, because we didn’t have resources or manpower or anything like that to somehow bring these girls together. But we knew we wanted to have some kind of gathering for them.
We said, “This is for young girls, young adult women and the women who care for them.” So this was something that their moms or grandmothers could come to, because we needed their grandmothers there.
We decided the only way that we could reach them at a low cost would be to do [all the publicity] online through social media -- that’s the only thing we could afford -- and we were very surprised that in two and a half weeks, we were sold out. We were completely surprised.
Q: How did you prepare for it?
We reached out to our community for girls that were young, that were strong in their faith and that were leaders, and we talked to them: “What are the issues that you want to talk about? What are the things that aren’t being discussed?”
All of our speakers were young women. I didn’t want them to hear from me. I didn’t want them to hear from my director. I wanted them to hear from other leaders their age.
So God just really blessed us that way, to be able to see and recognize young leaders, young girls who were doing it right. We did it again this February, and we had 450 -- again, we were sold out.
So we immediately, from the get-go, were able to see that this is something on God’s heart. This is something that God is saying yes to. So we need to follow the path and step it up.
Q: What were the needs that the young women had that you were seeing?
Suicide was such a big issue -- we kept seeing that over and over. Bullying. Drugs. Teen pregnancy. All of these were issues that they wanted to talk about.
It was hard to say, “Hey, everybody that wants to talk about suicide come into this room.” But we knew that they were topics that they wanted. And so they came, and we talked about it.
It was a lot of the things that we see statistically that are going on here in Texas. And now we were seeing the faces of those girls who were facing that day to day in their own communities.
Q: Do you think those are particular issues facing young Latinas, or are they affecting everyone in that age group in the country?
Certainly, pregnancy is something that is very high among our girls, our Hispanic girls, here in Texas.
We saw girls coming from these small little towns where they just don’t have any aspiration to college or career, and so that just seems like the next natural thing -- to have somebody that loves you, to have somebody to take care of.
They are sexually active, and our churches were not or are not talking about being sexually active.
Our Hispanic Baptist churches are very conservative, and so nobody wants to hear, “I’m not a virgin.” And that was something that came out from the stage at our very first conference.
So those kinds of things -- we don’t want to do them just to shock people, but we do want to be open and honest and be able to face the reality of what our girls are living.
Because if we don’t talk about it in our church, which is a safe place and where we can embrace each other, then of course everybody else is talking about it outside the church.
There was one small town -- Runge, Texas. I didn’t know where that was, but we had such a big group of girls that came from that small community. One of the things that I heard from those girls was that they, for the first time, saw that they could go to college, that there was something after high school.
And so we have followed up with as many girls as we can. One girl from Runge applied to [a school] in Australia and will be going this fall. Girls are going to Cuba, to Israel, to Spain -- all of that was talked about and encouraged and begun last year at SHINE.
So this year we said, “We want to support you financially. It’s a very small seed, but we want to give this to you so that you can go on that mission trip or live in Spain for three months or wherever God has called [you] to go.” So it has been such a blessing to see the growth.
Q: You are helping set up ongoing groups to follow up on the conference, correct?
We have right now 12 people that are ready to go. Initially what they are doing is a four-week Jennie Allen Bible study. And the [study’s] video has a lot of teenage girls who share their story, so again they continue to see people their own age who are living this out and doing it right.
Q: What would long-term success look like for you?
I love this verse; it’s Psalm 102:18, and I think the verse encompasses it all: A people that has not yet been created would one day praise the Lord because of what we do today to reach this generation.
I won’t be here 30, 40 years down the road, but I want there to continue to be people that rise up to praise the Lord because we reached today’s young girls, because we reached this generation.
I dream that they will be in every country; that there will be chapters of this all over the world where people are reaching not just Hispanics but this generation, whatever it looks like in their community. But I have no idea what God will do through all of this.
We have to reach out to this generation, because they are so, so amazing. It’s just such a beautiful, talented and gutsy group of people, and they define us, especially here in Texas.
This Hispanic generation -- our youth -- defines us, because it’s so large.
So when I look at it that way, these young people define me. So I need to make sure that I give them all the tools and I pour into them everything that I can possibly give to them.
But it’s almost like our churches and our church leaders want you to pay your dues before you get to stand and preach or share or serve.
Our millennial generation -- they’re ready to serve now. They will serve, they will be active, and they will speak. I certainly want them to speak truth, and I want them to speak love, and so I need to pour that into them and give them a place where they can speak, where they can serve, where they can use their gifts and their talents.
It helps them find purpose. They start to find purpose in Christ and in serving and using the things that God deposited in them for a purpose.
Q: What about the churches that, when they leave the conference, they go back into? Is that a place where they can lead, where young women will be embraced as leaders?
Unfortunately, I think that there would be some resistance there, but what I have seen is that that’s the importance of bringing those leaders with you to the conference, those moms and those grandmothers.
At the conference, we pray for what God is going to do in these two days that we’re together. We pray for your church back home, your community back home, that the same thing God does here he would do over there as well. And so we prepare for that spiritually, that God would move and work, and then we encourage those leaders.
So they go back and share their heart with the congregation. And if the church wants to be supportive of their youth, then there’s the opportunity for them to do so.
We do pray for [the youth] and encourage them to talk to their leaders, to tell them, “Hey, I want to serve. Where can I serve?”
Q: What do you see as the future for this effort?
I would like to see SHINE groups growing, reaching their communities and having leaders in all these different places.
At some point, we hope we are able to write our own curriculum and put it in the hands of these leaders.
Because a lot of these are teenage girls that will soon be adult women. They certainly would be able to go back and start a chapter in their own church and have the curriculum that we are able to produce for them that does speak to these topics that are relevant, that are not being talked about in their churches, and especially in our Hispanic Baptist churches.
So when our Hispanic Baptist leaders can see that this is coming out of our own denomination, then maybe they’re a little more trusting that this is approved, this is true, and would be able to implement and support the women that want to move forward and reach their community.
These young girls are growing, they’re maturing, and we want them to be leaders in their communities.