Valerie Sigamani, founder and director of Wild Faith Co., and Judit Amparo Manchay, editor and podcast host of Wild Faith Co., talk about the online community they have created for Adventist and non-Adventist millennial women. With their community of sisters, they encourage and empower women to capture faith, and do something as a result of it.
Question: You have created a website and community of women called Wild Faith Co. What's it all about? Why did you feel this sisterhood was necessary and what gap does it fill that hasn't already been filled?
Valerie: Wild Faith Co started because I was blessed to have a community of women around me in college who were extremely empowering and faithful and who challenged me. But when I left undergrad I felt empty.
I realized I must not be the only person who felt that way.
There must be a big group of women who felt abandoned by their churches and by the women’s ministries that were available to them.
I thought there must be other women in the post-college stage who felt lonely, with unfulfilled dreams. I thought there must be others who needed a way to connect with like-minded women again. I wanted to extend the friendship and community of women I had been a part of in college. So that’s when I decided to talk to my friends about it, later turning it into a research project for one of my classes at Andrews University, and eventually my graduate project for my degree.
After conducting research and talking to the women in charge of women’s ministries for the North American Division, it became clear to me that there was a gap in serving women from approximately age 21 to 45. That's a big gap. In fact, at that time the Adventist church had just recently started an initiative called Gorgeous2God that was directed at young women 18 and below. I was really happy to hear about that project, but I was told there was nothing for young women over 21. I found programs available for pastor’s wives, but for every other woman in that age range there was absolutely nothing except abuse seminars. This is a very critical gap in ministry at the conference level.
Being a woman is controversial, and empowering women to do something with their faith did not seem to be something local conferences were willing to fight for. So we stepped in and started Wild Faith Co.
I strongly believe that historically God called women to walk with women, and that he continues to do so today.
The NAD Women’s ministries supported a grant proposal that I wrote in order to fund Wild Faith Co, but unfortunately, it didn’t get funded.
So in 2016 Wild Faith Co started off as a very direct ministry to Adventist women in the 21 to 45 age bracket. In December of that year I began reaching out to my sisters from undergrad, sharing my vision and asking for voluntary and financial support.
Our mission statement was: To equip, encourage, and empower Adventist women who had a desire to do ministry for God.
We did that for about two years, and then things started changing.
Our audience was strongly Adventist but after a while we had women trickling in from different faith groups, and they were so excited about Wild Faith Co, we felt we couldn’t turn them away. They kept joining, and then we had to ask ourselves questions about whether our community should be exclusive or inclusive.
We felt that ministry toward Adventist women was (and still is) a big part of our mission, but not the complete one. We began seeing something a bit more evangelistic than what we had first imagined.
Our new mission statement is:
Mission: To reach millennial women with the gospel who may not be currently going to church but have a heart and spirit that cares for people.
Vision Statement: To see a coalition of women rise up who have a renewed vision of God and His kingdom who have the drive to work for Him in non-traditional ways.
Judit: Along with that, we do not want to ignore the value of wisdom and experience of women who have gone before us. While our mission is to reach the women of our generation, a coalition necessarily implies an intergenerational approach. We want to learn from, grow with, and reach an actual coalition. That means intergenerational, inter-racial, beyond denominational, etc.
I did think it was interesting that your site doesn't ever specifically mention Adventists, and thought it must be intentional. All of you who work on the site are Adventists?
Yes, we are all proud to be Adventists. But we don’t specify on our Wild Faith Co site that we are Adventists because we didn’t want to make this ministry exclusive to members of the Adventist church.
We feel that if our readers can align with our core beliefs then we have enough to share to move forward together. We do plan to explain in our about page that we come from an Adventist perspective. And we do feel that the Adventist message is a unique message for this generation. We are really excited to repackage the message in a way that this generation can understand. Many people of different faith traditions have been amazed by things we have talked to them about in direct messages on Instagram, and in our blogs.
Who is your target audience? What is your goal with the site? How are you getting the word out to people about this online community?
Valerie: Our target audience is millennial women who may or may not be affiliated with a religious organization, but have a desire to seek God. With our site, we want to encourage and empower these women to capture faith and do something as a result of it.
We are getting the word out mostly through organic interactions that we make with people online on Instagram, Adventist conferences, and interviews with people. When people follow us we aim to begin a conversation and to engage in a more personal way and through that, we have created friendships with people all over the world that somehow found us.
We have done Facebook advertising campaigns for our email devotionals.
Judit: We fully acknowledge that millennial women find a great deal of community virtually through social media. But we also recognize that community goes beyond the virtual and that face-to-face interactions are crucial, too. We have been developing projects that engage women in this online community, as well as in person.
I think word of mouth has been one of our greatest methods of getting the word out there. In terms of “marketing,” the team has frequently heard me say “talk about it.”
Your website contains beautiful pictures and inspirational blog posts. Where do the pictures come from?
Valerie: Our photographic content is a mix of others’ photos and our own. We use Unsplash (a generous community of photographers), some of our own photographic content, and photos we have solicited. We try to be specific as to the aesthetic with those who submit photographs — we have a visual guide that we share with those who need some guidance.
We do this because we know millennials intimately (because we are them!) and we know that this generation of people takes aesthetics very seriously.
We give credit to the photographers whose photos we publish.
We welcome anyone reading this to submit their photography. We want to feature what women are doing in all ways: creative, activism, evangelistic, academic, and so on.
How do you decide what blog posts to include, what writers to feature, what podcasts to post, and what content to explore?
Judit: We have a process to vet the material that is posted. When we receive a submission we have a team that reviews the submission and considers whether it is consistent with our voice and mission.
At times, we make suggestions to the author and if these suggestions don’t conflict or counter her voice and mission then we move forward. This means that writers can be anyone, although we do give preference to women. We have had people from other faith groups write for us — we just read the content for what it is and go from there.
Your site also has a "members only" area. Is that where a lot more conversation takes place?
Valerie: Our member's area is a place where people can have more access to resources and information, and give us feedback. It’s not necessarily a place for more conversation. We are definitely working on ways to get people into a space where conversation can take place and the plans for that are to have retreats where women can build friendships, learn, and grow. Currently, most of our conversations occur in our Instagram direct messages.
It’s super simple to become a member — there is no cost and you only have to provide an email address. In order to become a member, you literally just sign up. With membership, you will receive emails from us announcing launches, devotional campaigns, etc.
When did your site go live? How many viewers do you have? Has your readership grown?
Valerie: We launched our website in January of 2018. Initially, we were getting 100-200 readers a month because we had already built up a mailing list and an Instagram following. Now we average around 300. We have had some highs where we reach 1,000 readers, but that’s rare. So yes, our readership has definitely grown.
Judit: As time went on we decided to engage horizontally across social media and other platforms. Social media is a means of marketing as well as an avenue in which our audience can be exposed to our voice. Even if people do not visit our site they may find us, as we generate audio and social media content through podcasting, Insta, Facebook, and more.
What is your funding model?
Valerie: Our funding model is so basic, we don’t have one. Our leadership team has made a strong effort to invest in this initiative. We have several members who donate personally through Patreon, which is a monthly sponsorship, but we also accept one-time donations through Ko-Fi. Readers and subscribers can find links to donate on our website but we rarely ask for money, and the reason is because we haven’t organized a way to properly give thanks.
I’ve worked for several non-profits before, where I usually worked on creating systems for donor experiences, so I have high standards on what it means to be an investor in the cause. All of our funding goes toward the tools we use to make the content we have presented already and the things we have on the conveyor belt to release.
What future plans do you have for Wild Faith Co?
Valerie: We have big dreams for Wild Faith Co. To be completely honest and just publically say it, I hope that one day we will have an office and employees. I think that if I dreamed anything less it would be diminishing what God has put on my heart.
As for concrete plans, we do have a few things that started as just dreams and are now really in the works. First, we are working on seeing our sisterhood face-to-face, which has been a big desire since we began. Next year there will be one retreat — possibly two — where we will learn, grow, and bond as sisters in Christ.
We are also working on a Bible study publication as well.
Judit: We do genuinely desire to meet our sisterhood face-to-face. Strong communities go beyond the virtual sphere. So one project we are working on that goes a little beyond the virtual is a prayer line that our community can call in to. Women consistently ask for prayer and we believe that prayer is power. We want women to have a place to go for support and prayer.
I am also working on setting up a way to foster intergenerational mentorship opportunities.
Can you tell us more about yourselves? Where did you go to school? What did you study? What do you do now? Where do you go to church?
Valerie: Sure! I was born and raised in Los Angeles and I didn’t grow up in a traditional Adventist home (my parents didn’t go to church). I feel like that influenced the way I continue to dream for the church. I didn’t grow up with too much tradition and I was able to shape what Adventism was for myself. I went to Pierce College in California and studied anthropology, transferred to Southern Adventist University to finish my bachelor’s in theology, and received my master’s from Andrews University where I completed my degree in community and international development.
I’ve worked with non-profit organizations like Bethany Christian Services, Refugee Services and Preemptive Love Coalition, which works in Iraq, Syria, and the U.S. to rebuild the lives of displaced people and promote peace among those they work with. I am now working full-time on this Wild Faith Co dream while looking for employment in a rural area. My husband is a pastor so we move a lot, but currently are at Avon Park Seventh-day Adventist Church in Florida.
Judit is our scholar — she loves the biblical languages and is an incredible speaker. She definitely is a mouthpiece for us. She grew up in rural Pennsylvania and loves to let people know that. Judit is a pastor in the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference and received two BA degrees at Southern Adventist University: one in archeology and the other in theology. She recently finished her master’s in divinity.
Melissa Salazar grew up in Los Angeles as a pastor’s kid, which she considers to be a large part of who she is. Melissa is very knowledgeable on the pressures of Adventism in a pastor’s family and is always letting us know what it’s like to be under the limelight, as well as the ministry that needs to be done in that area. She’s very passionate about empowering women who fall through the cracks. She has worked as a chaplain and teacher and within the last few months transitioned to teaching ESL in a Georgia public school. She earned her BA in education from Southern Adventist University.
Michelle Valentin is a Florida native and lives there now. She received her BA in psychology and has worked with children in schools and organizations on behavioral development. She also has worked in ministry initiatives at her local church, Life Springs. She is a singer and very creative. She currently works as a teacher at her local academy.
How much time do you all spend working on Wild Faith Co?
Valerie: Wild Faith Co is a volunteer day job. Most of us spend an average of four hours a week on it. I probably spend about eight hours a week on it.
How did your team members all meet each other?
Valerie: The team has changed over time but most of us met in college or through friends in common. Ellainna Hart, Alexy Gatica, Christina Melo, and Chelsya Ernina were also leaders at one point and we hope they can come back one day. (The people who have left mostly did so because they were too busy or going through big life transitions.)
What do you think the Adventist church needs to do to reach a broader audience online and through social media?
Valerie: Being honest, relevant, and interested in people are the biggest factors I’ve seen in growing our audience. We should acknowledge that not everyone has the same spiritual/religious experience and work on that playing field. We need to inform ourselves of the varied realities people are growing in.
And the biggest thing: we have to stop making efforts to just reach Adventists that are leaving the church or who are in the church. We have to start thinking outside the box on how we can have more conversations and interactions with people outside our faith tradition because people listen when you allow them to speak and earn their respect. We keep thinking we need to win people back but every year we lose more and more and soon winning people back will not be enough. We have to become missional again and that means seeing God in every person and tapping into that.
I don’t think we are media experts — we are just mission-minded people who see media as a way to reach farther. God has blessed that and we are grateful.
Do you think the Adventist church is reaching twentysomethings and college students? What could it do better? What is it doing well?
Valerie: Not really. On the denominational level, I think that our efforts could be stronger. I think internally there have been efforts, but the difference between reaching twentysomethings internally and externally is huge.
Efforts to connect the existing Seventh-day Adventist community are significant. The Center for Online Evangelism, the Haystack, Advent Next through Adventist Learning Community, and others are all good internal efforts to inform, empower, and equip Adventists. We love and applaud these efforts.
At different conferences I see concentrated efforts; for instance, I have seen Florida and Oregon doing some great things online. Then, at the local level I have seen young people getting together and doing things for themselves, which is great. But we do need to reach out in our workplaces and other community spaces.
What can the church do better? Hire young people for leadership positions, if we are thinking in a structural way. But the crux of Wild Faith is this: we can’t wait for systems to change. Systems are like glaciers — they take time and move slower than the world around them is changing. We as a church body are the change agents and we can change faster than that. The Holy Spirit is so dynamic — he is above what we can even fathom — and he lives in us.
So I don’t necessarily think dependence on what’s happening up there in the larger organization is my main concern. It’s a part of my advocacy and conversations but my faith is today and it wants to walk today. I can’t wait for permission to do what I’m called to do and I hope others don’t think they need that permission either.
If you have a dream for the church, it’s because the baton has to be passed on. Dreams and visions will continue and we have to take them seriously ourselves.
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.
Photos: Valerie Sigamani (left) and Judit Amparo Manchay (right), courtesy of Wild Faith Co.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9802