Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Women's group shares fellowship, support

Sheila Lunsford, founder of “Women of Praise,” said the lord gave her a vision for the group, which is a Christian fellowship group mostly composed of military spouses. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.

Regular moves come with the territory when women marry husbands in the military, but Sheila Lunsford said she views meeting new people as an opportunity.

“I don’t have a shy bone in my body,” Lunsford said while sitting on a sofa in her living room in military housing at Cannon Air Force Base and gesturing to a cabinet filled with fine dishes.

“When I was in Aviano, Italy, I didn’t know why I was collecting all this stemware and glassware, but I found out here,” Lunsford said. “The Lord gave me a vision, and shortly after we came here, I called together a group of women and we had a get-together.”

That social get-together three years ago turned into what is now “Women of Praise,” a Christian fellowship group mostly composed of military spouses. While members come from a number of churches, Lunsford’s husband serves as a volunteer member of the staff at First Church of God in Christ when he’s not working as a firefighter at Cannon Air Force Base, and many of the group members attend there as well.

“What we provide is a place for fellowship not just on Sundays,” Lunsford said. “I let them know I’m not trying to start a church, but if you don’t have a church home you need to find a church home.”

“We meet officially just once a month, but we say, ‘You’ve got to call one another, you need to call and encourage each other,’” Lunsford said.

The group focuses on what Lunsford calls the “three Ds” — a desire to know God, a desire to stay in his Word, and a determination to stay the course despite trials and tribulations.

After 17 years as an Air Force spouse, Lunsford said she knows that can be difficult. The group’s close fellowship bonds have continued even after some wives have left Cannon Air Force Base when their husbands were stationed elsewhere.

“I had a family call me today from Nellis Air Force Base (outside Las Vegas, Nev.) and I have to pray with their two little kids,” Lunsford said. “Their school is very different from Ranchvale Elementary, and they say it’s just awful. They needed to be encouraged, and that’s what I tried to do.”

Some of those women who used to be members will be coming back to Cannon on March 27 for the organization’s annual anniversary celebration. This year, the group will have Ethel Troutman, a missionary serving Central Baptist Missionary Church in Fort Valley, Ga., as the speaker for the group’s celebration at The Landing on base.

In additional to informal fellowship, the women — mostly military wives but also some active-duty female enlisted personnel and civilian women with no connection to the military — have worked together to create “Little Sisters of Praise,” a fellowship group for their daughters to provide them with like-minded Christian friends. Lunsford said that when she’s not doing something with the adult women, her house often has young girls visiting for whom she’s become a “second mom.”

One of those young women, 11-year-old Shanbria Oglesby, said she loves coming to Lunsford’s home and religious activities.

“There are a lot of people I know, and I think they talk more about God than some of the other groups I could go to,” Oglesby said. “The Bible teaches me about God and how he loves me no matter what I do.”

Candace Joiner, one of the group members who’s not a military spouse, said she enjoys working with Lunsford.

“I’m the manager here at the (Cannon Air Force Base) barber shop and we met here,” Joiner said. “She is a very outgoing fun person and she just has that personality where she draws people.”

“I would like to see all women from all churches come in and fellowship together and get to know each other,” Joiner said. “If we can’t fellowship down here, we can’t fellowship in heaven.”

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