Twelve years ago, Eloise Benjamin received an important message from God.
She prayed for her nieces, nephews and grandchildren at church one bright Sunday morning when God sent her the message.
He told her to restore hope in children’s lives. He told her to make them believe in faith. But not children in America. Rather, children in Africa.
She became a missionary and youth pastor shortly after.
“God gave me this title for our young people in South Africa,” Benjamin said. “He wanted me to help these children find faith and hope.”
Benjamin, from the Holy Ghost Deliverance Center, 128 Rockland Ave. in Syracuse, traveled to Africa with her sister Alberta Whitaker to speak to children about God.
“We went to schools and preached the word of God,”Benjamin said. “It made me realize how important younger generations are in understanding the word of God.”
Upon returning to America, Benjamin and Whitaker realized that children in their own neighborhood needed guidance. They first started the Joshua Generation Youth Conference in 2001 in Syracuse. They gathered Christian churches from across Central New York and beyond, including Rochester, Utica, Buffalo, Auburn and Canastota. These churches joined together for three days to form activities for families and children that incorporate the word of God.
“We try to accomplish three things on our missions,” Benjamin said. “We try to encourage young people, we try to give them direction and then we talk about them being a child of God and a pride of God.”
This year, Benjamin decided to drop the “youth” in Joshua Generation Youth conference and rename the conference Joshua Generation Family Conference.
“We didn’t just want people to drop their children off,” Benjamin said. “We wanted them to bring their children and spend time with them and have it be a family activity.”
For 12 years, the Embassy Suites hotel in Syracuse has allowed Joshua Generation to host its annual conference. They use a conference room on the first floor. Rows of chairs are aligned in the center of the room in two columns. A podium stands in the front of the room, with three thick Bibles stacked on top of one another, waiting to be read. A sign that reads “Joshua Generation Family Conference” painted in blue hangs from the far left wall, barely clinging on with duct tape.
Twenty-seven adults and 15 children attended the service on Friday, March 29, at the Embassy Suites hotel on Old Collamer Road. A band stood in front of the room and played soft background music while Pastor Charles Motley of the Conquest Christian Center in Canastota delivered a prayer.
“Be willing to trust God in the midst of a storm,” Charles Motley said. “When you ask for it, it shall be given to you.”
His wife, Michelle Motley, is co-pastor at the Conquest Christian Center.
“This conference is a great opportunity for children and families to come together under God and understand the words of the Bible,” Michelle Motley said. “We want our children to be able to have faith in God and believe that anything is possible.”
Pastor Motley spoke with enthusiasm and passion as he preached to the room full of devoted Christians. He spoke of the devil, weapons and fear.
“The devil wants you to think you are a nobody,” Motley said, accentuating each syllable. “But you are a child of God.”
He pointed at the crowd. He stomped his feet. He waved his hands. He grasped the microphone tightly as he yelled each word.
“When Jesus is aboard your ship, no weapon that is built against you can harm you,” Motley said.
The crowd cheered: Amen! Hallelujah! That’s right!
The children in the crowd, ranging from 18 months old to 17 years old, clapped and cheered. Pastor Motley told the children they were the children of God. The older ones nodded their heads in agreement and understanding. The younger ones watched him in quiet curiosity. A short man with a green and black striped suit screaming words into a microphone told them they are the children of God. They just stared.
The band began to play, “I Know My Lord and the Lord Knows Me.” Every person in the room raised their hands as they sang. Some stomped their feet while others stood still. Some closed their eyes. Some cried.
The service continued on Saturday, March 30, as families gathered in the same conference room for morning prayer at 10. Benjamin began the prayer, thanking everyone for attending. A group of children from Sudan, Africa, joined her in singing, “Kumbaya My Lord.”
Workshops were held throughout the day separately for children and parents. Everyone reunited in the conference room for the final evening prayer. Benjamin led the prayer once again. After prayer, she handed the microphone to Jacquesha Whitaker, a singer in the band, to sing one last song. Benjamin sat to the side and watched everyone sing, pray, raise their hands, stomp and feel the word of God. She smiled.
“It makes me happy to see so many families here. I especially want the young people to have direction when they leave this conference,” Benjamin said. “I want them to feel good about themselves. I want families to come together, where they can not only enjoy themselves, but also enjoy the Lord.”