SANDPOINT – Women of faith will gather Friday and Saturday in Sandpoint’s Panida Theater to seek their full potential through biblical teachings and spiritual inspiration during the Breaking Free Christian Women’s Conference.
The theme of “breaking free” will be the basis for music, biblical teachings and personal stories told by five main speakers.
One featured speaker will be Sandpoint resident Mary Koski, an evangelist who speaks to congregations all over the country as well as at women’s retreats. A licensed minister, she does not speak with a prepared script as many preachers do on Sunday mornings.
“I minister from my heart,” said Koski.
Koski said she broke free more than 30 years ago on the streets of Seattle. She was using drugs and alcohol and living a “hippie” lifestyle while working as a nurse’s aide in a hospital. Through contact with a patient, she contracted a staphylococcus infection. She became ill and was hospitalized for 18 days in the same place where she had helped so many as a nurse’s aide.
When the infection spread to her lungs, nose and throat, Koski was given pills to help her sleep. But instead of helping her, they had an adverse effect, and she became paranoid and delusional, she said.
Convinced people were trying to kill her, Koski told a nurse she had to be released from the hospital. The nurse opened a Bible and started reading to her.
Two days later, Koski’s infection was gone. She was released from the hospital, and for the first time in a long time, she was released from her addiction to drugs and alcohol, Koski said.
“I was set free,” she said.
Since that life-changing experience, Koski has devoted her life to God and has counseled families, women and teens.
She has taken in young people who, like herself many years before, are addicted to alcohol or drugs. Koski talks to them about a life with God.
Friday night, the conference will highlight nationally known recording artist Jami Smith, with Sandpoint’s First Christian Church worship team opening for Smith.
Saturday, Koski will join Smith, Karol Rich, Patti Wilmot and Rhonda Fischer for a day of inspirational discussions.
The conference is a first for Sandpoint, and it is receiving a great deal of media attention. Christian radio station KMBI will broadcast the entire conference to its listeners in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Canada.
“The fact that KMBI wishes to become a part of this has literally taken this conference outside of Sandpoint and into the reach of literally thousands of women who may not otherwise have the chance to attend,” said organizer Suzanne Tugman-Engel.
Event organizers say they are looking forward to bringing together women of all backgrounds and denominations.
“Together, we can learn so much more than we can if we remain divided,” said Tugman-Engel. “I hope some of us will walk away (from the conference) more tolerant of one another and others will realize there is more to their lives than what they see in front of them.”
Tickets cost $45 and include admission to both Friday’s and Saturday’s events. Proceeds will be donated to the community. Organizations benefiting from the event are Bonner Community Hospice; Kinderhaven, a local foster home for abused and neglected children; Crisis Pregnancy Center; and Community Cancer Services, a local resource and information center for cancer patients and their families.
“By giving back to these various organizations,” said Tugman-Engel, “we become a part of something bigger. We take what has been given to us and we give it back out again.”
As for Koski, she says she hopes the conference will touch women the way a nurse in a Seattle hospital changed her life more than 30 years ago.