By Nancy Karpenske
It’s what the church is supposed to be doing.
It takes longer than you think.
Their backgrounds and situations are not all similar.
Their problems are large and expensive.
Their hurts are deep.
Their children are their priority.
Many have little knowledge of God’s plans for marriage and family.
Many have little grasp of God’s love and grace.
Many have been turned away from their church, either because the small church can’t meet their financial needs or because that church punishes those who get divorced.
Many have a hard exterior that covers a wounded heart.
Many have little education and limited job skills.
Many were married homemakers raising teenagers, and suddenly found themselves struggling to raise children alone without any assistance from the ex-husband.
Five years ago our church (LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, Colorado) started a 10-week program called Surviving and Thriving as a Single Mom. The components include dinner for the moms, child care and pizza for the kids, relationships with godly, compassionate mentors who have been single moms, and an education component covering relevant subjects, such as: budgeting, solo parenting, forgiveness, dealing with anger, freezer meals, sexual purity, communication skills, getting a plan for your education, and boundaries. We purposely meet the same night middle and high school students meet. Many of our moms have children in that age bracket.
The program has evolved into a nine-month series. Moms stay with the same group and mentor for a year. The mentor guides discussion after a presentation and prays for the prayer requests. Each week one mentor gives her testimony about how God provided for her during the crisis times of being a single mom.
The whole church family gets involved in helping.
• Small groups volunteer to prepare and serve the weekly meals. They are currently cooking for about 60, which includes 40-50 moms and 15 mentors.
• Men’s ministry sponsors a quarterly car clinic. The men conduct safety checks and change the oil. They follow up and repair the more serious problems. They also raise funds to finance the repairs. A car donation program has emerged.
• School clothing, along with new shoes, backpacks, and school supplies are donated and distributed in August.
• At Christmas, church and community families, as well as local businesses, adopt single-mom families to provide gifts for kids. They also pay utility bills, buy new tires, or provide grocery cards for moms.
• A nearby warehouse has been turned into The Closet, a store with free clothing, some new, lots gently used. The Closet offers clothes for both moms and children as well as special events at holidays.
• A professional photographer, a former single mom herself, takes photographs of moms and their kids at Christmas and Mother’s Day. She says, “Kids who grow up in single-parent families rarely have family photos. I like to give these kids pictures to treasure.”
• A small-scale “spa day,” where moms can receive massages, manicures, and pedicures, while their kids get free haircuts, has also been sponsored.
• Our church has a Divorce Recovery Program, ministering to many who are reeling from the pain of dissolved marriages. We also have a strong lay counseling program for individuals who need more individual attention.
WHY THEY COME
Women don’t come to learn, but to find acceptance and friends. They come for the home-cooked meal and the chance to eat with other adults. Rarely does anyone come because they perceive it will be financially beneficial (although it can be).
HOW LONG THEY STAY
Many remain in the program for three or more years. If a woman arrives “in crisis,” having just watched her husband leave, or having lost her job or house, she can be in shock and numb during her first several months.
It’s not until the second or even third time through that she starts moving forward. Now we offer two tiers, our traditional “Surviving and Thriving” series, and a Bible study for women who are ready to dig deeper.
WHERE THEY COME FROM
Women come from within our church; some come from other churches that are too small to provide a program. Many come with a friend, but have no church connection.
Some women hear about The Closet from a neighbor or coworker. When they come to shop for clothes they learn about our Wednesday night dinners with free child care. Soon they come for a visit. Then they keep coming.
WHAT ARE THE RESULTS?
Last year three women from the group were baptized. Some are reluctant to attend church. Some are afraid their clothes aren’t good enough or their kids won’t behave properly. We try to pair women up with someone from our group who will meet them in the lobby and sit with them. The ones who are brave enough to try church get an extra dose of love and encouragement.
As the moms begin to get their heads above water, they ask about volunteering and giving back. Some sort clothes at The Closet. Others volunteer in the children’s Sunday school classes.
Our agenda isn’t to grow the size of our church through this ministry. Our goal is to dispense encouragement, lift burdens, provide stability, and break the chain of broken marriages that carry into the next generation. Along the way, we will make disciples.
JESUS AND MORE
We have learned that these women need more than Jesus. Some need a place to live, right away. Some need professional counseling. Some need legal advice. Many need to apply for government assistance.
Many have serious health issues. For some women, the health problem—perhaps a disabled child—brought an end to the marriage. Others have neglected their own health because they have little income and no health insurance. Most of them drive cars that are ready for the junkyard. Many have the same strategy for financial survival: every month leave at least one bill unpaid.
They don’t have time to read or complete homework. Many attend sporadically. Some drop out of sight for months and then come back. Some are still involved in a relationship with a guy. They come to see if they can find strength to leave an unhealthy situation. Some are enrolled in college in hopes of a better career. They come when they can and encourage other women to consider going back to school. Several of our women have graduated and transitioned into more stable jobs.
• We are deciding how to provide more intentional and intensive preparation for the mentors.
These mentors carry a heavy burden of shepherding and praying for the women in their group. Mentors currently use Kitchen Table Counseling by Shelly Volkhardt and the Billy Graham Counseling Handbook as their main resources.
• The No. 1 request from the moms is: “Please find a godly man to mentor my children.” We are serious about assisting with mentors for their kids.
We’re exploring the possibility of recruiting small groups to “adopt” a family. The plan is to introduce a small group to a mom and the children. The couples and individuals in the group will listen, provide some grandparenting, parenting, and friendship. They will model healthy family life and lend a helping hand for repairs. They might take kids fishing or hiking. They might take the family out to dinner or invite the family over for a holiday meal.
The possibilities are endless and unique for each family.
What About Dads?
In our experience, the ratio of single moms to single dads is about 1 to 50. Fewer dads have custody of their children. Fewer of them have low-paying jobs. Fewer of them are willing to ask for help. Our intention is to minister to women, many of whom have been betrayed by men. We don’t plan to mix men into our group. Eventually there may be a similar opportunity to minister to single dads.
Nancy Karpenske, a contributing editor with CHRISTIAN STANDARD, is director of women’s ministry at LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, Colorado.