This story was adapted from Pastor Ken Douma’s presentation at the Day of Encouragement in Edmonton, AB on Saturday, November 4, 2017. Pastor Ken is the lead pastor at Edson Peers CRC*, in Edson, AB.
A couple of years ago, Pastor Ken got a phone call from Natalie Walker, Director of the West Yellowhead Pregnancy Care Centre (WYPCC). Natalie shared that the Centre was in serious financial trouble as a grant that they counted on for a good portion of their budget had fallen through due to a change in eligibility requirements. On top of that, the local economy had crashed and their donations were way down. They had just had an emergency Board Meeting and let go one of their full-time staff and reduced their Hinton office to be open by appointment only. They had $100.00 in the bank. The future of the Centre was very much up in the air. Ken’s church, Edson-Peers CRC, had always financially supported the Centre, but they needed something more than the usual support. This is when they turned to Diaconal Ministries Canada (DMC). Ken and Natalie spoke to Rachel Vroege, the Regional Ministry Developer for Western Canada, and asked if DMC’s Operation Manna (OM) Program would be able to help them out. Rachel encouraged them to submit an application to the OM Program and WYPCC was approved as an OM Partner in 2017.
The purpose of the OM Application was not just to get the Centre back on its feet financially. There was a desire to expand the ministry of the Centre to include not just ministering to those who found themselves with an unplanned pregnancy, but to go deeper. Unplanned pregnancies are typically a symptom of a much deeper problem that has often been ignored or put aside. Unfortunately, almost all of the clients at the Centre have a history of sexual abuse of some kind. So part of the OM Application was to receive help and funding to start up a “Steps to Sexual Healing” (SSH) program, a program created by Dr. Doug Weiss. Natalie believed that by being able to offer this program to their past, current, and future clients, the Centre would be able to not only assist in a client’s crisis pregnancy, but also help them find healing and wholeness. The SSH program is in its early stages but is already being used by some clients. The WYPCC hopes it will be something that can be used in the greater community, including the church communities, as well.
The Centre was also seeking guidance to strengthen their relationship with the Edson-Peers Church in order to increase ownership of this ministry. The church had always been very supportive, but primarily in a “hand’s off” way. More than just doling out grant money, the OM Program offers coaching and consultation to our partners. Through this partnership with OM, one tangible way their relationship has been reinforced is that one of the church’s Deacons has now joined the Board at WYPCC.
In order to help the Centre reach the broader community, the church hosted an evening for area churches called “The Talk” to help parents know how to talk to their kids about sexuality and the various issues surrounding it. During this evening, Natalie gave a shortened version of what she presents to local High Schools and area pastors had a panel discussion in which questions by those in attendance were answered. The feedback was good and there is hopes that they can do this again soon and go more into depth on some of the issues of sexual healing. Another area the church is exploring is offering pre-natal classes. Most clients do not take the classes offered in the community because of a lack of support and for fear of being judged. The church is hoping that a couple of their own members who are nurses will be able to connect with Natalie and offer some assistance in this area as well.
While there is much to celebrate, the reality is that there are many challenges facing the Centre and the Edson-Peers Church as they seek to bring healing and wholeness in the area of sexuality and unplanned pregnancy. There is often shame surrounding issues of sexuality and it can be incredibly difficult to break the silence and empower people to be vulnerable. This can be especially true within church communities: statistics tell us that the problems facing our culture are just as real inside the church, so having the SSH Program within the church setting as well would benefit many.
Pastor Ken was also able to share something wonderful that had recently developed. Typically, faith-based organizations like WYPCC get a lukewarm reception from government agencies and social workers at best. However, God has used Natalie to break down many of those barriers and some local social workers have actually started sending clients to her at the Centre. These social workers are even requiring some of their clients to meet with Natalie and her volunteers and go through the programs the Centre offers in order for them to be allowed to keep their children(!!). While this has increased Natalie and her team’s workload, it has been such a blessing to those clients. Praise God!
Here are 2 more stories that Natalie sent to Pastor Ken about people she has been able to help. These stories clearly communicate how the OM Program has impacted this ministry:
One of my clients had a late term abortion. She was approaching her third trimester of pregnancy and decided that she couldn’t do it – she simply could not bring a child into such a horrible world. She decided to terminate the pregnancy at the end of the sixth month of gestation as a gift to her child. When I asked why she saw this as a gift she said that the world was cruel. She had a mother who was a heroin addict (always had been) and who would prostitute my client to men since she was four years old in order to pay for the drugs. She said she wasn’t angry at her mom, that she understood, being an addict herself, what heroin can make you do. My client didn’t want to choose the same thing for her baby and couldn’t be certain that she wouldn’t when she was using. By the time this client came to see us she was pregnant for the second time. Now my client had been clean from drug-use for several months and was ready to carry this baby to term. I strongly suggested she get professional help as this was deep-rooted trauma. I told her all that we could do was listen and that our prenatal program didn’t address all of the hurt that she had experienced. I had really wished then that we had at least something to offer her since she refused to see a professional. She loved our office, there was always a hot drink and warm environment waiting for her. We didn’t judge her; we just talked about pregnancy and she loved it. I’m hoping to get this client back into our office for the Steps to Sexual Health program. It’s exactly what we needed at the time and I’m so thankful we have it now – not just for extreme cases but for everyone who comes to us. Not all of our clients have been sex-trafficked but nearly all of them have been abused. It’s devastating, and if Jesus came to heal the sick and wounded, we the church need to be leading the charge in delivering His hope and light into this unspeakable darkness.
Another one of my clients came from the Philippines for work. She would clean hotel rooms every day at one of the busiest hotels in town. One night she was sexually assaulted at the hotel; apparently a regular occurrence among the Filipino workers. She came to our Centre completely devastated from the rape and also pregnant. Through many meetings at our office she decided that she would carry her baby to term and to parent. I had the privilege of being called to meet her at the hospital shortly after the baby was born and spend the morning with her. She named her daughter Irish, which in Filipino means “Gift from God.” I still see my client and her daughter around town. Every time she stops me and tells her daughter the same thing: “This is Miss Natalie; she is a very special friend of ours” and her daughter always wraps her arms around my neck and squeezes tightly. God is so good! The West Yellowhead Pregnancy Care Centre is a faith-based ministry: a faith-based ministry where the unchurched love to come. What an opportunity to shine a little bit of God’s light into the darkest places of the earth.
According to Pastor Ken, “the Centre is in a much better place than it was the day that Natalie called me, in part because of the support received through Operation Manna. They have recently been able to hire a new staff person ½ time to once again open up the Hinton office for drop-in clients which is a huge part of their ministry. We are excited about how God will use the Centre and how He will use us as a church to be involved.” Pastor Ken shared how grateful he was for the OM Program as it is enabling his church to come alongside this very worthwhile ministry. The OM Program has helped the Edson Peers Church community and the WYPCC form a partnership that will be a blessing to all as they continue to work together!
Praise God that the OM Program has been blessed by so many supporting churches across Canada so that it can be a blessing to those who need it most. Ministries like the WYPCC would simply not exist without the support of many who want to know Christ and make Him known; in their own communities and beyond!