Gail Veenema, Parenting Instructor and Administrative Assistant
A missionary friend once said that Christians don’t retire, they just retread, so as I prepared to retire at the end of 2014, I wondered where God would lead me to serve Him in retirement. Because family is something I am passionate about, the ministry of Branches is one that I have prayed for since it began many years ago as Lifeway. When I received an invitation to attend a volunteer training session in March of 2015, I knew that God was leading me to take a more active part in this ministry. Then old and familiar fears set in. Would I be good enough?? Am I too old to connect with young moms??
My daughter has a saying on her refrigerator “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called” and similarly in 1Thessalonians 5:24 Paul says “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it”. God promised to provide all that I needed for this next chapter in my life. The training program at Branches was thorough and prepared me to become a parenting instructor. Before too long, I was ready to meet with a client. This was yet another opportunity to see God use the experiences He allowed in my life to bring glory to Him. Growing up with an alcoholic father was hard, but it provided ways to connect with the women who came into the center. Was I scared? Yes! Was this new? Yes! Was God faithful? Yes! There were times when my desire to “do it right” got in the way of my trusting God to work. Fear is a liar! When I allow fear in, I take my eyes off of Jesus and focus on the waves and challenges before me and don’t rely on His strength.
There was a day when a woman came in requesting a pregnancy test, an opportunity to explain her options and provide accurate information for her to make a decision about the pregnancy. It’s not as simple as, give her the test and she gets the results. Fear filled me and I felt inadequate—would I say the right thing…what if I messed this up? Unfortunately, fear won and I called upon the director to assist. In the midst of the appointment, God reminded me that I was indeed equipped for that appointment because of His faithfulness (it’s not about me, it’s all about Him). But, just as Jesus held out His hand to Peter in the waves as he began to sink, He holds His hand out to me each and every day. I am still learning to let go and remember to trust God’s provision.
For me personally, it’s hard to put into words what serving as a volunteer has meant to me. One client experienced the death of her newborn and then the death of her husband soon after. Talk about not knowing what to say or how to help. During this time she said that she knew each of us at the center was there for her and she could stop in and talk and have us pray with her. I have discovered that even though I may not have experienced what my clients have, God gives me the words to say as I build relationships with them. Many of them have not had positive examples in their lives and at Branches we provide love, encouragement, support and instruction. Whenever I have asked a client if I can pray with them, they have said yes. I have had the privilege of sharing my story of learning to see God as a loving father—challenging because my own father did not demonstrate love towards me. What a blessing to be able to let a woman know that she is loved and valued by God when she may never have experienced that kind of love in her life.
When a client chooses life for her baby, we have the opportunity to talk about new life in Christ as He provides the opening. So I find that I am not so very different from the women who come into the center. Yes our life experiences differ greatly, but we all want to know that we are loved and valued. We can provide hope when life seems hopeless. I don’t have the answers to all their struggles, but I can be there for them and support them. My life is full.
Over these 5 years, God has grown the ministry to new levels and brought change, and I find that God’s changes are always good! When I began, there were only 3 volunteers, now we have many more. God provided Margie as our new Client Services Manager and I know that he will provide our next Executive Director. God continues to grow me—so thankful for that!! He is faithful! I am blessed!