By JoAnn Zajicek, Director at the Center for Women and Children
During monthly staff meetings at UGM's Center for Women and Children, team members each take a turn leading a devotion inspired by one of the Mission's ten core values. Our values range from God-dependence to being good stewards of the Lord's resources. These devotions are constant reminders of the guiding principles we want to demonstrate and develop. We cannot teach or encourage these fundamental concepts to the women we serve if we are not willing to live them out in our own lives. It is frequently said at the Center: "UGM is an even playing field." Residents, staff and volunteers alike are in process of growing in the character of Christ.
Reflecting on my own personal journey at the Mission, I have come to realize that for me, God-dependence is the first and most essential of our values. All the others emerge from our complete reliance and dependence on God.
I have had the honor of being the first director of the Center, which opened its doors to women and their children almost six years ago, September 2012. On the day of the grand opening, I remember sitting in my new office and feeling the enormity of the task before me. From the beginning, my reliance on the Lord has been vital, and I require His wisdom while making difficult decisions every day. We have paused our meetings countless times in order to ask God for His leading. I am grateful to say that He continually leads and guides our team.
It has been quite a journey getting the Center up and running, establishing program components, recruiting and training staff and volunteers, and most importantly, helping hurting and broken women to be set free from homelessness, addiction and unhealthy lifestyle choices. The team and I have the amazing opportunity to partner with God in this process, but I am confident that it is God and God alone who changes hearts and brings true life-transformation. We may provide counseling, life skills, vocational training and educational classes but ultimately, a woman’s life is changed when she discovers a deep and profound relationship with God herself.
All the elements of our LIFE (Living in Freedom Every day) Recovery program are beneficial, but the most important component we can teach women is how to be God-dependent. For years, they have known co-dependent relationships and self-destructive behavior. Addiction is frequently synonymous with lying, stealing, manipulating and self-centered behavior. God-dependence is one of the most challenging practices we can impart. Trust can be difficult for our women. Power and control is usually the only thing they have left. For many, to trust and rely on God feels too vulnerable. It is like jumping off a cliff without a parachute. I find that the greatest ways we can influence them is to be wholly dependent on God ourselves, seeking Him in every area of our own personal lives.
Recently, I had an enlightening conversation with a resident. She shared that ours’ is the eighth recovery center she has entered. I asked her to explain the difference between this program and all the others. Without hesitation, she replied that it was the God component. This resident is learning to trust God for the first time in her life, inviting Him into the center of all of life’s circumstances, not just when she runs out of other options. Nothing else has worked for her, and she realizes that without God's guidance, her life is a mess.
In June, at our annual graduation ceremony, 33 men and women were honored for completing UGM's 18-24 month recovery program. As I stood on the platform handing out plaques, representing the Center, I reflected on each woman's journey in the program, remembering their individual stories and challenges. There had been times that I honestly wondered if these women would make it to graduation—the process can be demanding and arduous. As the videos played, encapsulating the stories of each individual’s journey, the majority of the graduates said that God and God alone changed their lives. They were no longer hopeless, lost, and without purpose. I find it is the pinnacle of the year for me as I get to continually witness the faithfulness of God.
When I go home at the end of an especially hard day, concerned about a certain woman or child, those moments have provided a tremendous sense of comfort. As we rely on and trust God, lives are being changed.
Psalm 146: 5-9
“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God...Who keeps faith forever, who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down...He upholds the widow and the fatherless.”
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