News Articles

Job training changes women’s lives

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Maybe there are cries of desperation, internal and inaudible. Maybe there is shame over actions, inactions or wrong decisions far too painful to discuss. Maybe there are miscellaneous hard times such as health or financial problems.

Whatever the reasons, there are those who feel forgotten, unloved and unfit for God’s use. These are the people Marlaina Sheppard wants to reach, particularly through the Christian Women’s Job Corps ministry at the Shepherd’s Door center in Spartanburg, S.C.

“They needed to understand that no matter your background, God can still use you,” Sheppard said, explaining how she and her husband Leroy decided to begin the ministry center.

When Marlaina petitioned God for direction on how to help children in need, she said God kept telling her to help their mothers. So when they opened Shepherd’s Door in 2004, Marlaina also began a CWJC ministry.

Like other CWJC programs around the country, participants can receive training in budgeting, résumé writing, marriage, parenting, interview skills, Bible study, etiquette, proper dress, health and a host of other areas. Men can receive such training as well through the center’s Christian Men’s Job Corps program.

The assistance offered through CWJC and CMJC, and even the formation of the ministries themselves, did not come without a great deal of planning. In 1994, national and state Woman’s Missionary Union staff and volunteers met in Dallas to develop a program to address the needs of impoverished women.

After several additional meetings and a pilot run, 1997 marked the official launch of CWJC. In 2004, CMJC was formed. The ministries seek to model the behavior of Christ as He met emotional, physical and spiritual needs. The leaders want to share God’s compassion with those who are hurting — people like Debra Bush.

Bush was coming out of drug and alcohol addiction when she met Sheppard at an outpatient clinic and immediately signed up for CWJC. Bush said she was looking for accountability.

“[I was] looking for something to fill my time — Christian and positive people to be in my life,” Bush said.

Now she is a 2007 graduate of CWJC, is employed and is an active volunteer at Shepherd’s Door. A woman who declared that she “was never really missions minded” is now “doing things for the Lord,” whether through song or teaching women’s Bible study.

Bush said she drew strength from the Christian women she met through CWJC.

“When I talked with them about my concerns, I knew they would pray about those concerns,” she said.

Sheppard works with about 20 women who are enrolled in CWJC. Each participant is paired with a mentor and participates in Bible study and other learning opportunities.

Because many CWJC participants, like Bush, are mothers, children of participants often go with them to the training site. While CWJC is a holistic ministry that addresses the spiritual needs of the mothers and their children, few are as intentional in their approach to children’s missions with CWJC children as the Sheppards.

Marlaina, a former Girls in Action teacher, and Leroy, a former Royal Ambassadors teacher, soon had approximately 65 children of CWJC participants engaged in age-level missions education. In nine months, that number grew to an average of 95 participants as the Sheppards decided to include children from communities in the Spartanburg area in the programs too. Now, months later, the group consists of 150 children.

The center has four GA and Children in Action groups; two Acteens, Youth on Mission and Mission Friends groups; and one Women on Mission group. They also moved to a new location, Mount Sinai Baptist Church in Spartanburg. The center now has access to a sanctuary, gym and other amenities not accessible in their previous location.

“It’s been great,” Marlaina said. “Before, we had to feed people a group at a time. Now, everyone can have dinner together.” Shepherd’s Door feeds CWJC participants and their children at the center each week.

And while some of the children have little or no experience in church, missions or religion of any sort, there are other children, such as some from the Laotian community, who come from Buddhist homes.

“They see the love we have for the kids, and that outweighs any hesitation they have about Christianity,” Marlaina said, explaining how Buddhist parents of children in the program feel about their kids immersing themselves in Christian missions.

And that love for the kids and for teaching them about Christ is something the Sheppards want to teach their four children.

“Our kids are totally involved in everything we do,” Marlaina said. In fact, 9-year-old Kayla Sheppard helped lead another 9-year-old girl to Christ.

As the little Laotian girl from a Buddhist background struggled between God’s call to Christianity and fear that her father would be angry with her, it was Kayla who helped her pray to receive Christ. “I felt bad for her because she was afraid to tell her dad,” Kayla said. Despite apprehensions, the young Buddhist girl decided to follow Jesus. Kayla wanted her new friend to go home and tell her mother, father and brother about Christ. Apparently, the little girl did just that.

Later, when she and her family had to move, her father called Leroy Sheppard for recommendations for a Laotian church in their new town because their daughter enjoyed it so much.

For Kayla, helping another person become a Christian is just a regular part of being a believer.

“I love God, and I want to serve Him as well as I can,” Kayla said. “I think that if He went through that much suffering, I should do something to help Him.”

Timothy Miller, Debra Bush’s son, also is active in missions. The 15-year-old probably would not have been a part of the CWJC program for children and youth if not for his mother’s involvement. Miller came to know Christ through the program three years ago and now shares his relationship with Christ with other youth.

Miller has shown such leadership that he won the center’s Timothy award for leadership and an award for participating in the youth mentoring program.

In addition to turning his day over to God every morning before school, Miller said the missions ministry helps keep him focused on Christ and makes him want to go to church even more. He also was able to find a summer job through working with the children’s missions programs that the Sheppards offer.

Miller said he and his mother have always been close, but working in missions together helped them grow closer.

“It gives us an open door to share our relationship with Christ with each other,” Bush said.

Chris Hughes, 14, and Candy Panthekeo, 15 — two other youth seeking to change their lives and communities for Christ — were recognized by the center as last year’s recipients of the youth of the year award.

Marlaina said Hughes has shown amazing growth since becoming a Christian and becoming involved with the program. She said Pathekeo, who is from a Buddhist family, is excited to share her faith and has been working with a missionary to minister to children in other communities. Sheppard noted that with the award they look for progress, not perfection.

“Leroy and I have always been passionate about missions education,” Marlaina said. “We wanted the people we work with to know it does not matter how much money you have or what streets you come from — you can still be a missionary and share God’s love with others.”
Stephanie J. Blackmon writes for Woman’s Missionary Union. For more information, visit www.wmu.com.

    About the Author

  • Stephanie J. Blackmon