ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–According to the Gospels, the Virgin Mary was overwhelmed in hearing from the Lord’s messenger that she was going to give birth to a son. She knew she possibly would have to raise her child as a single mother. Where did she turn for help?
According to Diane Strack, author of “New Start 4 Single Moms,” Mary “ran to find a godly woman, and stayed there 12 weeks, growing, learning, becoming emotionally prepared for life ahead.”
Strack designed a ministry that follows the pattern of Mary’s sojourn with Elizabeth. New Start is a 12-week program that has restored confidence and hope in dozens of divorced, single or never-married mothers at First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla. It is “the centerpiece of our single parent ministry,” said Doug Dees, adult development pastor.
Single-parent ministry is a need for more than 10 million single-mother families in the United States, a number that has more than tripled since 1970. Almost one fourth of America’s children live in mothers-only homes, according to Strack.
“All of these statistics force us to re-examine James 1:27 and to understand that we have a new definition of ‘widows and orphans’ in our nation today,” Strack said.
Diane Strack, wife of the founder of Student Leadership University, Jay Strack, became burdened for single mothers as her husband of 34 years told of the pain he endured as a child struggling through his mother’s six broken marriages and relationships.
“He spoke of the abuse his mom endured, of the embarrassment he felt as a child, of the abandonment he felt, and the resulting emotional damage,” she said. “Every time he shared, I thought, ‘I wish someone had reached out to his mother. It would have made such a difference.’”
Diane Strack began noticing -– and praying for –- single mothers she observed both in and outside of church.
“The burden was so overwhelming that I would go up to perfect strangers and tell them I was praying for them,” she said.
She prayed more than six months for a lady she saw in McDonald’s. Strack walked into the church counseling room to find the woman “praying to receive Christ. I ran up to her and hugged her and listened to the painful story of this single mom. I knew that day that a hug and a bit of encouragement were just not enough.”
With the support of her church staff and now retired Pastor Jim Henry, Strack began putting together curriculum for a support group for single mothers. To help formulate the study, she enlisted the help of women trained in crisis and addiction counseling, financial planning and organizing. The first New Start 4 Single Moms group began four years ago at Strack’s home church. The course was published in 2005, and is currently in use in about 200 churches in the U.S.
While focusing on financial planning, personal spiritual growth, emotional healing for both mothers and children and setting goals, the single mothers are encouraged and supported by mentors who sometimes are themselves alumnae of New Start. These relationships form the bedrock of the ministry.
“No doubt you could pick up our workbook, watch the videos and be impacted,” Strack said. “But there is no substitute for listening, compassion and relationships. Something wonderful happens in the hearts of both the moms and mentors when they pray and work through adversity, challenges and blessings.”
In one-on-one relationships with mentors, the single mothers –- most of whom never expected to be raising children alone –- will tell of pressing needs in their homes. New Start works with Dress for Success, food banks and counseling centers in providing immediate assistance.
Margaret Yee, once a New Start student and now a ministry facilitator, told the Florida Baptist Witness the course content is “right on target,” but the “loving support of women who love like God loves is crucial.”
Yee became involved in the ministry when her husband of 12 years decided to end their marriage and she was left to raise three boys -– ages five, three and two months –- as a single mother. She described that time of her life as “tumultuous” and said she doubted she would survive the ordeal.
“Nothing in my life had been as difficult as going through the loss and death of my family unit,” she said. “It was during that time that God showed me that He could repair the brokenness that I felt in my once stable home.”
Yee found the New Start sessions invaluable.
“Every single lesson was what God wanted me to hear,” she said. “This material gave me my dignity back [and helped me] to walk closer to God, to raise the children in the light of the Lord, and focus on His up-and-coming blessings.”
A family physician in Davenport, Yee currently leads the New Start group at First Baptist in Orlando every Wednesday night from 6-8 p.m. Two years after her divorce, she married Kevin Vankorlaar, an Orlando family therapist.
“God has been great to me, granting me the opportunity to be a mother of three beautiful happy boys, and at the same time giving me the opportunity to help people through illness. He certainly has blessed me beyond measure.”
Sylvia Beltre attended FBC Orlando’s New Start group at the invitation of a friend. She told the Florida Baptist Witness she was not attending church, but knew she needed help.
“So I decided to go,” Beltre said. “I said to myself, ‘What do I have to lose?’”
Beltre was assigned mentor Rebecca Mellen, whom Beltre praises for “being there for me, having the courage and patience to sit with me for 12 weeks and listen to my problems, [and for] crying with me and sharing her love and kindness.”
Although Beltre “came in every week looking lovely in a suit and acting like all was fine in her life,” Mellen discovered Beltre was living in an apartment with no furniture after her husband moved and took everything. She and her children had a bed, two plates and one cooking pan. Mellen, an interior designer, gathered furniture from clients and purchased accessories. While Beltre was at work one day, Mellen furnished and decorated her home.
“Wonderful things started happening to me and I thought it was just good luck or pure coincidence, but then I realized it was because I had found Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and He was doing all kinds of miracles in my life,” Beltre said.
Beltre, who calls herself “a new woman,” now ministers to others in her same situation. She moved to El Paso, Texas, to be near family and now leads a New Start 4 Single Moms at her church there.
“New Start has been a blessing to me, to the congregation and an answered prayer for our church here, but most of all, a victory for God,” she said.
For information on New Start 4 Single Moms, call 407-514-4479, or go to www.newstart4moms.org.