After Wyoming governor Mark Gordon issued an order limiting gatherings of 10 or less in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaders of Paradise Valley Christian Church’s Embrace Grace program made use of technology and developed creative ideas to continue interacting with the women they serve.
Ironically, the program experienced its largest number of participants – 11 – plus two leaders. Since then, two women have dropped from the Casper, Wyoming, program, but nine have been devoted to attending, including taking part in make-up sessions as the leaders sought to re-adjust the lessons to compliment the technology of Zoom meetings.
“One girl didn’t have WiFi for a while,” said co-leader Joy Leist. “We did Facetime with her. That shows how dedicated she’s been.”
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The woman has since gotten free WiFi, as many companies now provide such service with many American students attending school online and businesses having workers telecommute.
Another participant experienced housing issues and had to move in with a friend. She, too, has remained faithful to the program, which meets weekly on Wednesday nights.
Blessing from a distance
In addition to implementing on-line meetings, Leist and her co-leader, Jenn Steffenhagen, are developing innovative ideas to bless the nine women while maintaining the social distancing recommended by health officials.
For example, they recently gathered gently used maternity and baby clothes. This is a project usually conducted through Embrace Grace and the women “shop” when they gather for a session.
However, because they can’t congregate as a group, Leist and Steffenhagen took time to learn what sizes the women wore and asked church members and former Embrace Grace participants for donations.
“We had a stockpile (of clothing),” Steffenhagen said.
They bagged the items, and Steffenhagen dropped off the materials on the front porch of each of the nine women’s homes.
Texts of gratitude flooded her phone.
One read, “I’m literally crying. Thank you. I’m so very grateful for God putting us all in each other’s lives and the endless blessings coming from this.”
Many of the nine women either have experienced a cut in their work hours or have completely lost their jobs. One of them fell ill and experienced quarantine for two weeks, thereby experiencing a loss in work hours and wages.
“We took groceries and diapers to her house because she was very concerned about not having money for food,” Steffenhagen said.
Paradise Valley Christian Church has a food pantry, so some food was given to the women from the pantry plus “the church gave some cash for fresh food,” Steffenhagen said. She and Leist also contributed to be able to provide additional fresh foods.
“It’s fun to see we can still do this,” Leist said.
Adapting to running a program amid COVID-19 calls for creative ideas.
The Casper Embrace Grace program has a Facebook page in which not only current participants and leaders engage, but also women who are previous ‘blooms,’ the term used for Embrace Grace members. Their contact with each other has also been helpful for the women during the pandemic, materially and personally.
“We’re seeing past blooms giving to current blooms,” Steffenhagen said. “They all interact on our Facebook page, offering words of encouragement and helping with the clothing drive.”
Some encouragement also comes through as the leaders talk to current blooms about faith.
Embrace Grace is an international program that serves women in unplanned pregnancy, connecting them with a church for support and to nurture a relationship between them and God. Several of the Casper blooms already have a faith background and “are learning to trust Him more,” said Steffenhagen.
In fact, during Easter weekend, she received this text from one of them:
I know this is random, but I just kind of wanted to talk about how much I’ve felt God today. I spoke with him on Friday; I told him how stressed I’ve been and how I just needed his help to stay calm and let him do his work. Today, he really showed me how he is always there for me regardless of how I am feeling in that moment. He has taken care of all my worries for now and I feel his hand on my shoulders. I really am grateful for Embrace Grace for showing me how to give in to his grace and love; it really has changed me.
The spring Embrace Grace program in Casper is more than half-way finished. Part of this loving adventure involves providing a baby shower for the blooms. Usually the church chooses a woman’s name from a white board, however, the congregation isn’t convening due to the coronavirus pandemic.
So, another innovative idea was born – having groups of families ‘sponsor’ a bloom.
Leist is setting up a ‘wish list’ on Amazon for the nine women, creating a type of baby shower registry of what each woman needs and wants for her baby.
“Usually 18 to 24 gifts are given to each bloom,” Steffenhagen said. “We’re considering having the groups who purchase the items make a parade to the bloom’s house and leave the baby shower gifts in her car or on the porch for social distancing purposes.”
“We’re still figuring things out,” Leist said.
The same is true for Princess Day, in which the women are pampered with hair, makeup, massage, manicures and pedicures.
“We may have to postpone that until summer,” said Steffenhagen. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
Many governors, including Wyoming’s Gordon, are considering easing COVID-19 restrictions. With the uncertainty, Leist and Steffenhagen are taking things day by day and week by week.
“The Lord shows up – we just have to trust,” Leist said.
“Embrace Grace is all about trust,” Steffenhagen said. “The Lord directs our steps – it’s all about being adaptable and flexible.”