SHELBY TOWNSHIP, Mich.—Launching an innovative ministry center in metro Detroit has been quite a rollercoaster ride for Sue Hodnett and her volunteer ministry team.
Initially opened in January in a small, tidy storefront in Shelby Township, the center is designed “to make a difference in the lives of women,” explained Hodnett, executive director of Michigan Woman’s Missionary Union.
Ministry priorities include group Bible studies, one-on-one counseling and mentoring sessions, a “Mission Friends with Mom” pilot project and a food bank partnership.
When the coronavirus crisis struck, the ministry center closed its doors just six weeks after starting up. While the ministry efforts coordinated by Michigan WMU continue, much of the center’s work shifted to online video conferences.
Hodnett, who also leads Michigan Baptists’ women’s ministry emphasis, said she anticipates reopening the ministry center sometime this summer as sheltering restrictions gradually are lifted.
“I don’t know what God’s plan is for the ministry,” she said, but insisted her primary goal is “to follow through on the doors that he’s opened so far.”
“Our passion is to come alongside women and help them, meet them where they’re at, help them find Christ if they don’t already know him, just be there to encourage them,” Hodnett emphasized. “We know that if we touch the life of a woman, most of the time we’re touching the life of a whole family.”
‘Hopes and dreams’
The idea for the ministry center unfolded last year as the Baptist State Convention of Michigan relocated to smaller facilities. With the option of working remotely, Hodnett proposed the ministry center as an alternative to working from a home office. Her vision was to operate a site that would meet community needs in the area while also serving as a ministry model for local churches and missions groups.
“My hopes and dreams are so much smaller than God’s hopes and dreams,” Hodnett said. “Last year, when I started this, I’m thinking: ‘Why am I doing this? Why don’t I just do a small office at home?’ But I felt God saying: ‘I want you to do this. There’s a reason for it.’
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“Then when it got closed down and we had to shut the doors, it’s like, ‘OK, maybe this isn’t what we were supposed to do.’ But as we go through the social distancing, it’s become so much clearer why we need that center, why we need to be there one-on-one to be able to hug our sister when she’s hurting, to just have our door open so that they can come in whenever they need that help.”
Mobilizing a team of 50 trained volunteers throughout the state, “we have regional leaders and then we have specialty leaders like our encouragement team leader or our Christian Women’s Job Corps leader,” Hodnett said.
Working in close partnership, Michigan WMU and women’s ministry team members offer counseling and coaching in such strategic areas as addiction care, abortion alternatives, adoption and foster care, marriage enrichment, veteran ministry care and divorce care.
As she began praying about launching the ministry center, “I didn’t know what it would look like,” Hodnett recounted. “I just knew that I had a passion to want to help women.”
She said pressing questions that immediately surfaced included: “How do we get to the soul? How do we help these ladies?”
Amid the pandemic-induced shutdown, Hodnett pointed to several lessons learned.
“One thing is women have a real love and craving for the word (of God). When we started offering Bible studies at times that they could attend from their homes, we have seen a large increase in the number of women that wanted to be in life groups in studying the Bible,” she said. “That was enlightening and encouraging.”
By incorporating something as practical as scheduling evening video calls after younger children’s typical bedtimes, they quickly found that “we were able to get more people involved in the call,” she noted.
“When they have time to study their Bible, it changes them spiritually. You start to hear their passion. You start to hear their heart. It’s given them time with the Lord that they didn’t normally have because their lives were so busy.
She candidly added, “Another thing that we found is our women’s ministry leaders get depressed, too.
“Many have gotten tired. Many have gotten anxious. But as we talk through that, we’re able to help each other. We are learning that we need to encourage the encouragers, to fill the ones who are filling others.”
Mission Friends with Mom
Among the ministries temporarily sidelined is the Mission Friends with Mom program, designed to give parents hands-on resources to teach their preschoolers about missions and ministry both in a group setting and at home.
A trial run last fall at Memorial Baptist Child Care Center in nearby Sterling Heights proved educational, entertaining and engaging for the kids involved, but COVID-19 has put those plans on hold until at least September.
Additionally, depending on when schools reopen in metro Detroit, the center’s afterschool homework program may transition to an education support program staffed by retired teachers and other volunteers. The focus could shift to assisting students with school assignments while helping equip parents to teach at home.
Even with the recent challenges and setbacks, Herb Harbaugh, longtime pastor of Memorial Baptist Church, said he is excited about the opportunity to partner with Michigan WMU through the ministry center.
“It’s exciting to have this ministry presence here so close to our church and our community,” he said.
As the ministry center reopens and expands its ministry impact, he added, “We’ll be able to not only partner together, praying for them, working with them, but out of this, lives are going to be touched and changed.”
Seeking to move beyond the upheaval of recent months, “one of my favorite ministries is the prayer ministry,” Hodnett said. “When you go out and you’re praying, you start to see people the way that Jesus sees them and you start to see what the needs are. God begins to tell you what you can do to meet those needs.”
And there’s no question that Hodnett is anxious to meet those needs in person once again.
“I can’t wait,” she declared. “That passion doesn’t go away. I need to be about what God has placed on my heart.”