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There are scores of women, and sometimes men, left alone with no resources to raise their children. Individual love and care can make a huge difference in their lives.

"Every night, I would beg God to let me die,” said Doris. She was in her early forties, had a home, two children, and a strong Christian faith. But her husband left her for another woman and she was forced into a smaller house in a less desirable neighbourhood. Her ex-husband provided meagre but regular support. She later realized God didn’t let her die because her children needed her.

For every Doris, there are scores of women – and, sometimes, men – left alone with no resources to raise their children. They don’t own a home, and have no regular financial support. They may have no faith. Some will consider going to a church and may find help, but some won’t either way.

Single parenthood is a hard road. Both personal and systemic, there’s no single “fix.” Children, along with the parents, suffer. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) British Columbia executive director Wayne Bremner declares, “It’s a child poverty issue.” The children may grow up with nothing except poor attitudes toward life and their problems live on.

Programs are offered by MCC, Mennonite Brethren churches, and other Christian groups. They often include practical help such as food hampers, free clothing, and blankets. But programs alone are insufficient. Individual love and care can make or break a single parent. Some of us, just by caring, become literal lifesavers.

Bev, whose husband left home for another woman, was befriended by a Christian at work. “She told me that, biblically, it was okay for me to be divorced. That was very, very powerful for me.” Bev began attending her friend’s church, got involved with Alpha, and found full acceptance and help. “Part of it is not being treated like a single mom.”

By contrast, Barry, a single father, remembers his church experience: “I felt like a leper.” He soldiered on, alone. “No one in my local church was there for me,” he says.

Church-based programs specifically geared to divorced or single parents do exist, including DivorceCare, Boundaries, and parenting courses. But most single parents want and need “normal” friendships and counsel.

That’s why many churches, like Willow Park in Kelowna, British Columbia, take a broad view of needs. WPC, a large church, operates a variety of programs for women. “We have no specific singles ministry,” says Nancy Tardiffe, WPC women’s minister. “We just try to meet peoples’ needs and don’t categorize them.” Single moms constitute a significant group within many of Willow Park’s programs. The church tailors its offerings to the needs of the Kelowna neighbourhoods where the programs are held.

MCC, like many local churches, also offers a variety of programs, and actively seeks out opportunities to minister together with churches like Willow Park. Together with World Vision, MCC is embarking on a new venture, explicitly aimed at a special group of single mothers – immigrant refugees in the Vancouver area. Program director Ron van Wyk says it’s geared to help women achieve self-sufficiency. The long-term goal is to alleviate child poverty.

The program has four main components, mirroring the needs that most churches attempt to address. Nutrition is a major issue, and local church participation is encouraged. Employment training is another, helping women set career directions and gain work experience. This program, for a second time, will include “asset development” – training in financial literacy and household management, including help to start a savings program with a promise of matching dollars for whatever the mothers have been able to put away. The fourth component is English as a Second Language for those who come to Canada without English.

Another single-parent friendly church is Sardis Community, Chilliwack, British Columbia. Their Doorway program, which offers drop-in sessions for single mothers with preschool-age children, has been running 20 years, similar to other Fraser Valley MB churches. Doorway has a spiritual component, with Bible study and small group participation. Many churches can tell stories of members who came to Christ through women’s programs that embraced the needs of single mothers.

But most single parents say it’s individual Christians who make the biggest difference in their lives.

Don, a widowed father with a teenager, felt painfully alone in his home setting. “I especially missed my wife’s encouragement in parenting conflicts and difficult situations.” Don found church friends, especially mothers, willing to talk on the phone and help him get the perspective he needed.

Like Bev in the Alpha program, the natural approach of friends is what carries Don through hard times. For others like him hoping for help, neighbours in the pews will have to get past the negative stigma attached to single-parenting, and come to terms with the idea that “community” support means personal involvement, and along with it, hard work.

Originally published in the Mennonite Brethren Herald, February 2008.




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