Moms find JAM
“Lasting mission is always a product of authentic discipleship. By intentionally cultivating spiritual disciplines, we will be brought closer to the mind and heart of Christ.”
— Strikepoint, Deeper Discipleship
Along the Susquehanna River, deep in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania, lies a small rural town that usually goes unnoticed unless one stops for lunch there along Interstate 80.
An interesting fact about Clearfield, Pa., is that it is the place where people have made the most “Bigfoot” sightings. As a young, city–raised Salvation Army officer, moving to Clearfield was culture shock. I didn’t own any camouflage (camo), had never hunted, and I moved at a fast pace.
But during the past two years, I’ve learned that, no matter where I’m stationed, people still have hurts, struggle with sin, and need the Lord. One thing that stands out about the people of Clearfield is their desire for hope. With limited access to colleges and information on what life has to offer, many kids lack the motivation to succeed. The number of suicides committed in this small town amazed me. Because everyone knows everyone, having a bad reputation is harder to overcome.
In an effort to make friends shortly after moving here, I started a group for moms at the corps. It was called Just Among Moms (JAM). It’s not as huge as Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS), but it brings women together in a way that nothing else does.
At one meeting, a woman talked about living too close to a housing project and being nervous about putting her child on the bus with “those kids.” In the weeks to come, more moms from that housing project began coming to JAM. That same woman eventually testified she is learning how not to judge others.
Another mother who has lived in Clearfield all her life attends JAM regularly. She has four children. They include one who is severely disabled, another who is deployed in the military, another who is questioning her sexuality, and one who has a reputation neighbors will not let her forget. The mother eagerly cares for the daughter’s two children. The mother’s husband, who is on a donor list and is waiting for a liver transplant, struggles with an addiction to pain medication.
She discovered The Salvation Army through our “Back to School Giveaway.” Her grandchildren also received an invitation to attend Vacation Bible School (VBS). After she and the kids enjoyed VBS, they came to the after–school program and JAM. She soon brought her grandkids to church and became the cook for after–school programs.
This mother said she doesn’t feel judged at The Salvation Army. At JAM, she loves getting to know and talk with the other moms and grandmothers. Her older granddaughter will be enrolled soon as a senior soldier and she is also considering soldiership.
Another woman who attends JAM has twin 4–year–old boys and a 1–year–old girl. Having been hurt during a previous church experience, she is cautious about getting involved.
Many times, JAM meets in a local coffee shop, making it easier for her to feel comfortable. Her baby has ongoing health concerns and she has needed other women to vent to, encourage her, and rely on.
We were so glad to find a coffee shop that was willing to let us hang out with our kids. One week, a mom nursed while our little ones ate doughnuts and watched cartoons. We shared and prayed for hours. The mother of the newborn talked about how lonely she feels being home and never having a chance to talk to other women.
Another mom, who attends sporadically, knew she could turn to me and to the other women when she was afraid her son, who attends our after–school program, might have a heart problem. When she received this news, she prayed for the first time. She testified that her time with us had inspired her to pray. Her son’s additional tests were negative. God answered her prayer.
While this group was originally designed for moms of young children, I realized right away that God was also leading older women to come. They’ve mentored us younger ones as we’ve blessed them.
An older woman said, “JAM is important because it gives me an opportunity to spend time with Christian women who accept me just as I am. I had been feeling lonely before being invited to JAM, and this group has helped to fill the void. We can talk about our spiritual lives or raise questions, which I don’t find possible in other gatherings. Since my children have grown up and moved away, being around young children is heartwarming.
“The clear Christian leadership we receive helps us women stay focused. We engage in activities with humor and compassion while in each other’s company. I have developed friendships with new women and have been reintroduced to old friends.”
JAM has become an important discipleship group. We share advice, give encouragement, and pray together while the younger children play. We plan activities every other week, such as scrapbooking, baking, painting, and trips to the playground or indoor play spaces.
We’re sure to schedule what I call “discussion time.” It’s an opportunity to share our devotional thoughts about God and to encourage many women who are not churchgoing Christians.
The Clearfield Corps has the Army’s traditional Home League and there is a MOPS group in our area. However, there was a need for a more intimate group for moms where women from all walks of life are welcomed and not judged. Such women need to know they are not alone. Moms and grandmothers from the city or the country, old or young, on welfare or well off, all struggle to know the love of God and to be a good wife and mother.
I have learned not to be disappointed when moms say they can’t make it to a meeting. Such events become opportunities to schedule a one–on–one visit or a play date with a mom. We’ll meet in the coffee shop or at her home.
Problems with their children are causing so many women to ask questions of God that cannot be answered during the few hours of a church service. They need to be discipled through intimate relationships with people.
I thank God for the opportunities He has given me to help struggling moms. I’m learning that we don’t always need to have complex programs. We simply need to come together with a willingness for authentic friendship and a determination to defeat the devil’s attempt to get a foothold.
— Captains Kevin and Helen Johnson
are corps officers in Clearfield, Pa.