By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
After the death of her 22-year-old-son in 2010, Veve N’Duhirahe was “feeling lost at every level of life.”
Devastated and angry at God, she took a two-year hiatus from the Catholic Church. She came to St. Thomas More in Coralville on a friend’s invitation and met Stephen Ministry leader Meliza Wise, who asked Veve if she would be interested in receiving visits from someone who could provide spiritual support and a listening ear.
St. Thomas More’s Stephen Ministry program offers free, confidential, one-on-one, Christ-centered relationships with adult care receivers of the same gender. Care receivers may be dealing with the death of a loved one, miscarriage, divorce, unemployment, loneliness, a faith crisis or another difficult situation. Stephen Ministers complete 50 hours of training and take part in continuing education. Though faith-based, Stephen Ministers can provide ministry to anyone, regardless of faith affiliation. When a care receiver’s needs exceed what a Stephen Minister can provide, the Stephen Ministry team can make a referral to an appropriate mental health professional or other community resource.
A shoulder to cry on
“When you’re a mother and you lose a child, people are scared because they don’t know what to say. They don’t know how to react,” Veve said. She cried often, and her Stephen Minister allowed her to do so without judgment during their weekly visits. It was comforting for Veve to know that, no matter what state she was in, her caregiver would be there to listen and pray with her. “She just came to be with me,” sometimes staying longer than the allotted hour.
“It was just a life-saving kind of a process. She became like my sister. She became the person I could call when it felt like everything was falling apart,” Veve said. “She mentored me, and I slowly started coming back to my faith.” One day, Veve’s caregiver offered to accompany her to the cemetery where Veve’s son is buried. “It meant a lot to me.”
Veve continued the visits for about a year, and has since grown close to other members of the Coralville parish. “Not only did Stephen Ministry give me my life back, but it gave me a (parish) family. They accepted me at my lowest and I can still go there and see people embrace me, smile at me, say hi to me and accept me the way I am.”
“Mary,” whose name has been changed at her request for anonymity, reached out to the Stephen Ministry program at St. Thomas More after a “tremendously traumatic” event in her life.
“Stephen Ministry changed my life,” she said. “I was blessed to meet one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known. We met weekly and I shared my concerns with her. She was truly an exceptional listener, continually encouraging.”
Mary said her caregiver usually stayed more than an hour, and they continued to meet for about three years. “This person’s kindness and dedication, along with her prayers for me helped to lift me from despair. As I struggled through each week, I so looked forward to meeting with her. The fact that I could talk about my situation was invaluable. I always felt valued, never judged in any way. She always conveyed her concern for me and my welfare in a positive way.”
A Stephen Minister’s perspective
Jo Ann Miller, who does some counseling work professionally, has been a Stephen Minister for about five years. Like other Stephen Ministers, she underwent training in a group setting using a combination of scripts, videos and role-playing based on different situations presented. “I have really enjoyed meeting and getting to know my care receivers. The relationships are a bit more intimate because of the confidentiality and spiritual focus. I have found each of my care receivers to be interesting people and I have enjoyed seeing how they use their faith practices to work through their challenges. Each person has different gifts that support them, which is so interesting for me to see.”
She believes that Stephen Ministry values each individual, and while it is meant to be spiritual care giving, Stephen Ministers honor each individual’s place in their spiritual journey. “We will work with those from any faith or church, those who have strong faith practices and those who are struggling or questioning their faith.”She appreciates the opportunity to support individuals during their life struggles “to maybe make that time of their life a bit easier.”
Mary said she would highly recommend Stephen Ministry to anyone going through a trauma. “I began the program in despair and feeling very badly about myself, and although it took some time, I recovered my self-confidence and have been able to go on with my life, appreciating all the blessings I’ve been given, my faith unshaken. I cannot adequately express my gratitude for this remarkable person who has been my support for such a long time. If there is anyone who is considering contacting a Stephen Minister, do not hesitate. You have no idea how many blessings you’ll receive by the genuine support and care!”
Veve said if anyone is on the fence about seeking out Stephen Ministry, “Go for it. You won’t regret it.”
About Stephen Ministry
Stephen Ministries, based in St. Louis, is a not-for-profit Christian education organization that provides resources for congregations and other organizations wishing to offer one-to-one, Christ-centered support and prayers to adults who are experiencing grief and other life difficulties. The ministry is not intended to replace psychiatric care or professional counseling, but to offer a listening ear, faith-based hope and encouragement. Confidentiality is maintained.
St. Thomas More Parish has offered this ministry since 2010. Currently, 39 individuals are Stephen Ministers. To learn more about becoming a Stephen Minister or to receive visits from a Stephen Minister, call Lee Gullickson at (319) 331-5620 or Cathy Nepola at (319) 631-0915.