Church’s recovery class aids healing
Troy, Ill. | Dr. Chris Midkiff likely didn’t know what kind of bombshell she had just dropped during a women’s leadership meeting at Bethel Baptist Church.
The OB/GYN mentioned an abortion recovery Bible study she’d read about called Surrendering the Secret.
Some of the women in the meeting personally understood the need for such a study.
Karen Schemerhorn remembers thinking, “What expression should I have on my face?” The prison ministry leader hadn’t told anyone about her abortions.
Mary Beth*, also there for the meeting said, “If you’re a woman who has had that in your past, you’re sweating, you’re nervous, you’re thinking everybody’s looking at you because everybody knows.
“It’s one of those secret sins that just eats you alive.”
Now, more than five years later, Bethel’s women’s ministry has facilitated numerous Surrendering the Secret classes. Dr. Midkiff hosts the group at an off-campus location, and confidentiality is vital as women share their stories, many for the first time ever.
Karen cites a statistic that nearly half of all women of child-bearing age have had at least one abortion. It’s a problem in churches too. “That’s why my mother and father had to hide my abortion,” says Karen, the daughter of a Southern Baptist minister. “What would this do to his ministry?”
The eight-week Surrendering the Secret class had already met for two cycles when she decided to join. She couldn’t get it off her mind, she said, but she didn’t want to go. She had been a leader at the church, a Sunday school teacher. When she arrived for her first class, she was welcomed with open arms.
Carrying the shame
Telling her story was a major point in her life, Karen says. After she went through the class, her story was written down by Jill Finley, Bethel’s women’s
ministry director. In the article, published in the ministry’s magazine, Karen describes the process of facing her past.
“As I was confronted by the reality of what I had done, waves of grief washed over me. I began to weep and grieve for my children and for the choices I had made. I felt God gently wrapping me in His arms and rocking me as I held those babies to my chest, and I started to understand the meaning of His sacrifice. Those sins, MY sins – He carried to the cross.
“There was nothing I had done, or could do that His blood would not cover. He took me out of it and it was no longer about what I did, but what Christ did for me! The chains fell right off!”
When asked now how integral the Bible is to the Surrendering the Secret study, Karen skims her class materials, calling out passages: God’s desire for peace for His people in Jeremiah 6:14. Hagar’s story in Genesis 16. Christ’s promise to save and not condemn, as told in John 3:17.
“As you’re freeing yourself and surrendering the secret,” Karen says of the Bible study, “you’re filling yourself up with God. And you’re allowing him to fill you, instead of guilt and shame.”
Sharing the truth
Surrendering the Secret generally meets twice a year. The names of women attending the class are kept confidential, but Jill says ladies involved in Bethel’s women’s ministry know when a class is going on. “And we pray for those women.”
Those who have been in the class take an active role in leading it for the next group, Jill says. Mary Beth went through Surrendering the Secret and has now helped lead the classes for several years. She underscores the importance of protecting the women’s privacy.
“The biggest encouragement you can give those women is providing them with a sense of confidentiality, privacy, and to give them a place where they feel like they can maintain that secret even within the group.
“I pray every day, never let their names slip off my tongue.”
She also emphasizes how important it is for women who have gone through abortion to hear the honest testimony of someone else who’s been in the same place.
Karen combined her passion for prison ministry with her powerful testimony and now leads Surrendering the Secret classes inside a Greenville prison. Before she even finished her cycle of classes, she shared about it with women attending a Bible study at the prison.
“One of the ladies just started bawling,” Karen remembers. “And she said, ‘I’ve had an abortion, I’ve never told anybody. This is the first I’ve ever spoken of it.’” The woman was set to be released soon, so Karen met with her and a friend two days a week. Since then, she’s led the classes in the prison twice a year.
“God just opened the doors,” Jill says. Supplies that might be forbidden inside the prison are allowed for Surrendering the Secret classes. And women have been saved, she adds.
For Karen, “Being free from any secrets has totally opened me up to accepting everybody, and looking at everybody differently,” she says. “And just knowing that if my story is God’s story, I want everything to be for His glory.”