Karen has been a resident of the Emergency Shelter Care program at Bashor Children's Home several times during her difficult youth years.
Erik Sietsema was a Youth Care Worker in the cottage when he first met Karen. She came in as a runaway, having fled Elkhart to the Deep South to search for her alcoholic mother. When her attempts at restoring the relationship fell flat, Karen came home, turned herself in and was placed at ESC.
Karen was at Bashor for several months, was placed in foster care, but returned several months later when the situation soured. By then Erik Sietsema had become the campus chaplain and began to build a different relationship with this troubled young woman.
"When she first returned, I visited with her and listened to her story," Sietsema remembered. "She was obviously frustrated that foster care had not worked out (again), but tried to tell me that it didn't affect her.
"One Wednesday night, a few weeks after her return, I was visiting the cottage during quiet time. I walked into Karen's doorway to find her sitting on the floor crying. When I inquired about what was bothering her, she sobbed that she had no idea how to deal with her past anymore. She had done things she was ashamed of and had been hurt in ways she couldn't forget."
Sietsema and Karen talked for 40 minutes. It was "Youth Ministry 101" - sharing the love of Christ and how God was willing to take all of the mess away. He showed Karen the promise in Scripture that as far as the east is from the west, God takes our past away. He even shared a little of his own testimony.
"Karen wondered how she could be connected to God like that," Sietsema smiled. "I explained it begins by simply asking. She seemed scared by the whole proposition, asked me to pray for her, but declined to pray with me."
Sietsema admits he wondered what had come out of the situation until Karen began sharing openly about discovering how to deal with her pain by following God.
She began reading the Bible to younger residents in the evening and even asked to come back to speak at the campus Son Rave chapel services after she was discharged.
"I saw real change," Sietsema beamed. "Karen changed the way she carried herself. She presented herself very differently. Perhaps that is my own perception, but it seems so very clear to me. God went to work!"
Today, Karen has her own apartment and is traveling the path to a more settled and fulfilling life.
"In all of her struggle and hurt, the one constant she experienced was Bashor," Sietsema notes. "No matter how bad things got, she always wound up back with us. We accepted her regardless from where she came. I shared the Gospel with her one evening but ultimately it was the staff at Bashor over the eight years she was in and out of our doors who really witnessed to her."
A resident's spiritual life is a vital part of the multidisciplinary approach to treatment at Bashor Children's Home. There are devotions and mealtime prayers in each cottage. Sietsema meets with each cottage for discussion groups or Bible study on a weekly basis. Residents attend church service in the community. He also hosts "Son Rave" twice a month. This twice-monthly chapel services welcomes speakers and Christian musicians to lead worship and share their testimonies.