The 50th annual GEMS conference met July 26-28 on the campus of Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. Close to 600 women attended the event with the theme “Loved.”
GEMS stands for Girls Everywhere Meeting the Savior. Many of the organization’s 680 active clubs in North America are run by Christian Reformed congregations.
Attendees experienced three days of keynote speakers, workshops, and worship times around the theme from 1 John 3:1, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”
“We recognize that women want to be encouraged … what is weighing (women) down, what’s tripping them up? There were workshops on everything from marriage to self-care, soul-care … strength for a woman’s heart,” said Cindy Bultema, executive director for GEMS Girls’ Clubs.
Rene Wall, a GEMS counselor at John Calvin CRC in Truro, N.S., who has served close to 25 years in GEMS ministry, said this year’s conference spoke to many challenges girls face.
“The theme this year is ‘Loved.’ (as in loved, period ... no exceptions). ... The speakers and workshops looked a lot at how we can model/mentor this love to girls ... how to name and fight the negative thoughts that the devil tries to confuse us with.”
“Loved.” is also the name of a new GEMS curriculum, the first since 2010. Written for girls from grades 1 to 8, Bultema said it focuses on one’s identity in Christ from A to Z. “That they are Accepted, that they’re Beautiful, that they’re Chosen, Delighted-in, they’re Enough. All the way through.”
It aims to remind girls, and the women who lead them, of who God says they are. “The women really embraced this because we can’t give our girls what we don’t believe we receive ourselves,” Bultema said.
Jolene Versteeg, from Gateway Community CRC in Abbotsford, B.C., was one of more than 200 first-time attendees at the conference. Versteeg has been a counselor for two years in a club of about 70 girls.
“(The conference) was an opportunity to learn more about building relationships with the girls and our roles as mentors,” she said. “Since our club is one of the larger ones, it was good to be reminded about the importance of one-on-one connections and mentorship. I met and shared meals with a number of the women attending. ... It was fun to hear how they do things at their clubs and how we might vary in size and meeting structure, but we all collectively desire to learn, to teach and to encourage our girls and one another.”
Bultema said the closing worship time is what she will remember most from the 2019 conference. “Although we have differences … together we are family. We ended the Sunday with the board president praying over us and all of the women across the auditorium … hand-in-hand as we prayed together that God would make us one — John 17:11, one of Jesus’ last prayers,” she said.
“There was something really special about the opportunity to link arms together as we minister to girls,” said GEMS event manager Alecia VanHulzen, who is also an eighth-grade counselor at her local club at First CRC in Sioux Falls, S.D.