After almost a decade serving as director of the Christian Reformed Church’s Safe Church Ministry, Bonnie Nicholas is retiring in November. “She’s been such a force in the ministry,” said Jane H. DeGroot, the Safe Church coordinator for Classis Muskegon (a regional group of churches). “I will truly miss her influence and friendship.”
Helping people understand the dynamics of abuse has always been a passion for Nicholas. Before becoming director in 2011, she was active on the abuse prevention committee in her own church, River Terrace Church in East Lansing, Mich., and on the Safe Church team for Classis Lake Erie.
In her own healing journey, Nicholas has experienced the benefits of participation in community with others who have similar experiences of abuse. She has found this true in secular settings, such as “Take Back the Night” marches, community vigils, and other gatherings, and in Christian settings, especially in small groups. Nicholas worked in campus ministry with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Michigan State University, where one of the small groups she led she called, “Bedtime Bible Stories with Bonnie.” Stories of abuse came up several times, and as difficult as the stories were to tell, they were a vital component to healing.
“It is through the love of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we experience deeper healing and understand our value; the church can provide the perfect context,” Nicholas said. “My passion is to help churches become places where the healing power of God can be revealed.”
During Nicholas’ tenure as Safe Church Ministry director, an online space called “S.O.S.: Sharing Our Stories” was created for victims of abuse to share their stories (anonymously, if they choose). This program has helped make it easier for people to speak up.
“Raising the voices of survivors needs to be a key element in safe church ministry. The people who have been most impacted by abuse, and who have also experienced a measure of healing, will become the future leaders. We need to learn from them,” Nicholas said. She would like to see more people in the church step up and walk alongside victims as they share their stories and heal. “It’s hard and painful and draining, but also rewarding to see God’s power in changing and healing people.”
The Safe Church Ministry’s mandate includes abuse prevention, awareness, and response. Nicholas has been interested particularly in the preventative piece and in raising up leaders.
“Wise words and a caring spirit from Bonnie Nicholas have inspired me to go from an attendee at the 2016 Safe Church Conference to serving as the Safe Church Coordinator for Classis Muskegon,” DeGroot said. “I am so thankful for Bonnie’s grace-filled leadership throughout the process. I will miss working with her as director, but have a hunch that her passion for making our church communities safer places will be used in another, equally powerful way.”