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  • Writer's pictureKurt J. Kolka

New Life for Jennifer

Tami Hunt, Director Jennifer Van Ryckghem, Gerri Detloff and Penny Voight (l-r) are the new team working at New Life Pregnancy Resource Center in Gaylord.

GAYLORD – “I feel like everything in my life has led up to this point,” says Jennifer VanRyckeghem, new director for the New Life Pregnancy Resource Center. Although she has only been on the job for a few months, she feels right at home in it. VanRyckeghem has worked at and volunteered at the center before, but it is her own difficult experiences which she feels allows her to identify with clients. VanRyckeghem began her life in Rogers City. She left there at 21, but says she went in the wrong direction for a few years. Then, she moved to Gaylord about 25 years ago. She moved to the Alpine Village to be close to her children who were being raised by her ex-husband in Boyne City. “On the outside I was tough. I appeared to have it all together, but on the inside I was dying,” says VanRyckeghem. “ I was carrying the weight of all of my wrong choices. I hated my own reflection in the mirror. “I was just dating Bill (VanRyckeghem) at the time. And he started talking to me about God. I had grown up Lutheran and knew about Him. But I had no relationship with God.” So, Bill began to challenge her. Had she ever brought what she was feeling inside before God in prayer? One day Bill bought her a Bible with a Christian tract in it. The tract talked about feeling broken inside. That clicked with her. She was tired and exhausted from trying to run her own life and feeling miserable. As she read the tract, she felt as if God were calling her to a new life to live for Him. VanRyckeghem was amazed at the fact that God could love her where she was, in her brokenness. At that moment she gave her life over to Jesus in a prayer, surrendering control to Him. Soon after, VanRyckeghem married Bill and a secretary position opened up at New Life. While Bill wanted her to apply, her mind was filled with doubts and guilt. “What do you have to offer? Look at you! Your children aren’t with you. Your parents don’t talk to you.” Despite the doubts, VanRyckeghem applied and was called in for an interview. “I was literally sick to my stomach driving there for the interview. And then, I felt like I cried during the entire interview. I gave myself a tongue lashing on the way back home.” However, a week later, then-Director Bonnie Harlukowicz called her back and offered her the position. Harlukowicz said it was VanRyckeghem’s honesty and passion through the tears which touched her and she felt God saying VanRyckeghem was the one. “I had a lot of healing to do. I had left my first husband and my children when they were small. I had never forgiven myself over that. In fact, I think that’s what propelled my destructive habits. “And about a year and a half before I had given my life to Christ, I had an abortion. But I pretended that didn’t bother me. I didn’t have [emotional] space for that.” At New Life, VanRyckeghem healed by giving love away to clients through her service, but also was forced to face her deeper feelings. “Folding baby clothes has a way to make you address certain things inside that you’ve been hiding. I was able to cry many tears and deal with a lot of my regret and shame. I needed to forgive myself.” After three and a half years, she felt God was telling her to move on. So, she left New Life and became involved in women’s and children’s ministry. VanRyckeghem would also become a bus driver for the local school district, a job which lasted 13 years. Recently, Bill retired and the couple began looking forward to traveling and visiting relatives around the country. Then, however, as VanRyckeghem notes, God stepped in and changed their plans again. She learned Julie Holmes was leaving as director of New Life and others began asking her to apply for the position. She was intrigued by the idea but yet had been so looking forward traveling with Bill. “Once we got beyond what we thought it would mean for our life, we started to ask God, ‘what do you want Jennifer to do?’” In the end, VanRyckeghem felt God was calling her to apply for the position. She says there are no plans to change the services the ministry offers. However, she would like to offer the public better insight into their ministry. She continues to meet people in the community who do not know what New Life is about. Some have even said they thought the organization was affiliated with Planned Parenthood. VanRyckeghem wants people to know the door is always open. Not only does New Life assist mothers, but fathers and even grandparents who are raising grandchildren. New Life offers free pregnancy testing, various classes, programs and opportunities to help parents and grandparents learn and grow with their children. There are also opportunities to earn points and purchase items for their families. “Previous teams did a great job here at New Life. Right now, in my heart, I feel God is saying ‘Do your job with excellence and I will breathe life into it.’”

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