Janet received her first Bible when she was sixteen years old. Pastor Emily gave it to her.
Janet was a sixteen-year-old resident at Wedgwood Christian Services in Grand Rapids, MI. She had been exploited and abused through much of her childhood. She was eventually placed in several homes, ran away, and ended up in the last place that would take her. That’s where she met Pastor Emily.
Rev. Emily Vanden Heuvel has been a chaplain at Wedgwood for almost twelve years. In that time, she has worked with hundreds of kids, each facing unique, overwhelming challenges. Many of them have developmental disabilities, a history of abuse, and/or significant trauma. Many of the girls are like Janet, victims of trafficking and exploitation. Despite their troubled pasts and current struggles, many of the kids at Wedgwood just want an adult that they can rely on. As their chaplain, Emily is someone who will listen to them and support them, regardless of their background.
“Children at Wedgwood are so spiritually hungry,” she says.
Trusting Emily, Janet came to her wanting to know more about being a Christian. She wanted to know that God loved her and that she would always be his child. So Emily gave Janet a Bible, opening it to Psalm 13, a psalm of lament.
“A lot of kids don’t know that it’s okay to cry out, to weep, to be confused, and let God know how they feel about that,” says Pastor Emily.
She then turned to Romans 8.
“It’s not about what we do; it’s about what Jesus has already done, and it’s accepting that God has already accepted you.”
These chapters are just the beginning of Janet’s spiritual education. She still has a lot of trauma and trust issues to overcome, Emily will be there to guide her.
“I love being the hands and feet of Jesus,” she says. “I love being the church where the church is not. Chaplains are called to the deepest, darkest, ugliest parts of human depravity. That’s where I go every day.
“Special moments of grace remind me of why I’m here.”
These moments of grace remind Emily of why her work as a chaplain is so important.
One time, a boy named Tom came to Emily. He said, “Pastor Emily, you’re handing out Bibles to people, but I’m a Muslim and I want a Quran. I only have a Quran in Arabic, and I can’t read it. Can you get me a Quran in English?”
While some may have turned Tom down, Emily knew that, as a chaplain, she would serve him and show him the love of Christ in the best way she could. She located a copy of the Quran and gave it to Tom.
A few weeks later, Tom brought the Quran back to her. He didn’t want it any more. “Do you know that it says in here that Allah is deaf and dumb to his people?” he asked. “I went to church with my granny when I was little, and I remember hearing about Jesus and how much he loves me. That’s the God I want to worship.”
Emily loves these moments in her job, because they remind her that she is doing God’s work. Would Tom have chosen Christ if Emily had turned down his request? Tom came to Emily because he trusted her. Emily gave Tom a Quran because she trusted God. And God moved them.