International (MNN) — Last month, a new ministry was welcomed at Mission Network News: GEMS Girls’ Clubs. The program is offered in churches, schools, and Christian organizations around the country to girls in first through eighth grade. With women as mentors and counselors, the mission of GEMS is to help bring girls into a living dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ. Founded in 1957, GEMS currently has 24,000 girls and 5300 mentors in 900 clubs across North America.
But why is a girls-only program that was started in the ‘50s still needed? And how does it compare to other organizations that provide mentorship and discipleship to children and young adults? The answers lie in GEMS’ own history, according to Kris Palosaari, the ministry’s executive director.
GEMS was designed by Barbara Vredevoogd to provide a safe place for girls to be trained in true Biblical principles, to develop leadership skills, and to have the ability to discover who they are in the Kingdom. Kris shares that Barbara’s passion was to literally remove stereotypes made about the role of women.
“I believe that when she had designed this curriculum, that she wanted to equip women to become leaders within the community and to take the Word of God and become disciples of the Word, and that there was really no barrier–just their own limitations as far as what a person felt they could do. So when…a young girl discovers that she is created to be a part of building God’s kingdom and that He designed her with special skills, there is nothing she can’t do in order to fulfill God’s call in her life.”
The GEM curriculum focuses on Galatians 3:28, “Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman.” And its teaching style is inspired by Titus 2. Kris shares, “In this passage, God called women to mentor and train younger women and girls to know and do what is good, to be loving and kind, self-controlled and pure. This is foundational to the beliefs of the GEMS ministry, and this best takes place when it is in an all-girl environment.”
That purposeful all-girl environment separates it from other organizations, and Kris says that difference is key in building a healthy community for authenticity and growth. “There’s much more openness to ask the difficult questions, and there are opportunities for women to mentor girls to lead them on their walk with Christ and to build a community of belonging.”
It’s because of that community of belonging that GEMS has continued to grow over its almost 60 years of ministry. Kris and her team are seeing a new generation arise that needs a safe place more than ever. “Approximately 40% of our clubs–our clubs within North America–are filled with girls who do not have any faith home or any church affiliation,. So we feel as though this is very important and is becoming even more critical as the years go by. It’s very important, especially in this day and age, where children have so much disillusionment and so much disappointment and challenges at a very young age, that the GEMS Girls’ Clubs have become a haven of demonstrating Christ’s love.”
There are many ways for you to get involved with GEMS. Learn about their work in North America and around the world.