Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
LAKE WALES | A mother walks into the old school at Holy Spirit Parish with an infant in arms while other little ones trail behind. Elaine Berner greets her with a broad smile, happy to see her again. She, like so many others, has come back to Walking with Moms in Need ministry, assured of support and accompaniment.
Berner helps run the ministry at the Lake Wales Parish together with Deacon Joe Iskra by providing diapers, wipes, other necessities and especially food for the soul. The goal: to help them know Jesus.
The ministry, launched October 2021, already serves almost 150 women, coming from as far as Winter Haven, Frostproof and Avon Park over the last quarter. They learn of the support through signs placed strategically throughout the city and in front of the parish.
“We pray for (the moms) and they know we are praying for them,” Berner said.
Deacon Joe Iskra comes to the program with four years of experience directing similar models in Detroit, even prior to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ official launch of Walking with Moms in Need in 2020. “We share the love of Christ with all our moms – many of whom, despite tremendous economic, social and family challenges have chosen life for their babies,” Deacon Iskra said.
The deacon explains the program does more than hand out diapers and wipes. Each client is asked to voluntarily fill out a five-question survey on the frequency of leading their children in prayer, reading them bible stories, if their children have been baptized, or attend any church. Then they are given the opportunity to meet with a Spanish or English mentor. At the first mentoring session they are given a book of 365 bible stories to read to their children and on their second visit, a children’s bible. “Since their need for diapers and wipes will be ongoing for two years, our mentors are patient and look forward to many opportunities to coach parents to become good spiritual leaders of their families,” said Deacon Iskra.
Berner assures anyone coming to the ministry for the first time is assisted. Afterward, the parent must come in person as the goal of the program is to increase faith within the family. So the ministry can keep track of its effectiveness in bringing families closer to Christ, they request participants fill out a survey upon each visit.
“In this ministry, Jesus is the most important part. Sending Jesus home with that family, talking about Jesus every day, bringing Jesus to that family. Why would we leave out the most important part?” Berner said. “We are not willing to leave Jesus out of the process.”
Martha began accepting help from the program about six months ago. Program staff call her a “miracle mom” due to a successful delivery of twins after a difficult labor, and having experienced numerous previous miscarriages.
Martha and her husband moved to Lake Wales to be close to family after confirming her last pregnancy. While receiving medical care, she was connected to the ministry. Mentors and volunteers accompanied her through her pregnancy, after delivery, and will continue to do so.
Her twins are almost three months old now. Looking back, she said, “(The volunteers) been amazing at helping me with my mental status. It is unimaginable. I have always believed there was a God, but after so many miscarriages I kind of lacked in that department. They’ve helped me heal from my past experiences and grow as an individual.”
Although the twins are infants, Martha reads to them everyday from the children’s bible story book she received.
“If it wasn’t for (the ministry), it would be different for me. If it weren’t for the kindness and generosity of all these people, my girls would not have food. If not for these people at church, I would be horribly depressed,” Martha added.
Leidy Rivas, Culture of Life director for Catholic Charities of Central Florida, supports assistance to USCCB’s Walking with Moms in Need national program. She spoke on the importance of parish ministries like this—especially in the aftermath of the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade.
“We know pregnant and parenting moms in need are in our parishes and our neighborhoods, but in desperation, they may be turning to other places for help. The work being done at Holy Spirit is a great example of what the Walking with Moms ministry is all about,” Rivas said. “The goal is to not only ensure that every parishioner knows where to refer a pregnant woman for assistance, but also to walk alongside her with the support she needs both physically and spiritually. These moms must know they are not alone and that we are all here to journey with them.”
Rivas said the ministry encourages the faithful to “allow Christ to use us to do His work.”
“Then together we can build a culture of life in which society will value human life in all its stages,” she added. “This requires a true transformation of hearts which can be accomplished by love.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic Staff, July 15, 2022
For more information on Walking with Moms in Need, please contact Leidy Rivas at firstname.lastname@example.org.