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When Rima first came to Wheaton Bible Church on a Monday evening in the fall of 2014, it had been more than twenty years since she stepped into a church building. Feeling more than a little shaky, she gathered her courage and came to the room where the Financial Peace University class was about to meet for its opening session.
Rima had learned about the class from a teacher at the school five of her six daughters had attended, a teacher who had become a friend over the years and who recognized Rima’s need for help managing her finances following the breakup of her troubled twenty-four-year marriage. That teacher had called another mom she knew, who was a member of Wheaton Bible Church, and asked her if the church had any kind of class about finances that might help Rima.
The answer was an immediate yes—a new nine-week session of Financial Peace University was about to begin.
A New Chapter
The preceding year had been Rima’s first as a single mom. When her husband left, Rima had one daughter away at college and five daughters still at home—including one who is severely autistic.
“That first year after the separation,” Rima says, “I felt lost, alone, and scared. I was so depressed that I would just get my girls to school and then hide in my room all day and cry.” She is thankful for a social worker at the Carol Stream Police Department, a desperately needed connection to the outside world, “who made sure I was safe and protected,”
Rima recalls that she was barely able to hold back her tears as she walked into the church for the Monday-night class, but she soon realized, she says, that this was “just the right place” for her to be.
“I began looking forward to coming back each week,” she says. “Then, one evening in November, Dave and Hazel Pack—the couple who lead Financial Peace University—asked me if I would like to come to a church service on a Sunday morning.
“I told them I would really like that, so we met near the front doors the following Sunday,” Rima remembers. “First they took me to their adult class, called Genesis. The people were so welcoming. Later we went into the worship service. At first I felt overwhelmed, but I loved the music and felt a connection.”
Over the following weeks, as she came to services on Sunday as well as Financial Peace University on Monday evenings, the church building and the people she interacted with there became a safe and comforting place for Rima. So when she read a message on the screen at the front of the worship center one Sunday about women’s Bible studies that would be starting soon, she was open to the idea. A group called Alpha for Women was particularly intriguing.
It had been way back in her teen years that Rima last heard about God and Jesus—and, she admits, “I wasn’t really paying much attention back then. So when I started coming to Wheaton Bible Church, there were a lot of things about God and the Bible that I didn’t understand.” But the more she learned about Alpha, the more it seemed like just what she needed.
Alpha for Women
“Walking in that first day, I was nervous, but right away another woman came and sat down next to me at the table and introduced herself,” she recalls. “Her name was Joan, and
she’s been sitting next to me every week since!”
Another class member, a woman named Leslie, soon joined their group, and the three have become valued friends in the months since, even meeting outside their Alpha group for lunch and more time to talk and enjoy each other’s company—something that never would have been part of Rima’s life before. Those friends and others, including Debbie, an Alpha leader who always made time when Rima needed to talk, formed a support system for her during a very painful time, even providing moral support during a difficult court appearance.
It was Debbie who also led Rima through a small booklet called Steps to Peace with God and was with her that Wednesday morning in February of 2015, as Rima invited Jesus Christ into her heart and life and committed herself to trust and follow Him as Lord and Savior.
When the Alpha Course wrapped up last spring, Rima’s quest to learn more about God and His Word continued when she was invited to join a summer Bible study. And in the fall, her Alpha group decided to continue meeting, going deeper into what they had learned during the original Alpha course.
“There’s still so much I don’t know,” Rima says.
Along with the people who have embraced Rima at her Alpha table—and at the DivorceCare group she later joined—the middle left section of the West Worship Center is another place where God has been bringing supportive friends into Rima’s life.
Like many people, Rima has a regular place where she likes to sit on Sunday mornings. Each week she arrives notably early for the 11:15 worship service and finds her seat. It wasn’t long after she began attending Sunday services that she met Bev.
Connecting with Bev has become one more reason Rima is eager to come to Sunday services, knowing that she’ll see her friend, who has welcomed her on Sunday mornings and offered warm words of encouragement and reminders of God’s care. Sometimes sitting in front of Rima and sometimes behind, Bev has been there to greet her almost every week.
One recent Sunday morning, Rima came to church with a heavy heart. She had been notified that her daughter, Amy, who has severe autism, would soon be ineligible for the weekday program that had provided her developmentally appropriate training and activities. Rima had come to depend on the program to help with her daughter’s care. But once Amy turned twenty-two—a birthday that was then just a few days away—her time in the program would come to an end.
No other options had presented themselves, and the private programs Rima had investigated would have been too costly. On that Sunday morning she was on the verge of despair, wondering what she was going to do.
Noticing that Rima was in tears, Bev said, “Come sit by me.” But even with her friend at her side, Rima’s worries made her tears flow even faster.
That’s when a second woman sat down next to Rima and put an arm around her shoulders. The young woman identified herself as a nurse and asked whether there was anything she could do to help.
Rima explained a little of what was going on, and the woman, whose name is Mindy, stayed with her for the rest of the service. She then told Rima about the church’s Shine Special-Needs ministry and offered to take her to the area where Shine meets and introduce her to Mindy’s good friend Alison Tews, who coordinates the Shine ministry.
In the weeks since that connection was made, both Mindy and Alison have continued in conversations with Rima, offering the benefit their experience helping people who have special needs, as well as their knowledge of navigating the world of special-needs programs.
In addition, Rima has begun attending the Shine ministry’s Ladies Night Out, a monthly gathering specially created for women who are caregivers to a family member with special needs. Amy has also been to her first Shine “Buddy Break,” a once-a-month Saturday program that provides respite care for those with special needs while caregivers enjoy three precious hours to run errands or focus their attention elsewhere, knowing that their loved ones are lovingly cared for and safe.
An Amazing Journey
Those who know Rima—including her social worker at the police department and Rima’s daughters, who care for her deeply—have watched a new Rima begin to emerge over these months, as she continues on what she calls “an amazing journey.”
Daily life is still a challenge, but Rima is learning what it means to have “sisters in Christ,” women who will listen, pray, walk through difficult circumstances—even wrap a supportive arm around her shoulders when challenges threaten to overwhelm.
And she’s resting in the promise that even though struggles come, God protects His children, and they are never left alone in their trying times.
“That truth,” Rima says, “puts a smile on my face.”