Christian Women’s Job Corps leader travels from South Africa for training

By Trennis Henderson, WMU National Correspondent

Why travel from South Africa to Alabama to attend a ministry training conference? For Patricia Ihlenfeldt, the answer is straightforward and succinct: “to be encouraged and refocused and reenergized.”

Ihlenfeldt, director of the Women’s Department for the Baptist Union of Southern Africa, was among more than 130 participants, leaders and staff members at National Woman’s Missionary Union’s 2018 Christian Women’s Job Corps/Christian Men’s Job Corps National Meeting held recently at Shocco Springs Baptist Conference Center in Talladega, Ala.

The CWJC/CMJC training event, held every three years, highlighted the theme, “Be Transformed,” from Romans 12:1-2. Designed to help participants focus on a variety of topics related to their ministry efforts, breakout sessions addressed such issues as “Spiritual Development of a Leader,” “Finding the WHY of Your Ministry,” “Taking the Fear Out of Mentoring” and “Developing Dignity through Job Creation.”

Christian Women’s Job Corps and Christian Men’s Job Corps equip women and men, in a Christian context, for life and employment. Thousands of participants each year gain practical training and hope for their future through programs offered at certified CWJC/CMJC sites across the nation and internationally.

In addition to the leadership training, Ihlenfeldt said participating in the conference allowed her “to network and to tell people our story” as well as “invite people to come and see what the Lord is doing” in South Africa.

“Having grown up in South Africa where the balance between the wealthy and the poor is so great, it’s just been a continuous challenge as to how do you as a Christian reach out into a community that is so diverse and so unequal economically,” she explained. “That is really what has motivated me to get involved in this ministry.”

As a pastor’s wife and teacher with a degree in psychology and adult education training, Ihlenfeldt emphasized that “education has always been a motivating factor in my life.”

Through CWJC, she added, “I see there is opportunity to empower women to improve their economic situation. My desire has always been to equip local women in local church communities to use the facilities and the skills they have to empower and to encourage and to make a difference and to improve the quality of life of people in their community.”

In her broader ministry role with the Baptist Union of Southern Africa, she said a primary goal is “to train and equip women to be used of the Lord in the community where He has placed them for His glory. Christian Women’s Job Corps has been a vehicle for me to do that.”

Ihlenfeldt said she was first introduced to Christian Women’s Job Corps in 2008 through a ministry partnership with North Carolina Baptist churches. “Since then, we’ve just slowly but surely been trying to roll out the program. … One site at a time, we’ve tried to make a difference.”

South Africa currently has three CWJC sites, including one that works primarily with refugees.

In addition to teaching business skills, discipleship and life skills such as baking and sewing, Ihlenfeldt said one unique program is making “Good News dolls” which she described as “a tool that we’ve been using in our country to teach our children to share the gospel. The dolls are made in different colors with different cultural dresses and hair. We’ve been selling the dolls and ensuring some kind of employment for those refugee women” while providing them a sense of dignity, worth and purpose.

Noting that “unemployment is a huge problem” in South Africa, she said, “Into that context, we are trying to uplift women and address that issue while partnering with Christian Women’s Job Corps.”

Affirming the ministry impact of CWJC, Ihlenfeldt added, “You have a desire to help people, but you don’t always have the tools or the know-how of where to actually start. That’s what appealed to me about Christian Women’s Job Corps in that there is a roadmap which you can use … as to how to proceed with a ministry.”

Beyond equipping participants with job skills, she said involvement in CWJC “ultimately is about giving people life and telling them about Jesus Christ.”

Lena Plunk, WMU’s ministries consultant for mobilization, serves as the national CWJC/CMJC coordinator. She said the three-day conference attracted participants from 17 states, ranging from California and Utah to Michigan and Ohio, as well as Ihlenfeldt’s involvement from South Africa.

Plunk said National WMU has 191 certified CWJC/CMJC sites in the U.S., Mexico and South Africa plus 12 international sites where leaders are unable to disclose the locations due to security concerns.

“Within the Unites States, we have sites in 25 states,” Plunk noted. “In 2017, we served 3,830 people collectively.”

CWJC/CMJC sites impact lives by offering high school equivalency diploma preparation, English as a Second Language classes, computer classes, Bible study, mentoring and job readiness skills.

For more information about Christian Women’s Job Corps and Christian Men’s Job Corps, contact Lena Plunk at lplunk@wmu.org.

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