A Seymour woman is using the trials and tribulations she’s experienced in her own life to help women and girls overcome life-controlling issues and realize their worth.
Joni Zabel said she felt called to begin a multi-faceted ministry to support, empower and most of all love those struggling with hardships.
She wants people to know they are not alone in their feelings of depression, anxiety, weakness and hopelessness, but through their faith and commitment, they can rise above their challenges and experience life-changing love.
That is the focus of Cherished Inc., a new nonprofit organization started by Zabel, to give women and girls in Jackson and surrounding counties the strength and resources they need to battle addictions and eating disorders, escape abuse, poverty and/or homelessness and handle unplanned pregnancies or thoughts of suicide.
In the coming months, Zabel hopes to be able to open an office for Cherished and offer temporary residential programs for women in need in the community.
The ministry is being funded solely on donations and Zabel plans to apply for various grant opportunities as well.
“The Lord started birthing this ministry back in April 2012,” Zabel said. “I was going through a divorce, and the Lord told me that I would one day be ministering to young women with the same issues I’ve always dealt with in my life.”
Zabel said she has battled depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and other strongholds as a result of abuse she experienced.
She found the answer to her struggles by turning to God, she said.
“Through Jesus, I have been set free. I am no longer a victim; I am victorious. And what he’s done for me, he’ll do for others,” she said. “He has been healing and delivering me, teaching me, preparing for this ministry.”
Last January, Zabel said it was time to put her prayers into action.
She attended a training program at the end of February through Mercy Multiplied, formerly Mercy Ministries, in Nashville, Tennessee. That organization runs a residential program providing a temporary home for females ages 13 to 28 dealing with negative life-controlling issues.
Through the training, Zabel said she learned about principles used in Mercy’s homes and how such programs are seeing success in changing people’s lives.
At the end of March, she began leading a study group in Seymour in an office space donated by a fellow Christian who supported Zabel’s work. Since then, she has conducted a total of four “Ditch the Baggage” sessions and works one-on-one with people too.
“Ditch the Baggage” is an 11-week study curriculum developed by Nancy Alcorn, the founder of Mercy Multiplied. The confidential study looks closely at the “Seven Keys to Lasting Freedom,” and how to use those Christ-centered principles to change from the inside out, Zabel said.
Although the classes were a good start, Zabel said she knew they weren’t enough. After a lot of prayer and seeking the Lord’s will, Zabel quit her full-time job at the end of May to do God’s work and really get Cherished up and running.
She has established a board of directors for the organization which includes other women and men in the community of varying religious denominations and backgrounds who, like Zabel, see a need for such services here and want to help.
Other board members currently are Sheyonia Anderson and William “Bill” Daggy. There are plans to add up to six more soon.
Anderson said she attended one of Zabel’s classes and felt moved to join in.
“It inspired me to want to be a part of her mission to help women,” Anderson said. “I went through a lot of depression so I can kind of relate to what they are going through.”
She’s excited about what the future holds for Cherished.
“There is such a need in the community to help women that are downtrodden, to help them transform their lives, get them off the street, whatever it may be and let them know, ‘Hey, you are loved by God and we love you too.’”
Zabel said with people like Anderson, Daggy and other supporters and volunteers including Janet Bryant and Ruth Hoffmeier, the ministry is growing.
“I’ve been amazed at what He’s done and continues to do,” Zabel said of the Lord’s guidance. “He is bringing other laborers to this ministry, who are like-minded and have been delivered from their own life-controlling issues.”
Cherished volunteers are currently ministering to women who are incarcerated in local jails and working with women in small groups and one-on-one sessions in the community.
The group is currently looking for office space to rent or be donated to offer more study groups focusing on healing people’s hurts and setting them free from those bonds, Zabel said.
“The office will also be a space where women in our community can come to be encouraged and lifted up in the Lord,” she added. “Sometimes we need prayer, an encouraging word or just a smile and a hug. People long for Jesus’ love and light, and I pray that they see and feel that through this ministry.”
As part of Cherished, Zabel also wants to open one or more residential facilities in Jackson and neighboring counties to house women in need for up to six months. The program would be free for those enrolled and would provide a stable, positive and encouraging environment, she said.
“We want to saturate them with Jesus’ love, grace, mercy, biblical truths, encouragement, Christian counseling and life-skill training, where they can heal from the root cause of the issues they have endured,” Zabel said. “When they know who they are in Jesus and allow him to heal their wounded souls, then they can step into the calling he has for their lives.”
She and the board of directors are currently looking at properties and praying the Lord will provide the right place at the right time, she added.
Their vision is to own property with one or two residences, housing approximately 20 women each, and an office building, she said. “Everything is in God’s timing, not ours, though. We are praying and waiting for him.”
But Zabel said she feels a sense of urgency because of the current state of the community.
“There is nothing available for women and girls in this area that we are aware of that provides what we want to offer,” she said. “In recent years, heroin and methamphetamine have taken over our small community and surrounding areas. Many people want our community back.
“The people that struggle with these life-controlling issues are our family members, friends and neighbors,” she said.
Cherished Inc.’s mission is in its name.
“We believe that all women are loved and cherished by God, and that he has great plans for their lives,” Zabel said.