For 50 years, the wide-ranging sisterhood of GEMS (Girls Everywhere Meeting the Savior) has been gathering annually for a conference.
Again this year, several hundred GEMS leaders from North America and beyond gathered July 26-28 on the campus of Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. As always, they joined for a time of worship, speakers, and seminars — and, particularly, to celebrate their sisterhood.
“This was a big deal. We celebrated a lot of new things and launched a new GEMS curriculum, and because we are sisters, we were reminded that we are all together and are on the same team. The sisterhood of GEMS is a beautiful thing!” said Cindy Bultema, executive director of GEMS.
Founded over 60 years ago, GEMS is a Christian Reformed Church-affiliated ministry for bringing girls across the world closer to God and to one another. Last year GEMS held a birthday celebration, and this year, in celebrating 50 years of conferences, they honored their togetherness and their ongoing future together.
“The theme of our conference was ‘Loved’ — and that is the name of our new online curriculum,” said Bultema.
Included in this curriculum is a starter kit for GEMS groups as well as access to many videos applying to issues that girls today are facing: self-harm, body image, bullying, chaos control, gender identity, and how to handle your emotions.
“This is all Bible based, truth filled, user friendly, and relevant for today’s girls,’ said Bultema. “We sincerely believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life — and Jesus is all over this. Our goal is to share this material while still being helpful to today’s girls.”
Grace Moes, a GEMS leader and board member from Ontario, said this year’s conference was once again a valuable experience. “Not only did I, as a GEMS club leader, gather information pertinent to the upcoming GEMS season, I was also personally encouraged by the speakers, worship, and of course the sisterhood.”
In addition, Moes said, she appreciated how presenters “did a great job addressing current issues that girls face — and then offered ways that we can mentor them to meet these challenges by knowing Jesus and leaning on his presence and power in their lives.”
Karen Dekker, a GEMS leader from Florida, enjoyed everything about the conference, from the flood of confetti that filled the room at the opening celebration to the “We Are Family” dance party at the closing session.
“Every moment of the GEMS conference was intentional, refreshing, Spirit-led, and covered in prayer,” she said.
As a GEMS leader, she added, she was reminded that “the GEMS sisterhood is a beautiful thing, which needs to be protected by faithful prayer for one another.”
She also was reminded that as “mentors to girls, we have the distinct privilege of pouring truth into their lives.”
Bultema spoke about “We Are Family” and the GEMS sisterhood at the closing service.
She began by mentioning that, ever since she became the GEMS executive director in 2017, she has experienced what the GEMS sisterhood means. “I have received cards, emails, phone calls, and prayers from GEMS sisters, often at just the right time, reminding me ‘Cindy, you are not alone. God's got this! We are praying for you!’”
During her time at GEMS, she said, she has met “so many amazing sisters.” She has met them at the GEMS office in Grand Rapids; at a deeply moving Sunday gathering in southern California; over dinner with GEMS leaders in Florida; during a discussion about the rich Canadian culture with a GEMS leader in a Starbucks in Ontario, and even as she was “greeted with a confetti shower in Zeeland, Michigan, by the club leaders and girls,” she said.
But then, she pointed out as the conference moved toward its close, there are also some times when there is conflict within the GEMS family, as happens in every family.
“Sometimes family members hurt one another, don’t they?” Bultema asked. “I hear stories of strife between the sisters within clubs. One young woman shared, ‘You know why my mom stopped serving at GEMS? The cattiness between the counselors.’”
Maintaining harmony within the GEMS family can be challenging because, she said, “sometimes there is hurt and heartache within the sisterhood. Chaos, conflict, and confusion among club leaders. Faithful volunteers feeling pushed out, not heard, misunderstood, all alone.”
So what do we do? Bultema asked. How can GEMS leaders and counselors “unite across different backgrounds, cultures, denominations, differences, nationalities, time zones, and even worship preferences so that we can reach today's girls with the biblical truth that they are loved, period?”
To answer that, she turned to the apostle Paul’s letter to the early church in Corinth, which was split among many lines. Some followed the church leader Apollos; others, Paul; and still others, Cephas (Peter). They were Greeks, Romans, and Jews.
Bultema continued by focusing on 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, which begins, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. . . .”
“The brothers and sisters in the church were fighting. . . . Starting a church from this random group — with their varied backgrounds and beliefs — would not have been an easy task, even for the apostle Paul. But was it impossible? No way,” said Bultema.
Keeping his eye on the unifying message of Christ, Paul offered a solution to the problem of the church members’ not getting along. He does this, said Bultema, in 1 Corinthians 3. Instead of placing their commitment in Apollos or Paul or Peter, it was important to keep in mind that these leaders were simply performing their God-given tasks. God was always the one in charge.
Bultema continued, reading verses 8 and 9: “The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service.”
“Paul reminds us yet today that as one family we have one purpose, which is to be one,” said Bultema. “What is God’s vision for his church? One body. One spirit. To worship our one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Across the GEMS sisterhood, she said, “There are various church sizes, and we enjoy various ways to get our praise on, speak in a wide variety of languages and dialects, and even cast our votes differently—but sister, my sister, in Christ, we are family.”
Here’s the deal, said Bultema: “If we're going to impact this generation with the good news of Jesus, it's going to take a whole unified army. We need a massive group of sisters (and brothers), covered in prayer and infused with mighty, resurrection power, coming together, linking arms, declaring ‘We Are Family’!” And as the conference ended, everyone celebrated with a dance party, singing that song.