GEMS: A Sisterhood Planting Biblical Seeds in Girls

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

gems1The theme of the United Nations’ recent International Day of the Girl was Unscripted and Unstoppable. Local GEMS girls finished this statement, “The Truth is I am …” Some of the biggest challenges girls face today include bullying, cutting, depression, thoughts of suicide and the stress of body image issues.

It's a far cry from the problems girls faced in 1958 when Barbara Vredevoogd founded GEMS in Grand Rapids as a Christian Reformed Church ministry to young girls.

Sixty-one years later, GEMS is now a nondenominational Christian outreach comprised of 5,200 women serving over 23,000 girls in more than 800 clubs around the world.

GEMS is a sisterhood that relishes getting together. In July, the nonprofit held its annual conference at Calvin University, which drew GEMS leaders from North America and beyond, and included worship, speakers and seminars.

In West Michigan and beyond, GEMS leaders help way finding girls discover God's unchangeable Word. They learn along the way they are loved and valued just the way they are.

A centerpiece of GEMS is its acronym: Girls Everywhere Meeting the Savior.

The 's' is significant

"The 'S' (in GEMS) is pretty important," said Cindy Bultema, GEMS executive director. "It's not just character based but it's faith based where we really want them to know who God is and who God says that they are. So we spend a lot of time helping girls get in the Bible and also applying the Bible in their lives today."

GEMS are for girls in 1st through 8th grade, with age-appropriate material used at each level. GEMS clubs primarily meet in churches, but they also gather in apartment complexes and elsewhere. GEMS levels include:

• Kingdom Kids (4 & 5 year olds)
• Awareness Level (grades 1-3)
• Discovery Level (grades 4-6)
• Advanced Level (grades 7-8)
• Counselor-in-Training/CIT (grades 9-12)

Recently, GEMS launched a new online curriculum called, Loved. Period., based on 1 John 3:1. Loved. Period. includes a starter kit for GEMS groups as well as access to many videos applying to issues girls are facing, such as self-harm, body image, bullying, gender identity, and how to handle emotions.

Don't have to dye their hair

gems2From left: Club coordinator Erika Sparks and executive director Cindy Bultema are two of many GEMS leaders helping girls apply the Bible in their lives. "We want every single girl here, there and everywhere to know the truth that they are Loved. Period.," Bultema said. "They don't have to put a question mark where God has but a period. They don't have to earn it, strive for it, loose weight, or dye their hair. God says they are Loved. Period."

A to Z identity cards reminds girls of who they are in Christ, supported by a Scripture verse. A, for example, means "I am accepted" based on Romans 15:7; I am beautiful is based on Song of Songs 4:7; Heaven-bound finds its home in Philippians 3:2.

"We teach the girls from A to Z they don't have to look a certain way to be accepted," Bultema said.

A GEMS meeting includes worship, a small-group Bible study, activity time and working on earning badges. And in the mix, friendships develop all the while having fun.

Club coordinators, such as Erika Sparks of Fifth Reformed Church, are responsible for organizing her club. Counselors lead the small groups. All are women of faith who understand the call of Titus 2.

A beautiful place to be

"We have the opportunities to see girls grow in their faith and in their confidence because of this message: you are Loved. Period.," Sparks said. "They're going through this change where they say, 'You know what? I am OK the way I am.' And through the curriculum and the use of Scripture and the love these mentors are giving these girls, it is such a beautiful place to be."


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Although GEMS emanated from the CRC denomination, it's now nondenominational, which is key for the public to understand, according to Bultema.

"I think sometimes people think (GEMS) is a CRC thing but GEMS is a nondenominational ministry," Bultema said. "There are about 16 denominations that have GEMS clubs. The No. 1 (meeting) place is in churches but we also have them in schools, we have them in community centers, apartments, and sometimes at home school organizations.

"All of our resources come from a Reformed perspective," Bultema added. "The CRC, for lack of a better word, has put their stamp of approval on GEMS. There's definitely a partnership there. They don't support us financially."

GEMS publishes two magazines, "SHINE brightly" for girls ages nine to 14 and "Sparkle" for girls in grades 1-3. An app is also in the works.

Group and one-on-one interaction is key.

"It's important to know that a lot of mentorship that happens is through the heart of women who are sowing seeds of truth into these girls," Sparks said. "We are facing a time where we never even thought about the things girls are facing at school.

"We plant biblical seeds in girls. It's beautiful and it's going to have an eternal impact."

GEMS Timeline
• 1958: Calvinettes start in a kitchen by a CRC mother and soon spread to other CRC churches in the USA and Canada.
• 1969: Some Reformed churches begin Calvinettes.
• 1971: United Calvinist Youth, of which Calvinettes was a division, after construction of their building. The Christian Reformed Church agreed to assist with building expenses for a three-year period beginning in 1970. Also calls Calvinettes a "denominational related youth cause."
• 1996: GEMS Girls' Clubs name is officially recognized "to remove barriers and to reach girls that live anywhere and everywhere."
• 1998: GEMS starts offering girls' club materials to other denominations. A stated goal for 1998 was "to continue to identify and approach other denominations globally."
• 2000: Other denominations outside of the CRC and RCA start GEMS clubs. One early denomination to start clubs was Mennonite Brethren.
• 2019: GEMS is still listed as a denominational agency or ministry recommended for offerings.
• In 2019, 69 percent of member churches/clubs are CRC with the remaining 31 percent stretching across 17 other denominations.
• In 2000, the understanding within the leadership and staff of GEMS is that this is a non-denominational, ecumenical ministry that offers services to girls and women in the broader church, including more than a dozen countries.

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Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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