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March 2003 - Volume 2, Number 3
The Monthly e-Newsletter of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries


Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries offers weekend retreats for emotional and spiritual healing after abortion. It is a division of American Life League.


Publisher: Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries
Editor: Leslie Graves
Associate Editor: Catherine McHugh
Comments and questions: or


One easy way to support this healing ministry is to forward a copy of this email to your friends.



1. A Lenten reflection
2. Rachel’s Vineyard Servants’ Retreat and National Training Conference in June
3. Advertising draws attention to post-abortion healing
4. Rachel’s Vineyard in Africa
5. EWTN features shows on post-abortion trauma and healing
6. Russian translation completed
7. A participant reflects on her retreat experience
8. Lowly woodcarver elevated to Honored Archpriest
9. Upcoming retreats



This Lenten reflection appeared in a parish bulletin during the second week of Lent 2003. The readings it reflects on are Daniel 9:4-10, Psalm 79:8-13 and Luke 6:36-38.

Today’s readings speak of a compassionate and forgiving God. Eleven years ago I had an abortion - a decision made out of shame and fear. My life spiraled downward after this. I lost my self-esteem and strayed from God and the Church. Never once did I see the connection of my sin to the state in my life.

Six years later, I had an eye opening experience. I had buried my sin inside myself. I realized I needed help. I went to confession with a compassionate priest. He led me to a weekend retreat called Rachel’s Vineyard for people like me. I had to forgive myself and ACCEPT God’s forgiveness. I knew God was compassionate, but I didn’t think He would be compassionate towards me. I felt my sin was unforgivable - the lowest of lows. The retreat taught me differently and showed me the love of a compassionate God.

As a result of my journey to forgiveness, my life has been blessed and enriched. My faith is stronger than ever! Through God’s forgiveness and compassion, I have learned not to judge. We are all sinners.


"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  He has chosen me to bring good news and to heal the brokenhearted."  Isaiah 61:1


Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries is pleased to announce that two events, a Servants’ Retreat and a National Training Conference, will take place in Oklahoma City from June 24-29, 2003.

The programs are for those who are currently active in post-abortion ministry and those who would like to learn more.

The first event is "Tending the Vineyard; Tending Our Souls: A Servants’ Retreat." This retreat is for those who serve in post-abortion ministry. It starts Tuesday evening, June 24 and concludes Thursday evening, June 26.

The second event, "Healing After Abortion: Equipping and Empowering Laborers For the Vineyard: A Rachel’s Vineyard Training Conference," begins on Friday, June 27 and concludes on Sunday, June 29.

The Rachel’s Vineyard Training Conference offers a wealth of workshops, training sessions, panels and speakers. There is something for everyone, from an Introductory Training track for those who are just learning about post-abortion ministry, to Advanced Clinical Training workshops where experienced retreat team members and facilitators can sharpen their skills.

There are special sessions for clergy, and important presentations on the nuts-and-bolts of offering post-abortion ministry through Rachel’s Vineyard. The conference will also include working group sessions for those interested in collaborating on projects to build the ministry.

The Rachel’s Vineyard Servant’s Retreat, from June 24-26, is for those who serve in post-abortion ministry. Service has its own blessings and burdens. Our time together at the Servants’ Retreat will focus on personal and spiritual renewal, and on the discernment of our spiritual gifts as we grow deeper in an intimate and trusting relationship with Christ.

Charisms, or spiritual gifts, are special abilities given to each Christian by the Holy Spirit to enable them to be powerful channels of God’s love and redeeming presence in the world. The process of discerning charisms can serve as a wonderful catalyst of spiritual growth. It can free us from the need to compare ourselves with others and from judging others with very different gifts. By understanding our gifts and the gifts of others, we learn to recognize and honor the work of the Holy Spirit.

Through the gifts discernment process, through exercises that help make Holy Scripture come alive in our hearts, and through times for sharing, we will experience support, renewal and growth.

This retreat is an invitation to be conformed more and more in the image of Christ, and empowered on the deepest level to respond with joy to his call for our discipleship.

He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while."  Mark 6:31

The fee for the Rachel’s Vineyard Servants’ Conference is $125 and the fee for the Training Conference is $100. The combined fee for those who attend both events is $200. These fees include all meals and materials but do not include lodging. Very reasonable lodging is available at the retreat center, which is the Catholic Pastoral Center of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, located in the beautiful archdiocesan chancery. Space at the retreat and the training conference is limited and we encourage you to register early.

Susan Lepak is the conference coordinator. For brochures and a registration form, please contact Susan at (405) 721-5651, extension 107, or via email at">Susan Lepak.</a>


"Those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.  And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold."  Mark 4:18-20



Due to the generous donation of a private foundation, beautiful radio ads were produced and aired in February in the New York metropolitan area to make listeners in need aware of Rachel’s Vineyard and America’s Pregnancy Helpline. The ads ran for a three-week period starting in late February through early March.

Mary Alice, who is in charge of the Rachel’s Vineyard national toll-free hotline at 1-877-HOPE-4-ME, scheduled extra staff to handle the influx of calls in collaboration with America’s Pregnancy Helpline, which acted as the clearinghouse for callers.

A resource packet was created to respond to those callers who requested further information. This packet included a listing of Rachel’s Vineyard retreat dates and locations, a list of other resources for support after abortion, and a copy of the "Hope and Healing" handout published by the Elliot Institute.

Rachel’s Vineyard would also like to extend its gratitude to an unknown donor who paid for a billboard the appeared in the Detroit metropolitan area in February. The billboard said, "Hurting after abortion? Call Rachel’s Vineyard at 1-877-HOPE-4-ME." Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries first became aware of the billboard when Detroit callers to our hotline number mentioned that they were calling "because of that billboard."

What a beautiful gift that both of these donors have given to those in need, by promoting post-abortion awareness and extending the hand of healing.



Rachel’s Vineyard is excited to announce a new site for Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries at the New Era Clinic in Africa.

Counselor Josephine Onuoha left her four children as she traveled all the way to Newark, New Jersey from the heart of Cameroon to experience her first Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat in early March 2003.

Efforts have been underway for over a year to implement Rachel’s Vineyard in this country ravaged by AIDS, frequent complications caused by crude abortion and infections, abortion mortality as many women bleed to death, sexual violence, promiscuity, and the spiraling symptoms begotten from a traumatized culture. Witchcraft and sorcery thrive alongside undiagnosed mental illness.

Josephine works alongside her husband, a medical doctor, spiritual leaders and the Association of Ex-Major Seminarians Pro-Vita spearheaded by Lambert Mbom in partnership with the New Era Clinic.

Our friends in Cameroon are struggling against a serious deteriorating drama and struggle to salvage the dignity of their communities. Rachel’s Vineyard has equipped them with retreat manuals, our support group model and knowledge of post-abortion trauma through the book, "Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion."

We are seeking any of our readers of "Vine & Branches" who could donate used computers and printers so that our team in Cameroon can access e-mail and consultation help and reproduce materials to spread to other ministries being raised throughout Africa. They truly need our help and prayers.

If anyone can donate a computer with e-mail, printer, office supplies, or financial assistance to help with this new evangelization effort, please contact Katie D’Annunzio



Fr. Frank Pavone, a long-time friend of Rachel’s Vineyard, opened his eighth season of his EWTN show "Defending Life" with two shows about the emotional aftermath of abortion.

Theresa Burke of Rachel’s Vineyard was a guest with Fr. Frank for these two shows, first focusing on her book,">Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion</a> and then devoting the second show to healing and Rachel’s Vineyard.

One woman who called the national Rachel’s Vineyard hotline as a result of watching this show told our hotline operator that she had never tuned in to EWTN before, yet was blessed to encounter this message of hope and healing. After watching the show, she determined to address this painful issue that had brought her to the point of contemplating suicide as her only relief from multiple abortion losses that occurred over 27 years ago.

We heard from many other individuals reaching out for help as well as professional and lay counselors offering their assistance and gifts to this ministry.

The 2003 series of Fr. Frank’s show "Defending Life" will continue to air Tuesdays at 5:30 pm EST; Wednesdays at 5:00 a.m. EST, and Fridays at 10:00 pm. EST. A synopsis of upcoming shows can be found at">Priests for Life.</a>



The Language and Catechetical Institute in Gaming, Austria has been working diligently for the past year on a Russian translation of the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat Manual.

We are very excited to announce that that this endeavor has been completed. Duplication efforts are currently underway at our Rachel’s Vineyard national office (which, for anyone who does not know, is operated out of a small office in Kevin and Theresa Burke’s home in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania!) Our mission has been empowered by the financial help of American Life League since 1999.

We have been corresponding with numerous sites throughout the Eastern Block who are very eager to utilize this beautiful model which one site described as a "heaven-sent" resource for the new evangelization, a movement of the spirit that is spreading like wildfire because of grassroots efforts.

Who would have imagined that out of a small "mom and pop" operation, that Rachel’s Vineyard would have rooted itself from Moscow to France and Portugal, down under to Australia, into the heart of Africa, South America, Canada, and throughout the United States in only a few years? Please pray for all those who labor in the Vineyard, for those who toil the earth, plant the seeds, and tender the growth for a beautiful harvest for the Master Vinedresser!

Let’s also keep Fr. Vit Fiala in our prayers too, as he has just begun working on a translation for the Czech Republic and Slovakia! We are filled with joy and hopes for all the people of the world who suffer the pain of abortion to be touched by the mercy and compassion of Christ experienced so dramatically through the Rachel’s Vineyard process for psychological and spiritual healing.



A woman who attended a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat in early 2003 shared her experience on the new Oaktrees e-group, which is a confidential, protected, interactive email forum so that those who have attended the retreat from all over can be in touch with each other.

"I was ready, more than ready to go to the retreat. I had done a lot of processing over the years and just had that final hurdle to get over, forgiving myself. I felt that if that retreat didn’t get me over that hurdle, nothing would. When I entered the doors of the retreat house that weekend I went with an open heart and open mind, hoping and praying that God would lead me to heal that last part of my heart. I told the facilitators when they greeted me that I was open to the retreat and what gifts it had to offer to me and everyone else. I had no agenda other than wanting to heal that last part of my heart. Boy, did I get more than I ever hoped for! I felt permission to find comfort among the mothers and facilitators on the retreat. I finally could forgive myself for what I had done. Pure joy and peace! That’s the best way I can describe how I felt then and how I feel now."

If you have attended the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat and would like to find out more about the newly formed Oaktrees e-group, please click on this link:">Oaktrees e-mail forum </a>.



Years ago we chose a picture of a dove being sent forth from the cross designed by Gerry Simboli as a visual symbol of Rachel’s Vineyard.

As Rachel’s Vineyard was taking root, a gentle and talented woodcarver felt a call to send beautiful wood carvings of this logo to every new retreat ministry across the United States.

Each retreat leader would go to his or her mailbox one day and unexpectedly receive one of these priceless wooden carvings as a gift for their labor and love in this vineyard of healing. I know that many of us will treasure these lovely and intricate carvings for years to come.

Our humble woodcarver, Reverend Thomas (Willys) E. Neustrom has been elevated to the honored rank of archpriest within the Orthodox Episcopal Church.

Neustrom was 40 before he decided to enter the priesthood. He majored in music and industrial arts in college and has had a varied career as a music teacher, a Culligan water deliverer, and head of the drug and alcohol program at the former St. John’s Hospital in Salina. "I helped start the first open Alcoholic Anonymous meetings in town and in 1967 started the first halfway house, the Pathfinder House, which is now Ashby House," Neustrom said.

In 1953 his life was forever changed when his daughter was stillborn, and a couple of nuns took the baby’s body to the hospital chapel and baptized it. At the time, Neustrom thought it was a stupid thing to do. He didn’t believe she was a person, so why bother? But the nuns told him they weren’t willing to take that chance, they were going to baptize her anyway. That act changed his life.

"I looked hard at my life. I had everything the world said was good. A beautiful home, a wife and five beautiful children, cars and a boat. And I decided, if that’s all there is in life, then life is the biggest farce in the world. It was a strong spiritual search that led me into the priesthood."

Neustrom served as an Episcopal priest for 35 years in the Salina area. His carving and woodworking skills became well known, and in 1989, he was asked to create a Stations of the Cross display for an outdoor garden at Christ Cathedral. He previously had carved 14 crosses representing the Stations on the interior walls of the Cathedral.

"I spent two years trying to get it right," he said. "I wanted the finished product to have a profound effect on people, so they would not only remember what happened to Jesus but relive it and meditate upon it. I wanted people to feel the pain our Father felt and know how he had to pay the supreme sacrifice because of his love for man."

The outdoor garden has another highly personal meaning for Neustrom. His wife, Gerry, whom he credits with being instrumental in his completing the project, died the day the stations were officially dedicated in 1991. Her ashes have been placed in the garden along with those of their daughter Mary, who was stillborn in 1953. Both are under the 14th Station of the Cross, where Jesus is laid in his tomb. "My wife believed in this project so much," Neustrom said. "And this little girl, born premature at five months, has always been our patron saint. She, more than anything, led me to become a priest."

In speaking about role in Rachel’s Vineyard, Fr. Neustrom states: "Our job is only to support this process by being willing to share the pain in accompanying them in the process of self discovery, AND not to supply what we might think is the answer for them. The factor of empathy that is incorporated so beautifully in the retreat process, and by letting the Holy Spirit be the primary guide.

Allowing the Holy Spirit to guide his ministry is foremost principle for Fr. Neustrom. Even amidst all the recognition, Fr. Neustrom shares that he ends up feeling rather embarrassed with all the honors currently upon him - due to feeling so unworthy.

"All I have been doing is trying to follow Christ and His teachings and the Holy Spirit keeps multiplying my efforts. I am so grateful for the wonderful loving friends like you who help make miracles of healing possible. Thanks be to God."

Rachel’s Vineyard extends our best wishes and heartfelt congratulations to our dear friend and brother in Christ. We thank him for all the beautiful carvings representing our ministry that so many of our retreat sites cherish.

He is certainly a worthy, humble and loving servant, who has touched so many lives with his teaching, his counsel, his friendship, his generous and loving heart and his talent. St. Joseph and Jesus had their work cut out for them, to match the skills of this fine and talented woodcutter and artist!

Contact Information:

Fr. Thomas Neustrom
2403 Village Lane
Salina, KS 67401-3766
e-mail:">Willys Neustrom.</a>



March 28-30, 2003-Providence, Rhode Island
Local host: Life & Family Ministry
Contact: Donna Warner 401 331 4463/days 401 785 9625/evenings

March 28-30, 2003-Temecula, California
Contact: Jeanette Kristensen 909 693 9477

March 28-30, 2003-Chicago, Illinois
Contact: Kathleen Pluth 847 359 4967

March 28-30, 2003-Madison, Wisconsin
Local host: Ecumenical retreat sponsored by the Diocese of Madison
Contact: Leslie Graves 608 218 1264
Contact: Beverly Hartberg 608 821 3177

March 28-30, 2003-Youngstown, Ohio
Contact: Brenda Dama 330 797 8951
Contact: Br. Vit Fiala 330 799 1888

March 28-30, 2003-Lubbock, Texas
Contact: Cynthia Wynn 806 793 1235

April 4-6, 2003-Minneapolis, Minnesota
Contact: Nancy Blom or Gail Checco 888 329 3773

April 4-6, 2003-Scottsdale, Arizona
Contact: Mari 480 857 1270

April 4-6, 2003-Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Contact: Susan Lepak 405 721 5651 ext 107

April 4-6, 2003-Portland, Maine
Contact: Jeanne Bull 207 871 7464

April 4-6, 2003-Las Vegas, Nevada
Contact: Kathleen Miller 702 212 6472 or 702 737 1672

April 4-6, 2003-Vancouver, Washington
Valerie Jacobs 800 822 HOPE

April 11-13, 2003-Asheville, North Carolina
Local host: St. Banabas Respect Life Committee
Contact: Shelley Glanton 828 684 4330
Contact: Paula Bolick 828 684 4330

April 25-27, 2003-Eugene, Oregon
Contact: Lori Eckstine 541 942 9325

April 25-27, 2003-Hickory, North Carolina
Contact: Dr. Martha Shuping 336 659 1342

April 25-27, 2003-Fairfield County, Connecticut
Contact: Clarissa Cincotta 203 372 4301 ext 314

April 25-27, 2003-Youngstown, Ohio
Contact: Brenda Dama 330 797 8951
Contact: Br. Vit Fiala 330 799 1888

April 25-27, 2003-Camden, New Jersey
Contact: Mary Anne Serra 866 4 RACHEL


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