Living Above Tough Times
by Constance B. Fink
Imagine organizing a tea party for 7,250 women. Kim Newlen did. In fact, in May of 2005, her ministry made it in to the Guinness Book of World Records for the World’s Largest Tea Party. When she stood to accept the award, applause filled the arena, drowning out her silent battle with breast cancer. The pink hat covering her short, stubby hair was the only evidence she had the disease. Her vivacious smile, sweet spirit, and effervescent energy rose above her near-baldness, mastectomy, and chemo-affected body, and touched the hearts of thousands of women.
Kim’s story changes lives by inviting women to Christ and inspiring strength to rise above life’s crises. Her ministry began years before her cancer diagnosis or the Guinness achievement. Twelve years ago, after quitting her teaching job to stay home with her baby, she felt lonely and isolated even though she was walking close to the Lord. “What are women feeling who don’t know the Lord?” she wondered. She brainstormed ideas for an outreach. It should be ongoing. Preparation had to be inexpensive and simple or she would dread doing it. It had to be at the same place and time so it was easy for everyone to remember. With these guidelines in place, she opened her home the first Monday night of each month and provided a simple theme-based dessert, devotional, and program.
She called her outreach Sweet Monday. From that first invitation twelve years ago, Sweet Monday has grown to 434 outreaches across the United States as well as in 16 countries. She hosts 30-70 women in her home, with new people every month.
The three principles of Sweet Monday are simple, sweet, and salty. Simple —“Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Sweet —“God’s Word is sweeter than honey to our lips.” Salty —“We are the salt of the earth.” Sweet Monday is different from a prayer meeting or a Bible study. It’s a simple introduction to Jesus Christ. Kim has written resource materials called Sweet Monday: Women’s Socials on a Shoestring Tied to a Generous God. Hostesses can adapt the material to make their Sweet Monday a unique and powerful evangelistic tool based on timeless biblical principles.
Kim’s outreach starts at 7:30 p.m. and ends promptly at 9:00 p.m. At 8:00, after dessert and coffee, she rings a bell to start the program. She begins by sharing a five-minute devotional that includes a clear presentation of the gospel and her phone number if anyone has questions about their relationship with Christ.
Then the women enjoy a program designed for laughter and lessons, such as “Man-I-Cured Those Nails,” “Sweat Monday,” and “How Do You Spell Simplify.” Sometimes a guest with a particular skill presents the theme; other times, the group carries the program. For example, in “A Beauty Full Evening”—Kim’s personal favorite—the women share their beauty tips. For the devotional, Kim gives a spiritual beauty makeover, and talks about Jesus blotting out sin and cleansing lives.
Sweet Monday gives women a place to shine. For example, Kim learned that one of the women in her church enjoyed cake decorating. She was one of the quietest women in the church and Kim didn’t know her well, but she invited her to the group to demonstrate how to make a football cake. She blossomed in Kim’s living room. Sometimes Kim invites an unchurched woman to present the program so she can hear the gospel during the devotional.
According to survey results, evangelistic outreach is the weakest facet of most women’s ministries. Because the key to evangelism is relationships, Sweet Monday’s mission is “reaching out to women one sweet invitation at a time for Christ.” Kim hosts women from 18 to 80 years old. Older women have opportunities to mentor younger women, and all encourage each other in a relaxed environment. There are Sweet Monday outreaches for singles, seniors, widows, and even middle school girls.
By the time Kim received her cancer diagnosis three years ago, many women were watching her life and following her example of trust in God. Cancer was a huge test. JBU talked with her about how she keeps her ministry and relationship with Christ strong while coping with a serious illness.
JBU: Please tell us about your husband and family.
Kim: In 1980 God brought me to the University of Virginia as a staff member of Campus Crusade for Christ. Mark was the state director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes on campus. We first met at a student prayer meeting. He truly is my “knight in shining armor,” and even proposed in a castle dressed in a suit of armor. We’ve been married for 22 years. God has blessed us with a beautiful daughter, Kali, now 15 years old. I always dreamed of having a boatload of children dressed alike, but instead, we struggled through years of infertility. Kali is a blessing. I call her my “Special K.”
Mark has been the person that God has used the most to help me see things about myself. After the first year of Sweet Monday in our home, Mark said, “If you write the ideas, I’ll make 50 copies so other women can do this in their homes.” Out of obedience to the Lord, by submitting to my husband, I wrote.
Later, Mark said, “Kim, I see you speaking to women.” I said to the Lord, “There is not even a part of my little fingernail that wants to do that. But if it’s something You want me to do, then please make a way.” Six months later, I received a phone call from a women’s group to be a speaker. My heart came out of my chest. Sensing it was a call from God, I knew I had to go. With 50 copies of my books in hand, I gave my testimony, called “The Princess and the Pit”—I was raised a princess and then fell into a pit; our first years of marriage were so hard. I came home with four books left.
I was invited to put more books in Ukrop’s, our local grocery, part of the largest chain in Richmond. They immediately put them in 11 more of their stores. One month later, a woman from a nearby county called and said, “Can I do an outreach in my neighborhood?” A tear rolled down my cheek and I knew then that God was going to use Sweet Monday in a bigger way.
JBU: What made the early years of your marriage difficult?
Kim: My expectations were so high. I read many Christian books about the way marriage was supposed to be. I never dreamed full-time Christian workers could have marital trouble. Even though I had accepted Christ at a young age, it was not until I got married that I realized my sin and brokenness before God. I was truly selfish and wanted my own way. I wanted my knight in shining armor to take care of me. Instead, I was faced with disappointment, personality conflict, and trying circumstances: my husband was bedridden for two months due to unexpected back surgery; he left his job for integrity reasons without another one in place; our car was stolen; the kitchen roof caved in; and more. Each blow knocked me off balance because I believed a lie: if I do the right things, we will live happily ever after. Instead, God used difficulties to draw me closer to Him and to strengthen me for the future. As those difficulties were stepping-stones to my cancer journey, this cancer is preparation for something else ahead.
JBU: Was there ever a time when you felt unqualified for ministry?
Kim: Every day! I never wanted to speak to a group of any size, let alone over 7,000 women at the Tea Party. I invited Jill Briscoe to speak at the Tea Party because of her passion for Christ and her beautiful English accent. However, she was out of the country. God wanted me to do it. With my heart pounding and knees shaking, I talked about the importance of having our names in the Book of Life rather than the Guinness Book of World Records. I always feel weak when I point others to Christ, but I believe God’s Word will not return void. When I crawled into bed that night, I realized I could have missed seeing God do something great in our community if fear and inadequacy had held me back.
JBU: How do you overcome your doubts and fears?
Kim: The difficult years in my marriage were the first time I had to seek God. I read and cried through the Psalms every day. He encouraged me as no one else could. I learned to focus on what I knew about Him rather than circumstances. By the time I received my cancer diagnosis, it was natural to turn to the Lord and His Word. When I have sleepless nights, I rest in the inner quietness that comes from knowing the Lord. He is trustworthy, reliable, and will see me through difficulties and disappointments. I am so burdened for women to know Him for if they don’t know God, where do they go for help when faced with serious difficulties?
JBU: Tell us about the call from your doctor regarding your abnormal mammogram.
Kim: I was shocked. There were no warning signals, not even risk factors. The first thing that went through my mind was, “Lord, You knew it was there all along.” Secondly, “Lord, what in the world are other women doing today who are getting worse news and don’t know You?”
JBU: What were your worst moments during cancer treatment?
Kim: I had two worst moments. One was the day my hair came out in clumps. I had my head shaved and I cried. The other moment was waking up after the mastectomy and realizing they had not done the reconstruction. The doctors decided not to change my chemo and radiation routine so I woke up without anything there. That was a shock. The first time I peeked in the mirror, I knew why cancer is called a battle. I looked like I had come home from war. Recently, I had a 10-hour radical reconstruction surgery. I now have reached the three-year milestone without a recurrence.
JBU: Do you ever doubt God or feel like giving up?
Kim: No, but it is only because I know Him. I know His character and His love for my family and me. I know He lives in bitter circumstances just as much as He does the sweet ones. Through the battle with cancer, I have definitely gotten to know Him on a new level. I want women to know that Jesus is the greatest encourager. No matter what we face, when we face it with Him, there is hope, help, and joy in the midst of any kind of pain. When I found out I was going to lose all my hair–eyelashes, eyebrows, and every hair on my body–and being a girl who likes to look good, I thought I would feel like pulling the covers over my head and waiting until I looked decent to go out. But I didn’t feel that way. Instead, I put on my pink bandana, learned how to wear false eyelashes, and smiled at the future.
JBU: How have you kept your relationship with God and others growing during the dark days?
Kim: Cancer has not slowed me down, but sped me up. Opportunities multiply to relate to others, including many doctors and nurses. With a cancer diagnosis, I realize how short life is. I embrace, appreciate, and serve the precious people He has allowed me to know. The time where I thought I would shrivel, God blossomed my heart for women and Him. I love the Lord Jesus now more than ever because I have been through a journey with Him. He is my Rock and I hang on tightly to Him.
JBU: Were there times in your illness when you needed to step away from the ministry and how did you know to do that?
Kim: Yes, when I experienced side effects from the chemo, radiation, and other medications. The doctors warned that I would feel like a truck hit me for a couple of days in each treatment cycle, so I put on my favorite pink pajamas and weathered the storm.
JBU: How has your illness affected your family and marriage?
Kim: Adding the barrage of doctor’s appointments and treatments to a busy family’s schedule has been cumbersome at times. Mark might say our personal family budget exploded because I want to celebrate everything. But the highlight of my cancer was with my daughter, Kali, when she was 12 years old. Before leaving for my mastectomy, I said to Kali, “You have one job–not to worry.” I told her I would ask, “How are you doing in your job?” as our secret code. Several weeks later, the three of us were traveling. Because of the schedule, Kali had to be on a separate flight. I became undone at the airport and told her it was harder for me to trust God with her on a separate flight, than with my cancer. She turned to me and said, “Mommy, you have one job!” Wow, she got the truth and conveyed it back to me.
JBU: How are you doing now in that “one job” of not worrying?
Kim: If I start to worry, I replace it by doing what God wants me to do, which is deepening my relationship with Him and others. I focus on what I have rather than on what I don’t have. I could fret and give up, but instead I give the worry to the Lord. Then I use the energy I would have used to worry to reach out. Focusing on others lightens my load.
JBU: How has your ministry changed since your diagnosis?
Kim: It’s not so much a change in ministry, but a change in me. I got bolder in sharing Christ as I got balder. With my body slowed down only God could have multiplied our five cupcakes and two candies, doubling our Sweet Monday outreaches in one year.
JBU: What advice would you give to a friend who has cancer? What do you not say?
Kim: I try not to give advice unless she asks, but I give a hug, a meal, a card, a book, or some new lipstick. I am working on a book called Beauty Tips for The Bald & The Breastless. It has practical tips on how to look better than you feel. As far as encouragement, I would point her to Jesus. I heard a pastor use the acronym HOPE: “Happy Optimism of Promises Expected.” Our hope needs to be in Christ, not circumstances, feelings, or the doctor’s diagnosis. As far as what not to say? I never ask a cancer patient: “What are you eating?” or “Do you have unconfessed sin in your life?”
JBU: What’s next in your ministry?
Kim: I think I’ll be doing Sweet Monday in our home until the day I die! I accept speaking engagements as my schedule allows. I’ve recently completed Volume 4 of Sweet Monday materials and 60 new radio programs of Sweet Monday Minutes, similar to what I share in the outreaches. In addition, I’m working on a training video and training seminars. My hope is to have Sweet Monday thrive long after I am gone.
At my last Sweet Monday a girl came and said, “I’m starting my Sweet Monday next Monday. I’ve given out 200 flyers in my neighborhood.” The fields are truly “pink” for harvest.
www.LookBetterThanYouFeel.com. A new website to promote Kim’s post-surgery camisole, which she invented so patients do not have to change clothes at the doctor’s office anymore. It is feminine and looks adorable with a denim jacket or blouse. The camisole is trademarked and patented.