October 20, 2017

Chastity speaker conceived through rape finds home in Church

Pam Stenzel poses with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson prior to the Right to Life of Indianapolis’ “Celebrate Life Dinner” in Indianapolis on Oct. 3. Stenzel served as the keynote speaker addressing the topic of chastity. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Pam Stenzel poses with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson prior to the Right to Life of Indianapolis’ “Celebrate Life Dinner” in Indianapolis on Oct. 3. Stenzel served as the keynote speaker addressing the topic of chastity. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

When Pam Stenzel speaks around the world about chastity and sexual integrity, she does so with more than two decades of experience.

She’s learned of many stories in those years. More than 900 people were riveted as she shared one of those stories at the Right to Life of Indianapolis dinner on Oct. 3 in Indianapolis.

(Related story: Respect Life Month: International speaker outlines costs of sexual relations outside of marriage)

“Fifty-two years ago a young 15-year-old [girl] in Michigan became pregnant,” she began. “She had a lot of difficult decisions to make, maybe more than some 15-year-olds—she was raped.

“But this young girl chose to give her child life, and to place that child with an adoptive family.

“And that child is me.”

Stenzel now speaks to a half million students around the globe every year about the physical, emotional and spiritual importance of chastity. She shared with

The Criterion the story of how she came to champion this cause—and to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church along the way.

‘Walking alongside these girls’

That Stenzel was born at all is a reality she attributes in part to when she was born.

“At the time of my birth, my birthmother was in foster care,” she says. “Had I been born in 1975, not ‘65, I’d have been killed by the state.”

Instead, Stenzel was adopted by a Baptist family in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“I was at church every day it was open,” she says. “I loved the church. One of the things I’m so grateful for in my upbringing is we were given a strong reverence for Scripture … [and] faith.”

Stenzel also describes her family as “very pro-life”—in a family of eight children, only one of her siblings is not adopted.

And it was through her mother’s volunteering efforts at a pregnancy center starting in 1981 that Stenzel first felt the call to work with young pregnant women.

“At Moody Bible Institute [a three-year Bible college in Chicago], I really wanted to work at a pregnancy center for practicing Christian ministry,” she says. “That’s where I really fell in love with that part of ministry—walking alongside these girls making a decision, through nine months, helping them make decisions good for them and the baby, not just telling them, ‘Don’t have an abortion.’ ”

Moody Bible Institute is also where she met her husband, Dave. They moved to Minnesota, where Stenzel worked for nine years as director of Alpha Women’s Center, a counseling center for women in crisis pregnancies.

It was while working there that she was asked by Youths for Christ to make a video of a chastity talk that she gave.

“Eventually that 1996 version [of the video] was translated into 11 languages and used in 41 countries in the world,” she says.

Stenzel, who has a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, started traveling nationally and internationally, speaking on chastity and sexual integrity.

“Eventually, my husband said, ‘You can’t speak and run a pregnancy center—you need to choose,’ ” she recalls.

Thus in 2001 she created Enlighten Communications, a company through which her DVDs, books and curricula are sold and through which she schedules her speaking engagements. Currently, the mother of three and grandmother of one speaks to more than 500,000 students each year all around the world.

‘Had to go to Mass to experience reverence’

Speaking internationally is not the only form of journeying that Stenzel has experienced in life. She also traveled a long road of faith that eventually led her to the Catholic Church.

Dave was raised Catholic, became an evangelical Christian in college, then came back to Catholicism after serving for several years as a Protestant pastor.

“I really wanted to understand the faith system my husband had come from,” she says.

Meanwhile, Stenzel notes she was “deeply involved in the pro-life movement, and came across so many faithful Catholics who challenged my experience with people who didn’t really know Jesus or live their faith.”

She started studying, reading and having discussions with her in-laws. She learned about Church history and the teachings of the faith.

Then she was introduced to St. John Paul II and his teachings on the “Theology of the Body.”

“I just fell in love with the way John Paul expressed our sexuality and God’s creation,” she says.

One of their neighbors in Minnesota might have had something to do with Stenzel coming into the full communion of the Church. His name is Jeff Cavins—a leading evangelist for the Eternal Word Television Network and, like Stenzel’s husband, someone who came back to Catholicism after years as an evangelical pastor.

“Jeff Cavins always used to tell me, ‘You’re Catholic, Pam. You just don’t know it yet,’ ” she recalls.

After seeing the Protestant church “slide into moral relativism [where] ‘if we don’t like one church, we’ll just find another,’ ” says Stenzel, she and Dave started going to Sunday Mass in addition to attending services at a Protestant church on Saturday evenings.

“I think it was the Easter Vigil, and [at the Protestant service] there was a disco ball and a band was playing,” she recalls. “We felt like we had to go to Mass to

experience reverence. That was the moment we said, ‘This is getting too much.’ ”

Stenzel was received into the full communion of the Church during the Easter Vigil in 2005.

‘A strong call to honor God and his law’

While Stenzel is Catholic, she notes that her ministry is ecumenical.

She calls youths to chastity through information relayed in her talks and other media. She relays statistics about sexually transmitted diseases, correlations of early single parenthood to poverty, and the emotional and spiritual ramifications of disobeying God’s boundaries for sexuality.

She also offers practical advice for how to remain chaste.

“I tell kids, especially girls, when you first decide to date this person, you need to lay down the boundaries in the beginning,” says Stenzel. “You need to say, ‘Here’s what I value. This is why I intend to save myself for marriage. Here’s my boundary—don’t cross it.’ If in a month they’re pushing, they have no respect for you.”

She also encourages teens to “write down the 10 qualities [a person they’re dating] must have, then 10 things they can’t have. If you know in one to two dates they don’t meet those, they’re gone.

“This is going to be the [parent] of your children. You’ll be with this person for life, forever! You have to have standards.

Also, Stenzel tells teens, “If you’re dating and you laid things out, don’t be alone. … My husband and I knew how hard it is. We said we will never be alone. We could be private, but in a public place. Clothes aren’t coming off in McDonald’s.

“And saying no to [drinking] would be 1,000 times in the right direction.

“Taking those kind of precautions [of setting boundaries, knowing what you value, avoiding being alone and not drinking] can prevent 95 percent of the problems, just by addressing things on the front end.”

Stenzel also offer advice to parents.

“Don’t let your kids date until they’re 16,” she says. “Before that, they don’t have the maturity. They need to be in at least their junior or senior year [of high school]. It forces them to date age-mates. Before that, they can’t handle the pressure.

“That age is about building a relationship. Before that, kids need to be involved, be busy so this dating thing isn’t an option—then you can’t have hours and hours for dating.”

She also encourages parents to “teach kids what is the purpose of dating. This generation is born to hookup then decide if anything is worth pursuing.”

Whether citing statistics or offering advice, Stenzel says her “call to kids to chastity or sexual integrity is a strong call to honor God and his law in order that they can avoid all the pain and consequence of doing the opposite.”

(For more information on Pam Stenzel’s books, DVDs and more, go to www.pamstenzel.com.)

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