Wakefield uses biblical counseling skills learned at Southwestern to create a safe haven for women

Elizabeth Bennett
| Oct 6, 2022

Jenifer Wakefield has known what it’s like to need a home and a safe haven. The three-time Southwestern Seminary graduate grew up with a rocky family life which led her to run away from home when she was 10 years old. She stayed away so long that she ended up stealing food and was picked up by the police. Wakefield was taken to a juvenile detention center until she was placed at Texas Baptist Children’s Home when she was 11. 

Attending a summer camp as a 13-year-old at what was then known as Highland Lakes Baptist Encampment in Spicewood, Texas, was a life-changing experience for Wakefield who said “yes” to following Jesus Christ during her time at camp. Leading up to attending that camp, she was “completely without hope and contemplating suicide,” Wakefield remembers. 

Wakefield, who now serves as the women’s ministry leader at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, and is the founder and director of Restoration Ranch in the Central Texas area, was called into ministry 12 years ago. She “wanted to be a pastry chef” and “not work” at her church, however, she said, “God closed every door for me to train professionally as a chef.” However, she has “always loved working with women in a volunteer capacity in previous churches” and never knew her “call to ministry would be working as a church ministry staff person, but it was.” 

While working as the executive administrative assistant to the executive pastor at Great Hills Baptist Church in 2012, Wakefield encountered a woman who was going through a traumatic time and needed help. Wakefield went home and cried and “felt a burden of not having anything for her other than her empty, ridiculous words.” That was a turning point for Wakefield and what led her to Southwestern. “I knew I needed further training more than the empty words I could provide,” said Wakefield. 

In 2013, she began the certificate in biblical counseling program at Southwestern Seminary. After completing the program, she enrolled in the Master of Arts in Christian Education in 2014, and three weeks after her December 2017 graduation, she began in the Doctor of Educational Ministries degree program with a focus in biblical counseling. Wakefield graduated with her doctorate last May. 

Wakefield learned many valuable things at Southwestern that continue to help her in her ministry role at GHBC and leading Restoration Ranch, a ministry that helps women ages 18-65 who are impacted by crisis and addiction. “The first thing that was really evident to me and lived out faithfully to me by the professors is that Jesus Christ is paramount and His Word is completely, totally, 1,000-percent sufficient for everything,” said Wakefield. The love for Christ professors and leaders at Southwestern manifested still makes her emotional. 

Wakefield also learned that being in seminary was preparation for the ministry she had been called to as she said, “It’s hard. It’s like bootcamp and there’s a mindset that goes along with that.” 

“The third thing I learned, that I think was the most valuable to me, is that biblical counseling is a calling and you’re either called to it or you’re not,” Wakefield said. She explained that biblical counseling has “nuts and bolts” and “a practicality to it” that help the counselor best help the counselee. “There are processes that were good to learn and Southwestern taught me that,” Wakefield remembers. “It was very valuable. I was able to bring that back here to our church.”  

One of Wakefield’s most memorable professors during her time at Southwestern was Jonathan Okinaga, assistant professor of biblical counseling in the Jack D. Terry School of Educational Ministries. Wakefield said Okinaga, who served as her doctoral supervisor, is “incredibly real,” noting his authenticity. She said Okinaga “works hard to connect and build relationships with his students.” 

“He does everything he can to help an individual succeed,” Wakefield said. “He encourages and always picks up the phone if you call.” 

Okinaga said Wakefield is “one of those rare students who blends ministry, school, family, and friends all into one complete package” noting she “has become family” to her former professor, his wife, and son.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Wakefield and her media team at GHBC created “Table Talk,” as she saw a need to reach out to women not engaging in church and the increase in women dealing with issues related to the pandemic such as anxiety, fear, and depression, but also other issues women face, such as abortion. Table Talk is a video library that can be accessed on the church’s website consisting of “different conversations for issues that women face in life and a discussion about their story with the biblical perspective on how they went through that, but also how they keep moving forward in a biblical fashion.” 

Wakefield said, “The most immediate feedback has been from the segment on abortion” and since the first airing, she has “had an outpouring of response from women in our church wanting to engage in counseling because of their decision to have an abortion. There have been men who have been impacted by the video as well.” 

Through Wakefield’s training at Southwestern and seeing the need for biblical counseling, GHBC will be implementing a biblical counseling ministry soon for men and women. 

Wakefield has been able to take what she learned at Southwestern and apply it to working with the women at her church and at Restoration Ranch. “The Lord leads perfectly. My husband, Gary, helps me tremendously maintain the balance. My main commitment is to my relationship with the Lord, then my husband, my staff ministry role at Great Hills Baptist Church, and then the women at Restoration Ranch.”

Wakefield has come full circle. Her early days as a runaway girl were filled with instability and hopelessness and Jesus turned her life around and gave her a firm foundation. Now, she strives to share that firm foundation with women at Great Hills Baptist Church and Restoration Ranch.