ATFM was founded in 1978 by Kathy Nesper and the late Helen Wessel to provide a spiritual perspective on the important life passage of childbirth.
Helen's wisdom had been gleaned from extensive Bible study and personal experience as the mother of six. In 1963, she had authored Natural Childbirth and the Christian Family (later titled Natural Childbirth and the Family and then The Joy of Natural Childbirth). After serving as president of the International Childbirth Education Association, she edited the U.S. editions of Dr. Grantly Dick-Read’s pioneering book on natural chidlbirth, Childbirth Without Fear.
In 1973, through a “chance encounter” two thousand miles from home (which we know was actually a divine appointment), Helen Wessel met Kathy Nesper. Kathy had recently read The Joy of Natural Childbirth and had just given birth to her second child. Kathy and her husband, D.W., invited Helen to speak to some friends in their home.
That evening demonstrated that classes were needed to help new parents give birth and raise their children comfortably, naturally, and joyfully through an understanding of God’s design. Helen and Kathy began ATFM as an extension ministry of Bookmates International, Inc., a non-profit organization Helen had founded that was devoted to the promotion of quality Christian and family life books to disadvantaged peoples around the world.
Kathy began teaching classes, and Helen often said Kathy “pulled” material out of her just in time to teach it. This material became another book, Under the Apple Tree: Marrying, Birthing, Parenting.* Companion leader and student guides soon followed, and the ATFM Christian Childbirth Educator Certification program was born.
Kathy was soon joined in teaching by Lynn Johnson. Today, Kathy continues as president of ATFM, and Lynn as Vice-President and Director of Education.
Though Helen died in 1998, her wisdom continues today through ATFM’s Childbirth Education and Affiliate programs and resources, still under the guidance of the capable leaders who are grateful for her legacy in their lives and the lives of many others.
Why the name “Apple Tree Family Ministries”? It refers to Song of Songs 8:5, a beautiful Bible verse that captures the stages of life from the birth of a female child through her own marriage—all experiences that ATFM addresses.
* Under the Apple Tree is now out of print, but ATFM plans to republish some of its content in booklet form.
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