FARGO — In the late 1980s, whenever Dan Borsheim would travel back to the Fargo-Moorhead area from Washington, D.C., where he was a pastor addressing the counseling needs of a large church, he would hear about the need here for Christian-based counseling.
“That would haunt me,” says Borsheim, who sensed God might be calling him back to his roots, despite enjoying his life in Washington.
Eventually, that Holy-Ghost tap caused Borsheim to consider a move. And on Sept. 1, 1991, he became the first director of Fargo’s brand-new Valley Christian Counseling Center.
Since then, the center has moved twice, settling into its newest facility at 1112 Nodak Drive S. in August 2019.
Next month, the center will celebrate 30 years of serving the mental health needs of our area, through a Christ-centered approach, with an anniversary event at Delta Hotel.
Borsheim remembers that first day well. “I sat at a desk provided by the New Life Center, tapping my fingers, wondering if we would have any clients,” he says. “Eventually, 11 people came from up and down the valley,” from places like Langdon, N.D., Fosston, Minn., Sisseton, S.D., and other towns in between.
He credits KFNW radio station for helping get the word out in those early days “It just kept growing that first year, and by the end of it, I was up to 100 appointments a month.”
Eventually, other counselors and staff joined Borsheim.
“It was definitely a step out in faith to come here. We brought our three kids along — the oldest was in eighth grade at the time — with no promise of any income,” he says. “But God helped me sense that this is where he wanted me to be.”
The center has traversed both good and bad times, he says, including snowstorms and floods that prompted office closings. When COVID-19 arrived, the center quickly adjusted, offering recently added telehealth options.
“We had times when there was some real testing,” Borsheim says. “Yet God has just continued to provide for the center, and now we’ve grown to where we’re doing over 1,000 appointments a month.”
In the beginning…
The newest facility includes a room named for Dr. David Todd, a local pediatrician, now deceased, who realized the mental and spiritual needs of his patients could not be adequately addressed during office visits.
When Todd addressed a group of pastors about this, they took up his challenge of seeking to start a Christian counseling center, forming an ad hoc committee and board, and bringing in some other spiritual leaders and faith-based counselors.
A vision began to form. One of the pastors had been involved in a counseling center in Rochester, N.Y., and helped convince them their goal was reachable, according to the Rev. Durward “Dude” Garrett, one of the founding pastors.
“Also, some of the larger churches agreed to put some financial support behind this new work,” he says.
Garrett had been interested in Christian counseling himself, and when he moved here in 1987 to pastor Temple Baptist Church, that interest followed him. “In some ways, my personality seems bent that way,” he says, noting that a difficult first year of marriage also led him to see the value in churches offering pre-marital counseling and other such ministries to help families.
The churches involved in those formative years agreed to “band together” behind the center’s goals, he adds. “There were still no guarantees, but the structure was in place.”
He credits the bravery and leadership of Borsheim for providing the final piece. “Dan’s done such a wonderful job of growing the center, the work and himself, making important decisions along the way that have proven to be so wise. He really did put his faith where his words were, and I continue to appreciate Dan and the courage he had.”
The Christian model
Borsheim says the center’s model basically entails “sitting down with a counselor who shares your faith and probably has put a lot of prayer into their morning before starting,” adding, “We want God involved in this, and to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit” in addressing clients’ needs.
His colleague Dr. Lori Rottman has put it this way, he notes: “I get to sit in the front seat of what God is doing in someone’s life.”
Borsheim adds, “I often pray under my breath in the middle of a session, ‘God, help me to see what I need to see here. Help me ask the right question.’ You’re participating with Jesus in the life of this person.”
Ann Dahl first connected with the center through her job as a social worker in adoption services. When some specific needs came up, she saw how Valley Christian came through for those clients.
Dahl, who later became involved as a board member, says the center, while not competing with other services, offers the faith perspective to aid in healing for those seeking it.
“Some counselors are very uncomfortable going there, and might even work against, or discourage, accessing that faith resource, or just not be equipped to address it.”
The model comes from a true and tried source, she notes, recalling how “Jesus looked out on the crowds and felt compassion for the people. He saw that some of them were like sheep without a shepherd, and he offered himself. This is an extension of that healing and compassion Jesus felt.”
Sarah Stigen, a counselor at the center who recently began transitioning into a co-directorship with Nicole Rostad, says it’s an honor to bring the faith piece into sessions.
“It helps clients see who God is, and who they are to him, and the freedom that comes as a result of that.”
She uses the visual of Japanese pottery to illustrate how beauty can come from brokenness, noting how these cracked vessels are mended with liquid gold. The clients, she says, are like this pottery, and the gold, like God’s healing work in them.
“The gold is where God is in our life and our story. It is his restoration of those broken places.”
As Christians, she says, we sometimes miss out by pretending those broken places aren’t there, and may need a reminder that we can invite God into them.
“His presence in that pain changes everything.”
The next 30 years
Looking ahead, Stigen says it’s an exciting time for the center, with a newer facility that can address the growing mental health needs of our community, and a staff that’s committed.
“We’re also adding providers, so they’re able to have their unique population that they see, and we’re getting back to our roots of more actively partnering with churches.”
Stigen says that along with continuing to offer quality counseling, the center is seeking ways to better support pastors and strengthen the church as a whole.
“All of the counselors are committed to meeting people where they’re at, in hopes we can help them become more fully alive,” Stigen says. “Whether they’re coming in with church wounding, symptoms of anxiety or depression, or a family falling apart, we want to meet them where they’re at, with professional skill and from a grace-filled approach.”
Though stepping down from his directorship position, Borsheim will still be involved in counseling and fundraising for Valley Christian Counseling.
At times, he says, he pinches himself, realizing all that has been accomplished in the last 30 years, with a center that began with one counselor and now has close to 25.
“I think, how did this happen? Was I this wonderful leader? No, I don’t think so,” Borsheim says. “God did this. And I’m so overwhelmed with thankfulness that I got to be a part of it.”
If you go
What: Valley Christian Counseling Center dinner and 30th anniversary celebration
When: Tuesday, Nov. 2; 5:30 p.m. punch social, and 6-8 p.m. dinner and program
Where: Delta Hotel, 1635 42nd St. S., Fargo
Info: Visit www.valleychristiancounselingcenter.com or call 701-532-3932 for complimentary tickets
Salonen, a wife and mother of five, works as a freelance writer and speaker in Fargo. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and find more of her work at Peace Garden Passage, http://roxanesalonen.com/.