Where did this all start, you ask? Well, it's kind of hard to pinpoint an exact space in time where this vision began in our hearts. The visions came separately to each of us, but also in complete unison with each detail lining up perfectly. We have two hearts, two very different personalities, but we have the same God with the same plan. If I had to try to explain it, this is what I would tell you:
About four years ago Chelsea and I took an adventure to Quito, Ecuador where we both did internships with Inca Link. For Chelsea, the experience was wonderful, full of new and exciting things, and life-changing. For me, it was life-changing as well, but it was far from wonderful, and it may have been the hardest thing I had ever done at that point in my life. I actually left a whole month early from my trip after many sleepless nights and tears, and I came home disappointed and wondering why I felt God leading me there only to get there and feel lonely and misplaced. Someone wise told me after my return home that eventually my questions and doubt would be answered and God would reveal time after time why He had me there and what the purpose was. I think that Chelsea would agree with me when I say that four or more years later, God is still confirming doubts and filling in the spaces, and as time passes I see more clearly why we were there, and why we were there together.
We worked with multiple ministries in Ecuador including an orphanage, a soup kitchen, and a women's prison, but the ministry that grabbed my attention the most was one that had not even been opened. Inca Link was in the process of establishing a home for young, pregnant mothers in Ecuador who were abandoned when they revealed to their families and friends that they were pregnant. I remember feeling so amazed at the idea of being able to offer hospitality and security to young women in such a vulnerable place. I thought to myself, now this is what the church should be doing. Rather than shutting doors and turning cheeks we should be opening our homes and hearts and arms to the broken. This is the seed that God planted in my heart, and in Chelsea's heart while we were in Quito. Chelsea and I did not share with one another our hopes to open a similar home in Danville, but in both of us the dream had begun.
Years passed after returning home, and the time we spent there became gently faded, but God continued to grow in me a love for all things pregnancy and childbirth, and for all hurting and invisible women. I became pregnant myself, delivered a child, and became more and more passionate about caring for women during such a vulnerable time in life. What may be exciting and joyous for one woman can be a scary and devastating time for others. I felt more and more like I needed to come alongside those who were scared, abused, neglected, alone, stuck, invisible, and beaten down during a time when it is so important that they rest, let go of worries, and have nourishment physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
Chelsea and I have remained close friends and we have weathered the storm that friendship brings. There was an evening about a year ago when Chelsea and I carpooled to a bridal shower in Bloomington, IL and on the ride back we got into a conversation that led us to share with each other our visions. I had heard Chelsea talking about how she wanted to serve women with her life in the past, and she had known me to say the same, but we had never shared the dreams that we kept locked away in our hearts of opening a shelter. We were shocked to hear that our hearts lined up. Perfectly. We started talking about what it would take to open up the shelter. We began to ask if we were crazy. Could we really do it? We both started dreaming and hoping and inside the car was completely silent for a minute or two when a bright and beautiful shooting star flew right across the sky directly in front of our windshield. It may sound silly to you, but God was speaking to us in a very clear way in that moment. God gave us an answer, and we knew that we needed to be in prayer about when to take action.
Some months later I was working for a period as a community-based doula. During my time in the position my eyes were opened wider to the need for the women's shelter. I saw the abusive relationships, the domestic violence, the pregnant teens, and the hurt and daily struggle in the lives of women that live right down the street. I witnessed wandering, homeless pregnant teens who just couldn't go home. They would bounce from house to house until their friends mom kicked them out or live with an abusive boyfriend because in their world, there really was no other option. The one women's shelter in the city was full. I would find myself during working hours browsing the web for grants to open shelters, shelter webpages, domestic violence statistics, fundraising ideas. One day when I was at my desk God spoke clearly to me. What are you waiting for? The time is now. Right now. I am with you.
I texted Chelsea immediately and she came over that week and we were giddy and giggly bouncing girls when we decided that God was telling us to move. Chelsea shared with me about a journal entry she found from when she was in Quito that said "I finally know what I want to do with my life. I will open a home for pregnant teens." Confirmation! Shortly after, I quit my job. I began pursuing the vision God had placed in my heart many years ago. Chelsea and I began with prayer, and then lists of ideas and brainstorming, and then decided that we needed to share our hope and our plan with other Christ-followers. So we did just that, and after hearing some encouragement along with some realistic barriers that we would face, we left with a better idea of what it might take. We were directed to a woman by the name of Cheryl who works at Crossroads church and who has had a vision to establish a non for profit organization called H.O.P.E. ministry for many years. Under the Hope Ministry umbrella she hoped to have homes for the homeless along with a clothing ministry, and whatever other ministries God spoke there to be. She has a heart full of love for the homeless, and she had been praying for confirmation from God that it was time to move on it. She prayed for 19 years before Chelsea and I walked into her office and told her that we also have the same vision in our hearts. Chelsea and I had only been pursuing the opportunity for a couple of months at this point and we had already began to doubt with our foolish and swaying, human hearts.
Ten minutes into our meeting with Cheryl we could tell she was so excited to see us. She had tears in her eyes as we spoke, and she praised God for sending us to her after years of waiting. We were then given a house to use for our ministry. Free. Completely and totally free. A woman who attends Crossroads had just donated the house and many of the leaders in the church had been praying about how it should be used. Separately many people were told from God that it should be a shelter for pregnant women. The same week, Chelsea and I contacted Cheryl. I was in shock, then ecstatic, then saddened. I closed my eyes and apologized to God for having such tiny faith in Him. This is so much bigger than myself. It is so much bigger than Chelsea. This is not our house. It's hers. It's from Him to her. We are only the vessels. That is why we are calling the refuge "Her House".
Her House is a 4 bedroom home with 1 and 1/2 baths with a three car garage. It is a nice house, but it needs some work. We have just began the first stages of establishing a non-for-profit status. We are fundraising to prepare the house for the young women and to pay the legal fees to establish the business. We have a home inspection scheduled for this coming Thursday along with an estimate of the costs for repairs. God has been so faithful in this whole journey. Looking back through my life and my path I can see His hand guiding me, but there is still so much that I cannot see. I am sure that blessing after blessing is lined up and ready to come our way. We do not want to take credit for this home. We want to stay humble in this journey. Without God this would not be.
"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." (Proverbs 19:21). Chelsea and I have plans. We have opinions. We have decorating preferences. So does Cheryl, for that matter. None of this matters. The Lord's purpose will prevail. We hope that you will join us in this journey. Join us in prayer. Join us in praising God from whom all blessings flow. Join us in pouring out Christ's love to those who need it most.
"Nothing is impossible with God." (Luke 1:37)