SAND SPRINGS, Okla. (BP)–When a woman is black and blue from physical abuse, doesn’t have a job, can’t pay her rent, is responsible for a 2-year-old child and may be pregnant with another, it’s hard for her to see that God has a plan and purpose for her life.
Yet that’s precisely the objective of North American missionary Sheila Mitchell and DaySpring Villa, a Baptist women’s shelter in Sand Springs, Okla.
“The first goal of our shelter is that women meet Jesus and follow him,” said Mitchell, director of the center. She and her husband, Todd, are featured during the Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 5-12.
In its 20-year history, the shelter has seen nearly 10,000 women and children come through its doors. Of that number, nearly 900 have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Mitchell said about half of the women who come to the shelter have been abused.
“For some women, everything is hopeless,” she noted. “We teach them that not only is this a place of peace and security where they can put their lives back together, but there is a permanent place of peace and security in heaven for those who trust in Jesus.”
Moving homeless women from the streets to respectability is harder than it might seem, Mitchell said. The shelter can accommodate 55 women and children, but the average at any one time is around 38. Average length of stay is 18-20 days.
“As long as the women are working on goals and obeying rules, they can stay,” Mitchell said. “Every resident must attend Bible study and worship services, and every resident has a chore.”
Each woman selects her goals with the help of a counselor. It may be that she needs a job, or must work on her spending habits. She may want to establish a home, be a godly parent or break the cycle of abuse, drug or alcohol addiction.
“One of the things we strive to do here is teach the women how to have a home, what they need to do to get into a home, and to prepare themselves to live in that home,” Mitchell said.
Some people have never been taught how to clean a room, how to keep a house clean or how to keep children clean. So there are times the staff teaches basics that most people take for granted.
Sometimes learning to accept help is a hard lesson in itself.
Gina, for example, lost her mother when she was 13, and her grandmother was an alcoholic. So Gina learned to take care of herself, never having to ask anyone for help. But when she and her two children were thrown out of the house by her abusive husband, accepting help meant survival.
Six months after she came to the shelter, she had secured a job and saved enough money to move into a small apartment. Not only is Gina better off in her physical circumstances, but she accepted Jesus while living at the shelter.
“I wondered if I was one of those people who God had turned his back on,” Gina said. “My husband and I had done so many things that I should have felt guilty about, and I just didn’t. So I thought maybe I was so hardened that God had left me.”
Carol, a volunteer at DaySpring, said the shelter and her faith in God kept her going when she found herself without a home, a car and everything she had worked for. Now she volunteers because “it’s good for me to know that I am helping someone else, and because I pray that out there somewhere, there is a Christian man who is taking time to help my son.”
Mickey, homeless, with one child, pregnant with another, and trying to get on welfare, said the shelter was the only order to her chaotic life. “I was forced to go to church three times a week,” she laughed. When she left the shelter, she was set up with housing, income and a plan for finishing college.
“The shelter set me on the path to the Lord,” Mickey said. “It provided for my physical needs, and if they hadn’t been provided for, my spiritual needs couldn’t have been nurtured. I’ll be forever grateful to them for setting me on the right path.”
Mitchell says DaySpring Villa has a twofold ministry: to minister to women and children in crisis, but also to teach others to minister.
Anywhere from 75 to 150 volunteers work at the shelter each month, and the house staff includes semester missionaries, Mission Service Corps volunteers and US/C-2 missionaries.
“If you want experiences in ministry, come to DaySpring Villa, because we are dealing with people’s lives that are hurting,” Mitchell said. “If we don’t teach those who come behind us how to minister, then who are going to be our missionaries 20 years from now?”
One of the needs Mitchell has seen over the years is a shelter for younger teenage girls, which requires a separate residential child-care license.
“We get calls every month from girls who are under 18, and legally we cannot shelter them without their mothers with them,” Mitchell noted. “These are girls who either are pregnant or who have already had a child and chose to keep the child.”
When DaySpring moved into a larger facility five years ago, a wing was set aside for an adolescent pregnant and parenting program.
“But the timing has not been right for us to be able to open that, because it does require additional staffing and additional funding,” Mitchell said. “We tell young girls, ‘Don’t get an abortion,’ but what are we doing to provide a place for them to stay once they’ve had the child?”
Her vision is to provide a small residential program where the girls can learn how to be the godly mothers they should be, so their children will not be caught up in the cycle and end up being residents in the women’s shelter part of the program.
In the meantime, the ministry continues to reach women and children, to help them see that, no matter how hopeless a situation is, there is always hope with Jesus Christ.
“The experience of seeing a child sing a song about Jesus or say a Bible verse they’ve learned is worth it all,” Mitchell said.