More than a Meal

The Lisieux CommunityThursday evenings are a special time for the women we serve on the streets of Memphis. Trisha Henderson, our Survivor Advocate, and Sandra Ferrell, our Executive Director, go to a place where the women gather, taking them a meal and whatever supplies are available each week. But they don’t just drop off these items and drive away. They stay and talk with the women, encourage them, and pray with them when the women request it. They bring the love of Christ to them.

Here are just two examples of how they are connecting with the women and building trust with them:

From Trisha:

When people are caught in the grips of addiction, it’s so hard to break free or even see themselves free. The person addicted not only suffers but the whole family suffers. Our sistas on the streets sometimes talk about their children to us. Some talk about how proud they are of their children’s accomplishments. Some have lost custody of their children and talk about how they miss them. They all shed tears when they talk about their children—some are happy tears, some are sad tears.

What we, Lisieux Community, want them to know is that when they get tired and want their life to change, there are people who are willing to help them, pray with them and walk alongside them every step of the way.

From Sandra:

Trisha had picked up things for the black women to use on their skin and hair, and we passed those out in small bags. One woman needed a pick, and all of them had been passed out before she got her bag. I hesitated before I reached in my purse to get mine out. I was concerned that she would be offended that it was used, and I didn’t have a place to wash it. When she saw that it was mine, she cried. She cried because I gave her something personal of mine.

The women want so little and give so much.

You may not realize that a great deal of preparation goes into every one of these visits. Trisha is doing a great job of gathering donations of needed items such as shoes, socks, hair care products, and bus passes. She is also making contact with various organizations that can provide assistance to our women and help reduce their vulnerabilities.

Trisha, Sandra, and the volunteers who assist them are living out the mission of the Lisieux Community to provide support and education for women who have survived trauma, addiction, prostitution, and life on the streets. And this is our mission because we believe every human being is worth the effort. As recipients of grace, we have no choice but to lavish it on others, especially those who need it most.

We continue in this much-needed ministry with the resources we currently have, but just think how much more we will be able to do when we open the drop-in center. Please continue to pray with us for our women, and pray that we will be able to serve them even better in the days ahead through the drop-in center. If you are already donating to our work, we are more grateful than we can say. If not, please consider becoming a monthly donor and move us closer to our goal of opening a drop-in center. You can have a part in providing help and healing to women who have lost hope. Is there any higher purpose than that?

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The Mission of Lisieux

On January 7 we announced that Thistle & Bee has leased our residence, so you may be wondering what we are doing now. We want to assure our supporters that the mission of the Lisieux Community has not changed. We continue to provide support and education for women who have survived trauma, addiction, prostitution, and life on the streets. That is where our heart has been and will remain.

But over the past four years we have learned a great deal about how deeply trauma has affected the women we serve, and we came to realize that an important piece is missing between their time on the streets and their entrance into a residential program. That piece is trust. Some of the women accepted in our program stayed only a few weeks, in large part because they were not yet able to trust.

Imagine you had spent months, years, or even a lifetime in which your only interaction with other people was to be manipulated, exploited, and traumatized. Even if someone offered you a safe home and resources for health, education, and personal growth, the defense mechanisms you had developed in order to survive might not allow you to let down your guard. Women who have been on the streets have a difficult time getting past the question, “What’s the catch?” They do not understand why anyone would help them without wanting something in return.

What, then, is the remedy? Simply put, we must meet women where they are and interact with them with no strings attached. Our first step has been to begin building relationship with about 20 women, meeting with them one night a week to provide nourishing food, as well as warm hats, scarves, socks, and other supplies. By showing them that we truly care about them as people and not as a project, we begin to build their trust.

As you can see, although our mission has not changed, our focus has. So if someone should ask you what we do, you can tell them this:

The Lisieux Community serves those women on the streets who are not yet ready to live in a residential community because their past has taught them not to trust easily. Our goal is to meet their immediate needs, while showing them that other choices are available to them. Though we cannot change anyone else, we can empower women by offering the support and resources they will need when they are ready to choose a different life.

The most important thing we do is love the women we serve right where they are today and then do it again tomorrow and the next day.

We hope that by now you are now wondering how you can help. Here are some practical opportunities for you to be part of the work of Lisieux:

  • During these cold winter months, we need warm hats, scarves, gloves, and socks. You can call 901-800-8840 to arrange to have your donations picked up.
  • All year round, we need travel-size toiletries and washcloths.
  • For $100 you can sponsor a nourishing meal to the group of women we serve.
  • If $100 is not in your budget, then consider the following:
    • $25 will sponsor gas for our van for a week.
    • $25 will sponsor enough fresh fruit for a meal.
    • $75 will sponsor the main portion of a meal.

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As always, we cannot do this without you, our faithful supporters, who share our desire to see that every woman has the resources she needs to thrive. Thank you in advance for your continued support.

A Labor of Love

If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you may already know that our community has recently lost two of our former residents a few days apart. Lindsay had left the residence about 18 months ago, but she remained in touch, and we rejoiced with her over every accomplishment. She had a rewarding job and had recently married the love of her life. Wendy was with us for only six months, but her enthusiasm was infectious, and her inquisitiveness was unstoppable. She also had a job, and more importantly a church where she was accepted and respected. She loved—and was loved by—the community of women who surrounded her. This mutual love and respect inspired growth in Wendy and in everyone who knew her. Both Lindsey and Wendy had found a significant amount of healing.

Yet all of these benefits were not enough to conquer the insidious disease of addiction.

At such times, there are more questions than answers. Some might ask whether there is any point in continuing the work that we do at Lisieux. But the real question is, was the Lisieux Community a place of growth for Lindsey and Wendy? Without a doubt, the answer is yes. We grieve over their death, and we rejoice in the healing that they had experienced. Neither of them died in the horror of trafficking. Both were working hard and using the resources needed to continue in recovery. They had made great strides since first coming to us, and we choose to focus on their many successes.

Some might also ask if this task is too great for us. While we would be negligent if we did not take time to reassess our approach after these events, we are confident that our program offers the resources needed to put the women on the road to recovery. Through cooperation with other organizations, we provide excellent resources for health care, specialized counseling, 12-step meetings, coping skills, and spiritual growth. The one change we would make is to have a full-time social worker to help each woman identify the source of her woundedness and ensure we are making the best use of those resources.

We have no illusions that we can heal anyone. What we can do is offer each woman the opportunities and make ourselves available to walk alongside our residents in their journey toward healing and hope. Each woman who comes to us has deep wounds, but she does not have to deal with them alone.

IMG_1270Before Wendy died, she had started crocheting an afghan, but she completed only a few inches. One of her many friends found it and decided to complete it. Pictured at right is this beautiful work in progress. That is the same choice we have made as a community. We will continue this work to honor all of the women who are or have been residents at Lisieux, and to be here for those who will need us in the future. We will continue crafting a community of love, for that is a powerful defense against the sorrow of this world.

We invite you to continue walking with us on this journey.

Worth the Effort

This summer our Board of Directors has undergone several changes. We’ve elected three new members, and one of our founding members has decided to take a break from board responsibilities while remaining a loyal supporter. We’ve also increased our social media presence (find us on Twitter, sign up for our email list).

Yet one thing has not changed: our commitment to providing a nurturing environment in which wounded women not only find healing and hope, but also gain the various skills they need to be self-sufficient upon completion of the program. Our motivation is simple. We believe that every human being has infinite worth, even if he or she doesn’t recognize that worth, and even if others would deny it. The women that we serve are not throwaways.

While we are committed to our purpose of empowering our residents, we are also realistic in our expectations. We have no quick fixes to offer, no instant formula for a better life. To succeed in our program, our residents must be willing to trust that the program is designed for their good. They must be willing to change and grow. Even more important, they must understand that change is usually difficult, and personal growth is often painful. Not every woman who starts the program finishes it. In such cases, we offer the opportunity to return, and we pray that the time they spent in the program helped them in some measure.

But those who stay and face the challenges are rewarded with the satisfaction of achieving their goals. For example, two of our residents are graduating this month from the Personal and Career Development program offered by HopeWorks. They have proven their work ethic through challenging internships, and their smiles shine a bit brighter these days.

We are grateful to our financial supporters, volunteers, and partner programs for helping make those smiles possible.

Welcome to the Lisieux Community

Thank you for joining us here at the Lisieux Community.  Our first residents moved into our first house (pictured here!) in August 2014.  I want to extend an invitation for you to walk along with us.

What our Board of Directors has found is that we are not here to change anyone other than ourselves.  As we have built the organization, we have learned about heartbreaking things as well as seeing strength and resilience that we’ve never seen before.  In other words, we are not the same people who started a year and four months ago.  As we change, so do our interactions with others.

We are providing a house where four women will be safe as they learn to live life in a new way.  Most women do not choose to participate in prostitution and, because of the limits of that lifestyle, they haven’t learned to care for themselves in a healthy way.  We will share a little bit about the people and organizations who are working together to provide opportunities for the women to grow.  We will also share some of the tools we are using.

Get ready to rejoice with us as milestones are reached and maybe cry with us when life is difficult.  Above all, we ask for your prayers as we move forward.

Surviving trauma and trafficking

The Lisieux Community provides a home for women who have survived trauma, addiction, trafficking and prostitution, all part of life on the streets. The women learn to live in community as they access other organizations to assist in healing. We believe that the women do not begin a life on the streets on their own, but through the culture in which we live; we want to inspire change now to transform the culture itself.

Photo by Taro Yamasaki.