Defining Success

We are often asked how we define success in our work. Donors especially want to know that they are making a difference for a non-profit’s clients, and potential donors use this information to decide which organizations to support and how much to give. We get that. The trouble is that the evidence of progress we have seen in our women’s lives over the past 14 months has been small and quiet, not the spectacular changes that would convince anyone we are making a difference. But those small, quiet changes are monumental when you reflect upon what they mean in the lives of our women. The best way we know to count success is by how many vulnerabilities we help our women address.

When we started taking food and supplies out on Thursday nights last year, we served 12 to 15 women weekly. They did not trust us enough to eat anything but sandwiches; after all, you can pull apart a sandwich to see exactly what is in it. You can’t do that with a casserole or a bowl of soup. But over time, as we consistently served the women good food and treated them with love and respect, they began to trust us more. Now they welcome home-cooked meals prepared with love by such faithful donors as Barbara Boucher, whose banana pudding would win first prize in anybody’s dessert contest. Now we serve about 25 women a hearty meal on Thursday evenings and give them a bag of snacks for the next day. We also made sure they all had coats, boots, scarves, and gloves this winter, as well as hand-warming packets. What would it mean to you for 25 of your family members to be fed and clothed who might otherwise be hungry and cold? What would it mean to you to have such vulnerabilities reduced in your own life?

Food and supplies make up only part of our ministry. We have taken five of our women to obtain an ID, without which they are unable to apply for a job, rent a room or apartment, or obtain food stamps and other types of assistance. We help them identify what resources are available to them, and we have worked with them to gain access to health care, including mental health screening. We’ve worked with some to complete job applications. As of this writing, five women who were homeless when we first met them now have housing, which reduces not only their vulnerability to the fickleness of Memphis weather but also their risk of being robbed or attacked. In addition, they are now able to enjoy the advantage of a restful night’s sleep, which in turn, reduces health problems. What price would you put on the increased comfort, health, and safety of five women?

Perhaps the best way to define our success, however, is to see the women that we’ve served reach out and begin to encourage others. One woman whose vulnerabilities have been greatly reduced in the past few weeks came out last Thursday to encourage the other women to trust us. She said she used to show up on Thursdays because she needed the food and supplies we provide. Now that she has a job and a roof over her head, she comes out because she wants to visit with us. She is now encouraging others to apply for a job. How much is it worth to see this kind of transformation?

Even if you considered only the fact that a woman who was living on the streets and now holds down a job has become a productive, tax-paying citizen, such victories would be counted as success. But to us, the benefit is so much greater than that. We cheer for every woman whose confidence has increased because we have shown her she is worthy to be loved and not exploited. We applaud every woman who has begun to unravel the effects of trauma in her life. We rejoice with every woman who has seen at least some of her dreams come true.

And most of all we continue to show our women the path to reducing their vulnerabilities. Our work doesn’t end until each of the women we serve is able to pursue the life she wants to live and not the life that her circumstances have forced her to live. For us, that is the ultimate success.

Why Don’t They Just Do Better?

We are extremely grateful to all of you who “get” what we are doing and why we do it. Donors continue to shower us with food and supplies, and volunteers not only help distribute the items to our women, but stay for a while to offer a smile and a listening ear.

But not everyone recognizes the wisdom in showing up week after week to serve most of the same women. Some who hear about our work ask questions that begin with these four words: Why don’t they just …?

Here are a few examples.

  • Why don’t they just get treatment for their addiction?
  • Why don’t they just go to a homeless shelter?
  • Why don’t they just go live with a family member?
  • Why don’t they just get a job and stop prostituting themselves?

To offer such simplistic solutions is to disregard the enormous complexity of the problems that weigh our women down. Addiction, homelessness, prostitution, isolation, and lack of self-worth are only symptoms. No permanent change can occur until a woman is ready and able to address the root cause of these symptoms, which most often is trauma. And they will never be ready or able until they trust those who can offer them holistic, lasting solutions.


We can’t count that high

We are sometimes asked how many times a woman may visit our planned drop-in center before we would turn her away because she hasn’t made any effort to leave the streets. Our response is that we can’t count that high. We refuse to set a limit because every woman’s situation is different, and some need longer than others to start the path toward healing. Some may never be able to make that move. Regardless, we are convinced that our efforts to show these women real love by meeting some of their basic needs is the right thing to do.

Even without the drop-in center, we have been able to build trust over the past few months, and a few women have decided to trust us enough to get the help they need. But most of them are still on the streets. Nevertheless, we cannot and will not rush the process. It takes as long as it takes.

Last Thursday, we found out one of our women had been attacked. Thankfully, she showed up before our visit was over, so her injuries were not life-threatening, but one of the other women got upset that her sister on the street had been hurt, and she became loud. Yet we continued to treat her with love and kindness. We know that when the women act out, it is the trauma talking—or yelling or screaming or crying. Our hearts break that our women have to endure such pain. Yet we must also say that we have never seen more resilient souls. They are grateful for whatever we provide. They smile and laugh despite the pain, and when they ask us to pray with them, it is a sweet moment of hope like no other we have ever experienced.

Please continue to pray with us for these precious souls whose eternal worth gives us joy, even as we grieve for their situation. Please give whatever you are able so that we can open the drop-in center, where we will be better able to meet their needs.

Thank you.


A Glimpse of Life on the Streets

Every Thursday evening, rain or shine, our Survivor Advocate, Trisha Henderson, and at least one other member of the Lisieux Community (usually our Executive Director, Sandra Ferrell) meet with the women who are willing to be served by Lisieux. We’ve told you in the past about the blessings that our representatives bring with them through the generosity of donors, as well as the blessings they receive in the form of the women’s gratitude and trust. But what we haven’t mentioned is the challenges they encounter. This aspect is best told in some of Trisha’s words from May 30:

The things we see, hear, and smell when we are on the streets with our sistas are heartbreaking but keep us encouraged to not give up on them. The disrespect and name calling from others, the fights, the smoking, the drinking, men pulling up to buy sex, the women jumping in and out of cars . . ., the loud trap music, fancy cars, condom wrappers, and empty beer cans on the ground are all part of the lifestyle. But today, one of our sistas was ready to go get help and another started a new job, and it makes it all worth whatever we see, hear, or smell because we know that surrender, prayer, and God is what works.

As Trisha notes, our women are worth whatever we can do to love them right where they are, but also to show them the way to a better life. We extend to them the grace that we have received, and we will be able to do so much more of that when our plan for a drop-in center is realized. But we cannot do this alone. Your support is vital to this ministry, and we ask you to consider making a recurring donation so that we can not only continue bringing food and hope on Thursday nights, but also expand our work to provide additional services.

Will you help?


Rescue the Perishing

One hymn that has stuck with me from my Baptist childhood is “Rescue the Perishing.” I wasn’t sure what the word “perishing” meant, but since the song went on to say, “care for the dying,” I figured it couldn’t possibly be good. My seven-year-old self sang this song at the top of my lungs without thinking about whether I knew anyone who was perishing and if so, whether I was responsible to “snatch them in pity from sin and the grave.” Everyone around me seemed just fine, except maybe that one little boy at school named Mike whose clothes were always too big and slightly dirty and who rarely had enough money for more than a bowl of soup for lunch. My life in the suburbs was so sheltered that I had no clue about the people in Memphis who lived near the brink of despair and death.

juliaIt wasn’t until I was much older that I came to realize how many girls of the girls I knew who looked perfectly fine were anything but fine. Some had fathers who beat them and mothers who were too distant to care. Some had relatives or family friends who sexually abused them and warned them not to tell a soul.  Some became addicted to drugs when they fell under the spell of “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Some who were aching for love they didn’t get from their parents became sexually active at a young age, got pregnant, and were turned out on the streets. Some hastily married the person they thought was their prince, only to find that he was really a toad. And possibly the worst, some girls were abused in the name of God under the auspices of the church. Girls and women around me were perishing then, and sadly, they are still perishing now.

Each woman who comes to Lisieux has been through a variety of painful experiences that led her into the hell of addiction and prostitution. The path back to health and freedom is painful as well, because it requires shedding old patterns of behavior, learning to trust, and developing new skills for coping with life’s ups and downs. Such a path cannot be walked alone. The residents of Lisieux receive the tender loving care of a supportive team of volunteers, as well as a variety of professional services and programs to assist them in their recovery. But for lasting change to be achieved, that care must be coordinated by a licensed social worker who is able to spend enough time with each resident to get to know her specific needs.

Will you help us raise the funds to pay a full-time social worker to serve as our Clinical Director?



Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that are broken will vibrate once more.

Lyrics by Frances J. Crosby, 1869


Completing the Picture


We’ve recently shared photos on Facebook of the beautiful bedroom makeovers that some of our generous supporters provided this summer. Having lovely things in a neat and orderly environment is important for our residents. It shows them that they are important and treasured, that they are loved with no strings attached. It shows them that we have their best interest at heart.

But you must understand that those pieces of furniture in the picture are not just beds. Each bed is a place of peace for a woman whose life on the streets was frightening and chaotic. Each bed is a place of safety for a woman who had previously been subjected to abuse and exploitation. Each bed is a place of shelter from the elements for a woman who has spent nights in the bug-infested heat of a Memphis summer or the bone-chilling cold of winter.  Each bed is a place of uninterrupted rest for a woman who may not have slept two hours straight in years. Each of those beds represents freedom, comfort, wellbeing, joy, and sometimes life itself. We want you to see and know that Lisieux is first and foremost a home. It is a place of companionship without exploitation. It is a place of healing and hope. It is a place of learning and growth. It is a place of building trust and friendship. It is a refuge for those who are wearier than you can ever imagine.

Yet something important is missing. We need a full-time paid social worker who is dedicated to the care of Lisieux residents and who will focus her attention on helping our women achieve the goal of self-sufficiency. We need someone who is trained to recognize the underlying causes of each resident’s particular struggles and to identify the resources that each one needs. Although we have access to specialized counselors from local organizations who work with our residents to resolve specific issues, we have come to realize that profound healing cannot be accomplished through a series of one-hour appointments. It takes a trained professional who can consistently spend time building a relationship with each woman to help her work through the complex range of issues from her past that threaten her future. We truly believe this is what will benefit our residents most.

Will you partner with us in raising enough money to employ a full-time social worker? We have accomplished much already: four of our former residents who keep in touch remain free from their former way of life, and all of them are working—one has her dream job, and another has held the same job for more than 15 months. One former resident is married, and one has been reunited with her sister. Help us complete the picture and provide even more consistent care for all who follow them.

Make a one-time or recurring donation
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Thank you!

On the Feast of St Thérèse of Lisieux

In my research for educational material to post to Facebook and Twitter over the past few weeks, I’ve located information about countless organizations throughout the world that work to eradicate human trafficking. These organizations operate at the local, regional, national, and international levels to identify and arrest traffickers, to support survivors and their families, and to educate the public on how to spot traffickers and their victims. Truckers, airlines, health care agencies, hotel chains, universities—and the list goes on—have all joined in the fight against this terrible evil that robs its victims of their dignity, their health, their peace of mind, and most of all, their freedom. Movies such as Taken illustrate how pervasive this crime has become and how devastating its consequences on victims and their families.

I am concerned that we may experience information overload and become numb to the suffering of our fellow humans. We may think that the problem is so large that we can do nothing worthwhile. We may despair because we do not have the money to make large donations or the stamina to join physically in the efforts to bring traffickers to justice or the time to walk beside survivors in their journey back to health and life.

I am also concerned that we may become complacent and fail to help because we think such a thing could never happen to us or to our family. However, no one is immune to being preyed upon. While it is true that those who were abused as children are more likely to become victims of trafficking, it is also true that young women who were never abused are duped into this life by job offers that seem genuine. Besides, everyone who needs your help is your neighbor. It breaks my heart that women are being exploited around the world, and I rejoice every time one of them is rescued.

That is why we must all join in this fight wherever we can, whenever we can, as we have the means to do so.

Encouragement to do loving deeds to the glory of God and the good of humankind is the enduring message of St Thérèse of Lisieux:

  • I am the smallest of creatures and I recognize my worthlessness, but I also know how hearts that are generous and noble love to do good.
  • You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.
  • Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.

Today, October 1, on the Feast of St Thérèse of Lisieux, may we renew our efforts to do what we can to support the victims of trafficking. What “smallest right” thing will you do today to rescue victims and turn them into survivors?

If you are able, consider that “smallest right” thing to be a donation to The Lisieux Community to help our residents continue to survive and thrive. Any amount that you can give will be gratefully received and wisely used.



Woman in alley

What is Trafficking?

Walk down any street in Memphis proper and you will see it—women walking on the street. Sometimes there will be a “come hither” look as she asks someone to stop and pay attention. Sometimes there is a confident stride—purse slung over her shoulder, moving at a fast clip—she has just made some money and is going to get the next “hit” of her drug. Sometimes she has no control of the money, there is someone waiting outside the door to take the money and send her on to another “trick.” The person who takes the money will supply the drugs when he/she is ready to, and not until the woman brings in a certain amount of money. If she doesn’t bring in that required amount, she will probably pay physically as well as having her needs withheld.

“Why does she do that?” you ask. She is always looking for someone to fill her need for love and affection. The song “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places” probably didn’t have trafficking in mind but the principle is the same. At a crucial time during childhood, someone let her know that the only affection she would receive was if she gave her physical self to them. What we usually don’t realize is that she gave a part of her soul as well. That person was a trafficker, buying and selling her as a child. Because once that message is seated in her soul by an original buyer, she will now be for sale, still looking for love and affection. Sometimes, because of the anger, she doesn’t seem to be looking for love and affection but the core message is “Please love me!” or “Please accept me!” Sometimes another person controls the sale and sometimes she makes the agreement, but always, her conscious self has no control.

We have found 3 scenarios that propel women into trafficking:

The first is the child from the family that is not stable, where emotional needs are not met. This happens not because the parents do not love the child but because they do not know how to live out love for the child (because of their own wounds).

The second scenario is the family that is stable most of the time but a crisis happens: divorce, death, loss of a job, etc. The parents are working so hard to recover their own lives that the child is left to fend for him/herself. In either of these scenarios the child is vulnerable to anyone who shows love and that is what a trafficker does at the beginning—to lure a child into the trap.

The third scenario is the woman who married without marketable skills, never worked and her spouse even took care of the family finances. If the relationship ends, she has no way to earn a living, to take control of her life; and she turns to men.