Broken and hurting women will soon have a new place to call home in DeSoto County when a faith-based safe house called Leah's House opens later this year.
The Christ-based program, which is set to open in August, takes in women who have been abused, are fighting addictions or recently came out of prison. Leah's House, which has moved to the area from Enid, Mississippi to be closer to more resources, was first opened in March 2013 by founder Michelle Moyers, herself a former drug addict who desired to share the freedom and love she found in Christ with other suffering women.
The home is completely free for participants, who are housed for up to 12 months and undergo a regimented program that includes a set schedule, classes, homework, counseling and activities. Life skills are taught, with the women being able to participate in everything from washing clothes to cooking to making jewelry to doing arts and crafts. Women at the home are also taught how to have fun without their addiction, and Moyers said that participants are nearly always amazed when they have a good time without depending on drugs or alcohol.
"We want to minister to the whole woman, to teach her about God but teach her about life, too, and how to live on a day-to-day basis," Moyers said. "It's kind of set up so that when they leave, they would already have a schedule set up and it's not so hard for them to transition back into the world. We have a lot of people that come in and share testimonies, share preaching, share what they've been through and people who just come in and encourage and teach them something that might take their mind off of things."
For Leah's House, Christ is at the center and heart of everything that it does.
"We do believe that Christ is the answer," Moyers said. "If they turn their life over to God, then they can really make a change and get set free and not be held captive by the addiction any longer. We teach them different stuff, such as life skills, boundaries, how to deal with their anger and conflicts, different root problems that they have because we've discovered that it's not the drug, it's not the addiction, but there was something that caused that. And so we try to get to the root of that problem."
Some of the end goals of the ministry are reuniting the women with their children and helping the women set goals, determine what they want out of life, gain independence and go back to work or school. But the overall goal is to help them experience the love and true freedom found in Christ and point them to a personal relationship with the God who created them.
"We just want to teach them life and that God does have a plan, that God does have a future for them, that nobody's just totally out there hopeless," Moyers said. "If they've got breath, there's hope for their life. And we want to share that hope with them and let them see that they can have an abundant life and they can have a reason to live. God put them here for a purpose. They weren't just put here to have a miserable life. They were put here for a plan and a purpose, and each woman has something very specific that she can do with her life. That's what we try to help them discover."
Working alongside Moyers is Janet Marie Napper, the founder of a ministry called Overcoming Abuse God's Way (OAGW). Napper also shares a personal connection to the women who come through the safe house: she was an abused woman herself before giving her life to Jesus.
"Just like Michelle, I gave my life to God and I found a new way of living," Napper said.
Napper became involved in the church and later would become the Public Relations Director for a Christian 12 Step Ministry, a director for Evangelical Bible Mission and a missionary to South Africa for one year. She became involved in Leah's House when she was asked to come back and help establish a safe house for abused women, one of the mission goals of OAGW. Having already helped establish different homes in Olive Branch, Africa and South Dakota and having watched Moyers' work for a while, she was excited to hear that Moyers was coming to town and immediately agreed to partner with her.
"We share the same heart," Napper said. "Those women will not live in freedom or to their full potential or even know their value if they don't get help from the love of God. He uses people that have a testimony. There's the clinical side, there's a lot of clinical people that help, but they lack the spiritual element from experience. So in addition to education, we have the experience. We all work together. That's what I think I love most about working with Michelle, community partnership. It really does take a community to come together to help."
Napper is in charge of recruiting volunteers to adopt rooms and help with different positions in the home. She is also in charge of training volunteers and providing abuse, mental health and human trafficking education. Napper shared that 98 percent of homeless women and 100 percent of incarcerated women have been abused and explained the gravity of the need to minister to these women.
"Abuse is domestic violence, yes, but there's the missing element of neglect and rejection and verbal and financial abuse," Napper said. "If they've never had any of that but they were doing drugs, now they have self-abused. And all of that transpires into lack of identity, hopelessness, fear, homelessness, unwanted pregnancies and all of those things."
Napper reiterated that Christ is the solution rather than simply learning self-control.
"They can form a habit of not doing things, but there's no joy in that," Napper said. "In Christ, you want to lay down because you understand His love. There's great joy in that. When you go through the motions, you wind up getting crabby and taking it out on everybody. Whereas if you're free, then that joy also goes to other people."
This vision can be found in the home's name. LEAH stands for "Living Excited About Hope."
"That's what we want to plant in them, God filling them with hope, expectation that my future can be good," Moyers said. "We want to allow God to fill them with that hope."
Leah's House operates solely through fundraisers and donations rather than government money so that it can be free to express the only true freedom found in Christ. Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church, Crossroads Church and Broadway Baptist Church have all been instrumental in supporting Moyers' ministry. However, there is an abundant need for volunteers throughout the area.
"Think about all the people in our community that need a place to go," Napper said. "They're just hanging on the edges or in abusive, addicted relationships because they have no way out. You could have a house on every street and there wouldn't be enough unfortunately."
All volunteers working in the home will be trained, and there are many different ways that volunteers can become involved. They can "adopt" the two women in a room and provide items needed from toiletries to birthday and Christmas gifts. There are also needs for monthly financial sponsorships, activities directors, day house mothers and educators. A whole church that wants to become involved can split up what they provide among Sunday school classes or ladies' ministries, with one group providing items for the kitchen, one group providing items for the bathroom, one group providing for the laundry, one group preparing a meal and so on. Others can just be present to encourage and comfort the women.
"It's just good for the ladies to see Christian ladies coming in that are happy, full of joy, having a good life," Moyers said. "They need a mentor."
"I will never forget when I was a safe house," Napper said. "You had women with kind hearts, and then you had Christian women with kind hearts. The women with kind hearts would bring candles, and the Christian women with kind hearts would bring candles with a ribbon on it. There was an extra measure. There was something different. Both were kind ladies. It's just that one understood the value of love from a Christian perspective."
After living a life where they are led to believe that they are worthless, hopeless or unloved, the women can experience a healing, tangible demonstration of unconditional love from the volunteers who serve.
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer can call Michelle Moyers at 662-703-9806. Anyone wanting abuse, mental health or trafficking training or information about opening a safe house can contact Janet Marie Napper at 901-605-8087.
Brent Walker is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.