Her stunning blue eyes had a haunting look in them. Karin Williams and Maryanne Liscio, co-leaders of a Stonecroft hub in Richmond, Virginia, noticed it right away when they met Rebecca (not her real name).
“There was something about her eyes,” said Maryanne. “They looked so sad.”
Karin and Maryanne connected with Rebecca last year when their hub leadership team organized the first of some ongoing ministry events at Mercy House, a women’s rehabilitation center in Richmond. Rebecca is one of about 20 young women – age 20 to 40 – who live at Mercy House. Operated by New Life for Youth, a Christian ministry founded by former heroin addict and gang member Victor Torres, Mercy House offers a faith-based, year-long recovery program for women struggling with drug and alcohol addictions. The ministry runs a men’s Mercy House, too.
Many of the residents become Christ-followers through the program, but each still travels a long road to recovery. The Richmond hub volunteers come alongside the women’s Mercy House staff to mentor and encourage the women while they heal.
“Many of them have never truly experienced the love of family or the family of God,” said Karin. “They’ve just had to survive.”
Some, like Rebecca, are survivors of human trafficking, taken as teenagers and trapped in a world of sexual slavery, gang violence, and illegal drugs. Many have endured sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. Some were neglected or abused in their own families and never felt worthy of love.
“We come in as the family of God and love on them,” Karin said.
An answer to prayer
These Stonecroft hub volunteers have seen the power of that love – God’s love – transform the lives of women at Mercy House. It started with prayer.
After the Richmond hub launched in 2017 with the help of Stonecroft Divisional Field Director Anne Schneider, Karin and Maryanne – longtime Stonecroft Speakers – and their hub leadership team planned several outreaches. But they sensed God had something more. The team began to pray fervently about how to make a difference in their city.
God’s answer came one day last summer while Maryanne shopped at a local mall. She noticed a shop she’d never seen before – a thrift store. Inside, she met two young women working as clerks. They said the store was run by Mercy House and shared how they ended up living there.
“I was blown away by their stories,” said Maryanne.
Maryanne left with the women’s contact information, excited to tell her Stonecroft teammates about the encounter. Later, she and Karin visited the Mercy House co-director to explore the idea of the hub volunteers ministering there. She welcomed them with open arms.
Since then, the hub team has organized two events at Mercy House – a Mexican fiesta and a Christmas party. Volunteers have built relationships, encouraged the women, and listened to their stories. The Stonecroft women have shared their own faith stories, too.
“The connections we’ve made are incredible,” Maryanne said.
One hub volunteer is herself a former drug addict who – like many of the Mercy House women – served time in jail. She now works in a prison ministry.
“She’s really helped us understand where these girls are coming from,” Karin said.
The team also collects prayer requests from residents and regularly prays over them. After their first event at the house, one night four team members woke up around the same time, prompted by the Holy Spirit to intercede for the Mercy House women.
“I felt much of that prayer was for Rebecca, like we were in a spiritual battle for her,” Karin said.
‘Nothing short of a miracle’
When the team saw Rebecca again at the Christmas party, she looked completely different. “Her eyes looked normal,” Maryanne said. “She said she’d been getting stronger every day and was really into prayer.”
For that Christmas event, the team planned a program with Psalm 139 as the theme. “We wanted the women to understand God valued and loved them even before they were born,” Karin said.
The party ended with the singing of Christmas carols by candlelight. As each resident held her candle, Karin said, “Remember, we really believe in you.”
Afterward, Rebecca tearfully thanked her. “No one has ever said that to me,” she said.
“It’s been nothing short of a miracle how God led us to these beautiful souls who truly want to be loved on,” Maryanne added. “Some of them cry when we leave, thanking us for coming. They love that we love them.”
The hub’s next activity for the women is Where Love Lives, Stonecroft’s new small group experience focused on meaningful relationships and the power of love. It’s just one more way the Richmond hub volunteers can invest eternally in the women at Mercy House.
“Listen, listen. Love, love,” said Maryanne. “That’s what we’ve tried to do with these women.”
Editor’s Note: Stonecroft has Ears to Speak podcast episodes of interviews with women who have survived harsh circumstances. To learn more about human trafficking, click here. For more information on addiction, click here.