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Missional Community Spotlight: Hearts for The Next Door

As a Nashville facility that provides rehabilitation services to women impacted by addiction, mental illness, trauma or incarceration, the non-profit known as The Next Door regularly relies on volunteers to help with needs such as stocking the supply closet, serving a meal or building relationships with the female residents.

From left to right: Faith Seibels, Katie Trokey, Mary Lampley, Jocelynne McCall, Wendy Martin and Leisha Nischan.

From left to right: Faith Seibels, Katie Trokey, Mary Lampley, Jocelynne McCall, Wendy Martin and Leisha Nischan.

Leisha Nischan began to experience all this when she started volunteering five years ago. A member at Christ Presbyterian Church, Leisha was part of a Missional Community comprised of individuals from several area churches who regularly engaged with The Next Door and offered support to employees and residents. But when a need arose to volunteer at the front reception desk, Leisha soon discovered the role included more than just answering phones and emails.

She started coming face to face with women as they took their first step through the front door seeking help, answers, healing and restoration. She saw the pain and desperation in their eyes. She witnessed how the facility functioned as a lifesaver to so many who felt they had nowhere else to go.

Leisha began to gain a deeper understanding of the suffering of others and the spiritual calling to meet them in their pain and serve as the hands and feet of Christ.

Many times, a woman would walk through the door with just one little bag, Leisha recalled. Maybe she was leaving a life of abuse, trauma or fear. Or perhaps she was weary from a long, ongoing battle with drug or alcohol addiction. She could have just been released from jail or was suffering from mental illness. I saw it all. No matter the scenario, these women were leaving their old life and attempting to step into something hopeful. They were done with the past. Their entrance through our doors represented the first day of the rest of their lives.

Christ Presbyterian Church shares a rich history of partnering with The Next Door. Church members have served on the board of directors, volunteered to lead bible studies and served in various capacities as volunteers. Under the leadership of a team recruited by Leisha, a rebooted Missional Community called Hearts for the Next Door kicked off in May. Its purpose is to partner with the staff of The Next Door in the mission of equipping women to move from the hopelessness of addiction, mental illness or trauma to the wholeness and hope of Christ-centered lives.

Upcoming opportunities for the Missional Community will include movie nights, game nights and holiday gatherings with the residents of The Next Door. An ongoing need also exists for donations toward the facility’s supply and clothing closet.

Leisha and her leadership team prayerfully desire to grow the new Missional Community, stating that, a tremendous opportunity exists to encourage women at The Next Door. Often, when they learn we are from a church, they ask for prayer. Many are longing for that connection. They feel like they can open up to us and often do.

Leisha said she and other Missional Community members receive ongoing encouragement from engaging with the women. The connections formed build empathy, understanding and friendship. 
While some of the women come from poverty or abusive relationships, others gradually slid into addiction based on tough circumstances, Leisha said. Some turned to drugs to cope with mental illness while others struggled in the aftermath of an injury where strong prescription drugs became addictive.

“Pain crosses all demographics,” Leisha said. “We see women from age 18 to those in their 60s. We see the affluent, the poor and the homeless. Brokenness can find us at any age or phase. That’s why we need each other.”

The Next Door is unique as it offers myriad services for women in need, including a 30-day residential treatment program, an outpatient program and an affordable apartment rental complex called Freedom Recovery Community for women who’ve completed recovery. The large facility includes a commercial kitchen, medical clinic, computer lab for job searching, large dining room and event space, conference room, a chapel and meeting rooms.

For more information, contact Leisha Nischan.

Missional Community Spotlight: New Hope Academy

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“There is no reconciliation until you recognize the dignity of the other until you see their view. You have to enter into the pain of the people. You’ve got to feel their need.”
- Dr. John M. Perkins, Christian minister and civil rights activist

Perhaps there’s never been a time in our recent history when true reconciliation among people from different ethnic or economic backgrounds is more needed. One local Christian school has found the most effective way to accomplish this mission happens when we reach the very youngest among us.

Founded in 1996, New Hope Academy (NHA) in Franklin is committed to building unity through racial and economic diversity down to the number of seats it fills in each classroom.

Fifty percent of the student body is comprised of non-white children from African-American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Native American or other ethnic backgrounds. The school relies on fundraising and local support to help offer financial assistance to more than 61 percent of its pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade student population, enabling children from a variety of economic positions to attend school side by side.

Headmaster Stuart Tutler said New Hope functions as a school where families can learn from each other and grow in relationships through an educational experience that priorities purposeful community and begins with embracing a key gospel mandate.

“We believe every single person who walks through our doors holds intrinsic value and dignity because of his or her God-given identity,” said Tutler. “We know Jesus has an interest in every individual person, including every single child. No matter their background, strengths or challenges, they matter to God. Consequently, they matter to us.”

Creating a culture where students, families and teachers continually affirm this perspective has become the secret to the school’s flourishing, Tutler believes.

Inspired by this vision, a group of individuals from at least a half-dozen churches formed a Missional Community to support the school and its pioneering work—called New Hope Academy Missional Community.

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Throughout the last two years, with support from its leadership team, the Missional Community has been involved in a mentoring program that pairs members of the Missional Community with a NHA student. For one hour each week, the mentors work individually with each child, building relationships through playing games, reading books, or working on math or reading skills. Upon completing the 2017-2018 school year, the mentoring program grew to include eight mentors from several area churches!

In addition to the mentoring program, the missional community group also helped host several annual events, including a parent dinner in August and a school-wide Cinco de Mayo celebration in May, which drew 400 people and allowed many Hispanic and Latino parents to share their culture with the school as they cooked for the large crowd and offered a variety of games and crafts.

To learn more about the New Hope Academy Missional Community, email Karen Simpson.


 

Missional Community Spotlight: Habitat Nashville

Serving, connecting and transforming. These three words perhaps best describe the work of Habitat Nashville Missional Community, a diverse and vibrant group that launched three years ago to support the efforts of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Nashville throughout Middle Tennessee.

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Christ Presbyterian member Anna King, who helps lead the group, grew up watching her parents volunteer with Habitat, an organization known for providing affordable housing to families in need. Often, these are adults who hold down either a full-time job or several part-time jobs but still find safe housing out of their reach. Habitat supports these families by helping them build homes and awarding interest-free loans.

“The full scope of the mission also involves fostering relationships, building community and preparing families to become financially responsible and care for a home,” King said.

This Missional Community, composed of both founding members of Christ Presbyterian as well as church members and friends who are newer to Nashville, plays an integral role in each of these areas. This month, the group will participate in its fifth “build day” as they gather on a weekend to construct a home for a family who has completed Habitat’s rigorous application process. Most of the homes are located in an area of Antioch where Habitat has built a total of 130 properties in four different neighborhoods since 2012, said Danny Herron, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Nashville and a church member at Christ Presbyterian.

The families building these homes are representative of Antioch’s diverse population. One of the neighborhoods sits adjacent to Antioch High School, where the student body is comprised of families who speak 26 different languages as either their primary or secondary language of choice at home, Herron said.

Part of what makes the process meaningful is the way Habitat functions. Future homeowners must first help build a separate Habitat house before beginning construction on their own home. Often this occurs on their own street or somewhere in their soon-to-be neighborhood. As multiple homes are built in the same community, families who will eventually live as neighbors cultivate a sense of belonging as they help raise walls and hammer nails.

While assisting the Antioch residents to build connections and new homes, Missional Community members have also drawn closer and discovered a sense of purpose and passion in serving others. College students, young adults, professionals and seniors from Christ Presbyterian and other churches across Nashville have collaborated with the Missional Community on construction sites and designated days when the group volunteers at ReStore, the home improvement retail arm and donation center that Habitat operates to sell new and gently-used furniture, appliances, home goods and building materials.

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Another facet of the Missional Community’s role is financial counseling to future homeowners. Members of the Missional Community work with Habitat applicants to offer expertise on how to manage money, live within a budget and eliminate debt.

Former Christ Presbyterian member Don Drummond, who passed away in September 2018, served actively as a budget coach in the years before his death.

“He desired to share his financial knowledge and skills to better the lives of others,” King said. “His compassion was evident through all of his service.”

Herron realized the impact of Habitat on Drummond’s own life when, upon his death, Drummond’s wife, Fran, requested gifts be made to the organization in lieu of flowers.

“I was touched by not only what the Drummonds meant to the Missional Community, but what the community meant to them,” Herron said.

Other Missional Community members also participate in offering Habitat families homeowner-readiness skills as they prepare to care for their new home. Missional Community member Kelly Zetak initiated a homeowner engagement program last December while the group worked to build a home for Nashville resident LaShonda Smith. Their aim is to stay engaged by offering additional ongoing support in securing and maintaining new homes when needs such as addressing a leaky faucet, lawn maintenance or home winterization arise.

Zetak, who has participated in Habitat for Humanity for more than 25 years in four different states, is grateful to be part of the Missional Community at Christ Presbyterian.

“Through God’s loving and compassionate grace, we’re partnering with Habitat to provide positive change in the Nashville area,” he said. “People from all walks of life are being transformed as they experience true hope and personal success.

“Scripture reminds us that Christ came into the world not to be served, but to serve others,” Zetak continues. “Our prayer is that we would model this behavior and provide a loving and lasting outreach to all the communities we serve.”

To get involved with the Habitat Nashville Missional Community, email Anna King.

Missional community spotlight: magdalene

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Mary Lisa Gingras, a healthcare professional in Nashville, used to feel a twinge of dismay at the thought of a woman getting caught up in prostitution, addiction or human trafficking. But her emotions didn’t go much further than that. Until she learned about the work and ministry of Thistle Farms.

Six years ago, Gingras and her husband Mike, members of Christ Presbyterian Church, were looking for a way to serve their community. A friend invited them to learn more about Thistle Farms and its residential program, Magdalene.

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Thistle Farms and Magdalene were conceived in Nashville more than 20 years ago to help women survivors of trafficking, addiction and prostitution. Over time, the social enterprise has grown into a thriving company with bath and home items (handmade by the women) that have gained national attention.

While the organization had been successful in selling its products, securing financial support, and inviting people to frequent its onsite Café, it needed committed community members to engage in purposeful, healthy relationships with the women living at Magdalene, the residential arm of Thistle Farms. Under Magdalene’s services, women can experience transformative, sustainable recovery through two years of rent-free housing, healthcare, employment and community building.

Soon after learning about Magdalene, Gingras and a group of other volunteers from the Nashville area began organizing monthly activities with the women enrolled in the residential program. The group eventually grew into the missional community known as Magdalene MC and today includes 30 rotating volunteers from several different area churches.

As Gingras and others began getting to know the women enrolled in Magdalene, they learned that the roots of prostitution and trafficking are often found in severe childhood abuse, loss and/or neglect. It is these childhood experiences that can push women toward homelessness, addiction, prostitution, trafficking, and incarceration.  

Pictured: Mary Lisa Gingras (second from right) and other Magdalene MC volunteers.

Pictured: Mary Lisa Gingras (second from right) and other Magdalene MC volunteers.

“We realized some of them didn’t have normal childhoods,” Gingras recalls. “They’d never even been fishing, skating or to the movies—things that many of us take for granted.”

The missional community quickly got to work planning once/month outings—including visits to places such as Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Brushfire Pottery. They also began hosting an annual etiquette dinner, where they take a light-hearted approach to teaching the women everyday manners. Someone in the group even created a humorous rap song that outlines proper placement of cutlery.

As friendships began to form, the Magdalene women shared their stories. Gingras remembers how her own heart shattered when she learned that one woman had maintained a fairy tale life with a husband and children until a surgical procedure left the woman in excruciating pain. She developed an addiction to pain pills in order to cope. Eventually her desperation for funds led her to prostitution.

Another resident at Magdalene revealed she’d been sold into trafficking by her family at age 14. Still others confessed that an addiction to drugs had overwhelmed them and led them to secure money the only way they could see how—through selling their bodies. Gingras realized in many cases these women were just trying to survive.

In addition to the ongoing monthly activities, the missional community also recently began offering a Bible study to interested Magdalene residents. “At first the women were skeptical,” Gingras says. “They thought we had it all made. They looked at us like, ‘What do these affluent, church-going women want to do with us?’

“The women thought because we had money, cars, jobs and a family that our lives were good,” Gingras recalls. “But we began to share our own pain—our worries, our failures, our sin. The private, fractured parts of our lives. Suddenly we just weren’t praying for these women. They started praying for us and supporting us. Our hearts became woven together as we realized our mutual brokenness and need for Christ.”

Members of the missional community shared the peace, joy and contentment that believers can experience when they surrender their pain to God. The group witnessed one Magdalene resident receive Christ this year as she began studying Scripture. Another woman, a Magdalene graduate, felt God leading her to start a recovery program for women coming out of prostitution in her home state of Texas.

“Engaging with these women has changed my life,” Gingras says. “They have become my dear friends. I repent daily of how judgmental I used to be. My eyes have been opened to forgiveness and redemption through observing our journeys toward wholeness. I’ve learned there’s great power in drawing near to the marginalized. I went in thinking I was going to serve them but they’ve served me through demonstrating God’s healing power and through reminding me that the Lord is always seeking us—each one of us.”

Sometimes all it takes is slowing down enough to love a person to help them change for the good, Gingras says. “I deeply believe in the Thistle Farms/Magdalene motto—Love Heals.”

To learn more or get involved with the Magdalene missional community, contact Mary Lisa Gingras at gingrasml@comcast.net, Susan Garvey at susegarvey@gmail.com or Sharon Kinney at Sharonskinney@yahoo.com.

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Missional Community Spotlight: Equipping Incarcerated Women

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Although she’s been involved with prison ministry for 18 years, Vicki Helgesen says God’s goodness, mercy and provision continue to amaze her.

One such instance recently occurred through her work with Equipping Incarcerated Women, Christ Presbyterian’s missional community that formed in 2015 to come alongside imprisoned or recently released women in the Nashville area.

Helgesen had issued a request to the group (comprised of about 40 members from 10 different area churches) for donations of new bed linens at the Tennessee Prison for Women (TPW). One lady she knew had been tying together torn pieces of linen from old sheets.

It briefly crossed Helgesen’s mind how wonderful it would be to provide new sheets for every bed in the prison’s annex, the transitional center where women live as they draw nearer to their parole date. The annex holds 143 beds.

“I thought I’d ask for donated linens and see how many we got,” she remembers. “Then perhaps we could raise money to purchase the remainder of what was needed.”

Twin-size sheet sets starting pouring in from the missional community. Soon Helgesen sat down to count how many she’d received. “Exactly 143 were donated,” she says. “One set for every bed. I couldn’t believe it.”

The women in the annex were ecstatic. “You would’ve thought we had given each of those girls a hundred bucks,” Helgesen recalls.

The purpose of the missional community is to continually look for ways to meet the practical, emotional and spiritual needs of the incarcerated and recently-released women. This includes offering regular Friday night worship services, Wednesday evening Bible studies and ongoing mentoring partnerships – all at TPW. The missional community recently provided the inmate participants with Bibles and Scripture study materials. The group also helps host an annual Christmas party for the inmates, where they’re treated to a meal brought in from Chick Fil A.

Throughout her work in prisons for almost two decades, Helgesen says she’s witnessed an increasing number of younger women entering the prison system. “They’re in their mid-to-earlier 20s—sometimes even as young as 19. I used to not see that,” she says. “But so much of this is because of drugs. These gals are committing crimes to get the drugs they need.”

More than 80 percent of the imprisoned women have been abused by a man who was supposed to be taking care of them, Helgesen explains. “When you hear their stories, you think, ‘No wonder they’ve made such poor choices.’”

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One major function of Equipping Incarcerated Women is to prepare and support women for life after their release from prison. Helgesen oversees a group of trained, state-approved mentors who begin meeting with women in the prisons before their release to serve as a healthy, caring presence in their life and establish a friendship.

On the day of a woman’s release, the mentor picks up the newly-freed prisoner. She takes her out to lunch before shopping together for new clothing at Goodwill. The mentoring relationship continues for the next six months, although many last much longer.

In the last year, members of this missional community have helped multiple women transition out of halfway houses and assisted them with needs ranging from finding a place to live to paying for an initial electrical deposit or providing home furnishings and a vehicle.

The group offered essential support to another woman who had settled in a home but then lost everything in a fire.

Mentors also help with daily errands, offering time-saving rides to women who may not have vehicles and need to get from work to doctor’s appointments.

“These women are doing the best they can—they are really trying,” Helgesen says. “We exist to lend a hand to these sisters, to be a good neighbor. Our main focus is to serve as mentors and friends, with Jesus being the thread between us.”

To learn more about Equipping Incarcerated Women or become involved, contact Vicki Helgesen at vickihelgesen@gmail.com.