Spotlight: Magdalene Missional Community


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.


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.


Missional Community Spotlight: Equipping Incarcerated Women


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.’”


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.

Missional Community Spotlight: Celebrate Recovery


Nearly three years ago, Christ Presbyterian member Mary Linda Hardman walked into a Celebrate Recovery meeting when she realized her life had spiraled out of control.

She’d recently sent her youngest child off to college. Then her father died. Their relationship had been complicated—he’d been verbally abusive to her for years, yet driving him to appointments and errands had given her a sense of purpose.

She was hurting not only from the broken relationship she’d endured with her dad, but also from years of dysfunction she’d experienced with her mother.

“I’d lost a lot of connections,” she remembers. “And I harbored pain from wounds that had never healed. I was alone, living in isolation.”


She turned to food and drinking to cope. Her life began to feel more and more out of control. And she began to suffer from deep depression as her weight ballooned and she became addicted to alcohol.

“When I initially went to Celebrate Recovery, I thought I was going to get help so I could stop drinking long enough to heal from my depression,” she says. “I didn’t realize I was spiritually sick.”

Celebrate Recovery, one of our missional communities, is held at Christ Presbyterian Church weekly on Thursdays year-round, emphasizing that spiritual restoration is the root of all true healing and flourishing. The group is a 12-step, Christ-centered recovery program for anyone struggling with hurt, pain or addiction of any kind and is comprised of people from throughout Nashville (non-church goers are always welcome.)

The group offers support to those who’ve faced issues with abandonment, abuse, adultery, anger, anxiety, depression, divorce, perfectionism, porn, rage, substance abuse, or workaholism, just to name a few.

“It’s for anyone who wants to grow in Christ and recover from any form of brokenness,” Hardman says.

Hardman’s journey through Celebrate Recovery’s program began with acknowledging she had no power to change herself. “I started practicing surrender, confession and extending forgiveness,” she says. “I chose to trust that God could restore me to sanity.

“Before I got sober, I questioned why being a Christian wasn’t enough to cure me from my alcoholism,” Hardman continues. “Through Celebrate Recovery, I learned a difference exists between merely believing in God and believing that God can work in my life and transform my soul.”

Hardman now has been sober for two and a half years and has lost 60 pounds. She currently helps lead Celebrate Recovery at CPC, welcoming and mentoring new participants.

For those considering whether to join Celebrate Recovery, Hardman poses these questions to consider: Are there things in your life that you do to hurt others? Is there something you wish you could live without? Is it time to face your denial and admit you’re not in control of your life? Do you seek freedom from a painful habit or hang-up?

She welcomes prospective attendees to preview Celebrate Recovery’s weekly group meetings, which take place at 6:30pm on Thursday evenings at the Hope House (adjacent to our Old Hickory Blvd location).

Hardman says she’s grateful for the community she’s discovered through her participation in Celebrate Recovery. “The people there have become like family to me,” she explains. “We need each other to realize that everyone struggles, and we’re not alone.”

Beyond her sobriety, the most significant aspect of her experience is the intimacy she’s discovered with Christ. “Instead of numbing myself to cope, I’ve learned to go God for comfort and peace,” she says. “Experiencing the comfort of God has changed my life.”

To learn more, visit christpres.org/care/celebrate-recovery/

Location 3 Update: What the Process of Coming to Faith Often Looks Like


In a previous post, we discussed why the process of coming to faith often looks like a process. You can read it here. In this post, we take a look at the path that process often follows. Perhaps you will see your own story here.

As with the prior post, I’m drawing this material from Tim Keller’s book, Serving a Movement: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City.

According to Tim Keller, the process of coming to faith often looks something like this:

1. Awareness:“I see it.” 

People begin to clear the ground of stereotypes and learn to distinguish the gospel from legalism or liberalism, the core from the peripheral. They make mini-decisions like these: 

  • “She’s religious but surprisingly intelligent and open-minded.”

  • “A lot of things the Bible says really fit me.”

  • “I see the difference between Christianity and just being moral.”


2. Relevance:“I need it.” 

They begin to see the slavery of both religion and irreligion and are shown the transforming power of how the gospel works. Examples of mini-decisions here are as follows:

  • “An awful lot of very normal people really like this church!”

  • “It would really help if I could believe like she does.”

  • “Jesus seems to be the key. I wonder who he was.”


3. Credibility:“I need it because it’s true.” 

This is a reversal of the modern view that states, “It’s true if I need it.” If people fail to see the reasonableness of the gospel, they will lack the endurance to persevere when their faith is challenged. Examples of mini-decisions include thoughts like these:

  • “You can’t use science to disprove the supernatural.”

  • “There really were eyewitnesses to the resurrection.”

  • “I see now why Jesus had to die — it is the only way.”


4. Trial:“I see what it would be like.” 

They are involved in some form of group life, in some type of service ministry, and are effectively trying Christianity on, often talking like a Christian — even defending the faith at times.


5. Commitment:“I take it.” 

This may be the point of genuine conversion, or sometimes a person will realize that conversion has already happened, and they just didn’t grasp it at the time. Examples of mini-decisions include these:

  • “I am a sinner.”

  • “I need a Savior. I will believe in Jesus and live for him.”

  • “Though there are a lot of costs, I really must do what Jesus says.”


6. Reinforcement:“Now I get it.” 

Typically, this is the place where the penny drops and the gospel becomes even clearer and more real. For this dynamic to occur, at least three factors must be in place: interaction with believers with relational integrity, pastoral support, and safe venues.


Evangelism is truth-telling—giving a reason for the hope that is in us. And it is a process God is pleased to use us in, even though he clearly does not need to. Our involvement in helping others come to faith is part of his sanctifying, humbling work in us. It is one way he shapes our hearts to keep the great commands to love God and others—to love by laying our lives down for the sake of others. There is no greater love than this. May the Lord use us in the process of calling people to himself, and may he deepen our love for others as he does.


Location 3 Update: Why Coming to Faith Often Looks Like A Process


If you are a Christian, how did you come to faith? Were there foundational experiences or influences that came before your “moment of conversion?” I bet there were. For many Christian people, the story of how we came to faith appears as a process. God works in time and space. He draws people to himself, often over a period of time. 

Christians are people who are called bear witness to Christ. The idea that God often draws people to Himself through a process means we are rarely, if ever, the sole voice proclaiming the Gospel to another person. Hebrews says we belong to a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). 

By God’s grace, Christian people get to be part of the process of other people coming to know the mercy and grace of Christ. This is such a huge honor and joy. So how does that process work? Pastor Tim Keller does a fantastic job of unfolding what this process often looks like. As the pastor at an outward facing church, I wanted to distill down what he has to say about how this process often works. This post will focus on why coming to faith often looks like a process, and in a following post, we’ll take a look at the path that process often follows.

What follows is adapted from Tim Keller’s book, Serving a Movement: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City.

First, let’s remember what we affirm. 

Keller: “Many people process from unbelief to faith through ‘mini-decisions.’ We hold to the classic teaching about the nature of the gospel: to be a Christian is to be united with Christ by faith so that the merits of his saving work become ours and his Spirit enters us and begins to change us into Christ’s likeness. You either are a Christian or you are not — you either are united to him by faith or you are not — because being a Christian is, first of all, a ‘standing” with God.’”

Here, Keller affirms (and we at Christ Presbyterian Church agree) that there are no degrees of conversion. A person is either justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, or they are not. So when we talk about the process of conversion, we are not talking about degrees of conversion, but rather appealing to the truth that the good work God begins he brings to completion.

Keller: “However, we also acknowledge that coming to this point of uniting to Christ by faith often works as a process, not only as an event. It can occur through a series of small decisions or thoughts that bring a person closer and closer to the point of saving faith. In a post-Christendom setting, more often than not, this is the case.”

Why is this the case?

Keller: “People simply do not have the necessary background knowledge to hear a gospel address and immediately understand who God is, what sin is, who Jesus is, and what repentance and faith are in a way that enables them to make an intelligent commitment. They often have far too many objections and beliefs for the gospel to be readily plausible to them.”

This is a big reality I see all the time. More and more, people have not read the Bible or studied religion. In a sound bite culture which tends to turn complicated, historical truths and concepts into oversimplified caricatures, it should come as no surprise that people who have not been near the heart of orthodox Christian teaching would have misconceptions about what Christians believe. If a person has learned about Christianity through the news, they have mostly gotten a diet of politics and scandal. If they have learned through Christian mainstream music, they may conclude that Christians have an unrealistic view of suffering, struggle, pleasure, and how the world works.

Beyond this, we must admit that while Christianity is a faith simple enough for children to understand and embrace, it is also not “self-evident” to the person who has never really investigated the basic claims of Gospel faith.

How do we embrace the process and serve to aid in it?

Keller: “Most people in the West need to be welcomed into community long enough for them to hear multiple expressions of the gospel — both formal and informal — from individuals and teachers. As this happens in community, nonbelievers come to understand the character of God, sin, and grace. Many of their objections are answered through this process. Because they are ‘on the inside’ and involved in ongoing relationships with Christians, they can imagine themselves as Christians and see how the faith fleshes out in real life.”

Maybe this is your story. A lot of the process of conversion is the work of asking questions and seeing and hearing responses from genuine believers—people giving a reason for the hope that is in them. My prayer for Christ Presbyterian Church is that we would be a church filled with people involved in ongoing relationships with people who do not share their faith, and that the Lord would work through these friendships to make himself known.

(Part 2: What the Process of Coming to Faith Often Looks Like)

Location 3 Update: Needing Others and Being Needed


And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Mark 2:17

I was talking with a friend a few weeks back about the launch of Christ Presbyterian Church’s third location, and she asked me, “When you think about this new congregation, what, in your mind, would constitute a failure?” One of the things I said was, “If in a few years we’re a group of people who don’t serve each other and don’t need each other.”

A number of years ago, I was serving as a pastor in a small church in another state. A woman started attending our services who had a brain injury. One of the symptoms of her condition was that she experienced seizures on a very regular basis. In fact, she had seizures in church almost every Sunday—usually right in the middle of the sermon.

She could feel them coming on. When she knew one was coming, she would get up and move to the back of the room, sit down on the floor, and wait for the seizure to grab her. One of her friends in the church knew of her condition, and would sit with her until the seizure passed. Then she’d drive her exhausted friend home.

Others in the church saw this happening and asked what they could do to help. They met during the hour before church several weeks in a row to learn about this woman’s condition, her seizures, how to keep her safe when they happened, and how to care for her afterward. Soon there were a dozen people in the church who knew to sit near her, watch for her to move to the back of the room, sit with her during the seizure to keep her safe, and drive her home after it passed.

Then one day, this woman came to tell me that she was going to stop attending our church. I was stunned. I asked her why? She said, “Every Sunday someone has to tend to me and drive me home, and they miss the service on account of me. I feel like I burden the church.”

I don’t know if it was the Holy Spirit in a moment of Gospel-clarity, or my own naïve inexperience as a pastor, but I told her, “The truth is, you do burden this church. And we are so grateful to have you as part of our community. Every week, your presence requires a cross-section of our congregation to be actively ready to care for someone in need. People have gathered and formed friendships with one another around caring for you. They have come to count you as their friend, and you have done the same. This is the nature of friendship—we ask each other to carry our burdens. True friends burden each other, and true friends welcome the honor of helping to carry the load. Please don’t go. You give us so much. You help us so much. You have an important ministry here.”

Christianity is a faith built on the recognition of our great need, and the confident hope that our deepest needs are met in Christ—forgiveness, peace with God, eternal life. But one of the beautiful truths about following Jesus is that we need each other too. We live in a world of limits, and we ourselves are limited. This need is a gift.

For this need, Jesus gives us the church—a community where we serve one another, where we benefit from one another, where we become known, cared for, and called upon to step in to care for the needs of others. This will always be a hallmark of a healthy church—this recognition of our need and our call to serve. 

We live in a wealthy place where we spend unimaginable amounts of money, effort, and thought avoiding the appearance of need. We try to present ourselves in the best possible light, which usually involves employing a fair amount of fiction. We try to hide our less visible weaknesses and we try to down play those which are more obvious to others. We all do this to one degree or another.

Why do we do this? Why do we work so hard to appear as though we need nothing? Why are we ashamed when our needs are made known? The Gospel is for the helpless, needy, poor. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

As our congregation forms, one of my prayers is that we would need each other, and that we would be honest about our need for one another. This is so important. Why? Because the Gospel itself is a message of needs met. If we are going to be Christians in public, part of the reason for the hope that is in us—part of our public witness—is “nothing in my hands I bring. Simply to Thy cross I cling.” Our public faith and our confession of need are tied to each other. May one of our greatest qualities as a congregation be how quickly we confess our need for Christ, and for each other. May we need each other, and may we serve each other.