Joy Fagan, founder of the Safe Harbor House in Springfield, Ohio, tells the story of how a woman’s journey toward healing has brought change to more than just one life. The time this woman spent in Safe Harbor’s recovery program changed her own life and led her daughter to have a relationship with Christ. As a result, the daughter chose to keep the baby she had considered aborting, and this woman, now a graduate of the recovery program, is helping to raise her grandchildren.
“Now she has the opportunity to be a redemptive force in (her daughters’) lives by God’s grace in hers,” said Fagan, who is also an associate Bible professor at Cedarville.
But the effects go beyond this woman’s family. The staff and volunteers involved are being changed as much as they are making a difference in the lives of the at-risk women the ministry works with, said Candace Olley, a social work student at Cedarville who interned at Safe Harbor last year.
“People are hearing about how much others are being impacted – not just the women that are seeking to be healed,” Olley said. “They want to come and get a taste, too.”
The ministry of Safe Harbor House has been operating for almost two years but already houses eight women who have been victims of substance abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking. Additionally, there is a waiting list of several women wanting to come to Safe Harbor. The ministry provides the women with transitional housing and staff members who coach them through their recovery, which typically lasts one year.
Margaret Wheeler, a member of the Safe Harbor House board of directors and associate professor of communications at Cedarville, said many of the women have been to several other rehab centers, spent time in jail or been given the choice between going to Safe Harbor House and going to jail.
“Most of the women who come to us are desperate,” Wheeler said. “For many of them, this is their very last hope.”
But as people are seeing and hearing the healing journeys of the women Safe Harbor works with, the ripple effect is spreading.
“We have mothers that are going to church and (they are having) conversations that they never had in their entire lifetime – not only with their kids, but also with parents and grandparents,” Fagan said. “It’s very powerful to watch the miracle that God performs in their lives affecting so many other lives in turn.
“We wanted not only to take women out of difficult circumstances to help them heal, but to see these women flourish and be an example to others,” she said.
Dee Chapman, a social work student at Cedarville and former leader of an exercise program for the Safe Harbor residents, said despite having gone through so many difficulties in their lives, the women are encouraging others in their recovery.
“(The women) still have the compassion to look at people that are in what used to be their situation and reach out to them and do everything they can to better the people that will follow in their footsteps,” she said.
Julie Furj-Kuhn, an assistant professor of social work at Cedarville, said there was a drug dealer living near Safe Harbor who Fagan prayed for regularly. This man is a husband and a father, but recently he was imprisoned for his crimes, leaving his family alone. The family visited Safe Harbor during an open-house for the ministry’s newly renovated step-up house, a more independent living facility for the recovering women. Kuhn, also a member of the Safe Harbor House board of directors, said the wife asked to arrange a weekly meeting with Fagan to help her reconnect with God.
“That is what it’s really all about,” Kuhn said.
Olley said she was able to build relationships with the women during her internship at Safe Harbor House last year. This made her realize the seriousness of the issues of domestic violence and sex trafficking.
“They are not just numbers,” Olley said. “They are people.”
She said her experience at Safe Harbor has challenged her in her spiritual life.
“(The women are) fighting so hard because they want to be healed, and they want to be more fully human and more fully woman,” Olley said. “It convicts me to stick with my healing journey. What is it that I’m really sticking my heels into and just getting after – like the work that God is doing in me?”
Linda Mortensen, the social services coordinator at the Safe Harbor House, said the ministry has affected her spiritual life as well.
“It has brought so much joy to my personal life and my walk with God,” she said. “There are definitely daily frustrations and challenges, but largely, I go home feeling satisfied like God has a place for me in his kingdom work, and this is it. This is where I’m supposed to be.”
“It’s changed all of us, and that’s the beauty of it,” Fagan said. “It’s just fun to be in a staff meeting and be able to say to each other, ‘We just feel so privileged to be part of this miracle that God is doing.’”
Anna Dembowski is a sophomore journalism major and an arts & entertainment writer for Cedars. She likes nearly anything that is the color purple and enjoys spelling the word “agathokakological.”