When Pastor Derrick Thames stood before his congregation at Erskine Church of the Nazarene several years ago and cast a vision for the church to serve the community, he threw out ideas: people could donate clothes, food, maybe cars.
“Or, even a house!” he joked.
Shortly after, a woman with roots in the community heard about his invitation for donations and called the church to offer her house in Renfrewshire if the church would use it to serve people in need.
Astonished, the congregation prayed for God’s leading. Gradually, they believed God wanted them to use the house as a shelter for women and children fleeing domestic abuse.
It became Jubilee House, named after the practice proclaimed by God to His people in the Book of Leviticus, in which every 50 years debts would be forgiven, pardons received, and God's mercy exhibited tangibly to all the people.
“Part of the reason they chose domestic abuse when they were praying about what the house would be used for [was] there were women [even in the church] saying, ‘I was in an abusive relationship years ago or currently,” said Catie Combes, one of the small team of volunteers fully engaged in making the church’s vision a reality.
Combes and fellow volunteer Becky Strawser also have stories of domestic abuse in their families’ histories and have seen how God used Christian communities to transform these situations and bring healing.
Erskine Church wants to bring that same healing and reconciliation to families in Renfrewshire, breaking cycles of abuse.
“We obviously know that the best way to do that is by introducing them to Jesus,” Strawser said. “If we can help them find their worth and value and turn around their lives for them and children …. It’s a relationship and lifelong change that we’re trying to bring about.”
In order to renovate the house to meet government standards for such a shelter, the church must raise 50,000 British pounds. It will take even more to run it day to day. They have raised 12,000, and at a gala they held in May, they raised another 2,900 pounds. The local Member of Parliament Gavin Newland came to speak, because fighting domestic abuse is one of his key platforms.
A Nazarene architect from the Trinity Church of the Nazarene in Perth, Scotland, drew up the renovation plans, designing separate spaces that can house three families: two single parents with one child each, and one parent with two children. To meet government requirements, each living area must be independent, with private bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. To create a sense of community among the residents, the house will have a downstairs living room and an outside garden where children can play.
“We see community to be the real heart of it,” Strawser said.
There will be a private room for counseling. And there is attic space that could be renovated into an additional family unit in the future. The residents of the shelter will be invited to visit the church, but it won’t be a requirement.
All along the way, there have appeared to be affirmations from God that they are on the right track with their dream. One of those is that the neighbors on either side of the house are supportive of having the shelter next door. One neighbor is a Christian; the other is involved in a charity that works against domestic abuse.
Urgent need now
According to the Scotland government, one in five women are affected by domestic abuse at some point in their lives.
The team has certainly seen this prevalence since Jubilee has been in the works. Strawser said that as they promote the shelter and talk about it to build support, people have been sharing stories of domestic abuse with them.
Combes, who volunteers in the Paisley Nazarene coffee house, Blend, said people approach her there, too, with stories of domestic abuse. Sometimes they’ve heard about Jubilee and ask for help.
“At least once a month we have some woman come in, or a kid come in, saying there’s something bad happening,” Combes said. “Now that Jubilee house has its own Facebook page, we have people contacting us through Facebook. We’ve been forwarding them to other organizations that are already active. So, before we’re even approved, people are coming forward and needing help.”
The team is meeting with people and organizations who already have expertise with domestic abuse — from nonprofits to police officers to lawyers — to help them navigate the processes for starting up.
What Jubilee will offer that other organizations lack is a spiritual component: healing and health is holistic, springing not only from providing physical safety and psychological support, but also the love of Christ and spiritual healing.
“There’s never going to be conditions attached to the help we give people,” Strawser said. “It’s not like if you come here you have to come to Bible study. We’re going to be open about who we are. We hope that by loving them, we can introduce them to Jesus.”