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Love heals at Thistle Farms


Founder of community for trauma survivors shares her story at 1001, Vital Congregations gathering

November 3, 2019

Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms and the author of “Love Heals,” will be a keynoter during the 1001 New Worshiping Communities and Vital Congregations national gathering Oct. 14-16 in Kansas City, Mo. (Photo by Erica Baker)

Becca Stevens, one of the keynote speakers for this year’s 1001 New Worshiping Communities and Vital Congregations national gathering in Kansas City, Missouri, remembers how she felt when she started a residential community for women who have survived trafficking, prostitution and addiction.

Even though she was fulfilling a longing to open a sanctuary for survivors of trauma, like herself, she says she was “pretty messed up.”

Opening a residential home, Magdalene, for five women survivors in 1997 created a lot of triggers for Stevens, which were related to her own childhood.

An Episcopal priest like her father, Stevens was 5 when he was killed by a drunk driver. Within a year she was being abused by a man from the church. While she didn’t confuse or blame any of that on God, those triggers made her feel, she says, like she was “stuck in the muck.”

Stevens now refers to those triggers as an “uncovering,” which were actually providing opportunities for her (and others) to continue to heal from trauma.

“An uncovering awakens something that I already knew deep down,” she says, “and allows me to see what is lurking in the shadow part of me.”

More than 20 years after Magdalene opened, the Thistle Farms organization continues to welcome women with free two-year residences that provide housing, medical care, therapy and education. Residents and graduates earn income through two nonprofit social enterprises that Thistle Farms manages. The Thistle Farms global market helps employ more than 1,800 women worldwide and the national network includes more than 40 sister communities.

Thistle Farms resident Tiffany celebrates her graduation from the Magdalene residency program community. (Photo by Peggy Napier)

“I’m very surprised at how things turned out, and I thank God,” Stevens says. “But what I really get weepy over now — and I’m not just staying this — is how kind people, strangers, can be. Generally, people are pretty forgiving.”

Stevens’ biggest surprise is how powerful love is, and how quickly it can transform and heal. Through the community at Thistle Farms, she’s discovered three things that have helped her — as well the survivors she has worked with — in the complicated but beautiful process of healing.

Having a real purpose in life, meaningful work, makes a person want to get healthy, she said. Having a supportive community is also critical, to help people know they’re not alone. Remembering that people need a lot of mercy and forgiveness is also important in one’s healing, she said.

“We are so hard on ourselves,” Stevens says. “We need a lot of mercy and forgiveness for others, but also for ourselves.”

In her latest book, “Love Heals,” Stevens writes about the practical, relevant steps people can take daily so that they can focus on the healing work after trauma. For communities, doing healing work, transparency, consistency and specificity — along with love and welcome— are critical factors, Stevens said.

“God’s desire for us is this kind of community,” Stevens says, “which is why I think I always knew that what I was experiencing as a child wasn’t about God — it was about messed-up institutions and people.”

Paul Seebeck, Mission Communications Strategist

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, November 3, 2019, the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Today’s Focus:  1001 New Worshiping Community/Vital Congregation

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Shawn Kang, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Karen Kaufman, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray:

May the Lord give strength to his people, especially people who have been abused. May the Lord give strength to his people, especially people working to change unjust systems. May the Lord bless his people with peace with a promise for a just and better future, a future without fear. Amen.

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