Have you ever been homeless?
A few weeks ago, I watched Vanessa Hudgens’ new movie, Gimme Shelter, about a young lady named Apple and her road from homeless teenager to mother to established member of the community. Her story is Ron Krauss’ screenplay, written after a year of living embedded and immersed in the lives of the women of Several Sources Shelters, run by Kathy DiFiore. Earlier today, DiFiore called me from New Jersey to talk about Apple’s (Hudgens) triumphant story and the ongoing work of her community to help pregnant teenage moms find community, and Jesus.
Raised by her family to love God and church, DiFiore married a man in her early twenties who abused her for eight years. Finally, with the clothes on her back and her purse in her hand, she ventured out alone and homeless, with only her faith as a support. After finding a job and stabilizing her life, she bought a small house but knew that she was meant to do something more with it, more for others than just living in comfort. She invited in an elderly woman, a woman struggling with leukemia, and a pregnant teen.
This pregnant teen resonated with DiFiore and her community, and soon, she was supporting several teenagers. In 1984, DiFiore was fined $10,000 by the state of New Jersey for running an unregistered shelter but after months of fighting, the bill was introduced to legalize homes like hers. And then the governor threatened to overturn the bill. Praying over the problem, DiFiore heard a voice tell her to “contact Mother Theresa.” Mother Theresa was in New York on mission work, but DiFiore had no idea how to reach her. Still, a local businessman had given his card to DiFiore months before with the promise to help whenever she needed it, scrawling his home number on the back of the card. She called, and four contacts later, she was pleading the shelter’s case to this saint of Calcutta. A letter from Mother Theresa to the governor and the bill was passed without incident.
Mother Theresa’s influence is obvious in talking with DiFiore. She says that we don’t need to come to New Jersey or even leave our community to ‘get it.’ She told me to “find [my] Calcutta,” that I didn’t have to travel far to figure out a family member, friend, community member, or someone living near me who needed help. But she did tell me we needed to think hard about how we were loving, how we were being Jesus to the world.
The sisters of the Missionaries of Charity were getting ready to throw away this statue of Jesus, pictured as a boy in the Temple at age 12. Somehow, the stone Jesus’ hands had been broken off, and the image was tarnished. But for DiFiore, it symbolized what it means to be Jesus. Jesus doesn’t walk or talk or comfort or serve today as a human being walking around, but if we’re going to be Jesus to the world, what better place to start than as his hands?
My latest inspiration’s time is short, and she knows it. Granted, DiFiore has done more with her time than most of us have, but she’s been battling cancer for twenty years. She told me that every three weeks, she takes a drug that gives her three more weeks. She’s living moment to moment, understanding how precious life is and what God is calling her to do with it, to make a difference. It’s drawn her closer to God, and as we talked, her next treatment was just days away, less than a week before the movie that could change how people see Several Shelters and homeless teenage mothers.
Now, DiFiore finds that this beautiful movie (review next week!) about a girl who runs away from her abusive mother and a life of drugs, is turned away by her rich, estranged father, and falls headlong into her one chance at a real life, will open people’s eyes to what life is like for many young mothers across the United States. While Several Shelters has an extensive application process, they accept everyone who wants to live by the community’s rules and learn to love Jesus. They’re taught about motherhood, granted scholarships to pursue education, and set up for success when they move out to raise their children on their own.
Having worked previously in a shelter for women and their children, I know the reality is that not everyone gets ‘saved.’ That’s usually because not everyone wants the help! DiFiore still proposes that those in need of rescue need to seek out a pastor and admit they need help, and to fully present themselves to those communities that can help them find shelter. But she says the most important thing to do is pray.
Those who will consider getting involved should check out the movie’s website or the movement behind it. But if you know someone who needs help, who needs shelter, check out this link for a list of shelters nationwide.
Go see the movie. Donate money. Feed a hungry person. Tutor a teenager scrapping to get by.
Who knows, you may just be the hands of Jesus, to show the world that God still moves.