Written by Sally Moore
Sunday, August 4, 2019 marked the celebratory grand opening of “Elaine’s House.” The special day was many decades in the making. Unknown to one another, unbreakable strands of a common, spiritual cord were being prepared in different parts of the country decades and decades ago- eventually binding together the participants responsible for this safe haven.
Heretofore, Tucson, AZ has not had a long-term shelter for abused women and their children. Now, they do. Sheepfold AZ hopes this will be the first of many such safe places to come for a community with a great need. The home is large enough to eventually house four families. In its undisclosed location, in a modest middle-class neighborhood, friends, prayer warriors, donors, founders and employees gathered to celebrate and marvel over the miracle stories which ordered each unique step, bringing them to this moment. Each story is a triumphant step toward the goal of providing 6-months of shelter for victims of domestic violence.
Many decades ago, Blessings Through Action founder and CEO, Elaine Beck, married young, as most women did in that generation. She hoped for a fresh start and a fairy tale ending. Elaine didn’t find it. Instead, she found herself married to a physically violent, verbally abusive man. For 17 years she stayed, praying for change and raising a family- always fearful of the next blow and the next brutal word which she believed were deserved. That all changed the day the abuse turned from her to one of their children.With no money, no close family and few options, she leapt into the unknown and forged a new life for her family. Summarizing her story, Elaine stated simply, “It made me a strong woman.”
Unfortunately, her story is all too common. The National Domestic Violence hotline statistics cite 1 in 3 women will, at some point, experience Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Often a situation which pairs with drug and alcohol abuse, every three days a woman is murdered in an IPV relationship. Children raised in abusive homes are statistically likely to repeat that behavior when they are grown.
Adrift in uncertain waters, Elaine’s sister introduced her to Helen, a friend who had her own powerful testimony of redemption from darkness. “If God is so great, “Elaine posited, “Why did he let us go through such a thing?” Helen responded frankly, “God allowed me to go through all that so that I could help you through…and the Lord allowed you to go through it, so that someday, you can help others.”
Someday has arrived. The road there wasn’t easy, even for someone with a growing walk with Jesus. On her own with three growing kids, Elaine worked hard, struggling to provide. At one point she recalled, “I cried out to the Lord. I told Him, if He would help me financially, I would always share that blessing with others.” He did, and she has kept that promise many times over. Eventually, Elaine met and married Bob Beck. It is a personal “Cinderella Story” with the long awaited happily- ever after ending which she loves to share.
Early this year, a Tucson woman in an abusive marriage shot her husband. Some children in Elaine’s extended family attended school with some of this woman’s six kids. The issue was suddenly back on her radar and she began to learn that there were still few options available for women who found themselves in this all too familiar situation. The available services offered only a short, two-week stay and little support or preparation for the world awaiting them. It is this situational deficit which leads the majority of abused women to return home to their abuser a staggering average of seven times.
Without serious healing work, the damage is known to spiral into following generations. Statistics reveal that children growing up hearing and viewing violent relationships are six times more likely to commit suicide, and are 50% more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. This demographic is at a whopping 74% higher risk of committing a violent crime or becoming involved in the same cycle of abuse as adults. The Sheepfold offers the cure to breaking this cycle.
Over 40 years ago, Fran Lundquist set about to single-handedly start a secret shelter for victims of domestic violence in Orange County, California. The Sheepfold was born from her struggles to establish a successful, faith-based Christian model to give women and children the time needed to heal, get on their feet and learn to be independent. Eventually, a two-staged, faith-based program was born. Step one, gives these families shelter, a foundation of Bible teaching, and includes life and work skills with a great deal of structure. For those who qualify, a secondary longer living situation in an apartment is arranged, with greater independence as they spread their wings and start over.
Wanting complete freedom to have a focused, Bible-based program in their shelters, Sheepfold accepts no government or United Way monies. The 501-C-3 organization depends solely on private donations and profits from their resale boutique.
In 1989, while driving down the highway in Southern California, flooring contractor, John Wildman, happened to hear a radio spot about The Sheepfold. Something made him call to see if they needed help. They did. “They had a lot of female volunteers, but no men.” He grinned. With buildings to maintain they really needed his help and his truck!
In 1993 Wildman joined The Sheepfold board of directors and now serves as President and Executive Director of the non-profit. His wife, Belinda was a homeschooling mom at the time they discovered the ministry. Now, she serves at their shelters in various capacities ranging from house mom, Bible teacher and legal advocate. John Wildman leaned forward, his enthusiasm for this work is evident. “Our number one core principle is God’s Word. Daily Bible study is a requirement for those women staying at the shelter. I look at these as “Discipleship Homes.” Belinda nodded, as her husband adds, “We are much more concerned with their eternal situation than the immediate (troubled) situation.”
The immediate situation is, however, a huge concern. A serious focus is placed on keeping the address of all their locations secret to protect the safety of the victims and the staff who work with them. “These families are sworn to keep the location secret, they surrender their cell phones and have to abide by the rules. But,” Wildman notes, “They feel the love there, too.”
Expanding on the pervasive problem of domestic violence, the Sheepfold director notes, “A lot of times churches won’t help. Often,” he adds, “They have told women in this situation to Pray-Stay and Obey.” He shakes his head, reflecting that this erroneous understanding of scripture has improved somewhat in the past decade. “This isn’t a marriage problem. It is a mental problem. She is a victim.”
The Sheepfold in California now has grown and spread throughout Orange County and Riverside areas. They now offer help to victims of abuse in a network of six three bedroom homes, four large group homes and a ten unit apartment building.
Influence in any Sheepfold shelter is wide-ranging. Belinda Wildman shared that abuse knows no cultural boundaries. “We have had Muslim women come to Jesus; Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and even witches.” The couple agreed these families, for the most part, are very receptive once being exposed to a loving atmosphere and Bible knowledge. “A high percentage DO receive the Lord.” For those that don’t, Wildman added with a shrug,” A lot of seeds can be planted over a six month period.”
Sheepfold Arizona is a totally separate entity from the one in California. It was, however, built on the same successful model. “There is no coercion or manipulation to receive Jesus,” John Wildman explained. “And, there is no special treatment for those who do accept Jesus as their Savior.
Terry Cropp, director of the Sheepfold Arizona, grew up in a violent home life. Now retired from a career in law enforcement, he already had a heart attuned to families dealing with domestic violence. In telling his story, Cropp defers to another. “I knew April. She had moved out to California and worked with John and Belinda. She felt called- in 2007- to bring that same thing to Tucson, but didn’t know how to do it, or where to start.”
April Nolen- Smith worked as a house manager for John Wildman. Even though she was struggling with some of her own personal issues she relayed, “God told me, if I just trusted Him, he would change my life forever.” Her voice hitched as she recalled this story. “Years prior, she had met Terry Cropp in an early morning gym group. “I hadn’t seen him in years, but God kept telling me to call him.” Finally, April reluctantly made the call and set up a meeting. “I sat down and told him I had no idea why God kept telling me to call him.”
Cropp laughed, picking up the thread of the story, “When she told me what she wanted to do- I immediately told her that I knew why God chose me for you to talk to.” He grinned, appreciating the wonder of God’s timing. “I told her about my past and growing up in a house full of violence.” In the meantime, life tossed April a few curve balls which removed her from the planning. However, the ball she had, obediently, put into play was now rolling. April attended the grand opening and joyfully joined in the communal victory.
The Cropp’s shared that Nancy Belk had been having recurring Godly dreams which repeated the work, “SHELTER.” Art and Peggy Niccolette soon came aboard, Cropp noted, they too had a big heart for establishing a safe place. The Sheepfold Arizona Board was formed and the praying began.
For 11 years, Terry, wife Marcie and the others prayed for the ability and funding with which to start a long term shelter to help the women of Tucson. “We never doubted God’s provision,” Terry said. To jump start the process, members of the group made trips to California training with The Sheepfold team. Soon they took a bold step of faith and opened their own resale store- Injoy- on the corner of Broadway and Pantano in Tucson.
Important strands were coming together. Terry and Marcie Cropp attend the same Tucson church as Elaine’s brother-in-law. In the aftermath of the domestic violence shooting, she soon learned of the great need and what the Sheepfold group had been praying for, Elaine soon told her husband, “We need to buy a house.” The rest is history. Sheepfold AZ plans to begin accepting local families by September 1st. “If not sooner,” said Terry.
“We are grateful to Sheepfold California. We are copying what they have done. They are providing the training for the managers we need- and they will be ready in the next few weeks.” While astounded by every aspect of generosity enabling the shelter, Cropp added, “The love that leaves this house is the real legacy.”
“This brings us full circle, “agreed Elaine. “It is not emotion. It is empathy- I’ve walked in those shoes.”
In a sinful, dysfunctional and scary world, this is a story of safety and triumph. Well-ordered steps led all these people together to establish shelter from a violent storm for women and children who cannot do it themselves. “This is a beautiful story, and so real,” said Elaine, misty eyed at the wonder of it all.
Terry Cropp agreed, “This is all about God’s provision. If God has put something on your heart, He will provide.” He added with a smile, “Just give it time.”