I just returned from the first national conference presented by Thistle Farms, the amazing Nashville-based ministry launched by the Rev. Becca Stevens to help women recover from lives of prostitution, drug addiction and abuse. Most of the 250 attendees were women, from all over the country, hoping in some way to create or bolster programs back home based on the Thistle Farms/Magdalene model. From Episcopal News Service:
“I don’t want people to think that this is a charity, or just a social enterprise or a recovery model – we really are a movement,” said Stevens in an interview with ENS at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Chapel on the edge of Vanderbilt’s campus. “We are a movement of people with small organizations around the country that are trying to come together to change a culture that still buys and sells women as commodities, that still has that tiresome argument about whether or not to legalize prostitution, [a society] that still believes the myth about it [prostitution] being a choice.
My head is swimming with how we might build on this model where I live. I was inspired to hear how the Rev. Mike Kinman is working to create a Magdalene program in St. Louis, and how Kara French, a former U.S. diplomat specializing in human trafficking issues, has opened a Magdalene-based residence in New Orleans.
I was most inspired by the success stories of women who live in Magdalene houses in Nashville and those employed making Thistle Farms products or working in the brand new Thistle Stop Cafe. The Nashville program is gaining national attention, most recently from Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times.
If you aren’t stocking Thistle Farms (really great) products in your church bookstore or ordering them online for family and friends, you might want to start. I also recommend Stevens’ inspiring memoir, “Snake Oil, the Art of Healing and Truth Telling,” which I read on the plane coming home yesterday. This is the kingdom of God at work, folks.