The vision was planted in the heart of Greta Henry: a residential program to serve the deepest needs of clients.
Sparked 25 years ago when she heard a string of prayer requests for individuals as part of a prayer chain, the dream that Henry describes as her “heart’s cry” will finally be realized with the establishment of Merci’s Refuge, which opens its doors in November.
Henry, who oversees the Champaign, Ill., location of Living Alternatives—a network of 11 life-affirming pregnancy help centers in Illinois and Indiana—said the road to adding a residential program to her center has been a bumpy one, filled with red tape.
Yet, on the cusp of such a long-held vision coming to fruition, Henry said she’s “amazed at God’s faithfulness.”
With room for 16 residents, plus three staff members, the plan is to start with eight women this fall in a 10,000 square foot building next door to the pregnancy center that Living Alternatives has designed from the ground-up.
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“Women who come to the pregnancy center need more than what the center is able to provide,” Nate Himes, MSW, chief operating officer for Living Alternatives, said. “Merci's Refuge is a residential therapeutic program, very intensive in terms of the rules and the amount of programming. We want to get to the heart of issues, the roots that are causing women to abuse substances and harm themselves in other ways. “
With staff holding degrees and qualifications in counseling, family studies, and social work, Henry envisions Merci’s Refuge as a major step forward in meeting the needs of clients who visit the ultrasound-equipped pregnancy center.
And, the establishment of the home is the culmination not only of Henry’s long-held hopes, but also that of a prayer team that has met for several years—as well as a donor base that caught the vision and encouraged Henry and Himes to “just keep going.”
“God continually brings what we need along the way,” Henry said. “We just want Jesus to be glorified in this place. We want the women to know that He loves them and there is a hope for the future.”
Hope has emerged as a major theme during the development of Merci’s Refuge, even shaping the name of the home.
Years ago, Henry’s daughter had become involved in Nashville-based “Mercy Ministries,” a residential ministry that provides similar services to those Living Alternatives is now adding in Champaign.
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Henry had been praying about opening the home, so she visited Mercy Ministries. Not long after, a woman Henry knew chose to abort her baby because of an adverse prenatal diagnosis. As she processed the experience and grieved over the loss of the child, the name that would one day grace her ministry came to Henry’s mind.
“I did so many things to try and help this woman make a decision for life, but she chose to have an abortion,” Henry said. “It deeply affected me. I had been praying and weeping for this little one when I heard the name, ‘Merci’ on the radio. I just knew her name was ‘Merci.’
“I want this to be a place where women can go—a refuge—a place for women who are hurting and need help.”