By: Katie Sobiech
Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’ John 4:13-15
Springtime often signifies new beginnings and fresh starts. The sun shines brighter, melting away the snow, and colorful flowers start to bloom. In spring of 2008 the vision of a dream in one woman’s heart also began to bloom. It was then that the ABAH House, a home dedicated towards breathing new life into women, was born.
The ABAH House isn’t your ordinary house. This home located in the Firestone Park area is a Christian home for women who have been homeless, incarcerated or living at risk and whose lives have been tainted by bad choices.
The home, founded on Jesus Christ, is dedicated towards sharing the love of God with women, as well as His forgiveness and restoration of their broken emotions. ABAH is the Hebrew root word meaning “to breathe again”.
Janet Paul, its Founder, wrote of the ministry in a newsletter saying “This home is to be a place where three women can live as they allow God to breathe new life back into them while they catch their breath between incarceration and independent living.”
Here women can build a spiritual foundation and new life for themselves.
The vision began a year ago in December when Janet attended a Christmas gathering with deacons and elders at her church. One couple approached her, sharing that they had an empty rental home that could be used for ministry. They asked if she was interested and her first thought was ‘Wow, would be really nice’.
Her second thought was ‘I don’t want to be involved in that!’
So she put it on the backburner.
But that didn’t stop God plan for the home. Three and a half years later she met Rebecca Searcy, a woman who was incarcerated at the Summit County Jail. Several years after their meeting, Rebecca was approaching her release and needed transitional housing in the Akron area. A light bulb went off in Janet’s head, reminding her of the offer for the home.
Rebecca became the “heart inspiration” for Janet’s decision to accept the offer of turning the home into a ministry.
“We visited the home in the middle of a snow storm,” Janet explained, “and I say God must have put rose colored glasses on my eyes because when we came in we just saw all of the possibilities and how wonderful it would be and not the major flaws.”
Sometime later she went back to visit the house on her own. As she looked around at the major disrepair she started to cry because it was such a mess due to previous renters not taking care of it.
“All of a sudden I had this reality check that the house was a disaster,” she said, “Here I am, nearly a 50 year old woman, working my Chaplain job at the jail, having a lot on my plate and three teenagers at home and thinking ‘What do I know about getting a house turned around so somebody can live in it?”
She sat in her car, looked up to God and with tears in her eyes asked “What have you gotten me into?”
God had already answered her cry a day earlier, when a man approached her at church. He was gifted in carpentry and for the next 3 weeks came to the house everyday to give it the makeover it needed. He did carpentry, plumbing, electric and even bought all of the materials that they needed. This was done in just three weeks.
Christian men and women from different churches and denominations also came together to help with the renovation and after a six week makeover process, on May 1st of last year, Rebecca moved in. Since then they have had five other women come and go.
“It was just such a God thing,” Janet said, “It was wonderful and amazing to see how He just provided absolutely everything for this house and it all just came together and was really amazing.”
A Spiritual Makeover
Instead of just an “extreme home makeover”, the purpose of this house is to give these women a spiritual makeover. Just as the home went through a makeover process, being cleaned up from the inside out, so is the hope for these women’s lives.
“The house is to be spiritually focused,” Janet said.
Rebecca Searcy, a.k.a.“House Mom”, added “Each lady is expected to spend time in devotions, go out and get acquainted with the area, obtain employment, go to church and have a mentor that works with them on a Bible study.”
Some of the women who have come to the home did not even have clothing so they make sure to provide those things for them as well.
“They don’t have a job, money, food or transportation, so we’ve developed a wonderful network of churches and ministries that work alongside of us who help get people back on their feet,” Janet explained.
The average stay is 6 months to a year, depending on each woman’s situation. Each of them has a specific case plan based on her specific needs and works closely with parole and probation officers.
Some are asked to attend AA meetings and counseling, and each has a curfew and is required to report her whereabouts at all times.
“It’s not always been easy,” Janet said, “It’s not like people move into this house and fairy dust is sprinkled on them and everything in their life is better – its not,” Janet said.
“My hope for all of these women is that they really develop a relationship with Christ that absolutely transforms them from the inside out,” she continued, “God can deal with every issue that’s inside of you and heal you and absolutely remake you into a new person and that is what a relationship with God through Jesus Christ is about – not just going through the motions and trying to dress up outward behavior. We are going for the heart issues here.”
It is easy to see that Janets preparation for the ministry began years ago. She began going into correctional facilities with the Akron Pregnancy Services in 2000, as a Board Member. There she held Bible Study’s that focused on healing for the women.
In 2002 she began with the Way Out Jail and Prison Ministry. The Way Out has Chaplains go in to local jails and prisons as missionaries. Her work at the Summit County Jail is to organize all Sunday Chapel Services, to counsel women and lead Bible studies twice a week.
“My own background had nothing to do with incarceration,” she said, “but everything to do with Christ healing and transforming me. I really have a heart for women who are walking through the same process. I believe none of us will be completely healed without Christ.”
Lost and Found
“If you think about what women have lost by the time they end up in a place like this, their family relationships are usually broken, they have usually lost their children, house, job, and right standing in the community,” Janet said, “There are a lot of losses to mourn and a lot of healing to do before they recover. There are many different emotions that people are struggling through here; a lot of pain and loss.”
From looking at Rebecca, a sweet, petite, softspoken woman with light hair and a big smile, you would never have guessed she spent time in prison. But she says that it was there in prison that God brought her down to her knees.
“I didn’t have Christ fully in my life at the time,” she explained, “It took him knocking me down on my knees until I had nothing and the possibility of my life ending before I surrendered everything to Him.”
“And this is all a process,” Janet added, “We’re just walking along in the journey. There are no successes and failures in this ministry.”
If you feel called to help this ministry please consider:
- Praying for its staff, volunteers and residents
- Mentoring a woman
- Volunteering at the home
- Offering a financial gift (or gifts)
You can contact the ministry at 330-848-0454