It started life as a chicken house, but today the transformed building is truly a haven for women and children in need of not only shelter from the battering storms of their lives, but also love, hope and kindness.

Bethany Place is a Christian-based ministry which offers a safe haven where women can break the bonds of their past and find hope for a better future. Whether they have suffered from abuse, poverty or drugs, the shelter helps them to transform their lives.

The building itself is a sort of metaphor, because like the women who come there from all walks of life to transform their lives, that old chicken house is now transformed into a lovely, welcoming refuge.

That type of transformation in both the building and the lives it serves does not come quickly or easily.

I first met Sandy Reed 30 years ago when as a young journalist I wrote about her and Merismos Ministry, a new undertaking for her and her late husband Michael Reed.

Sandy immediately impressed me with her desire to help others. She and Michael were collecting food, clothing, and household goods in their attempts to meet the needs of those living in poverty.

In 1990, they decided to create a home with a positive family environment to nurture not only the physical needs of the women and children, but provide them with an opportunity to break their past and create a better future.

In those 30 years since I have seen many ministries come and go, but Sandy continues to pour her heart and soul into her efforts.

This week I attended a fundraiser at Bethany Place. I go to many fundraisers, but this was different because the testimonies of the women who are now sheltering there left me emotionally spent, but in awe of what was happening in their lives. In awe of what God was doing in this humble place through the works of unassuming people like Sandy, her adopted daughter, Nivia Reed and the other volunteers.

I heard stories of terrible abuse, wrong decisions and a vicious cycle of cruelty and poverty.

One young woman, still in her 20s and the mother of three young children, told of how as a child she was abused by her own mother, beaten and battered by the person she should most trust in her life, as well as by other relatives.

The emotion she felt as she tried to speak to those in attendance was so gut-wrenching that Sandy had to go up to the podium with the young woman and put her arm around her as she tried to tell her story.

She told of how when she tried to leave her home, she ended up with men who were also abusive and terrifying, of how the cycle threatened to continue.

But now through the love and acceptance she found with Sandy, she has also found a new life for herself and her three adorable little daughters. The happiness shining in those little girls was living proof of what is happening there.

Another family, from a prominent community in Cherokee County, told of how their daughter suffered a troubled youth, turned to drugs, sought out gang members, and constantly wanted to hurt herself and others around her.

The testimony from this family showed so graphically how troubles can come to anyone, even a loving family. But when they were at their wits’ ends, the family found Bethany Place.

After 15 months of living at Bethany Place, that young teen glowed with love and happiness. Her life has truly been turned around from one of despair and trouble to hope and love.

Perhaps the greatest gift that those who come to Bethany Place find is that they are not judged for their past or their failures. Even when they stumble, even when they make new mistakes, they find loving hands to help pick them back up.

Change in lives like this does not come easily. It takes patient and a truly caring person to help others transform their lives.

In this world we now live in, where sometimes it seems that cruelty and hate are overcoming love and kindness it is a true miracle to come into the midst of a faith community like that surrounding Bethany Place.

My visit there left me emotionally raw, but optimistic about the future, because love, faith and kindness do endure.

Sandy Reed has endured for 30 years in her quest to help others. There are ways the community can help her with her mission.

The women and children who live there operate Bethany Boutique and Christian Bookstore, open to the public. They also have weekly Bible classes for anyone who wants to attend.

Sometimes we think that mission work should be done in other countries, or big cities. But there is so much opportunity to help right here in our community.

Rebecca Johnston is a lifelong Cherokee County resident and former managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.

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