Unconditional Love and Undeserved Grace
Redeeming Life Outreach Ministries in Sanford, Fla., is a small ministry that’s making a big impact in the lives of expectant mothers in crisis.
“I really came to know the true meaning of grace, living in that home, and even though I made mistakes in my life, … God still loves me — and His grace, I can’t earn it.”
It’s a story most people would want to put under lock and key. But Veronica Jordan was eager to tell it as Bible class wrapped up at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Sanford, Fla., one Sunday in August.
“I was homeless, I was in a bad situation just all around, I was trying to turn my life around,” Jordan says, recalling the series of events that led to her ending up on the streets and, eventually, entering a rehab program.
But Jordan was also pregnant, and the rehab center was not set up to provide care or housing for a pregnant woman. Her caseworker searched the internet for an agency that could help. That’s when Jordan first heard about Redeeming Life Outreach Ministries (RLOM), an LCMS Recognized Service Organization in Sanford.
Established almost a decade ago by the Rev. Ed DeWitt, pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, and his wife, Sheryl, who serves as executive director, Redeeming Life is “a Christ-centered maternity home offering love, hope, and a future to single pregnant women in crisis.”
“Our guiding verse is 1 John 3:18, ‘Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.’”Sheryl DeWitt
“Our guiding verse is 1 John 3:18, ‘Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth,’” says Sheryl DeWitt. “That is what we strive to do.”
“Miss Sheryl” and “Pastor Ed” have been the driving force behind Redeeming Life ever since their own family’s experience with a crisis pregnancy. “Our grandson is 9 now. He was the impetus for this,” says Sheryl DeWitt.
“You mourn for the future you had planned for your daughter when she comes home and tells you she’s pregnant, you mourn for all those things she may miss out on, but what a blessing,” exclaims Sheryl DeWitt, as she speaks of her grandson and how his life led to RLOM.
A passing conversation at a district convention with then-LCMS Life and Health Ministries Director Maggie Karner connected the DeWitts with a number of resources and agencies. It also paved the way for grant funding from LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WRHC), which helped turn a big dream into reality.
“You gave us the push,” says Sheryl DeWitt, referring to the countless LCMS donors who regularly pray for and invest in the Synod’s mercy work.
A lot has happened at Redeeming Life since those early days. The initial grant of $25,000, awarded in 2013, helped the congregation purchase a duplex home across the street from the church Ed DeWitt serves. Over the years, WRHC mercy grants, totaling just over $70,000, have helped firmly establish RLOM in this Orlando bedroom community.
There was hesitancy and fear about launching the maternity home among the members of the parish, Ed DeWitt recalls. The frequently voiced concern was, “What if it pulls the church down?”
It’s understandable. The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer’s modest building sits in an economically challenged neighborhood, and the congregation has about 100 members, with half in attendance on any given Sunday.
Fear did not stop them from moving ahead with RLOM — or from establishing both a community garden and a thriving food pantry that make monthly provisions possible for more than 200 families.
RLOM has grown with the full support of the congregation and the LCMS Florida-Georgia District. The duplex was remodeled and turned into a single, large home able to house six expectant mothers and a live-in house mother.
Deaconess Liz Borth joined the staff two years ago and interacts daily with the women by providing spiritual care, counsel and programming designed to move the women toward sustainable, independent living. In addition, the new house mother is a certified doula, who provides daily guidance and support throughout the pregnancy and delivery.
Borth has worked to “take the Word of God and put it into the program.” She’s adamant that each resident should bring a Bible to every session so that she can lead them into God’s Word along with the practical teaching. “Jesus is in the middle, in the center, in the core,” she says.
“The deaconess came and held my hand,” says Jordan. “She really helped me to grow spiritually, she helped me to grow closer to God.”
“I walk with each one of the women [from] the time she walks in the door [of RLOM] until the time she leaves,” says Borth, who meets with each resident every week for 12 weeks to work through a program devised to help the women gain life and parenting skills.
The women take turns cooking the evening meal, and they perform other chores around the house according to a posted schedule. During the day, most of them work off-site.
“It is such a blessing to see the Word of the Lord taking root in the hearts of these precious women,” says Sheryl DeWitt. “It is particularly moving when former residents call just to say hello or to ask for advice. That’s our true mission — to become family to our residents, not just another program.”
RLOM has come full circle. One of the former residents — Caroline Nielsen — now volunteers at RLOM, serving as the weekend house mother, so she can give the kind of support she once received. Nielsen attends church regularly with her son, who was baptized at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.
“That makes everything we do, every struggle we have, a great joy, and it’s priceless,” says Sheryl DeWitt.
A Work in Progress
“We are dealing with broken and deeply wounded women. … They’ve been told they are nothing, they are worthless. They come to us after years of being crushed. You can’t fix that in a year, there’s no way,” says Borth, who pauses before saying, “The Lord can.” She’s seen it time and again.
“Yup,” she continues, “this is a hard job, I’m going to tell you up front. I didn’t know it’d be this hard. But every day, I say, ‘Wow, Lord, thank You. I had no idea that was going to happen the way it did.’”
Borth is eager to provide a tour of the nearby transitional home, the next phase of RLOM, which opened in August 2018 after a complete renovation. The addition allows them to continue to provide supportive care with greater independence for women who are ready to move on from the maternity home program. This extra layer of support and service is often critical to their stability and future independence.
Currently, one mother and her twins are in the transitional home, which can accommodate three mothers and their children as they learn to manage the demands of school, work and parenting.
“I am still a work in progress,” says Jordan, “I feel like I’ve grown so much in the past two years since living in the home, and I was given another amazing opportunity to be able to move into the transitional home after that.
“I just really felt the loving hand of God through this church and through the deaconess, especially.”Veronica Jordan
“This church has been like a family to me, they really have,” she continues, her eyes lighting up as she tells how this small parish helped organize her wedding this past year. “I just really felt the loving hand of God through this church and through the deaconess, especially.
“I want to make sure that you understand,” says Jordan, “this was unconditional love and undeserved grace.”
- About Redeeming Life Outreach Ministries: rlom.org
- About the organization’s founding: blogs.lcms.org/2013/planting-seeds-of-life
Pray with Us
Merciful heavenly Father, You delight to show mercy through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Be with those who work to show mercy and to give aid in such places as Redeeming Life Outreach Ministries in Sanford, Fla. Continue to work through them to bring repentance and faith to those You place in their care. Instill Your church with the wisdom and strength to serve any and all whom You give us to love. May we all turn to You as the only source of undeserved love and grace in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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Deaconess Pamela J. Nielsen
Associate executive director for LCMS Communications.