By Jenny Knowles
Juliet Rose Hardee burst into tears when she heard a magazine wanted to know more about Guiding Light, the faith-based residential program for women overcoming addiction and abuse that she started and directs. A local TV station called for an interview the same day, and Hardee was overcome with the thought that more people will hear about the ministry.
Guiding Light is in its ninth year. It was birthed in Hardee’s personal story of childhood abuse, prostitution, and drugs (see “From Vile to Victory” in the July issue of Christian Standard). Her life changed when she was arrested for manufacturing methamphetamine, and her two sons, ages 4 and 8, were placed in the care of the state. Determined to get her boys back and change her life, and realizing she would require divine help, she surrendered her life to Christ. Eight months later she was clean and welcoming her boys home.
That was in 2003. She enrolled at Ozark Christian College and graduated in 2011, but while at Ozark, Hardee had a vision for helping other women. “God told me he was going to use every vile thing that had happened to me to help others,” Hardee says. She started Guiding Light in 2007.
The application process for the Guiding Light program is straightforward. “If someone calls and says they want to change their life,” Hardee says, “if there’s a bed, they’re in.” That was a lifeline for Lori Martin. She was in prison and desperately needed to find a residential program to live in when she was released. Guiding Light was the only program that responded to her cries for help.
Whether transitioning from prison or jail, or getting off the street, the women who come to live at Guiding Light are dealing with relational brokenness and shame, in addition to a substance-abuse addiction. “They come feeling beat down and worthless,” Hardee says, “but we help them dream big dreams and do big things.”
The first days and weeks after a woman arrives, however, can be especially challenging as her body detoxes and she adjusts to the program. Guiding Light consists of three houses—two of them new to the ministry—and a thrift store called Guiding Light Goodies. The ministry has room for 27 women. The program is set up to work with a woman from six months to a year, and there are several requirements for graduation. Each woman must stay clean and sober every month she is there. Each resident pays $400 a month to live in the house. Many of the women need a sponsor that first month while they get on their feet, but they are encouraged to find employment as soon as they can.
Additionally, each woman is accountable for her time and money, and is expected to have a good attitude and make all of the required meetings: two church services on Sunday, Bible study at the house twice a day, and a weekly Celebrate Recovery meeting. The women attend the meetings as a group.
The girls work and serve—filling their days with things that keep their hands and thoughts busy. They also volunteer at Guiding Light Goodies and the church, and Hardee says they seem to enjoy it. “When they know they’re loved, they want to serve,” she says.
Program graduates oversee the houses. These house managers administer drug tests, maintain chore lists and schedules, organize transportation for the girls to their jobs and appointments, mediate, and make sure everyone goes to bed. Hardee looks at the heart when she considers a woman for the house manager position; she must have a heart for the women and for the job.
“Individuals with a willing heart—that’s what works to change people’s lives,” Hardee says. “I’ve seen people get clean but they’re still mean, selfish, greedy, ungrateful—they exchange one addiction for another. The heart doesn’t change without God’s Word.”
Scripture memorization is integral to the Guiding Light program. The women learn three or four verses every week. Hardee calls it the most important part of Guiding Light. “Saying the Word of God over and over and over again changes you,” she says. Hardee speaks from experience. She memorized Scripture while a student at Ozark, discovered the value of memorization for her own life, and made it part of the program.
Martin says the memory work is what brings the Word of God into each busy day. She likes seeing how it affects the women’s conversations. “They speak in general terms about the Scriptures at first,” she says, “but it becomes more personal after they’ve been at Guiding Light for a month.”
Many of the women don’t know much about Jesus before arriving. Some know his name, but only to use it in a derogatory way, Hardee says, and others are afraid to know him. “Their understanding is that he is demanding, but my goal is that they accept who they are and know God accepts them for who they are.”
“Juliet makes sure we know our worth every day,” Martin says. “The program may be strict, and you may want to quit some days, but it’s worth it.”
At Guiding Light, women relearn how to live. It isn’t easy for them, or for Hardee, who carries the everyday burdens of ministry. There is always a need for more drivers, a car mechanic, another bed, a refrigerator—the list never ends. But it’s worth it because Hardee gets to see Jesus change lives every day, and because of Guiding Light, Martin is getting hooked on the same thing.
“When you are changing,” Martin says, “that’s one thing, but it’s amazing to watch someone else change.”
Jenny Knowles is a freelance writer and the community relations coordinator for God’s Resort, a relationship-based transitional housing community in Joplin, Missouri.