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Welcome home

"Welcome home" Continued...

Issue: "Save the unions," Oct. 24, 2009

The ministry has served as many as 90 residents at one time, but that number has declined as residents have grown older and as the process for bringing children from other countries has grown more difficult since 9/11. Still, the ministry is serving nearly 50 residents now.

Part of the ministry includes a Christian school that serves 66 students, including some from surrounding areas. The operation also includes a carpentry shop, where workers build all the furniture and other needed items for the ministry's campus. Workers in the "bus barn" maintain the ministry vehicles that transport residents to doctor appointments, activities in town, and church on Sunday mornings.

It's an expansive operation that employs 112 workers, including those who work at the ministry's thrift store in nearby Liberty and at The Bread of Life Café, a popular restaurant owned by the ministry and run by the Tuckers' two biological daughters, Becky and Jessica. (Both daughters are active in helping with operations at the home as well.)

But the heart of the ministry is its residents: At the Angel House, that includes 15 babies and toddlers born to mothers serving prison sentences. On a quiet afternoon in clean, bright rooms, a handful of infants nap, including the youngest-a 2-week-old girl wrapped in a soft, pink blanket.

Her mother followed a familiar pattern for pregnant inmates: When an inmate goes into labor, prison officials transport the mother to a hospital to deliver. Two days later, the mother goes back to jail. If she's asked GCH to care for the child until she's released, a ministry staffer brings the baby back to the Angel House. Once a week, staff members pack up the babies and take them to Louisville to visit their mothers in prison, allowing the moms to stay connected to their children during their incarceration.

At least five staffers or volunteers work each shift, and supervisor Linda Lee is in charge of managing the babies' medical care. A grinning 5-month-old baby boy on a changing table shows how serious some health problems can be: Stitches on his tiny chest reveal evidence of a recent heart procedure. (His twin sister-also living here-has had no health problems, and doctors say the boy will be fine.)

Lee has worked in the Angel House for five years: She glows with enthusiasm when talking about her job. After enduring a difficult upbringing herself-her mother died when Lee was 10 and her father was an alcoholic-she says she has a special empathy for these babies: "I know what it's like to feel like you don't have anybody."

The hardest part of the job, she says, is letting the babies go when their moms finish their prison time: "When you get attached to one of those little ones, you just have to trust the Lord to take care of them." She says she continues to pray for the children after they leave: "I really do feel like I have a ministry here. Sometimes I feel guilty for getting paid."

Not everyone is paid, though attracting full-time volunteers can be difficult in a rural area. Kyla Hochsteler came here to volunteer after graduating from Crown College, a Christian school in Minnesota. "I wanted to do something in the volunteer sector before I started a career," she says.

On an early Tuesday morning, Hochsteler and another volunteer prepare breakfast in the small kitchen of The Blessing House, where more than a dozen disabled residents live. The young women spoon oatmeal and applesauce onto plastic plates, noting that many residents can't chew solid food. Other workers make rounds, waking up residents and helping them with dressing and personal hygiene. It's hard work, but the staffers and volunteers are affectionate to residents who have difficulty responding from wheelchairs or hospital beds.

The workers encourage the more able-bodied residents to help: Medina is blind and walks with a cane but manages to take out the trash. Others sweep the floors. At dinnertime, some help feed their fellow residents.

George-a 39-year-old man who has been here nearly 25 years-is particularly helpful: He cheerfully wakes up residents and helps lift some to their wheelchairs. He guides new visitors to the right place and remembers names. Though mentally disabled, he absorbs Christian teaching. When a minister at the school chapel service asks why we should go to church, George is the first to respond: "So we can have Jesus in our heart."

Samad from Afghanistan still lives here too. Now 33 years old, he remembers when he first arrived in America with a medical visa after a series of surgeries on his face and arms in Pakistan and Egypt.

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