Plans for a faith-based women’s refuge in Ireland
(From the October - December 2019 issue of VOX)
Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge. Psalm 16:1
Twelve years ago, Martha McGee recalls the moment during a worship service when she first had the vision for a women’s refuge. “I knew it was no ordinary daydream. I left the church with an understanding that I was meant to set up a refuge for women in abusive domestic situations. The scripture of the woman at the well was burning in my heart and I had a sense of how much love Jesus has for all women, and particularly women who have been subject to physical, emotional or sexual abuse in the privacy of their own homes.”
Within days, the vision had faded and Martha went on with her life, working in a bank and raising her two daughters. But two months later, she woke up in the middle of the night with a clear picture of how such a refuge should be run, providing community but also allowing women dignity and privacy. She went downstairs and wrote it all down.
The journey to see her vision become a reality has been slow and filled with opportunities for learning and growth. In addition to her professional work in banking and compliance, Martha developed leadership skills heading up women’s ministry and prayer ministry in her church, and more recently studying for her MA in Transformational Leadership at the Irish Bible Institute. “Through all of that, my vision never went away,” Martha said.
Challenged by what had been said to her at that prayer meeting, Martha received another confirmation at a women’s conference. Artist Karen McSweeney handed Martha a painting she had created. “It was a picture of a woman with a veiled face. I was blown away by it. We were not created to hide and I knew that I was to come out of hiding and do what I had been asked to do. I knew I was being called deeper, to experience life-giving waters not just for me but for all the women, their healing and their growth in the refuge.”
Martha began work to form a faith-based charity named (unsurprisingly) “The Wellspring of Life” with the aim to create a new women’s refuge. Launching a book of poetry illustrated by Karen called Not Created To Hide last autumn to raise funds, Martha and her small team began the process of registering the charity and ensuring all of the legal requirements were in place.
“I underestimated the length of time it would take but finally we have been approved by the Charity Regulator [RCN 20204565] and we have launched a massive online fundraising campaign in order to purchase a building and refurbish it as a refuge. People’s interest has really encouraged us. As more and more people join up to support the vision, it will become a reality. This was never my idea. It is very much God’s refuge. We long for a safe, peaceful and loving refuge where women and children of any faith or none can find a welcome.
“I find it hard to imagine myself being the CEO because I’m such an ordinary person. I’m learning as I go along and while we would like to see things moving faster, we want to do everything with excellence.”
Wellspring would like to partner with other organisations such as Women’s Aid and Safe Ireland and Martha and her team are looking for individuals and churches who will journey with them to see the women’s refuge becoming a reality.
“This is a journey of hope. We want members of the public to journey with us and to donate €1 each and to encourage family members and friends to do the same. People are asked for money all the time but we believe even the smallest amount can make a difference and there is great excitement as people become part of the project. That one euro can be the beginning of the rest of somebody’s life.
“Although [for obvious reasons] we won’t be able to show people the outside of the building or its exact location, they can keep up-to-date with what goes on right up until we have the refuge fit for purpose.”
Through personal experience, Martha understands what women go through and how it can take time to find healing and restoration. Her vision is for the refuge to be a place of peace away from the chaos, shouting, violence and aggression that the women and their children have known.
And as the project moves forward, The Wellspring of Life Women’s Refuge will also need people who will volunteer their time and skills, and churches that will commit to partnering long term with the vision.
To find out more, to purchase Martha’s book of poetry Not Created To Hide (all proceeds to Wellspring) or to donate to the project, visit www.thewellspringoflife.ie.