Over the past several years, Union Gospel Mission has seen an increase in the number of young moms with children coming to our shelters.
“Helping young moms in crisis is vastly different than helping single women,” said JoAnn Zajicek, Director at the UGM Center for Women & Children. “You have the abuse, the addiction, the unhealthy coping mechanisms, but you also have women trying to be good mothers when they haven’t been parented well themselves. Sometimes you have children raising children. They desperately want family and, consequently, are often drawn into unhealthy relationships. We have to teach them how to stay present in discomfort, how to do the difficult work of being a single parent without numbing or running away.”
Barely 18 when she came to the Center, Martha is an example of the new face of homelessness.
Growing up without a father, Martha started partying at 13. “It was just my mom raising me and that’s just not the way that God designed it so when we step out of God’s design, then the enemy has so much room to move and destroy and kill and steal. So there were a lot of things stolen from me definitely.
“I was just deeply deceived, that I didn’t belong, I just believed all these lies that I wasn’t valuable, I wasn’t worthy, I wasn’t good enough....I think that I didn’t really learn how to connect emotionally so I felt like I had to make that up. When I started partying, you get a lot of attention for the way that you look in shallow environments. And I liked that attention. That just led to really unhealthy relationships, really shallow relationships that left me empty because there was no depth there.”
Martha was in and out of juvenile detention from 15 on. That’s where she met God.
“In juvie, we would have Bible studies and sermons on Sundays, and that’s an excuse to get out of your room, so I would go, and just like those seeds that were planted would just be watered…In juvie, you’re completely isolated in a cell all by yourself, so I started this relationship with God.
“That’s when everything changed for me.”
Martha was being held on grand theft charges when she found out she was pregnant.
“My first thought was abortion because I didn’t even know who the dad was. I was 17. I was really young and I felt so much shame and I was really scared…I was all alone.
“But God spoke to me. He just said, ‘Trust me.’
“It was really hard, and I was such a wreck the first few weeks, but I trusted him.”
One of the women from Open Arms (a crisis pregnancy ministry) started visiting Martha on a weekly basis and encouraged her to enter UGM recovery upon release.
The idea didn’t hold much appeal. “I was about to be 18 and off probation and I thought I was finally going to be free. I thought I could do it on my own. But I didn’t know what freedom was then.
“I remember stepping into my cell and just getting on my knees and bawling because I thought it was going to be awful, but I just knew God wanted me to go. I just knew I had to. So, I went out of obedience.”
Martha entered the Center two years ago, 30 weeks pregnant.
“I am so blessed Fabian wasn’t born until I was at the Mission…He doesn’t know life without God.” - MARTHA
“It was like a different world. I just felt so at home. Even the first day, I just felt like, Whoa, my life is going to be so different. I just knew. The first year was so life changing for me, and I was so hungry. I had no idea I was so hungry, and people were just so loving and they were just like Jesus.
“I walked through so much healing that I didn’t even know I needed. You go through life thinking that it’s normal to go through really traumatic experiences, and you don’t realize what trauma is until God reveals it to you.
“I didn’t know what healthy relationships looked like. I didn’t know what healthy boundaries looked like, and I got to see that modeled by the staff, the volunteers and the higher-phase ladies who have walked through all that healing. God told me to go to the UGM because I needed to be nurtured and taught and built up by the body of Christ.”
Meanwhile, Fabian was being cared for and loved in the children’s program. “I am so blessed Fabian wasn’t born until I was at the Mission…He doesn’t know life without God.”
Martha finished the recovery program and participated in commencement in June. Today, she works for a wedding dress designer – her dream job – and spends most of her free time with Fabian. “He’s so young, but I’m confident he knows he’s loved. I pray for him every day, and I know those prayers are eternal.”
Martha is 20 years old with a beautiful two-year-old boy. The road ahead may not be easy, but she is committed to Christ and to walking in ongoing recovery.
“The UGM set my foundation…Fabian and I are really happy. We’re not just happy, but we’re just completely rooted in love and so excited for the rest of our lives.”