As 11-year-old Nevaeh sat with her mom in church a couple of weeks ago, she had questions.
The two have been attending First Free’s Sunday worship service at the Rockford Rescue Mission, where Stephanie is a resident in the Women’s Life Recovery program. On this day, the service included Communion and mention of an upcoming baptism service. Afterward, Nevaeh asked her mom what it all meant.
“I explained to her that the cracker represents the body of Christ and the juice is the blood of Christ,” says Stephanie, who recommitted her life to Christ after coming to the Mission last winter.
Then Nevaeh asked what being baptized is all about.
“We’ve got to be saved first,” Stephanie told her. “You got saved when you were 6.”
“I don’t remember that, Mom. I want to get saved again.”
So Stephanie asked Pam Tomita, the program director, if she would pray with them later that day. Pam said yes, of course, and told them to stop by her office later on.
The day got busy with lots of residents and guests being served lunch. Later that afternoon, Stephanie and Nevaeh watched a movie together as part of their weekly time together. “We totally forgot about it,” Stephanie says.
Nevaeh stayed overnight with her mom, and as they said bedtime prayers she remembered.
“Mom, we forgot to save me.”
“Well, OK,” Stephanie replied. “If you want, we can wait for Pam to come tomorrow and do it.”
“But what if Jesus comes tonight?”
“All right,” Stephanie said. “Let’s do this.” Through tears of joy, she led her daughter to Christ.
“You have to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.”
“I believe,” Nevaeh answered.
Then Stephanie prayed a few words at a time. Nevaeh repeated them.
“It was just really good,” Stephanie says, “and she did it so perfectly.”
A whole new life
Stephanie and Nevaeh hope to be baptized together soon — another step in leaving behind the life they knew before. It was Nevaeh, 10 at the time, who found her mom unconscious and overdosed on opiates in September 2021. That resulted in Stephanie losing both of her kids and going to jail, again. Since her first felony at age 12 until now, age 30, she has been in jail, in prison, on probation or on parole every single day of her life. This time she faced 14 years in prison.
“But the court system gave me a last chance,” she says, “if I would come to Rockford Rescue Mission and enter the Women’s Life Recovery program.”
Stephanie seized the opportunity and today she’s a changed woman.
“This is a safe place for me, and good things are happening,” she says. “I haven’t been able to call a place home in a long time, and never in my life have I been clean this long. Ever. But here, I’ve completed anger management classes and parenting classes. I’m working on getting my GED. And I have unsupervised visits with my two kids. I’m clear-minded and I’m actually there with them.”
Meantime, her faith has grown immensely. God was always a part of her life, but in the past it was only pleading with him to get her out of trouble.
“Today I have hope,” she says. “I feel calm for the first time ever, and I can see a light at the end of this long tunnel. God is a huge part of my life today and my relationship with him has never been this strong.”
After Stephanie came to the Mission she printed all of her Winnebago County Jail mugshots — 36 of them from those terrible years. She keeps them in a packet, as a reminder.
“I don’t ever want to be that person again,” she says.
And, she’s doubly encouraged by her daughter’s decision.
“Jesus sacrificed himself to save his children,” she says. “That’s always been my goal in life, to make sure my kids are saved. If I had to give up my spot in heaven for my kids, I would.”
That desire is even built into her daughter’s name. “Nevaeh” is “heaven” backwards.
Cover photo courtesy of the Rockford Rescue Mission.