“Thank you, Lord,” I whispered as I drove into Avonlea Acres for Bible study one rainy evening. “You had all this planned! You called and equipped these dear friends, and then you supplied them with the perfect home to care for single mothers and their babies.” A cold rain pelted down furiously, but thankfulness warmed my heart as I continued my conversation with God.
“How did you ever inspire the former owners to design and remodel the house to fit so perfectly?” My prayerful thoughts turned to the unique design of the red brick house God had led Tom and Rhoda to lease for Avonlea Acres. Partitioned into three separate living areas, it beautifully and comfortably fits every need. The first time Rhoda gave me a tour I must’ve commented a dozen times, “God planned every detail of this house for Avonlea!” Why would anyone put a spacious eight foot counter in the main bathroom, in addition to the sink counter? For changing babies, of course! It’s ideal!
Pulling into the wide driveway, I was filled with warm anticipation. Rhoda’s warm welcome greets you at the door, and God’s refreshing peace soaks into your soul. “You love it here, don’t You, Lord?”
That’s when God whispered to my heart, “It’s not about the house, my dear daughter.” I sat very still as the Lord instructed me, “It’s all about the girls who are cared for here.”
Tears flooded my eyes as the warmth of that thought flooded my soul. Of course it was! I was caught up in the wonder of God’s provision, but God was looking at only one thing: tenderly healing His wounded daughters.
The Healer of Hearts has found a home at Avonlea Acres.
-by Becky Matson, Avonlea Acres Board of Directors, 2009
What is Avonlea Acres?
Avonlea Acres is a safe place for unwed mothers to live and learn about love and life skills. It is a long term maternity/shepherding home where residents can stay up to two years or until their child is 3 years old. Our motto is “futures are more important than pasts.” We are supported 100% by private donation. We do not require residents to be Christian but we operate with Christian morals and guidelines, and each resident must agree to this prior to moving into the home. We believe that everybody was created for a purpose and Avonlea offers that safe place where these moms can quit surviving and begin thriving.
What is the Avonlea Acres vision and mission?
Our mission is to “Love because He first loved us” and to show that love by providing a home for women in crisis while upholding Christian principles and Biblical truths. Our vision for Avonlea Acres is to be a Christ-centered family home which upholds the sanctity of life and meets the very real needs of the residents, providing an atmosphere where women can break the bondages of their past and be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Rom. 12:2). We equip them to go out and change lives by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, giving testimony of the grace that has been shown them. By adopting the essence of Isaiah 61:1-3, we aim to help the women realize a “crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
What can a single mother expect throughout her stay at Avonlea Acres?
In order to be accepted at Avonlea Acres, each candidate of 18-28 years old goes through an interview to determine how best to help them. If they are approved to stay, they will be participating in a challenging but worthwhile program wherein they will learn many essential skills. These skills will include housekeeping and cooking meals as well as practicing money management, polite behavior, and accomplishing personal goals in seven categories: personal, physical, emotional, spiritual, social, career, and financial.
How does your ministry show love to those in need or suffering?
James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” We love our residents by offering them a safe place to live, and provide for their most basic needs where God’s ways and truths are modeled for them. We plant seeds, water seeds, and watch God give the increase, which He always does.
In what ways have you seen your ministry help in an individual’s spiritual development?
We are often asked what our success rate is. We can honestly answer 100% success because each resident that has come into Avonlea has left knowing a little more of Jesus, a little more truth, and how much God loves them and has a plan for them.
What seeds did God cultivate in you to start the ministry?
The seed was planted the first year we were married. We didn’t have any definite directions, just a sense that we would one day be operating a shepherding home of some type. In the beginning we thought it would probably be a ranch somewhere for troubled teens. We realized that we had something rare – a husband and wife team with the same calling, the same passion of helping people. Through 27 years of marriage the idea just never really left, and we often wondered when would be the right time. God taught us so many things in so many ways that we now employ here at Avonlea Acres.
We endured a major move, a business close, and a home foreclosure which led us to near homelessness a couple of times. We also suffered with family through eight deaths in only a few years’ time, marriage breakups, mental illnesses, suicides, and drug/alcohol addictions. He has reminded us so often of what is really important in life: relationships, not materialism. We have learned what is necessary to live and what we can live without. He has always been sovereign and faithful.
How did God call you into this ministry?
When we became empty nesters, I started asking the Lord what He wanted me to do with the rest of my life. In a very profound way I heard His still small voice say that He wanted me working with unwed mothers. Feeling completely unqualified, I argued for three days before I finally surrendered telling God that if HE wanted me to do this HE would have to show me how and make the way very clear because I didn’t know where to start. Then my phone began ringing. When I answered, it was an acquaintance of mine and she said “Rhoda, this is going to sound really weird, but, do you know what the Legacy of Life maternity home is?” She proceeded to ask me if I’d be interested in teaching a weekly bible study there. I started teaching there that week and continued for about two years until the home closed.
This was not the limit of God’s preparations. About three months later I got that dreaded 3 a.m. phone call from our only unmarried daughter. “Mom, I think I’m pregnant.” I told her to pack a bag and come home. By the time she got there, God had spoken to me again. This wasn’t just her life challenge, it was also ours. We were going to learn firsthand about unwed mothers.
A couple of days passed and her boyfriend, now her husband, asked to meet with us. He came and asked for our forgiveness for dishonoring our family name – it was then we knew he was a keeper! They chose not to marry until after Lilly was born and through it all we gained much insight into what single moms experience.
During my time at Legacy of Life, typical protocol was that the mothers had two weeks after the baby was born before they had to move out. That broke our hearts because just when they needed help most, they were out on their own. Tom and I discussed this and we realized God was prompting us to start the shepherding home ministry. With longtime friends Greg & Carmelle Helmes and Stephanie Lang, who were also led into this ministry, we began drafting legal documents, writing manuals, and putting together a board of directors. Avonlea was on its way.
We were about three weeks from finishing our manuals when a vacant home was brought to our attention. We approached the owner, who astonishingly donated it to us. With the help of dozens of volunteers and a miraculous amount of donations, within three weeks Avonlea Acres was in operation. Within another six weeks, we were at full capacity! Only our God could do something like that.
Where do you see the Lord leading this ministry in the next 5 years?
In the last year Avonlea has evolved from a grass roots ministry to a faith-based community organization. Interest and support is growing, volunteers are coming forward, and God keeps sustaining us month by month. He has given us a vision of more homes across the U.S. and Canada. For now, we have committed to keep Avonlea Acres operating as long as God sustains it. Our program works and we have wonderful success stories, but God alone must get the glory and He alone must provide the way.
Tom and Rhoda Hilman are the founders of Avonlea Acres. They have been married 31 years and have three girls married to three wonderful men of God, two grandsons, three granddaughters, and two granddogs. “As for us and our house, we will serve the Lord.”