Becca Stevens is an Episcopal priest. She is also a CNN Hero known for her work in helping women surviving prostitution and addiction heal and transform their lives through the holistic treatment and employment of Thistle Farms, the organization she founded. Also, Grammy winner Russ Taff — longtime friend of Becca’s — sings a song. Don’t miss a single episode of Dinner Conversations — subscribe below!


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Mark: Today’s guest is Becca Stevens, and Becca is an Episcopal priest, and years ago, 21 years ago, Russ Taff said, “Mark, you gotta hear this lady speak.” He’d been goin’ to her church, so I said, “Okay,” and I went and heard her, was blown away. Not only is she a great speaker, she’s got a great heart, and she started a ministry called Thistle Farms.

Andrew: Yeah, this amazing ministry that helps women in vulnerable places, really restore them back into society and culture. It helps heal them and also employ them. In fact, we had our first tea party on Dinner Conversations. Did you enjoy the tea?

Mark: It was delicious.

Andrew: Yes, helped grown and packaged and sold by women who are helped by Thistle Farms. She’s a wonderful author of a book called Love Heals and often says that love is the most powerful force to change our world today.

Mark: And there’s one seat left at the table, and it’s yours! So let’s join the conversation.

Becca: One of the things I remember when I started this work 21 years ago, the first woman I met in the program, who’s now the national director, started programs all over the country. She was in a cast. She was just off the street, just beaten and raped, like so many women. I go into the house three weeks into the program, and she is dancing. I mean, she is moving, and there is nobody in there, but she’s playing gospel music. And I was like, “What are you doin’?” I’m like, she’s drunk.

Mark: Yeah.

Becca: Right?

Mark: Yeah.

Becca: And she goes, I’m having a Holy Ghost party. And I was like, “Well, what’s that?” You know, tell me, and we laughed and laughed, and then I think that was the first time I cried, thinkin’, this is a lot of work, but also, this is going to change my life. I’m going to learn how to be moved by the Spirit, where I dance with a cast on my leg.

Mark: Huh. Did that start the Thistle, is that–

Andrew: The Thistle Farms?

Mark: Thistle Farms, is that where it started?

Andrew: What was the genesis?

Mark: What was it, yeah.

Becca: Mm-hmm. That’s where it started.

Andrew: Was it that morning?

Becca: Right there in Nashville on Park. Well, so that was the first house. She was one of the first five people. It was 1997. And I was just like, let’s just move five women into a home. No authority in the house. Don’t charge ’em anything, and let’s just see where it goes, and you and Russ helped a lot, get that goin’.

Mark: It was fun.

Becca: It’s awesome.

Andrew: It was originally called the Magdalene House, right?

Becca: So the residences are still called Magdalene. So the whole branding is Thistle Farms, how we put the products out in the marketplace, so like now we’re in every Whole Foods in the country. People are serious about branding, and they want it to all be consistent. So everything is called Thistle Farms.

Andrew: And people can know, they can go look up, they can find out about Thistle Farms, but I would like just for us at the table to talk, maybe while we serve some tea, about one of the products here from Thistle Farms, but talk about kinda the holistic program that is Thistle Farms, from the coming into the home for two years, right? And we’re talking about women who were caught up in vulnerable places in their family lives, relationships. I mean, what have you seen in the stories–

Becca: I don’t think they’re caught up. I mean, I think it’s women who’ve been prostituted, addicted, imprisoned, raped, jailed, beaten, abused, sexually assaulted. All those things we say. I mean, it is about failed systems in communities from when the women are kids, and how it takes communities and people loving them without judgment back.

Mark: Here, let me do it.

Becca: Let me do it.

Mark: You wanna do it, okay.

Becca: Do you know, in tea–

Mark: Well, you’re our guest.

Becca: I know, but tea, the serving is the place of honor.

Mark: Oh, okay, who knew?

Andrew: You are in our place of honor.

Becca: And this is my tea so I would love to serve you.

Mark: Well, tell us more. What else do we need to learn? This place of honor is the server.

Becca: Well, if you don’t know that, there’s probably a lot.

Mark: I knew nothing.

Becca: I don’t understand this, though.

Mark: We never had tea. You just pour it in and put that on.

Andrew: I think it just opens it up, yeah.

Becca: Oh, it just opens up.

Andrew: Yeah.

Mark: Uh-huh. It’s an open.

Becca: So tricky.

Mark: Uh-huh.

Andrew: I mean, one, how did you first see the need? I would say sometimes in our, I don’t know if you wanna call it places of privilege or whatever, seeing is the issue to me. How do I know when someone…? Where did you find these first women, or discover them in their plights, in their journeys of wanting freedom? Were they wanting freedom from their situations?

Becca: I met the women when I was, I was already a minister, so I was doin’ some feeding programs on the streets. I had gone to jail, just to interview some of the women and see what was out there, and the stories I was hearin’, it was like people need a sanctuary. They need a place to go, and all the institutions that I’m involved in aren’t doin’ it. I mean, the church isn’t building shelters like cathedrals. It’s mostly just done on the cheap, and people don’t feel really loved and worthy, and it was like if we’re gonna talk about healing women who really have had just the short side of everything, we’re gonna do it in a lavish, beautiful way that feels really safe, and gives ’em time and space. And that’s what we did, and it was easy, but I think that always, the part that has just undone me the most is that I don’t think it’s ever been just about helping a few women here and there. To me, it’s always about opening up a conversation where you can say, “How are we diseased? How are we, as a culture, diseased? Why do we still buy and sell women as commodities? Why do we keep the secrets of childhood trauma in people’s lives?” I mean, that’s what I hope. I hope the products and the story help all of us feel like we can believe love heals us too from all the secrets of our own sexual shame or fears.

Andrew: You wrote a book called Love Heals, and I think about that, the title, Love Heals, just those two words, because I have been confronted by some people in my life at times where I believe, I’ve heard, with Thistle Farms, and you say many times, love is the most powerful force for changing our world. But I’ve heard so many–

Becca: I’m worried about y’all’s tea while you’re talkin’. I’m listening.

Andrew: I’ve heard so many times.

Mark: His questions are very long.

Andrew: Yeah.

Becca: I got lost.

Andrew: Y’all are the same cookie, huh?

Mark: Hey, the last sentence, he’ll get it–

Andrew: It’s comin’.

Becca: Okay, it’ll just wrap up.

Mark: It’ll just wrap up.

Andrew: So the love is the most powerful force. And love heals. I’ll get contested sometimes that love really is not, it’s not just love, that that’s not practical enough. That’s not grassrootsy enough that we–

Mark: How does love heal?

Andrew: Does love, and does it truly heal? I think people are still asking that question.

Becca: Yes. The answer’s yes, done. No, but here’s, I think–

Andrew: How have you seen it–

Mark: But how?

Becca: It’s because our love isn’t usually practical and relevant to people’s lives. We make it like this romanticized ideal, but what does love look like? If I’m comin’ into jail and off the streets, what’s love look like? Maybe it’s this beautiful, brand new, how do you say it, Posturepedic, beautiful bed with a comforter, and you give me space and money. That’s what it looks like, so I can go to the doctor–

Andrew: Opportunity.

Becca: And I can go to the dentist and get my teeth fixed. Six months down the road, love won’t look like that. It’ll look like a job. It’ll look like people who are advocates in court, so I can see my children again. Six months after that, it might look like a car. Help me get a good deal on a car, and love needs to be practical and relevant. All of it is–

Mark: And it’s action, love is action.

Becca: Yeah, and it’s daily, it’s like–

Andrew: And relationship, if you’re not knowing someone, you don’t know that their next step is need a job or their next step is–

Becca: Right, and it’s helping people. I mean, giving them the time and the space so they can do that healing work. I think it’s important, but I also think, no offense to the music industry, but I mean we’ve been kinda sold a bad good of sales about what love is. I mean, like–

Andrew: In what manner?

Becca: Well, I mean, love is kinda boring sometimes, and it’s daily, and it’s like, it’s a cup of tea. It’s not like this big romantic thing that’s gonna happen, and if I don’t find that, then it’s unrequited and I’m unfulfilled and–

Andrew: If I don’t feel it.

Becca: And I got the blues. It’s like, oh my gosh, how about love is saying, “I will show up here today and I will show up here tomorrow and I’ll pour you a cup of tea and we’ll eat a scone together.”

Andrew: It’s consistent service. I mean as we serve one another. Okay, so I was reading on the website, Thistle Farms, heal, empower, and employ is this kind of mission statement of Thistle Farms. I think of that. Okay, maybe not mission statement.

Becca: I just don’t love that word empower very much.

Mark: Oh, empower?

Andrew: Okay. So what would you say, yeah, like?

Becca: I don’t know. It feels like–

Mark: You don’t wanna empower people?

Becca: Well, I just feel like women have power. The women we serve have power.

Mark: So you don’t need to give them power.

Andrew: So it’s just more of kind of bringing the power that’s already there.

Mark: Or revealing the power that’s in ’em, maybe.

Becca: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Andrew: Yeah, yeah, as part of–

Mark: Do you analyze– Like I’ve noticed, when he said a while ago, “caught up,” you analyze words carefully.

Becca: Mm-hmm. So you said the women are caught up. Aren’t they kind of– I mean, an addiction is, it’s not always the environment’s fault, too.

Andrew: Or our codependency. I mean, I’m codependent.

Mark: It’s not just the church not doin’ their job. It’s you gotta take some responsibility. I mean Jesus asked the guy sitting there, He said, “Do you want to get well?” Before He healed him. So, how do you say that they’re not caught up?

Becca: I guess, I mean, they are caught up, obviously, but I guess, on average, the women that I’ve served for 21 years are first raped between the ages of seven and 11.

Mark: Oh my God. I’m not, yeah. So they were–

Andrew: Not given the easiest life.

Mark: Not given even any choice.

Becca: Sometimes the women say it this way. “This isn’t a second chance for me. This is my first chance. I never had a chance.”

Mark: Oh, wow.

Becca: “My mom sold me to her boyfriends. I learned how to do what I do at the age of six.”

Mark: And that’s the sex trafficking we’re talking–

Andrew: Yeah, human trafficking.

Mark: They’re involved in human trafficking. I mean, I’m literally oblivious to that.

Andrew: What has your experience of that been?

Mark: It’s going on right here in Nashville, right here in my own state?

Andrew: And all over the world.

Mark: All over. Not just in foreign countries.

Andrew: I mean, human trafficking, modern day slavery, we’ve learned, as higher number slavery, more people enslaved in the world today than ever before. That’s something I would have never known.

Mark: Who would’ve thought?

Becca: I know, right.

Andrew: But you’re experiencing this on a day-to-day level. You’re seeing women who are–

Mark: But when your mother sells you, that is as low as you can go. Their mother sold them to–

Becca: I mean, yes, that happens. People have addictions, and it’s like, if you are a drug dealer and you can sell a drug once, think how often you can sell a young woman.

Andrew: Sure.

Becca: Thousands of times. It’s valuable, and so on average–

Mark: Are we making progress?

Becca: Oh my gosh, I think so. I think it’s weird because when we started out with that first house, the language wasn’t the same. There was no language around human trafficking. Same issues, no language around it. So we would think they were, teenage girls on the streets that were just, you’re saying, caught up in the life. They were crack whores.

Andrew: There was a fault in it.

Becca: I mean, there was awful language around what those young girls were goin’ through, and now, there’s a lot more compassion, especially by church groups and people who have hearts to be able to make changes, so the thing I’ve seen with the word trafficking, with the new understanding of how childhood trauma really sets people up for a life on the streets and in prison, is that we’re changin’ laws. They’ve shut down Backpage. It was the largest place for exploiting women in America. It’s was seized two weeks ago. Done, and now, they’re seizing assets and properties and they’re expunging records. Things are happening and they’re changing.

Mark: That’s fantastic.

Becca: And there’s all this new information around trauma-informed care. You’ve heard of that. That wasn’t there either about, oh my gosh, part of the reason that you’re out of control is because of trauma in your kid, in your childhood.

Andrew: And that’s what I was gonna say. Yeah, trauma-informed care says we’re taking it to new levels. Not just shutting down the back end or the logistics of how people are getting sold or getting trapped into sex slavery, but saying, as you come out, and not just leaving ’em there, but saying, “Okay, so your life looks this way because your experience has been this, which at some level, you had no choice about.”

Becca: Right.

Regina Mullins, Thistle Farms Education & Outreach

Regina: Me, I am Regina Mullins. Spent years on the street. Lost everything, includin’ my three sons, custody of my three sons, my home, ended up on the streets, bein’ in and out of dope houses, different motels, hotels, alleyways, abandoned houses, dope houses. I remember one evenin’, I was just so tired of gettin’ high. I didn’t want to get high anymore. I didn’t want to turn one more trick. I didn’t, I just wanted to go home. I wanted to be with my sons, and I prayed and I looked at God, and I was like, “Help me. Can’t you see I want to be out of this?” It was like a cop car came, the police car came down the street, and I was a known prostitute at that time, and they stopped and they were like, “If you be on this street when we come back, we’re gonna take you to jail.” And what I did was I reached down to pick up a brick, and I threw it at the police car. And when I did that, of course, guess what? They took me to jail. That started the beginnin’ of a new life, which I didn’t believe that at that time. I had made parole, which scared me to death. I was thinkin’, what am I gonna do? I couldn’t go home. I had burned that bridge, and one of the ladies that I had been incarcerated with called in. She’s like, “This lady has created this home for us to come to.” She’s like, “She’s an Episcopal priest, and we can stay for free for two years.” And I was just like, an Episcopal priest? No, what does that mean? I’m finna be in confession every day, or she’s gonna be have me doing Abba Fathers and Hail Marys, what? I’m not finna come and you’re sayin’ for two years? I just did two and a half years, and I’m not finna go and live under a priest. And I called her and she said, yeah, I qualified. I could maybe come and meet her and get into the program. I just kept thinking that there was some kind of hook because nobody is finna to allow you to live in their home for two years free. When we pulled up to the house, and these women that I had been incarcerated with come running out of the house, and they’re lookin’ like, I don’t know, different. When I walked in, it was just so beautiful. There was furniture, there was, we walked down the hall, it was just plants everywhere, and I walk into this bedroom, and there is a real bed in the place with a beautiful new comforter and curtains to match it, and I’m walkin’ to the kitchen and it got real dishes and pots and pans, and I turned around and I looked at them and I started cryin’. I was reminded of what home was, what a home, what a real home was. And one Saturday, we were doin’ the chores in the house, and one of the girls said, “Have you met Becca?” And I’m like, “No, where is she? Is she here?” ‘Cause I was dyin’ to meet this priest. So we walk up the hall and I’m lookin’ at her, and it was just surprising because she had on, what I say, we called Daisy Duke shorts back in the day, and she had a midriff top on, and she had her second son hanging on her hip, standing there, and she was barefoot. Where’s the black shirt? Where is the collar? And she started to laugh at me, and I was just like still in shock of, she seemed like us. And she said, “If there’s a line between priest and prostitute, then it’s a very, very thin line.” She said, “The difference with us is that I can share my brokenness with you and you can share your brokenness with me, and we can come together and find a solution to help each other heal.” I was lookin’ for judgment, I guess, but there was none, and it was like we were on the same playing ground and this woman might be for real. It’s like God worked through her to show me, okay, you want your life back? This is how you’re gonna get it. I used to tell Becca, “My thing with love was, you do somethin’ for me, I’ll do somethin’ for you.” And we found out that that’s not it at all. That’s why Becca says that love is the most powerful force that can heal our land, and we say that love heals because it really does, and it’s not about going out and saying, you need God, you need some holy oils, throw it all over you. You need to be ready, and here’s a place that you can come when you’re ready. When you’re tired, when you’re sick and tired of that last piece of dope, I don’t wanna do it anymore, I don’t want anybody touching me anymore, then we have a home, not a halfway house. Not a treatment center, but a home. Excuse me, but a home. And because of that, all those years ago, in ’97, November of ’97, yesterday, January the 16, 2019, y’all, I got 23 years! 23 years! Yes, because she threw me a lifeline, and I ain’t have to go back to the streets. I’ve gotten a chance to be a mother again. I got a chance to get my boys back in my life. I got a chance to go back to school and get more educated. I got a chance to hold down a real job, a job that I love doin’. That’s why we’ve gotta keep carrying this message. We gotta keep going to the streets. We gotta keep going to the neighborhoods. We gotta keep talkin’ to the little girls. We gotta keep doin’ drug awareness seminars in schools. We’ve gotta keep it goin’ because love does heal.

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Andrew: But now they have a choice. I think about you and your work and the people who work alongside you, empowering. How do you empower a woman who’s shrouded in shame from potentially choices she wasn’t even able to make? How do you uncover? We said empower, not like–

Mark: Therapy.

Andrew: How do you uncover that power?

Becca: Yeah, therapy is right. And decent work, I mean, the reason we started a whole home and body care company was because women were doing great therapy, but they were still poor as dirt, so you’re still vulnerable. The violence and vulnerability of poverty is unbelievable. So if you’re talkin’ about love, then you have to talk about economic freedom for the women. So it’s like, guess what, you get to choose what your kids wear because you’re gonna go out and buy the clothes. You’re gonna get to decide what kind of car you drive and where you live, and you’re gonna decide who you have relationships with. If this is an unhealthy person, get out, but–

Andrew: So offering choices maybe for the first time.

Mark: For someone just tuning in or just watchin’ today, who’d never heard of Becca, never heard of Thistle Farms, how many women do you think Magdalene House, Thistle Farms has helped and actually set free and got on the right path through the years?

Andrew: Restored. That’s what I–

Mark: Do you know?

Becca: So we have about 200 women who have been a part, lived for the two years and graduated from the community. 85% of the women who come in graduate, but now what we’ve been doing, because our waiting list is so long, because the need is so long, and partly because we’ve gotten a lot of national stories, we get referrals from all over the country. So we’ve put a lot of our effort into starting new homes around the whole– We have two houses in Texas.

Mark: Really, where?

Becca: We have 50 sister communities around the country. The latest was in Seattle. We just opened one in Omaha. It’s in Kerrville, Texas, and Austin, Texas.

Mark: All right, yeah.

Becca: Those are the two places in Texas.

Mark: I did not know that.

Andrew: So beginning a network, how do you find those? Are those people already active in–

Becca: Most are people seeking us out and saying, “Teach us how to do it. We wanna do this. We wanna have this model.”

Mark: What are the requirements of someone to start a project like that?

Becca: Well, the idea is that you kind of become a part of this aligned network and we share core values and principles, and the basic one is that we all are gonna work together and really alongside each other in a cooperative, beautiful way to serve the women in long-term housing first model that is free, because women don’t come off the streets with any money, and if you make ’em go to a halfway house, and you’re charging $150 a week, guess how they–

Andrew: They’re gonna have to find that $150, yes.

Becca: So you’re saying like, “I want you to be clean, and I need $150.”

Andrew: Right.

Mark: That’s right.

Becca: And you don’t have a job.

Andrew: I feel like we’re in this culture, American culture, that is big on no handouts. I mean, we just say that all the time. “I don’t wanna give a handout. I wanna give help.” And what I see you doing is this really healing, holistic, restorative process, but I love what you’re saying there because you’re saying, well, it’s not just a handout to give someone the opportunity sometimes through finances to make a new life. Do you have to balance that, people going–

Becca: So my dad was killed by a drunk driver when I was five, and my mom was 35-years-old, and there was five kids. And we became poor overnight. He was a minister. Didn’t have a clue about life insurance, retirement plan. Free became the most important thing in our life. It was the biggest sign of God’s grace. We would have prayer time that our tires wouldn’t go flat. And it’s like, why are we prayin’ that our tires don’t go flat? The problem is we have bald tires, and we couldn’t afford new tires. And so it becomes a theological issue, like God, please, please, please don’t let that tire go flat today. Just anything, and my husband got a record deal. When we first got married, he went on the road. He was with Sony Records and he was gone 250 nights, and he said, every night, I would get on the phone and I’d go, “How was the day? Blah, blah, blah. Did you get the free shampoo out of the room?” I’m like, “If you don’t take that shampoo, you are leavin’ money on the table.” Free was the best! It was just the best, and it’s like, I always knew, the most stressful thing was when somebody made me pay for somethin’. Free was God, and so I never even hesitated when I was like, no, we are doing this free. For the women that we are gonna serve, it’s free for everything.

Andrew: Does that say somethin’ about us, though, as like, we’ve talked about this with different people on this show, but as we, as the members of the church, I think about you and your family in that situation, where your father’s gone and the income has gone, and you praying that your tires aren’t bald, and I’m thinking, if I was in your congregation, I hope I would see that your tires were bald.

Becca: Well, the elder in the church that same, right after my dad died, and this is how it works for kids, just so you know how it works in churches, the elder in the church began sexually abusing me for years. At the age of six, and it started in the fellowship hall of the church, so not only was the church not helping–

Andrew: Seeing the need.

Becca: It preys on the people who are probably the most vulnerable. Not all churches. I knew that wasn’t the story of the whole church. I know that that’s the story of abuse, when people think they have power over you.

Mark: Power.

Andrew: I’ve heard you talk about that before, how this, the same church that housed the predator of your abuse also helped you pilgrim into faith. Did that feel, I think a lot of people have had that experience with “their church” in that they’ve both experienced some sort of abuse, power struggle, oppression, and at the same time, it’s where they first started having conversations with God. Was that hard for you to reconcile as you became older and–

Mark: Did getting raped help you find God? I think that’s what he’s asking.

Becca: You got some scone all over there.

Mark: I do. We all know I love the scone. Oh, help me, mama. No, but, yeah.

Becca: Yeah, no, I hear what you’re sayin’, but I think what I want is, I mean, I don’t think as a kid, you go, “Well, this seems like this category and this category and I need to separate this and I understand this theologically and this practically.” I think it’s like you’re just tryin’ to find safety and home, and there were a lot of people that helped me do that, but I never, the biggest gift, the thing I run into with folks who have had those histories that I never had is like, I never thought it was God. I was never confused.

Andrew: You knew it was that man.

Becca: And I don’t know why.

Mark: You never put God’s face on that abuser.

Becca: Never.

Mark: Wow.

Becca: I never thought God let this happen or why did God do this. It was just like, this is messed up.

Mark: Did you innately know God loved you?

Becca: I think I always knew, and I think I had such a good mama who was so strong that it was like God is love, God loves you, that I didn’t have all that junk that goes along with it, that it made it a spiritual thing. Like God was, that was good, faith was good, loving Jesus, that’s good. The idea of a community that keeps silence and abuse possible, that’s bad. So how do we keep us, how do we make communities that are safe and loving, that express how good God is?

Andrew: Yeah, yeah, ’cause how do–

Becca: That’s what I wanted my whole life.

Mark: And you feel like you’re creating that there at–

Andrew: Thistle Farms.

Becca: Do you think I am?

Mark: It looks that way, but I mean from the outside looking in–

Becca: Wow, we should’ve eaten there.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Mark: We could’ve.

Becca: Someday.

Sheila Simpkins, Thistle Farms Education & Outreach

Sheila: My name is Sheila Simpkins, and I am the Director of National Education and Outreach at Thistle Farms. So I was born into a dysfunctional family. I started getting molested about the age of six, and so I was conditioned at a really young age to please men. We moved to California, to Mountain View, California, when I was 14-years-old. My mom’s fifth husband and I ended up running away. I met a guy, he sold me a dream, and I started selling my body to take care of me and him. I was not really considered a runaway. More of a throwaway because my mom never really reported me missing to the police. Even though I ran from everything, I still yearned for a relationship with my mom. To be quite honest, I love her. I started working in a strip bar there as a waitress, and I met a guy who started feeding me drugs, and then next thing you know, I owed him. And we went across the country selling my body, so that he could profit, along with about three or four other girls. It’s called a stable. He brought me to Nashville in 1997, and we worked Murfreesboro Road. I met someone that was willing to play the game, and he served the pimp, and told the pimp that I chose up, and I got a severe beating, and that’s where I got all these scars. I literally got a hole in my head from the abuse that I survived from him and I still had that addiction, and so I stayed out on Murfreesboro Road for six more years, jumping in and out of cars to support my drug habit, and during that six years, I did two years at CCA, and got arrested 89 times for prostitution. In 2004, they were doing, Thistle Farms Magdalene Residential, was doing an outreach, and for some reason, I walked over there. I just wanted to hear what they had to say, and I thought I was ready that day, so they put me in the car, they took me to where I was staying at, so I can get my clothes, and by George, I was gonna get my stuff together, but I took a hit whenever I got into the apartment and did not come back outside, and so that day is the day that the seed was planted about the program. I went to jail about two months later and got put into a drug court or recovery court, and they put me in a halfway house, and I went and sold my body so that I could pay the rent, and the cycle started all over again. And so I went to jail in September, actually, September 16th of 2004. I was in jail for about 60 days, and Magdalene became heavy, heavy, heavy on my mind. About 15 days later, I was back in court and being released to the Magdalene program, and that was November 30th of 2004. Went into the program, broken. Homeless. No life skills. I didn’t go into the program because I was trying to get my life back ’cause I never really had a life. I needed someone to teach me how to live, but five months into being into the Magdalene program, I got diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ll tell you something, that breast cancer was the greatest blessing of my life ’cause going through chemo, I lost all my hair. And I used to be kind of vain. I stopped caring about what people thought they’d seen on the outside because when I was looking at a mirror and I really got to literally see all the— I literally have a roadmap in my head from the abuse that I survived ’cause I didn’t get to go to the hospital. So I stayed in the program, completed it, ended up getting married, which is the greatest gift of my life because now I have two beautiful children that think that they have the best mama in the whole wide world, and guess what? I think I am one of the best moms. My mom’s now my best friend. She’s someone that I talk to every day, and I can remember the day when I realized that I truly forgive her and it’s when my son was born, and me and her were at the hospital. My husband chose to allow my mom to stay at the hospital and he went home, and I got to have that conversation with her. Just want to tell you that I love you and I forgive you, and that’s what love has given me, the ability to be able to forgive, to let go of that resentment, to take care, take that load off of my shoulders that I’ve been carrying for so, so many years. Love for me is being a good wife, being a good mother, being a good daughter, being a good employee, being a good friend, just giving back. Love means so much. Love is an action word to me.

Mark: Someone watching, what can they do? Do they need to do anything? Do they need to support Thistle Farms? Y’all need support?

Becca: You know what?

Mark: You have supporters? How does Thistle Farms support itself, ’cause you can’t give money to these women if you have no money to give, so how do you get it?

Becca: Right. There were so many questions, I don’t know where to start either.

Mark: I don’t either.

Andrew: Oh, look, he’s been taking after me.

Becca: No, so here’s what I say is that I think the first thing people need, if you’re listening or you’re watching and you wanna be a part of it, the very first thing is just love people without judgment. That’s the best thing we can do. We wanna heal this world and make it better and kinder. Love people without judgment. And the second thing is you can support us. Go shop online. You do more than shop. It’s like investing in women’s freedom. That’s what I see. Almost every manager is a woman who came through the program, who’s now training new women. It’s a growing, thriving, sustainable, scalable business, and people can really invest, and then I think really, if you guys and anybody else want to help us, the best thing is this. This is being social media advocates. You get to share your story. We get to engage a new community. You get to tell whatever part of your story and how you feel empowered and love heals, and we keep going and we can make differences. I mean, that’s the beauty of–

Mark: Start where you are.

Becca: Start where you are and be grateful. That’s what I think.

Mark: And love without an agenda, I heard someone say. Not love someone to turn them into your denomination or your religion, but love them just for the sake of loving them.

Andrew: Kind of goes against our evangelical, my evangelical, to evangelize has this certain tone with it.

Mark: Yeah, it’s like you love ’em if you can win ’em.

Andrew: Instead of just how about be their neighbor?

Becca: Well, the thing I’ve learned is that, a couple things. One is that when you really look at the gospel, it’s not about changin’ the world to make it love you. It’s really about lovin’ the world. That means you have to change or I have to change so I can love it better. So the whole changing is if you, when you’re reading the gospel, it’s about us changing ourselves so we can love it better.

Mark: Can you love someone without agreeing with them? I mean, obviously, you can.

Becca: Absolutely.

Mark: But I just wanted to make that clear.

Becca: I’m doin’ it right now.

Mark: I know, I know.

Andrew: That’s what I was thinking.

Mark: I mean, I think a lot of time, people, they will love you, the way I was raised and seein’ in our denomination, you got to be one of us to really be accepted by us. But we are all one human, we’re all human beings, and yet we divide, and so–

Andrew: Just seem like it’s our nature to divide. It seems like it’s almost intuitive to divide, and it is this challenge to unify, even though we know the benefits of being unified, and the benefits of being a sanctuary. How do we as the church, and when I say we as a church, I think of we as the members of the church, as individuals, not as the American church, not as the local congregation on the street, but you, and you, and me provide sanctuaries. I guess that starts with what you’re saying, right? I’m answering my own question, and you answered it.

Mark: Your neighbor.

Andrew: Loving your neighbor is the best sanctuary to offer?

Becca: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: Are there ways we collectively can become a sanctuary?

Mark: Yeah.

Becca: Well, you know what? I have a gift. One of the biggest gifts I have is I have a brother that’s a Roman Catholic priest, who does not believe in women’s ordination, and I’m a pastor right? And–

Mark: He agrees with Paul then. The apostle.

Becca: Yeah, I know Paul, I met him. You know Paul.

Mark: You’ve heard of him?

Becca: No, but–

Mark: Women are to remain silent in the church.

Becca: My brother agrees with the Catholic Church, which is women are not allowed ordination, and that’s my little brother. And I’ve been ordained longer than he has. It is the biggest gift because we love each other and we break bread and we laugh and we can debate. I don’t want to spend Thanksgiving with anybody else. So it’s never been a problem for me to say I can really disagree even if you don’t think I should be a pastor. I share sermons with him. We get sermon ideas together.

Mark: Oh, great. See, I love that.

Becca: It’s crazy.

Andrew: That’s community.

Mark: I used to get a, and I’m probably repeatin’ myself, but I used to get a Christmas card from Jerry Falwell and Tony Campolo.

Andrew: I’ve never heard this one.

Becca: That’s awesome.

Mark: Well, let me finish it before you say. And I would put them side-by-side on my refrigerator ’cause they were both friends of mine. And I would think, every Christmas, my gosh, I know these men. I know they both love Jesus, and they came to diabolically opposed political conclusions. They debated each other on CNN, and they were actually friendly to each other when they would see each other, but now in this climate, it seems like it’s more polarizing than it was.

Becca: I think we have to get more creative. When it gets more polarizing, we have to get more creative because if it’s just gonna be a debate, we can pick a topic and debate and it’s like, what that does is I get really honed in my argument and I’m very clear about what’s wrong with you. I know what he’s gonna say. I know how he feels about this. He’s gonna say this and so I’m gonna say this, and it’s almost like I can do a whole argument with my husband. He does not need to be in the room.

Mark: That’s so true. I’ve done that with people.

Becca: Right, and it’s like, guess what? I won the argument. But if we get really creative, we can open people back up and open ourselves back up, so when we’re involved in this work of justice, especially around folks who haven’t had a fair shake, and we can tell the story again, which is why I think bath and body care products and lighting candles and making tea, it’s like, oh my gosh, I’m engaged again. I’m participating and I never had to have the argument about the law or the politics of it.

Andrew: ‘Cause when you look into the eyes of these women, do you sense, I mean do you see any difference? You feel different?

Becca: Do I see any difference in what?

Andrew: Yeah, like between you and them. Is there any difference?

Becca: No, there’s not. I mean, the line between, in my mind, between most pastors and prostitutes is pretty thin.

Mark: That sounds like a lyric.

Becca: If there’s a line.

Andrew: I always think one or two steps.

Mark: The line between pastors and prostitutes is pretty thin.

Becca: You can take it.

Andrew: His next record, Pastors and Prostitutes.

Becca: You can use it.

Mark: That’s a great hook, pastors and prostitutes.

Becca: Like you would stay with that.

Andrew: He just takes and read–

Mark: I love how Jesus, Jesus didn’t mind hangin’–

Becca: Wait a second.

Mark: Around prostitutes.

Becca: Pastors and prostitutes.

Mark: Pastors and prostitutes. I love that. Jesus, man, he hung around people we should, the way I was raised, you’re not supposed to be seen with, but he was always around them.

Becca: You wanna hear a funny story? When Russ Taff lived across the street from me, right? Russ and Tori, and there was a woman who relapsed, had gone back out to the streets, and I was like, oh my gosh, we have to go get her. She can’t come back to the house because she’s dirty, but we need to get her a hotel room, so she’s safe. I mean, we had had a woman that was murdered. The first woman that ever relapsed was murdered when she hit the streets. I didn’t have a credit card, so I picked up Russ and I’m like, “Russ, we got to check her into this hotel,” and we go down just over on Elston Place, and it’s like the Hampton Inn or something, and I use his credit card. He and I are standing down there, checkin’ into a hotel room with an active woman selling herself on the streets, and he was like, “Oh my God, this is bad.” I’m like, “Here’s the thing, nobody cares, Russ.” I promise, if you’re really doin’ it for the right reason, nobody cares. If we weren’t, people would really care. It would be news, and it’d be interesting, but if you’re really helping people, it’s like, eh. Isn’t that sad? It would’ve been great publicity.

Andrew: That shoulda been–

Mark: Yeah, really.

Becca: I know.

Mark: That’s a good, good story.

Andrew: Russ Taff checking in a prostitute in a hotel.

Becca: Nothin’, with his credit card. It was a paper trail.

Mark: He couldn’t even make the singin’ news.

Becca: No, couldn’t make the singin’ news. Sad but true story.

Russ Taff singing “Sanctuary”

Russ: When the miracle first happened in my life, I had grown up in church where there was so much judgment and so much condemnation if you couldn’t walk perfect. So I was very protective about who I let in, and Becca and Marcus moved in across the street. And we began to have dinners together and talk and hang out, and she said, “Come to my church.” And one Sunday morning, I got up and I went to her church down on the Vanderbilt campus, and I’d never been around the liturgy and book of common prayers and all of that, and it wasn’t about a self-help sermon, it was about God and what we need to do to please him. And she walked and I walked, I mean for exercise, and she said, “Let’s walk.” And as I began to open up a little bit, when you’re cautious, how much you say because you don’t know how people are gonna react. I began to talk to her, and nothing I said threw her. In fact, I asked her one time, I said, “Tell me about grace,” and she said, “Grace is the ground we walk on.” And she said, “Russ, you need community.” And I had a community with my 12-step group, but I needed a Christian community that I could grow in and feel safe. And so Sunday after Sunday, I would go. And I felt loved, I felt cared for. It was the first time for me that I experienced love and grace from a minister. I’m sure there were others that would have given it, but I was afraid to tell it until I found someone that could handle my whole story and continued to walk with me in grace and love and encouragement. And I began to see why community is so important and sanctuary is so important for our growth.

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary

Pure and holy

Tried and true

With thanksgiving

I’ll be a living sanctuary for you

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary

Pure and holy

Tried and true

With thanksgiving

I’ll be a living sanctuary, Lord

For you

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary

Pure and holy

Tried and true

And with thanksgiving

I’ll be a living sanctuary for you

For you

Dinner Conversations Sponsorship Message

Andrew: Hey everybody, Andrew Greer here. And I wanted to talk a little bit today about our Season Two title sponsor, Food for the Hungry. And really, more than title sponsor, I would call them our title partner. I have long been partnered with Food for the Hungry. I know Mark has personal experience as well, but my experience with Food for the Hungry goes back to 2012 when some of my close friends there asked my good friend Cindy Morgan and I to partner with them on a tour that we were doing at the time called the Hymns for Hunger Tour. And we were going around from city to city in the United States helping local hunger relief out, and we thought, what could we do from an international angle to help international hunger relief? What I quickly discovered is Food for the Hungry is more than providing just the basic need of food of relieving hunger but really providing a core need, and that is a spiritual need of relieving a spiritual hunger. And of course, that is through the pathway of food, as through the pathway of emotional help, mental help, education, helping people provide shelters, basic needs, provide the medicines that are helping save the lives of their children and their family members. All those basic needs is a gateway to providing the greater need of spiritual hunger through Jesus. That is what we are hungry for. So I quickly began to relate to their name, Food for the Hungry, in a totally different way. What I loved about Food for the Hungry as well is that they’re a very small footprint. They’re a smaller organization. They just have more ability to be a part of the community, to truly partner with the people in the community, not to take over, not to bring some kind of western world way or attitude or understanding of how to provide for basic needs because those don’t necessarily relate in every other country or setting or community. It’s a very personal experience trying to understand how to break the cycles of poverty in people’s lives across the world. And so they work hand-in-hand with the resources that are there in the community. What was really interesting to me in Nicaragua is that there were these African killer bees that were just filling up the forest in Nicaragua, and they produced a honey that was a huge export. I believe, it was in London, it was in Western Europe somewhere, maybe just in England at large, that they really had a strong desire and market for this honey, but the Nicaraguan folks didn’t even know that the bees that produced that honey were right there at their fingertips. So what did Food for the Hungry do? They provided them training in beekeeping and how to actually use the resources that were right there in their neighborhood to help their community develop and thrive so that the generational cycle of poverty could begin to be broken, not just in their immediate lives but in the lives of their children, which would also be the lives of their grandchildren and so on. And so really what you’re doing when you partner with Dinner Conversations as we partner with Food for the Hungry through your gift, which can be given at, what you’re doing is you’re helping break the cycles of poverty, those generational chains, is what I think of, you’re beginning to help people be free. So what we’re asking as part of our partnership with Food for the Hungry, during this Dinner Conversations Season Two, is just one-time gifts, but child sponsorship is a big part of their background, and I sponsor a couple children from Nicaragua through Food for the Hungry, Mark sponsors a couple children through Food for the Hungry. And what I remember asking some of the grandparents of sponsored children when I went to Nicaragua is I asked the grandparents, I said, “Why is it even important that someone like me from countries away, from miles away, would be involved in the lives of your children?” And I remember what one grandmother said, “By you partnering, by you being someone who we don’t know, and you don’t know me, I don’t know you, but you being willing to partner with our children and with our family’s lives, is that I’ve learned that God has no borders, no boundaries, and, in fact, is a wild frontier.” And that opened my mind and heart to the fact that, indeed, God is bigger than our languages, He’s bigger than our cultural traditions, He’s bigger than the color of our skin, He’s bigger than the way that we relate to one another, which can often be different. We don’t always understand how our neighbors relate to each other. It’s not the same way I might relate to you or you to me, and so I learned about how that God, of course, we’re created in His image, is being reflected throughout the many people, as we support people, as we partner with people who are not like us and who are in different situations than us. I feel like I began to chip away a little bit at the mystery of who God is and who He might be as I experience life through the lens of our neighbors across the world. And that’s one of the many reasons, that’s my personal experience with Food for the Hungry, and a big reason why I was so thrilled that we were able to partner with them for Season Two. Your gift, one-time gift, goes straight to helping relieve the Rohingyan refugee crisis in Bangladesh, which is people in a poverty of a whole different— It’s different than what I saw in Nicaragua because it’s a poverty that comes through displacement from a people group that has no home. And Food for the Hungry is working with them. They’re a group of people who lived in Myanmar for years and then, because of some persecution and really some violent, hostile conditions in Myanmar, had to cross the border to Bangladesh, where they found a safe haven but no room. And with no room, comes a lack of food, a lack of shelter, a lack of education, a lack of all the things that we know are key ingredients to keeping communities out of poverty. And so Food for the Hungry is working specificly there right now to alleviate the immediate needs, which many are medical, and then to begin to find a long-term solution for these people for the Rohingyan refugees. Your one-time gift is directly impacting the relief of the refugee crisis there through Food for the Hungry. You can give today at and know that your gift is literally multiplied 22 times. If you were to give a $1,000 gift today, that would be $22,000 invested into Food for the Hungry’s work with the Rohingyan refugees. I don’t know many more places you could get that kind of return on your donation, so I think that’s pretty amazing, I think it’s pretty fantastic, and it just is a further testimony to how Food for the Hungry is really utilizing their resources efficiently to do the long work, which I believe the long work still is relieving spiritual hunger, but we do that by, we’ve seen that in Jesus’ example and during His ministry, meeting immediate needs so that there’s access to the solution to the eternal need, and that is Jesus Himself. It’s hard to see Jesus sometimes when you’re hungry. And it’s hard to maybe believe He cares if you don’t have a home. And so by us here, people with skin on, by helping provide those basic needs for other people, I think the veil, the spiritual veil over our eyes, the things that keep us from really seeing God in the every day, suddenly those are lifted, and we experience life through an entirely new lens. So you’re not just helping– You are helping people with their immediate needs, but your dollar is making an eternal impact in people’s lives. So I think that’s pretty cool, and I think it’s pretty cool that through our little conversations we get to have with some of our friends, that we get to have with you, we’re honored to have these opportunities to motivate the conversation in the lives of thousands of people across the world.

Mark: This tea is good.

Becca: Cheers.

Mark: Cheers. 

Becca: Can you cheers with tea?

Andrew: I don’t know.

Mark: What is it,

Andrew: Thistle Farms.


Becca: No, I’m wrong.

Mark: What?

Becca: That’s not what it’s called. I’ve only done it for 21, you’re right, it’s org.

Andrew: It’s I looked it up last night, yeah.

Becca: Okay, here, cheers again.


Mark:, not only can you order this delicious tea, you can order bath oils and candles, and you’re helping women that need help get off the streets and get settled and get a job, and oh, what a great, great thing to be a part of. And I tell you what, it’s plant good seed. You hear all those people on TV, these TV preachers. They say plant your seed. They put their 800 number up there, but they don’t ever talk about the soil. And when you plant your seed, you better make sure the soil is good. If you want to harvest, this is good soil. I believed in this soil for a long time. It’s good.

Becca: Thank you, Mark. Thank you both. I love this.

Mark: Only 90 calories.

Becca: Uh-uh.

Mark: That’s what (mumbles).

Andrew: That’s what, per.

Becca: Per bite?

Andrew: Yeah, exactly.

Mark: Per bite.

Becca: Well, it’s just one bite. You could eat the whole thing in one bite.

Becca: First of all, this is cold.

Mark: Oh no.

Becca: All for Jesus. Do you want me to consecrate it?

Mark: I know he walked up a hill, but please, can I have a warm scone?

Andrew: Train of thought.

Becca: Are y’all good friends?

Andrew: We know each other.

Mark: Yeah, we know each other. Oh, good friends.

Andrew: Thank you very much.

Becca: Are you just being mean, or are you good friends?

Mark: She’d been borne of the spirit of God. Let me come talk to them this way.

Mark: What a ministry that little Episcopal priest, Becca Stevens, has accomplished.

Andrew: She sure has, and if you wanna hear more about her ministry, you can read and check out her new book, Love Heals, through our Amazon affiliate link below in our episode description.

Mark: And if you wanna binge watch all of Season Two of Dinner Conversations, you can do that right now on Amazon Prime.

Andrew: Who wouldn’t?

Mark: Yeah.

Andrew: Thanks for watching Dinner Conversations with–

Mark: Mark Lowry.

Andrew: And Andrew Greer.

Mark: Turning the light on–

Andrew: One question at a time.

Join Mark and Andrew as we support our Dinner Conversations Season Two title sponsor, Food for the Hungry (FH) – a relief and development organization serving those in need around the globe for more than 40 years. 

Partner with us as we partner with FH save thousands of Rohingyan refugee lives in Bangladesh today by considering a generous gift – a gift that will be matched 22-times! And remember, every dollar enters you into the Season Two Grand Prize Giveaway, which includes dinner with Mark and Andrew in Houston, plus more surprises. 

Give generously here:

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Watch Our Other Episodes:

S02, E01: A Change of Mind featuring Danny Gokey and Dr. Caroline Leaf
S02, E02: The Last Goodbye featuring Amy Grant
S02, E03: The Humanity of Billy & Ruth Graham featuring Will Graham and Gigi Graham
S02, E04: Life After Divorce featuring Crystal Lewis
S02, E05: Place in this World featuring Michael W. Smith and Ginny Owens
S02, E06: God Is In The Details featuring Kathie Lee Gifford and Rabbi Jason Sobel
S02, E07: Winning Takes Work featuring Scott Hamilton and Paula Trujillo
S02, E08: Mind Matters featuring Dr. Caroline Leaf