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Miracles of Hope

Miracles of Hope

Alumna ministers to struggling teen girls
  • Linda Piepenbrink
  • June 9, 2021

Lael Lemire ’16 first heard about the horrors of human trafficking at Moody’s annual missions conference her sophomore year. “I felt God calling me to work in aftercare with women and children who’d been trafficked,” she says.

The oldest of seven daughters, Lael changed her major to Ministry to Victims of Sexual Exploitation and served in a Practical Christian Ministry at the Chicago Dream Center, helping women coming out of prostitution and addiction.

A six-month internship in the Philippines followed in the same area of ministry. “It was one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” says Lael, who grew up in a rural community outside of Winona, Minnesota. “I’d never experienced a slum before, and now I was living in one. I had some ministerial experience with prostitution, but this was a whole other world, like nothing I'd ever seen.”

Despite such challenges, by graduation Lael felt a strong call from the Lord to continue this ministry. When her home pastor encouraged her to work at Hope Harbor, a new nondenominational Christian residential program for struggling teens in a house owned by her church, she accepted.

Lael was just 22 when she was hired in 2017 as program coordinator at Hope Harbor, training staff to work with teen girls suffering from trauma, abuse, depression, anxiety, and other challenges. She teaches the girls how to do inductive Bible study, provides direct care to residents, and writes curriculum. Hope Harbor is independent of the state, so “we are able to include Jesus in everything we do,” she says. “We truly believe that part of what makes us different, aside from the fact that there’s a very heavy family involvement component, is that we are Christ-centered, biblically based, and Holy-Spirit led.”

The program provides homeschooling, life skills coaching, biblical counseling and homework, not only for the girls but also for the parents. From beginning to end, parents receive weekly parenting classes with a biblical counselor as well as bimonthly individual counseling. The teens gradually spend longer weekends at home, working through counseling assignments with their parents. “The idea is to transform the whole family,” Lael says.

Being a young woman in a family-based ministry can feel odd, she admits. “I am unmarried, in my mid-twenties, and don’t have any children. I think at times, ‘Lord, do You know what You’re doing in calling me to do this? I don’t look like I should know what I’m doing!’”

But she’s confident that the Lord has led her every step of the way. And her Bible and ministry training at Moody has been key. “If there’s one thing I’ve leaned on so much and drawn so much from, it is the education and training that I received in reading and understanding the Bible—classes like Hermeneutics, Systematic Theology. All of those classes have been so incredibly formational in what I do now. Also, I was really, really well prepared, specifically by some of the things I learned under Dr. Pam (Kistler ’79) MacRae MA ’02, including the need for excellence in women’s ministry and what leadership in ministry should look like.”

Besides, she says, “It’s not necessary to have children to be a healthy presence with kids. You don’t have to be a parent to necessarily know how to do some of those things in a way that’s Holy-Spirit led.”

The first resident at Hope Harbor was a 13-year-old who’d been sexually abused, neglected, and moved around multiple times in foster care before being adopted by her family. The girl didn’t speak beyond a whisper and was deeply afraid, Lael says. Were her needs too great for Hope Harbor? Lael sensed the Lord saying, She needs to be here. At Hope Harbor the girl was introduced to the Word of God and church for the first time. When she had night terrors and screamed, Lael and other staff would comfort and pray with her.

After a few months, the 13-year-old gave her life to Jesus and began growing in Christ. “She could not get enough of God’s Word, and her family was absolutely astounded by the changes they saw in her,” Lael says. “It was so amazing to see Jesus at work in her life—transforming her from the inside out.”

Another girl came to Hope Harbor at age 12 because of self-harm and suicide attempts. Her program lasted 16 months (a typical stay is about a year), and eventually she too was saved. As she grew in the knowledge of God’s Word, she began teaching others, even leading chapel!

Bailey, a 17-year-old, arrived on Valentine’s Day 2020 with a minor eating disorder, lack of interest in God, and a lot of anxiety and depression. “I didn’t choose super great friends; they really put me down a lot,” says Bailey, whose story is used with permission. Her poor self-image and anger affected how she treated her parents. “We had a really bad relationship. And it felt like everything was crashing down,” she explains.

At Hope Harbor, Bailey and a few other resident teens worked through books like Overcoming Emotions that Destroy by Chip Ingram. And Lael taught through the book of Acts and other books of the Bible. Despite her Christian background, Bailey had never understood the plan of salvation. “The biggest thing for me to overcome was changing how I think—from low self-worth to knowing how God sees me and my worth in Him,” she says. She also wasn’t sure she wanted to give up control of her life to God. “But after doing Bible studies and getting into God's Word, I realized that it’s really not control in any way. It’s gonna turn out better if I give what little control I have to God.”

Before graduating from Hope Harbor last December, Bailey presented a statement of what she now believes, summed up in Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Bailey explains: “I picked that verse because it shows that we don’t have to make ourselves presentable to God; He always loved us. And that’s something that I didn’t understand before the program. I always felt like love was something I had to earn, not something that I could just receive.”

Lael praises God for the miracles she sees in her work with teens—and in her own life as she grows in faith.

“We can try to fix ourselves and kind of fake it a little bit. We can go through the motions of healing and do therapy and coping skills. You can do all those things without Jesus. But unless the Lord does a transforming work in a person’s life, there’s not going to be a real change. You can change the outside, but until the inside changes and the heart is healed, there are going to be broken things that nothing in the world will be able to fix.”

Lael has made good use of her Moody training in ministry, and now two of Lael’s sisters are benefiting from a Moody education—one is a resident assistant and one is a first-semester student. Lael graduated debt-free and is thankful for the donors who paid for her tuition at Moody. “If I had to worry about student loans, I wouldn’t have been able to take this position. As a result of not having debt, I was able to jump right into Hope Harbor and not have to worry about that.”

About the Author

  • Linda Piepenbrink