A tale of faith, hope and love blesses all

Date: 2004-05-14

A tale of faith, hope and love blesses all

Friday, May 14, 2004
By Barbara White Stack, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

She got the call because her name began with "A," so she was first on the list.

Would Cheryl Allen be willing to take in a young woman who'd been in treatment for an eating disorder and was now searching for a job?

The call was from a fellow elder at Allen's church, Jubilee International Ministry in Plum, and she knew Allen, a juvenile court judge, wouldn't say no. The judge had been a foster parent, counseled young women on self-sufficiency and worked on the boards of non-profit groups.

And so the match was made. A young woman who had stopped eating after years of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her parents moved into the home of a judge who'd spent a decade on the bench dealing with such cases.

She would stay only a few months until she got a job and a place of her own. But in that time, the two bonded as Allen soothed her night terrors, connected her to faith-based counseling and simply listened when she needed to talk.

They came to regard each other as mother and daughter.

In January, to honor that relationship and break from her past, the young woman changed her name to Faith Elizabeth Allen.

Faith would go on to follow in Allen's footsteps, caring for foster children.

One of them was an 11-year-old whom she affectionately calls Mea, a child like Faith who suffered horrible abuse and night terrors. Just as Judge Allen awoke Faith from the overwhelming nightmares, held her and read to her religious passages, Faith in turn comforted Mea.

They believe divine intervention brought them together to give Judge Allen, the mother of three boys, the daughter she never had and to give Faith and Mea the help they needed.

It was three years ago that Faith went to live with Allen. The judge knew the young woman, then 24, had dropped to 70 pounds before getting treatment for anorexia at the Peniel Center in Johnstown.

But she didn't know of the abuse until the first time Faith suffered a night terror in her home.

Banging and screaming awoke the judge. She ran to Faith's room and found her crouching in a corner. Allen reached out to her. Still unconscious, Faith cringed.

When Allen awoke Faith, the young woman began to tell the story of a childhood destroyed by an alcoholic and physically abusive mother and a sexually predatory step-father. Faith went to foster care four times. Once she was abused there. But the last time, in a home where the foster mother's maiden name was Allen, she was treated well and not forced to return to her parents.

Still, she struggled, suffering a heart attack at age 17 because of the anorexia. Finally, at 21, she was referred to Peniel, a faith-based recovery center.

Eventually Faith met the church elder in Pittsburgh who asked Allen to take her in.

She stayed with Allen off and on for a couple of months until she found a job with a women's shelter and got a place of her own in the East End. After that, they talked, usually every day.

Allen helped her get counseling through Theotherapy Inc., a service for which Allen serves as a board member.

And Faith seemed to be recovering. Still, Allen worried when Faith decided to get certified as a foster parent because so many abused children end up as abusers.

But when the judge saw Faith with her first foster children, she knew it would be all right. "She has a deep capacity to love," the judge says, "If anything, my biggest concern now is that she wants to help everybody."

After she got her first foster children, Faith began attending Potters House Ministries in Braddock because of its programs for youngsters. Like Allen, the ministers there, Tyrone and Gloria Kemp, have embraced her as their own. Because of their kindness, she took her new middle name, Elizabeth, which means consecrated to God, at the suggestion of their daughter Tammie Brown.

Faith had two foster children when a caseworker called her a year ago asking if she'd take a third, a 10-year-old who'd been abused, starved and medically neglected and needed a home immediately.

Faith said she couldn't because she didn't have another bed. Just as she hung up, she got another call. A friend was moving and wanted to know if Faith could use bunk beds.

Faith said yes and quickly called the caseworker back. She would take Mea.

Just as when Allen agreed to take Faith in, Faith had no idea at that point how terribly Mea had been hurt. Faith believes God placed Mea with her because she could understand her pain and her needs.

"It is so awesome for her to be matched with a little girl of similar background who she is able to parent and minister to. I think it was by divine orchestration that it happened that way," Allen says. "And Mea reminds me so much of Faith. She has the sweetest, gentlest spirit."

Faith will never be able to bear her own children because of the abuse she suffered. But she will be a mother.

This afternoon, Faith Elizabeth Allen will adopt Mea. And officiating at the ceremony will be Judge Cheryl Allen.

First published on May 14, 2004 at 12:00 am
Barbara White Stack can be reached at bwhitestack@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878.
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