Well, you know what? Let me just give you my cell number. I think I should. Yep, I’m praying and God is telling me I should just give it to you…”
Kathy DiFiore is a woman who breaks the rules, acts with passion and above all, listens hard and fast to Christ. She was the first person I ever interviewed who gave me her personal cell phone number at the end of our talk. She also made sure I understood that she would begin praying for me, by name, as I continued figuring out what God had for me.
Seriously, someone as influential as Kathy DiFiore praying for me? You cannot make this stuff up.
And even more seriously, my talk with her changed the way I view Christ.
Who is she?
In 2009, award winning film-maker Ron Krauss visited one of Kathy’s shelters to ask if he could produce a film about her life, to which she answered firmly and calmly, “Absolutely not.” Her main consideration in saying no was the safety of her girls. She explained, “I was fearful [a movie] would exploit my girls. I like privacy for the girls. This needs to be a safe place.”
Kathy has devoted her life to caring for women who have had nowhere else to turn — particularly pregnant women who are considering abortion. A woman with many stories herself, she is protective of her girls because she understands where they are and how to get them where they need to be. Her life is a refreshing mixture of empathy, hope and action for the women whom she serves.
She has opened numerous group-living homes and shelters. She is the founder of Several Sources Shelter, has worked alongside Mother Theresa, was heftily fined multiple times by the state of New Jersey, and was able to rebuild her once abuse-ridden life into one full of service to others. She was once homeless. She has battled cancer. She has assisted in changing the shelter laws in New Jersey. She has been honored by three American presidents for her incredible work and recognized by the United Nations. This woman is the real deal.
Much of her success is on display for the public to see. In fact, a “DiFiore Bill” is still in place in New Jersey today. But just a few minutes with this woman and you can tell the recognition and glory mean nothing to her. The driving force behind all of her work is compassion for women and girls who need safety, love and hope in Christ.
Interviewing someone like this was rather intimidating for me, but I quickly realized there was no room for intimidation when a voice as honest and warm as hers came booming through the phone. Being from Jersey, her voice sounds exactly like you might think. She is funny, quick-witted and effortlessly convicting. I was giggling from the start, crying half way through, and expressing immense gratitude by the end. My time talking with Kathy changed me — just as it has changed so many others.
Like all talented creative types, Krauss was persistent in his effort to do a film about the shelter. He wanted so deeply to educate people about the work Kathy is doing. She still recalls hearing the voice of the Lord say to her, “Trust him.” Even as she was warming up to the idea, she remained somewhat apprehensive. As a last-ditch effort to really seal her “no” deal, she decided to let the girls get to know him. She believed these ladies would be the clearest judge of his character.
Unexpected to her, they opened up to him.
So she agreed. She agreed to listen to the Spirit and trust God’s guidance. She gave Krauss the green light to write, direct and produce a film about her life’s work.
And did he ever.
Krauss spent one year at one of Kathy’s shelters while he wrote the screenplay. He observed, experienced and witnessed the daily struggles of the women who claim sanctuary there. He got to know some of the ladies, experiencing victories and losses with them. He watched some of them turn away and go back to their lives of recklessness, and he watched others turn their lives around. With heavy pro-life undertones to the screenplay, it was going to take the right set of people to invest in the film. Once the screenplay was complete, it was a scurry of activity to find backing for the production of the film. God was gracious in this effort, and the screenplay found favor with benefactors and actors alike.
With show stoppers like Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser and James Earl Jones, “Gimme Shelter” offers a look inside the struggle of a pregnant teen who has nowhere to turn. From a drug-addicted, abusive mother played by Dawson and a detached father played by Fraser, Hudgen’s character Apple finds safety, rest and family at one of Kathy’s shelters. The tag line for the film states, “Sometimes you have to leave home to find your family.” Apple does just that. She finds comfort through the guidance of a priest played by James Earl Jones and family through her new community at the shelter.
Naturally, I asked Kathy what she thought of the film. In many ways Kathy is incredible, but in just as many ways, she is a normal lady. I wondered how it struck her that now there’s a million-dollar grossing film based on her life. She laughed, “I think it’s a miracle.” Still laughing she said, “My hope here is that people will see that it’s not too hard to follow God. You can help someone. We all can.”
Life at the Shelter
Kathy and I talked about her time at the shelters — the hard stuff and the constant, necessary prayer. She told me how she likes to continually be in prayer while she is there. “I know [the women] all think I’m crazy but I walk from bed to bed, room to room, person to person and ask God to direct me and inspire me. I just pray out loud ‘God give us strength. God give us peace. God give us hope.’ And I ask for Him to walk with me every hour, walk with me every day. These are simple prayers, but they are all we need from Him.”
We talked about one of the highlights of her life, the night she was honored at the White House with Mother Theresa and nine other shelter residents, or “Apples” as she calls them, a nickname inspired by the movie. She reflects on it as such a monumental day in her work and service.
Kathy continued to flood me with information about shelters, resources for women who are considering abortion, details about her upcoming book and her hopes for the movie. Her ultimate hope is that “Gimme Shelter” will inspire someone to open a shelter in their city.
It’s Not Complicated
Someone like this, with so much to be proud of and who has been such a blessing to others, is certainly someone to admire. In my short time talking with Kathy, I felt nothing but joy to have the privilege to speak with her. I ended our time by asking her what we should do when we see others doing incredible things and want to help but don’t know where we fit in?
I swear I could feel her smile through the phone. “Look for God,” Kathy answered. “Ask Him what do to. Go and do it. And then ask Him again.” She continued, “It’s not complicated.”
She laughed again.
Kathy is right. We’ve made it far too complicated.
And then she carried on with, “Well you know what? Let me just give you my cell phone number…”