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The Heart of Love and Charity

How "Mother" Louise Hunter turned a life of hardship into a mission of hope.

On a blustery February night in 1966, a sheriff rapped on Louise Hunter's door. Claiming the family of 16 was in violation of Racine, Wisconsin's public health code, he ordered the Hunters to vacate their two-bedroom house within 24 hours. With no money and no place to go, Louise started to pray.

A day later, there was another knock on the door. This time it was a local pastor who offered to sell the Hunter family an 18-room house for a dollar. Louise instantly knew it was a miracle. As thanks, she prayed that God would use her to help others in need. According to Louise, that's when God gave her a vision for a mission called Love and Charity.

"From that6 day on," Louise, who is known as Mother Hunter, says, "in my heart and in my mind, I wanted to help somebody."

Mother Hunter, who is now 72 years old, has devoted her life to helping the desolate and homeless. She has a keen understanding and gentle awareness of the needs of the poor, because poverty and pain have defined her own life.

A Life of Heartache and Grief

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, during the Great Depression, Mother Hunter was raised in a poor farming community and worked in the cotton fields. She grew up too fast, and by the time she was 20 she was unemployed and a single mother of three young children. Returning to her childhood faith, she prayed for a husband. She met a man named James Hunter. They married and eventually had 18 children together.

Her marriage was tumultuous, filled with heartache and grief. In 1976 the Hunter's 6-year old son, Thomas, died in a house fire. Two years later, James was killed in a car accident.

"My mission is set up so that people can come out of darkness and see the light. This is what Love and Charity is all about."—Mother Hunter

"When James died, I said to the Lord, 'Why would you take him and leave me with all of these children?'" Mother Hunter recalls. "I've had many heartaches and pains, but God made a way."

Life was even harder for Mother Hunter after she lost her husband. Her family wanted her to move back to Mississippi so they could help her raise her children. But she could not turn her back on Love and Charity. So, she kept the doors open and continued helping those in need. Her kids literally grew up at the mission, helping out whenever they could.

Mother Hunter's relentless faith that Jesus Christ can heal any wound, no matter how deep, is the foundation for Love and Charity. "If you do not suffer, what can you tell somebody?" Mother Hunter says. "In order to make it to where I am today, I had to go through some pain and sorrow. But Jesus stayed with me."

Open Door to Healing

Hoping to share her unwavering faith with all who walk through the doors, Mother Hunter is determined to keep Love and Charity a faith-based mission. In fact, she has refused to accept any federal aid. Though it would relieve mounting financial hardships, doing so would mean that Mother Hunter could no longer require every guest to attend Bible studies and church services. So instead she relies on donated food, clothes, and money. "It's all about getting Jesus on the inside," Mother Hunter says. "My mission is set up so that people can come out of darkness and see the light. This is what Love and Charity is all about."

While Love and Charity's door is always open, those who wish to stay must adhere to Mother Hunter's strict rules. Not only do they have to attend the mission's church services, but for the first ten days they can only leave Love and Charity to help pick up donated food from local businesses. If needed, they must enroll in drug or alcohol rehabilitation. When they are physically able, they have to find a job, set up a bank account, and save money toward their own apartment. "There's no time limit when you come here," Mother Hunter says. "You can stay five minutes or five years. I let everyone know that I'm willing to help them."

Mind on Jesus

It's no exaggeration to say that Mother Hunter has impacted thousands of lives. She's fed hungry kids, helped people find shelter, and even brought people back from the brink of suicide. Mother Hunter says that it is all the power of the Holy Spirit, and she is simply following God's calling.

Her story was recently published in Love and Charity: The Life and Story of Louise Hunter and Love and Charity Homeless Shelter (Publish America), by Reverend Dennis James Woods. Woods, a close family friend of the Hunters and the founder and pastor of Power of the Holy Ghost Deliverance Ministries Inc., served at Love and Charity in 1993.

"The book brought tears to my eyes," Mother Hunter admits. "I could hardly believe one human being went through so much suffering. I only made it because I kept my mind on Jesus."

Love and Charity is more than Mother Hunter's life story; it is a powerful reminder of the reality of homelessness and poverty, says Woods. Both Mother Hunter and Woods pray that readers will feel led to reach out to those in need.

"Mother Hunter seems to have a aura of God," Woods says. "Her whole life has been devoted to this ministry and her community."

Mother Hunter's energy is endless. In the late 1990s she opened a sister shelter, Love and Charity II, in Memphis, Tennessee. She still begins her day at five o'clock in the morning—ready to greet anyone who comes to Love and Charity with a warm meal and an open heart.

"Love and Charity is a ministry," she says. "It's a hard ministry at times. People don't even realize that tonight somebody is sleeping outside. Somebody's child. So I try to do all I can."

Amy Adair is a freelance writer living in the Chicago area.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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