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Everyday Evangelist: Giving to others as Jesus did

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Friday, July 17, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

DAYTON DEANERY — As a teenager living in the vicinity of Dayton’s Dixie Drive in the late 1950s, Fran Duell recalls the neighbors’ concern regarding the number of adult nightclubs along the city’s Dixie Strip. Little did she know then that one day she would be involved in a ministry that reaches out to women in the adult entertainment and the sex industry.

Duell is a volunteer at Oasis House, an interfaith ministry founded by the Rev. Sharon Amos, pastor of Higher Ground United Methodist Church. The ministry was born, explained Rev. Amos, after a dancer visited the church and the faith community developed a relationship with her.

Fran Duell, right, a member of St. Christopher Parish in Vandalia, poses with the Rev. Sharon Amos, outside Oasis House. (CT/Eileen Connelly, OSU)

“We walked with her and prayed with her. We wanted to let her know that God loved her,” Rev. Amos explained. “I realized that women who work in the sex industry are very reachable and very wounded. Many were abused as children or their mothers were drug addicts. They weren’t protected, loved and nurtured as we’d all like to be.”

Realizing she couldn’t rest until she found a way to minister to the women, Rev. Amos recalls parking in front of the clubs once a week praying for guidance. The answer was Oasis House, a residence located in the midst of a number of adult nightclubs and across the street from an adult superstore. The house opened its doors in May of 2006 and beginning in June, volunteers started visiting the clubs, taking small gifts, food and brochures to acquaint the women with their ministry.

Today, Oasis House has outreach teams that visit six clubs weekly bearing homemade meals prepared by volunteers from area churches.

“We stay for about an hour and half and build relationships with the women,” said Rev. Amos. “We don’t take Bibles and don’t beat them up with religion. We just try to love them because that’s what Jesus would do.”

With the goal of being a support system to women who want to make life changes, Oasis House also provides GED tutoring, computer training, professional counseling, job placement, life-skill and self-empowerment classes and spiritual and emotional support. Oasis House collaborates with other Dayton social service agencies and carries out its ministry in conjunction with numerous area churches.

That’s where Duell comes in. A member of St. Christopher Parish in Vandalia, she heard about Oasis House on a news report. With a background in education, including teaching at several Catholic elementary schools, Duell felt compelled to volunteer to assist with the ministry’s GED program.

“I’m a teacher at heart,” she said. “I wanted to be of help in any way I could.”

Since August 2006 Duell has been a weekly volunteer at Oasis House, tutoring women in English and social studies. She also stocks supplies, answers the phone, stuffs envelopes and folds brochures.

“I know these women need help,” Duell said. “I’m glad that someone is finally assisting them. Oasis House is such an amazing gift to the women. Many of them are estranged from their families who have given up on them. Oasis House is such a homey place. It gives the women hope.”

“We really appreciate all that Fran does,” said Rev. Amos. “She’s such a blessing to us.”

Duell believes so strongly in the work of Oasis House that she approached Father Francis Keferl, pastor of St. Christopher, to see if members of the parish could become involved in supporting the ministry.  With Father Keferl “behind us 100 percent,” Duell now coordinates a group of 20 parishioners who, in partnership with the Salem Church of God, prepare meals for women working in the clubs.

St. Christopher is currently the only Catholic church supporting Oasis House and Duell said she hopes other parishes join in the effort. A former member of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, Duell was thrilled when the congregation recently approved a $15,000 grant to Oasis House to be used towards paying counselors, tutors and to provide financial assistance for women who are transitioning out of prostitution and entertainment industry.

Duell’s willingness to help others in any way she can extends beyond Oasis House. Now retired after 22 years as a secretary at the University of Dayton, she is a lector and eucharistic minister at St. Christopher, along with being involved in parish’s bereavement and prayer shawl ministries and serving as president of its senior group.

Having learned to crochet as a small child, Duell also puts this talent to use for outreach. In recent years she has crocheted more than 320 afghans for various charitable organizations in the Dayton area, including Oasis House, Womanline and Elizabeth New Life Center.

Her motivation for being of service to others is rooted in her Catholic faith, said Duell, and in example of the Sisters of the Precious Blood. “Part of their spirituality is giving of yourself to others as Christ did. I believe in that.”

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