On a recent Saturday, gathered in an upper room at Abba's House, sat nearly 200 abused women from area shelters.
During a time of testimony, one woman said she'd been told her whole life she would never amount to anything. Another woman shared her story of how she was sexually abused as a child and then physically and mentally abused in a marriage. Another recounted her struggle to have children of her own, and another said her husband of 14 years died just four months ago.
Despite their struggles and situation, for that day, every woman was able to live out a fairy tale because of Project Esther, an annual event held at Abba's House that allows abused and often downtrodden women to live as queen for a day - and to start over.
"Women come to us early in the morning with their faces to the floor, maybe thinking we have some kind of agenda," said event director Paulette Phillips. "Our goal is just to show love. It was my vision, a way for women to help other women."
Just past its 16th year of operation, Project Esther is an event based on the story of Queen Esther from the book in the Old Testament. Phillips explained that Israelite Esther was taken from her home and into captivity in Persia. According to the story, King Xerxes of Persia held a contest of beauty to find a new wife. Esther was chosen to take part in the contest, lived in the palace, underwent countless beauty treatments and etiquette lessons, and was finally chosen as the new Queen of Persia.
"Esther was disadvantaged. She was an orphan, an outcast; she didn't know the language," said Phillips. "God took a difficult situation, a poor beginning, and put her as queen over an alien nation."
The women attending the event underwent lessons of their own. Abba's House Chief Financial Officer Denise Craig gave a simple but clear presentation on best money management practices, and former bank officer and church member Pat Hyde gave the ladies tips on how to succeed in a job interview.
After a luncheon and a smoke break for the ladies ("When you need it, you need it," laughed Phillips), the women were given a spa treatment by about 200 volunteers clad in white tops and black pants. Licensed cosmetologists styled hair, volunteers applied nail polish and makeup, and racks upon racks of clothing to choose from were free for each attendee to enjoy.
Phillips emphasized that the event has no agenda to get the ladies to join the church, though the day was infused with messages of faith.
"Jesus is your one true fairy tale and your only happily ever after," said one woman who gave her testimony of childhood and marital abuse during the event.
Esther's story doesn't end with becoming queen, said Phillips. According to the Old Testament book, Esther was later able to save her Israelite people from a bitter enemy because of her bravery and position in the kingdom.
"We want these women to think of themselves as an Esther, a diamond in the rough. Life can be good again. They can start over," said Phillips.