Restoration Village is more than a women’s shelter situated on roughly 70 acres of dirt, trees, springs of water and buildings. It represents an accumulation of life journey stories prior to its existence that established a passion in the founders to answer the existential question: “Where can people go to get whole and their life together?” The Village is a living organism that continues those life stories with an opportunity to choose to overcome traumatic life-altering events that have affected their lives for years. Restoration Village is a women’s shelter of safety, an opportunity to begin life anew and an environment for restorative healing of wholeness of body and soul.
The idea of Restoration Village began long before 1989. Years of ministering with single parents, directing a 12 step “Overcomers” group, volunteering with Court Appointed Special Advocates, and personal involvement in people’s lives were the founding concepts of a ministry that just might make a difference in the lives of those we encountered. Some might call it a “vision” of some type of para church ministry, but it became a “passion” to establish a long-term facility where those in need could experience love, grace, hospitality, security and someone who cares enough to walk along beside others while mentoring them to hope towards a different future outcome.
The naming of the ministry came from a decision during the early days of the developing search for an identity of the program from a Bible verse that became a motivational response to a question from God: “But this is a people plundered and looted, all of them trapped in pits or hidden in captivity. They have become plunder, with no one to rescue them, they have been made loot (become fair game for others) with no one to say, Restore (Isaiah 42:22). In the margin of my Bible the words “I will” are written and still visible after all these years.
For seven years Beverly and I visited potential lands with already existing buildings to begin a place of refuge. We visited locations in Texas (cost too much); estates on two different lakes in Oklahoma (one needed extensive repairs and had legal issues, the other a cost could not be arrived at because a partner wanted more monies than we would agree to). We almost quit looking as it seemed that nothing was occurring that encouraged or strengthened our resolve. But the passion to find the “place” never went away.
An advertisement in the magazine “Christianity Today” read a “…potential retreat center in the Ozarks”. A letter of query was sent but not responded to by the advertiser for several months. Then a short letter came to us that said: “If you would like to see the property we will be in Little Flock, Arkansas in March and you may come visit and talk with us.” A glimmer of anticipation and hope?
On a cold, muddy (because of melting snow) day, we met a representative of a piece of property that previously had been an orphanage. It had been vacant except for a part-time care taker for seven years. The property had a 10,000-square foot main lodge, two old wooden houses at the front of the property, a log cabin on a hill (upon stepping into the basement area without a flash light, I sank into one foot of water), a barn in need of repairs, a work shop that had just four walls and a house in the valley where the care taker lived. Despite the mud, the wet and cold feet, the broken windows, and the bleakness of the day coupled with the disrepair of the buildings, Beverly and I looked at each other on the South end of the lodge and together agreed: “This is it.”
An agreement to rent the property (low the first year and escalating over the years) and assume full responsibility for all repairs without remuneration from the owners began the venture of faith.
Life altering decisions were going to be made in the next three months that had no specific rhyme or reason as we by faith were just following an admonition like that of Abraham who “went, not knowing” (Hebrews 11:8). We began to prepare to sell our home, quit my employment, uproot the family, and face the obstacle of not having any concept of what we were beginning and how it might end. The small miracles in the beginning; a single parent gave us her $600 Christmas bonus; another single parent gave us a ring she had found and was unable to locate the owner and we pawned it for $200.00; our church in Tulsa believed in the passion and vision. They donated $1,400 and gave us free use of the church truck to get our family and belongings moved. And so, with $2,200 cash, our 3 youngest children, and a pocket full of Bible promises, we went.
During the month of May our family and single parents from our church would come to the property to clean windows, scrub floors and do what could be done, without utilities turned on, to clean the main lodge building. My employer guaranteed me a part-time position to represent them in Arkansas and Missouri; we collected my 401(k) and arrived in Rogers, Arkansas on June 5, 1989. The work continued to turn on utilities, connect stoves, clean out commodes, wipe down moldy doors, paint some rooms, and figure out how to get the spring water pumps to send water to the lodge. We worked in a building without air conditioning, ceiling fans, or refrigerators during the first months, but it did not deter our resolve to begin Restoration Village. There was no appropriate zoning of the new project and no idea of how we would sustain the property in the future. It was one day at a time.
The history of Restoration Village shows how many others shared our dream. Members of our former church in Tulsa came over on weekends to pull up old carpet and lay new; peel old faded wall paper and put up new or paint rooms; attempt to beautify the outdoors; and all at their own expense. An adult lady, then a single parent with two children, all with desperate needs and emotional circumstances came to the Village and became our first residents. In August, a local church called and asked us to tell them of our mission and what we were doing here in Arkansas. After a luncheon with them they became supporters and have continued to support us for 28 years. Despite all the manual labor required to put the building and property back into some semblance of order, residents came, contributions came in the mail or in person and the Village was beginning to emerge as a viable force to make a difference in women’s and children’s lives.
During the first two years, the Village stayed at full capacity for those who needed a safe place to reside. Volunteers and residents aided us in continual painting and refurbishment of the other buildings that were on the property. Tax deductible papers were secured; incorporation was completed; a Board of Directors was assembled; the Village was coming together slowly, but miraculously our needs were being met – then came a letter from the owners that was about to change everything. The letter asked us to purchase the property or they were going to sell it. For two years, we were here living from week to week depending upon God’s favor and those who heard of the ministry to provide our needed funding, but there was nothing in reserve. We had a few months to figure out how to secure the land before the “For Sale” signs went up.
It was an election year and we solicited banks, lending institutions, and those sympathetic to our purpose but to no avail. One bank considered loaning us the purchase price contingent upon the Board of Directors signing a pledge for the note and guarantee the mortgage. We wouldn’t do that to the Board.
Even with refusals, we continued with the assurance that Restoration Village was to be here and despite the possibility of a “For Sale” sign going up on the following Monday, the ministry and services continued without telling all the women and children that we might be evicted in a couple of weeks.
One week prior to the purchase deadline, a man and his wife drove up in our driveway, unannounced, and spent almost two hours asking questions about the Village, its goals, purposes, and future. As they stood up to leave that afternoon the gentleman said, “You will hear back from us” and drove away. On the following Monday, we received a phone call from the couple’s attorney. He told us the couple would loan us the money to purchase the land if we would sign a personal note to repay the loan. The sellers even negotiated the price for less than they had originally requested. Without hesitation, we said “yes.” During the next ten years, we made the payments. That couple even contributed to the ministry which was enough to make or aid in the return of the payments.
Restoration Village has influenced other endeavors far and beyond just Northwest Arkansas. The history of Restoration Village includes testifying in Little Rock before State Legislative meetings. We advocated and worked with elected representatives to create new laws and legislation regarding felony sentencing and mandated reporting to better protect children in our state. In 2000, through the vision of the founders, the Children’s Advocacy Center of Benton County opened to provide a safe place for child abuse victims to receive comprehensive services from professional interviewers, nurses, counselors, and advocates. The Advocacy Center also provides child abuse prevention, awareness, and education to the community. Despite being told, “if you had six million dollars to donate to the Northwest Arkansas Community College, then they might listen to your proposal,” a presentation was still made to the Board of Directors of the College. Thanks to their belief in the program, and with the endorsement of the President of the College, the Second National Child Protection Training Center in America was opened. Thousands have attended the various one-week training courses, and hundreds have attended classes working towards a minor degree curriculum of four semesters in child protection. One of the first graduates of the program was an intern at the Children’s Advocacy Center.
The Village still operates by faith. Beverly’s workbook and small groups; non-resident counseling; an equine therapy program with a trained and certified counselor on staff; a feeding program to a needed area of Rogers which started quarterly, then monthly and now other civic groups and churches have joined with us to take hot food meals weekly along with toiletries, clothing, toys and books; these are a few of the ventures that help others outside of the Village. Love, grace and lots of “grit” has established this property to God’s glory. Through the years, our role as a local women’s shelter has become clear: we are Northwest Arkansas’ faith-based, long-term crisis shelter for women and children.
The history of Restoration Village started a new chapter in September 2020 when Beverly and I officially retired. The new Executive Director is none other than our own daughter, Natalie Tibbs, who now leads both the Village and Children’s Advocacy Center of Benton County. Following in our footsteps, she has felt God’s call to restore hope and break the cycle of abuse. More than just a change in leadership, the history of Restoration Village is still being written as we continue to recruit new volunteers, board members, businesses, churches, and other community partners to share in this great work with us. And as the history of Restoration Village continues, we will stay true to our roots by ministering to women and children to the glory of God and in the name of the author and finisher of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ.