From the streets to home
by Melissa Wallace
On the streets of Calgary, she was known as “Mama White”, the person you went to for everything from drugs to condoms or anything else. Now at 53, she’s still handing out items, but for a different purpose. Sandra Domenjoz wants to tell women they don’t need to settle for life as a prostitute or drug addict. She was both for almost 40 years, until God changed her story.
Domenjoz was only four years old when a trusted family member forced her to have sex. For the next seven years, she was sexually abused until she decided to run away. Living on the streets in Toronto and then in Calgary, she survived as a prostitute and drug dealer, offering her services to anyone who could help her pay for her next fix. Addicted to crack cocaine, Domenjoz would often wake up feeling dirty, insecure and confused, sometimes wondering how she ended up on a park bench, hotel room or at her “date’s” house.
She had children in Calgary who were soon taken away because of her lifestyle. “I didn’t know how to quit doing drugs,” shares Domenjoz. “It was the only thing I knew and it kept me sane.” Her son followed in his mother’s footsteps and also wound up on the streets. A few years ago, he received help from Wagner Hills Farm men’s campus, a Christian men’s facility in Langley offering residential treatment, counselling and discipleship to those with addictions. Through his involvement, Domenjoz got connected to the women’s campus of Wagner Hills Ministries.
Seeing God in people
Domenjoz stayed at Wagner Hills’ women’s campus for 14 months. For the first three months, she stayed in bed, sleeping off her addiction and suffering from withdrawal symptoms. “I would wake up and see these women on their hands and knees praying for me and feeding me,” she says. “It was the most amazing experience to see God in people. Up to that point, I had never known anything about God. When people mentioned Him to me on the streets, I’d say, ‘Listen, He’s done nothing for me. I don’t want to hear it.’ ”
Later, Domenjoz learned more about God and made new friends through Connecting Streams, a ministry of Power to Change that connects church folks to the marginalized with the love of Jesus Christ. The ministry runs several weekly coffee groups in the downtown Langley area that provide a fun and safe place to meet new friends and ask spiritual questions.
“At first, it was hard to trust people because I thought I was their pet project, but they treated me like I was one of them and I became a really happy person. Everything they showed me [in the Bible], I was like, ‘No way! No way!’” Domenjoz laughs. “I was so grateful when it started making sense. I’m content now. Go figure. I’ve never been content.”
She was able to move on to the Opportunities Program”at The Salvation Army’s Gateway of Hope, which provides a single room with a shared kitchen and bathroom for up to two years. Domenjoz stayed at the Gateway of Hope for nine months before she was able to get her own apartment. “The furniture is beautiful,” she says. “I have roses on my balcony, the very first flowers that have bloomed for me and I know God has helped me to get this far.”
Domenjoz continues to meet for coffee with her group from Connecting Streams, led by Shelly Banai, a teacher with a passion to help women understand and experience God’s love, grace and mercy. “Since meeting Sandra, I’ve seen her grow so much in dependence of the Lord,” says Banai. “She is constantly looking out for those in her apartment block as well as those on the streets. She has also learned to read and write and is now writing notes to people she wants to encourage.”
Domenjoz brings new women to join the group, shares her story at special events, volunteers at Connecting Streams’ outreaches and occasionally, rides her scooter around the streets of Langley, passing out personal hygiene items and handmade jewellery.
“It’s just something to brighten their day and it’s what they need, a brightening of their spirit,” she says. “They feel just as dirty as I did. But I want them to know that not one of us is dirtier than the other. Because of Jesus, we can be completely clean.”
Her involvement with women from three different Christian organizations has left a lasting impact on Domenjoz’s life, one that makes her cry tears of joy as she talks about how they spent time talking with her, feeding her and praying with her. “Until I met these women, I didn’t believe there was a God and I didn’t see Him in anyone on this Earth,” she says. “I thank them from the bottom of my heart for giving me back my life. At 53, I feel like a brand new kid!”
“To the women on the streets, I want them to know that there is a way out. God will meet you anywhere, but you don’t have to stay where you are. If you have the right people holding your hand, Jesus lovers, you can make it.”