Freedom. Flourish. Fly.

“Can you give me Jesus? I think he’s the only one who can help me survive this.”

Sharon stood in the lobby of the community center, relief and trepidation mixed in the lines of her worn face.

I’d had the privilege of working with her during her last few months of incarceration, helping her plan for a life change when she was released. Now that she was on the outside, she had come to me looking for help to maintain her growth. We’d scribbled a 7-day plan where she could meet with someone each day to encourage and teach her how to be a successful member of society. Sharon was thrilled to begin, but voiced her unease about finding a place to live.

Her mother had no place for her to live. Motels turned her away. Homeless shelters and halfway programs wouldn’t allow her to bring along her children and niece. She told me she had a few days left at her mother’s but felt confident she could find a place for her family.

While Sharon focused on the week’s written plan, Andi, her niece, pulled me aside. She revealed to me that during her aunt’s incarceration, she had been forced to live with her father who molested her.

She looked me squarely in the face, desperation spilling from her eyes.
She looked me squarely in the face, desperation spilling from her eyes. “Can you give me Jesus? I think he’s the only one who can help me survive this.” Andi’s words gripped my heart as I promised her I would do all I could to help her.

Within a few days, Sharon had found a home for the family. They would move in with a male friend, and he would provide a roof over their heads. It wasn’t long before Sharon began missing our weekly appointments. Then Andi stopped corresponding with me. I don’t know how Andi and Sharon are today, but I pray they are safe and still reaching out for Jesus.

Every time their faces come to mind, my heart breaks again.
Every time their faces come to mind, my heart breaks again. These women are just two of many with whom I’ve worked. We build a relationship during our in-jail bible studies. They learn about Christ and the hopeful future he provides, but once they leave, they have very few places to turn. It isn’t long before they are traveling the same desperate and hopeless road again.


Recidivism in this East Tennessee County is an alarming 90%.
Recidivism in this East Tennessee County is an alarming 90%. In reality, this isn’t surprising considering that when women leave incarceration, they have nowhere to turn but back the same negative influences. This has to stop.

Not long after my encounter with Sharon and Andi, someone asked me what my big dream would be for the hurting and hopeless women and children in this area. The answer came easily. “

I want to build a farm,” I told him. “A safe place for women to come after they are released from jail.
I want to build a farm,” I told him. “A safe place for women to come after they are released from jail. A place where they can work on skills they desperately need, so they can start life over with their families and be contributing citizens to their communities. A place where women wouldn’t have to trade favors to meet their basic needs. A place where children can reunite with their mothers and learn the tools necessary to become healthy families.

This is the Smoky Mountain Dream Center!

As an example to those whom we will minister, we will be modeling debt-free living. Therefore, anything we build or service we provide needs to be paid for before we launch this ministry. Currently, we are preparing a budget with the Assemblies of God U.S. Missions team and are actively raising funds to meet that budget.

“I realized that Dr. Wood is more than just a rock star; he is a real person, complete with legs and gold-toe socks.”

I first met Dr. George O. Wood (or THE WOOD as we respectfully and affectionately refer to him in my home), at the General Superintendent’s forum at General Council in Orlando, Florida in 2015. I had a simple job at this meeting to hand out papers. When I realized who I was handing out said papers to, I of course dropped them all on the floor. As I picked them up, assuring everyone seated of my competence as a minister, I realized that Dr. Wood is more than just a rock star; he is a real person, complete with legs and gold-toe socks.

I have since had the opportunity to selfie several times with Dr. Wood, which obviously makes me an expert and qualified to write this article. And from my non-vast personal experiences with him, I would like to share with you the nuggets of solid gold I have gotten from my hero in the faith. Some of these are actual wisdom-nuggets, some fools gold, but mostly it is a chemical composite of reality mixed with all the pretend hangout sessions he and I have had in my imagination.

The Redder, The Better

When I was in college, a boy brazenly told me he hated all red hair because it always looked like clown hair. While I admit, in Florida I do have a somewhat striking resemblance to Ronald McDonald, I had always been proud to be redheaded, but this boy had made me feel ashamed of it. In fact, he told me that my hair was the exact same shade as an orangutan. And when I fact-checked his statement against my set of Encyclopedia Britannica’s, he was indeed correct. Now when I first saw Dr. Wood up close, I immediately began to suspect that under the white façade was a glimmering mane of red curly locks.

Several months later, my suspicions were confirmed
Several months later, my suspicions were confirmed during a Q&A session at our District Council. While people prattled on about “What direction do you see our fellowship headed in nationally?” and “What legal ramifications do you see our fellowship facing over the Supreme Court ruling?” I quietly pondered which of my own questions to dazzle our fearless leader with: “What does the O in your name stand for?” or “Can you still say anything in Chinese?” So during the break, I steeled myself, bounded forward to our magnate, straight past his outstretched hand and into an awkward hug. Upon release, I led with “So were you really a redhead at one time?” and when he responded with a resounding “YES!” I felt our soul friendship solidified enough to share my Papaw’s quip of how his hair had also “Turned red, Turned white, and then Turned Loose”. Our break was surprisingly shortened after that.

But this is the lesson I learned from my companion in curls:
But this is the lesson I learned from my companion in curls: being a ginger is nothing to be ashamed of. Ginger is a spice you know (and the coolest Spice Girl…just saying), and sometimes leadership takes a little spice. Sometimes, you have to bring the fire in the hair and apply it to out there. You never need an out-of-control wild fire, but sometimes a controlled burn can make a forest healthy again. It takes care of the weeds. And there is something to be said for people of passion who are trainable and humble of heart.

I have heard that King David’s ruddiness was attributed to his red hair.
I have heard that King David’s ruddiness was attributed to his red hair. Who knows, but sometimes it takes someone having a wild hair or two to be willing to run down a giant. Dr. Wood does it daily. Thank goodness there is a stubborn fire and passion still burning in the core of our neatly coiffed leader.

Be Willing to Share your Cookies…Especially the Good Ones

A few months ago I emailed Springfield and asked for a meeting with Dr. Wood. I mentioned I was with the PreacherGirls2.0 which I’m pretty sure was confused in Springfield with the much more professional and eloquent PreacherGirls (The Original), and we were miraculously granted admittance to the highest court in our fellowship for one whole hour.

PG’s2.0 were SO nervous. We were going to meet with THE WOOD and several of the executive presbyters. What would we do? What would we say? Could we all get matching outfits in time? Needless to say we were SO nervous when we showed up to headquarters in Springfield. I am not gonna lie, I needed two sets of dress shields that day. Sitting awkwardly in his waiting room area while he did important world business, we made seventh grade jokes, took selfies (of course), and tried to reverse the direction of moisture away from our palms and back into our cottonmouths.

The moment arrived when his imposing secretary summoned us forth
The moment arrived when his imposing secretary summoned us forth, and our commander and chief greeted us at the door with an outstretched hand. I immediately charged past and into yet another uncomfortable hug. Upon release, we stood dumbfounded and staring at a caravan of handcrafted camels, not knowing which direction to turn. I had seen a table filled with glorious towers of refreshments, but felt far too unimportant to entertain the idea that these delicacies were for us. However, within a few moments, our most generous potentate was graciously offering us access to the delectable goodies. They were for us. Not only had he gone out of his way to carve out an hour of his time, he invited his friends, and had made provisions ahead of time for us to have cookies (which was precisely what my 12-year-old inner child needed to self-soothe in this situation).

What I learned from Dr. Wood that day is that when you’re super cool, don’t horde all the cookies. Bring in the goofy pre-adolescent seventh graders and share generously. It makes them feel like they are important. It validates them. It takes the pressure off. It engenders them to you for life. It puts everyone at ease. What a gift. What a priceless gift of acceptance and generosity. And, I’m not gonna lie, Dr. Wood enjoys a good cookie, so much so that I felt comfortable enough to take a few home in my pocket book.

Don’t Ever Stop Wearing Your Dashiki

You would be super hard pressed to find Dr. Wood in anything but a dapper tailored suit and tie on most days, but there have been moments when I was quite surprised to see him in what was either a Hawaiian type button down or an African type short dashiki shirt. Our Superintendent is a trendsetter with a dry sense of humor. He has his own sense of style, and he is fearless (pun intended) in its expression. He isn’t trying to be anyone but himself. He is confident in who he is. He doesn’t do it to be garish, or make a political statement, and he doesn’t do it all the time. He wears what’s appropriate for every occasion so as not to offend, but he’s an individual, with an occasional expression of spice (Ginger-ly done of course). It makes me love him even more.

What I learn from this is, you don’t have to be uptight all the time. Sure we are leaders. Sure, some of us are admired and looked up to. But we don’t have to be stodgy and uptight 24/7 just because we think that’s what a leader should look like.

Take the suit off sometimes and wear your dashiki.
Take the suit off sometimes and wear your dashiki. Step out of your highly pressed power suit and put on humanity. Be an individual. Have a sense of humor. Don’t take everything so seriously. You don’t have to be offensive to be an individual either. You can still be highly respected as a leader while expressing yourself and your individuality. Be appropriate, but be yourself, and let others express themselves with integrity as well.

“Soul salvations happened. Tears fell. Warriors were born.”

Last night I went to jail with a determination I have never had. I was there to kick down doors.

This past week has been one of the most spiritually difficult of my life.
This past week has been one of the most spiritually difficult of my life. I am not trying to be obtuse or coy, but I can’t yet share the details why. Let’s just say I was leveled. The enemy of God had lobbed fiery darts into God’s camp and had struck some people very close to me, and it made me so mad. I felt so much anger and pain. I wasn’t sure where to direct my anger. I decided to use my spiritual eyes and see that I was not wrestling against flesh and blood. God showed me that I was fighting against principalities and powers that would love nothing more but to kill, steal, and destroy me, and all the ones I love, and that made me very angry. I asked God to let me fight and deal a blow to the devil, and last night HE was gracious and granted my prayer.

I walked into the devil’s territory last night
I walked into the devil’s territory last night and into a cell filled with ten faces, a few were new. The girl next to me was fighting her own battle. It was immediately obvious. She burst into tears and interrupted our time together with multiple trips to the toilet to vomit six feet away from me, punctuating my discourse about Jesus with her wretching. Slowly, a prayer request sheet made it’s way around the room, opening prayers were made, and we began with the question, “What does Jeremiah 29:11 mean to you?”. That’s as far as we got. New faces chimed in with “I can’t trust that this applies to me.“ and “I know God has more for me than the world has given me, but I can’t do it, I’ve failed so many times.” and “My circumstances don’t seem to make this verse true.”.

That’s when the Holy Ghost helped me remember
That’s when the Holy Ghost helped me remember the passage in Acts 16 about Paul and Silas in jail. I told the girls how as they worshiped and praised God with beaten aching backs, on a hard cold floor with shackles digging into their Achilles tendons, in the dark of night and the darkest of circumstances, that GOD Almighty broke through their impossible situation and shook the earth on their behalf. HE not only released them but all those who heard their voices. And on top of their release, HE made a way for Paul and Silas to lead their correctional officer and his whole family from hopelessness to an eternity with Jesus through their soul salvation. If Paul and Silas hadn’t walked through the beatings and imprisonment they would never have had this eternal reward. And then God took care of their backs and empty stomachs as well, because HE cares for them and their physical needs.

It was then that Cell 3 bowed their heads and began to pray. We prayed to the best of our abilities like Paul and Silas. We lifted the name of Jesus for all to hear. We praised God for every good thing we could think of. Women who have been beaten and imprisoned raised their voices in the dimly lit cell as one family and praised God in unison. And then God shook Cell 3. Spiritual chains began to fall off. Soul salvations happened. Tears fell. Warriors were born.

The sick girl next to me showed me her prayer request written long before our prayer. It said, “Having a really hard time right now. The Devil is trying me and I’m tired of fighting. I just want to lay it all down.”

She said through tears, “I wrote this before you talked about fighting the enemy tonight. God knew I needed to hear this.”

I told her, “God made plans for me to come tonight with this message for you. Years before you even knew you needed it HE was making provisions for your need tonight because HE loves you that much. You can’t stop fighting…not while you’re on my team.” To which she renewed her resolve and took up her Sword.

Another girl, who opened the door to Jesus for the first time last night wept. She couldn’t believe Jesus would save her. She couldn’t believe he had set her free from her past and addictions.

“I NEVER felt this good on the streets.
“I NEVER felt this good on the streets. I NEVER felt this good on drugs!” she wept. “I’ve been set free! It’s supernatural!”

Y’all, this is what miracles look like. This is what it looks like for chains of despair, that dig into the deep places of souls, to fall to the cold, hard ground. This is what it looks like for captives to be set free, for legacies to be changed, for eternities to be changed. This is what it looks like when warriors take up their calling. It is beautiful.

Please pray. Pray fervent prayers.
Please pray. Pray fervent prayers. Pray with us that God would give us more opportunities to share His Good News. Pray and cover us with prayers of protection, favor, and anointing. Then, join us in the ranks. Fight with us in this spiritual battle. Get mad. Get holy mad. And then go kick down some doors.

I love you, sweet friends. And I’m grateful to call you that. You are all such a blessing to me.

For HIS Kingdom and HIS glory,

Emily

“I am merely a FedEx-type worker on HIS behalf.”

Today I dropped off an application for one of my inmates to start her life over in a different city, while we continue to work and build a refuge for women like her in her city. I also learned of another young lady who wishes to follow in her footsteps and start her life over outside as well.

And in the height of that exciting news (and back-patting), I received a text letting me know that another one of my girls was back in jail and yet another had overdosed at 29 years old leaving two babies behind without a mother, and if I am totally honest I could not even remember her face. I had to look through my files to find her name. I could only find it one time, and next to it was written a prayer request, “Please, pray for the lost.”

Had I? Had I prayed for her and all the lost like her?
Had I? Had I prayed for her and all the lost like her? Had I pleaded enough for her life? If I had, would this have happened? Do I somehow have ownership in this senseless tragedy?

One moment I had been congratulating myself, and the next moment I felt like a complete failure. I failed her. If I had done more, prayed more, fasted more, spoken more passionately. If our home were up and running. If I had done more to raise the funds we need. I could have done more to save her, I thought.

I wanted desperately to wallow in the defeat of her death and simultaneously blame myself for being so prideful a moment earlier. Guilt and condemnation had my number. BUT, I kept hearing a voice inside that I feel certain must be Jesus saying, “You are not a Savior. This is not about you. This story is not yours. These lives are not yours. The gift you offer is not yours. They are Mine alone. The success is not yours and neither is the failure. MY Grace will NEVER depend on your performance.”

The truth of the matter is that pride exists not only when we pat ourselves on the back, but also when we wallow in defeat.
The truth of the matter is that pride exists not only when we pat ourselves on the back, but also when we wallow in defeat. Such arrogance I have shown, thinking this tragedy was mine to own. Thinking that her life and death, success or failure, hung on my provision, skills, access, abilities, resources.

I do not have hope to give. My job is to deliver HIS hope. I do not have the ability to save. All I have is a finger that can point to a Savior. My words have no power, no authority, no life in them without; they are HIS. HE alone is the gift-giver, she alone can receive the gift.

I am merely a FedEx-type worker on HIS behalf.
I am merely a FedEx-type worker on HIS behalf. The gift was sent, I did my best to deliver the package, but she refused to receive it. I am deeply sad that she refused because I know what was inside and how it could have changed everything for her forever, but I can’t even imagine how sad HE is because I know what it cost HIM to send it, and the love that went into it.

My heart aches not just for her loss and her children, but for the ultimate rejection of HIM.

For those of you who think missionaries and pastors are heroes, and for those of us who believe ourselves to be; we are not. I am not. You and I are just the messengers.