Hillsong worship leader Darlene Zschech had spent her life lifting spirits, but when breast cancer struck in 2013, she needed her own spirit lifted.
“What I found in my ‘valley of the shadow of death’ is the presence of God,” she says on a CBN video. “I realized you can only have shadow if there is light. It’s just a fact that God doesn’t leave us.”
Famous for her 1993 song “Shout to the Lord,” Darlene led worship at Hillsong Church from 1996 to 2007, after which she and her husband founded Hope Unlimited Church in 2011 in New South Wales Australia.
Amazingly, it is estimated that “Shout to the Lord” gets sung by 30 million church-goers every Sunday.
A television star from childhood, Darlene developed insecurities after her parents divorced when she was 13. As a result, she fell into bulimia for about four years.
“It took a long time for that (the wounds from the divorce) to heal,” Darlene says on SWCS Australia. “But now, I have got a real compassion for kids in that situation. It is now the rule, not the exception. Our next generation is definitely going to need answers. Divorce can definitely leave scars.”
When her dad returned to church, he took Darlene, who at 15 accepted Christ. She met and married Mark, and the couple worked as youth pastors in Brisbane. Mark felt called to Sydney, while Darlene didn’t want to go because she had just rekindled her relationship with her mom. Read the rest: Darlene Zschech cancer battle
On the very night Jerry Arterburn accepted Jesus at a church camp, the 5-year-old was also molested by the pastor’s son.
“When that molestation occurred, it ignited something in him that he didn’t think other guys had to struggle with,” his brother Stephen says on a Pure Passion Media video. “It produced an uneasiness with relationships with women.”
Jerry died of AIDS on June 13, 1988, at a time when the epidemic was raging largely unchecked and medical science was trying to figure out how to tame it.
“When my brother and I moved to Laguna (Beach, California) at the same time, there was another person who moved to Laguna. He was identified as Patient 0,” Stephen says. “This was a flight attendant who flew around the world and slept with about 2,000 different people. He infected so many people in that town that the AIDS virus was extremely virulent in there. I watched business after business close because there was such a high per capita gay population there. They were dying right and left.”
Before Jerry’s death, Stephen began to formulate the best way to encourage his brother to come back to Christ.
“I loved him. But I knew that what he was doing was wrong,” he says. “I wasn’t trying to convince him that he was wrong. I just tried to find a way to have a relationship with him that I could love him with.”
There were three Arterburn boys who grew up with a mom who bitterly hid her father’s suicide and a dad who was “redneck, disconnected,” Stephen says. All three sons went prodigal from their otherwise “strong Christian household” in Texas.
Stephen — who now is an author, a radio host and the founder of New Life Ministries — thought he was the worst rebel of the lot because he forced his girlfriend (attending Bible college) to get an abortion.
Jerry, who loved design and became an architect, didn’t immediately show how he was getting off course.
Stephen describes his brother as “the moral one” who owned up to his mistake, while Stephen was actually the immoral one who had slept with many young women.
“I hadn’t slept with a man. I killed my own baby,” Stephen confesses.
Jerry was about to get married, but it was called off. Both had frequent fights. Still, no one really knew why the wedding was called off.
When Jerry, at age 26, was appointed to a city planning post in Easley, South Carolina, he met a man who took him to a gay bar. He had never had sex before, but that night, “my brother felt like he was at home,” Stephen says.
“He felt total acceptance, freedom — all this stuff that he had never known: all of this love, affection, connection,” Stephen says.
From then on, it was relationship after relationship. When Jerry and Stephen both, by chance, moved to Laguna Beach, they started reconnecting. Sometimes in their talks they would debate. One topic that came up was whether homosexuality was right or wrong.
Stephen, who had come back to the Lord by now, stuck to his guns — until he realized the reason why his brother was arguing the aberrant position. His brother was gay.
As soon as Stephen found out, the arguments were over. A new phase in their relationship started, one of reaching out to Jerry with love and acceptance, though not approval of his sin.
“I was able to develop a close relationship with him, and then he got sick. I’m so glad I did because he needed me. I’m so glad he felt safe with me, that I could be there with him when he needed a lot of help — just getting up and going to the bathroom. He lost 100 pounds. It was horrible. He looked like something out of a concentration camp.”
Devastated by the news that not only their son was gay but also had AIDS, the “redneck ” father visited Jerry in the hospital and said, “You’re coming home with us. We’re going to help you through this.”
The Southern Baptist Church of his parents, instead of ostracizing Jerry, were loving and inclusive. (The Southern Baptists were conservative on social acceptance at a time when much of America was unmoved by the AIDS crisis.)
“We loved him when he was (younger). We’re going to love him through this,” a deacon said, according to Stephen. “Here’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to go over to his house and we’re going to lay hands on him and pray for him to be healed… Whatever his insurance doesn’t cover for his treatment of AIDS, this church is going to pay for. Whenever his brothers want to come in and see him, we’ll pay their air fare.” Read the rest: How to treat LBGTQ family members if you’re Christian
When accosted by a stranger in New York City, Keisha Omilana politely declined to give out her phone number, but as she was about to board a train to head for a modeling audition, her women’s intuition took over.
“You know what? You’re not dating anybody,” she told herself. “And he was cute!”
Because of the risky decision to give a total stranger her number, Keisha today is a Nigerian princess – royalty!
That’s because the guy requesting her number was Prince Adekunle “Kunle” Adebayo Omilana from the Arugbabuwo ruling house in Nigeria.
But she didn’t know that until AFTER she said yes when he took a knee.
They dated for two years, and then he sprung the question. When she accepted, he explained that he was African royalty, with lots and lots of money.
Today, the Omilanas are strong Christians, and they’re using their money to finance church planting in Africa. Prince Adekunle is managing partner and chief executive officer of Wonderful Media, a European Christian television network which on Facebook identifies itself: “He is Life, His name is Wonderful and life is Wonderful.”
Nigerian royalty — like European royalty — exercises a symbolic role with little real power, but the Omilanas leverage a good example and preaching to the conscience of the nation to cement Christianity in Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy.
That’s significant because Nigeria stands to become a new center of gravity for worldwide Christianity. Nigeria has already begun sending missionaries into Europe in what many see as a paradigm shift for missions.
In the next 20 years, Nigeria is poised to become the fourth most populous country in the world — surpassing Russia. They’re on track to having the largest evangelical population in the world. Soon the majority of Christians worldwide are going to be non-white.
With 400,000 Nigerian immigrants in the U.S. with an average income level above white Americans, Nigeria can join hands with mission leaders on an equal footing to chart the future spread of the Gospel worldwide.
Don’t be surprised if the Omilanas sit on that board.
Keisha was born in Inglewood, a small city in the middle of the vast Los Angeles metropolis. Her birth town was awash with poverty and overrun with gang violence, but Keisha grew up safe and sound.
She moved to Chicago to study fashion but switched from designer to model. At first she timidly embarked on the career with Ford Models. But her striking beauty opened doors. She represented Pantene, L’Oreal, CoverGirl, Revlon, and Maybelline.
Keisha became the first African-American woman to be featured in three consecutive Pantene commercials, earning the moniker “The Pantene Girl”.
She appeared in the movie Zoolander and the television shows 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live.
Keisha was lost in New York City while looking for another audition when Prince Kunle discovered her.
He was in a meeting at the W Hotel when he saw her in a phone booth, trying to get the directions straight from her agent. Prince Kunle excused himself from the table and went out to see her. He waited 45 minutes for her to get off the phone, at which time he approached her.
Thirteen-year-old Markell Taylor wanted to be just like his stepdad, who was a pimp, a rapper, a womanizer and a drunk.
“I idolized him,” Markell says. “People thought he was cool. My own father was not in the picture and my mom was in and out of prison. He was the one male figure in my life. He had money, so he would buy expensive cars and expensive clothes. He would buy them for me. You’re a little kid and you’re getting hooked up. I thought he had something going on.”
In response to this role modeling, Markell became a runner for a drug dealer. He dropped out of school. He used methamphetamines and he took advantage of girls. “I had all these insecurities because I was hurting and lonely and I didn’t know why I wasn’t worth it for my real dad to stick around,” he said. “But I put on a mask of confidence to get in girls’ pants.”
From middle school onward, Markell was the life of the party. He had the drugs, so he got it started.
But while he was admired for his swagger and brazenness, his future began to dim. He variously lived with his stepdad in Wendover, Nevada, his grandmother in Las Vegas — and homeless shelters. He was arrested for domestic violence against his mother and police were investigating crimes he had participated in.
“I was out of control,” he recalls. “One time I told my mom I was going to kill the guy who sold me some bad drugs. I wasn’t really going to do it, but I acted like it. She tried to take me to the police, but I jumped out of the car while she was driving.”
At age 14, his mom and stepdad wanted to escape their reputation at Wendover and move to Salt Lake City to get a fresh start in life. Markell didn’t last one day there without his arrest.
Again it was a case of domestic violence. He hit his mom with a pillow, he says, and she freaked out and called the cops. When the police handcuffed him, they asked if there was a gun. Markell stood up to show them his arm, but the police thought he was going to attempt a fight, so they tackled him again.
The cops hauled him off to jail.
“As soon as I got into the back of the patrol car, I started crying like a little baby,” Markell says. “Up until then, I had pretty much gotten away with everything I did.” Read the rest of Markell Taylor, street hood pastor rap artist.
Karina Lahood never wanted welfare, but because she was afraid she would lose custody of her five boys when she suddenly became a single mom, she felt compelled to go on government support.
After two years of striving to overcome her circumstances, Karina worked and earned enough to pass the wage threshold and get off food stamps, Medicaid and all other government support.
Ironically, through her hard work, she was worse off than when she got free benefits. She had to continue to build her business to make it into the clear.
“They make it so easy to stay in that system,” Karina says. “Jesus said that the government would be on his shoulders. I didn’t want the government to support me. I said, ‘Jesus I need you to rescue me.’ It’s a generational system. God doesn’t want you to depend on the government. He wants you to depend on Him.”
Many Christians believe that Christ’s mandate to care for certain vulnerable segments of the population should be carried out by government. Others, including Karina, see government usurping God and the church in the role of charity. When it comes to social care, the government is notoriously inefficient, they say.
“The government gives you so many benefits. If you’re not motivated, you will be stuck in the system,” Karina says. “In any life crisis, we become paralyzed in the system, you go comatose, you become a frog in the kettle.”
Today, Karina Lahood is a proud business owner placing foreign students in caring homes where they can sleep, eat and practice English with an American family while they attend language school.
Her life has been a long lesson of learning to lean on Jesus. Anna Karina Elisabeth Wilson was born to a Swedish immigrant homemaker. Many years later she realized she had a Christian heritage in Sweden; he grandmother was a Pentecostal Christian with a heart-to-heart relationship with Jesus.
Karina and her two sisters grew up playing on the “Tarzan swing” dad hooked up on the one-acre property in Arcadia, California. Dad was always busy running a taxicab business. Only later did Karina find out he was a functional alcoholic.
Her family only went to church occasionally and Karina wished it was more often, but when a half-sister came to live with them, Karina learned to smoke pot from her while in middle school. She excelled at swimming but without parental support, she dropped that and fell into rebellion.
“I was an emotional mess in high school,” she admits.
When representatives of the California Conservation Corps came to her high school, she got hooked on their logo: “Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions and more,” she says. During the summer, she rode a Greyhound Bus to Angels Camp, California, where she worked environmental projects and responded to natural and man-made disasters.
The next year, she got her GED and joined a fire-fighting crew in the mountains. They cut fire lines, attended to fish and game hatcheries, tagged salmon, picked cones and dug fence holes in the Stanislaus National Forest.
“At night we partied and got drunk,” she says. “The state had night watchmen, but they didn’t really monitor anything.”
One friend drove drunk off a mountain road and died.
Sin demanded more and more of her attention. She had two abortions.
Going from job to job, neighborhood to neighborhood, relationship to relationship, Karina finally was invited to live in a Christian home with a the pastor and his wife and their six children.
“I couldn’t understand how someone with six kids wanted to have someone else live with them,” she remembers.
The pastor’s wife was very patient and loving and slowly brought her to Christ. In 1994, she married and started her own family. It was a picture perfect family with a house and a dog, but it was not to last.
Karina and her husband divorced.
“I felt betrayed, rejected and angry,” Karina remembers. “I had no vision. I only wanted our boys to feel loved and secure when my world was crashing.” Read the rest: She fought to get off welfare.
As a Muslim, Khaleed Matmati was skeptical that Jesus would take away the pain from his mouth infection. But after prayer he was so astonished that the pain was gone the next morning.
“I started punching myself in my face, trying to make some kind of pain in my teeth and my face,” Khaleed says on a CBN video. “I realized Jesus was God. I just told Him, ‘Okay, Jesus, I give you my life.’”
Khaleed grew up as a Muslim immigrant who wasn’t particularly drawn to the rigorous disciplines of Islam. What drew him was music.
“I always believed that Allah was God,” he says. “But growing up in high school I wanted to have fun. I saw everybody else having fun. What’s fun about not smoking pot? What’s fun about not drinking? What’s fun about not partying? I thought, ‘Later on when I become a parent and have children, then I’ll be a good Muslim.’”
When worship leader Eddie James met Khaleed, the Lord spoke to him about taking Khaleed on the road with him. Even though Khaleed wasn’t Christian, Eddie James hired him because God had told him that Khaleed would convert.
“It was right after 9/11 had happened, and Eddie was not trying to take no Muslim into his ministry,” Khaleed says now laughing.
Khaleed didn’t care for the religion. What he liked was the chance to learn music. ”I thought this was my big break,” he says. “I wanted to learn what I could from Eddie and go and do my own thing.”
His initial sign from God was on his first stop in Nashville Tennessee.
It started off with his friend David, who got bitten by a bug, which later began to swell.
They were staying in a Christian’s house and the mother of the household announced she would pray for David.
“This lady has gotta be out of her mind,” Khaleed thought to himself at the time. “Jesus healing a hand? That’s the stuff they do on TV. Who believes that crap?”
She prayed, and then — to Khaleed’s astonishment — the swelling went down.
“Right in front of my face, the swelling goes away,” Khaleed remembers. “You couldn’t even tell anything was wrong with his hand.”
After he saw that, Khaleed wondered if he himself could be healed. He had been experiencing pain due to an infection in his mouth and gums.
“Can you do for my mouth what I saw you do for his hand?” he asked.
“When she started praying for me, the pain was gone,” he recalls. “I needed a minute to comes to grips with what just happened. I remember sitting in the chair after she prayed for me thinking, ‘Oh my God, my whole life is going to change.’”
Still, Khaleed was not ready to ditch Islam. So he thought that perhaps the painkillers he’d been taking had finally kicked in. They asked him if he was healed. He responded: “Let me tell you in the morning” after the painkillers will have worn off.
The next morning, he woke up and began munching sugar molasses cookies. As he savored them, he swished them around in his mouth trying to re-provoke the pain.
“There was absolutely no pain,” he says. “I began to really start freaking out. I began to start punching myself in the face, trying to make some kind of pain in my teeth and in my mouth. I realized that Jesus was God. Read the rest: what happens when Muslims get healed by Jesus?
All the praying to Allah did little good for Jazal Khatri, whose parents fought contiually and finally divorced.
But when a co-worker’s prayers calmed her panic attack, Jazal experienced a peace never before felt.
“I can no longer think that I’m worthless because if my name is written on God’s hand, as Isaiah 49 mentions, that means He always cares about me,” says Jazal on a 700 Club video. “
Jazal (now with a new last name, Osorio, as a married woman) grew up in a strict Muslim family in America.
“I believed that staying true to Islam was something my parents and I would bond over,” she says. “As I did as they requested me to do — like going to the mosque with them, participating in Ramadan fasting — it would bring us closer.”
The hoped-for result never materialized. Instead, she and her mom would flee at midnight frequently.
“I could go to bed thinking everything’s fine and wake up the next morning and it would be disaster,” she says.
And Allah responded with no peace when she prayed.
“Allah seemed really distant for me. I didn’t really feel like I was being listened to. I felt more of like I was going through the motions. I was not really feeling anything in return from god, any love or support or hope. I wanted.
“I wanted that peace that people keep talking about that Islam represents and I didn’t ever feel that.”
When she was a senior in high school, her father called it quits to the tumultuous marriage. Subsequently, mom started a new family.
“After I went through all that with my family, I kind of felt like I wasn’t worthy of any affection or love,” she recounts. “I looked for it from my parents and didn’t get it. It was kind of a reminder: Hey Jazal, you’re not that great. If you were great, your family wouldn’t have left you behind.” Read the rest: no peace in the ‘religion of peace.’
Before his influence, hip hop was a backwater movement off most people’s radar. Then Joseph Simmons and his group Run DMC brought rap to the mainstream in the mid 1980s and suddenly it became an international sensation.
Joseph Simmons banked millions, landed his own $2.0 million Adidas shoe deal and had innumerable adoring fans. A few albums later, he had fallen off.
One member of the trio was murdered, another was lost in drugs, and Joseph Simmons, succumbing to alcoholism, was left scratching his head wondering why the genre he helped found had all but forgotten him. His wife was divorcing him. He was accused of rape. His fame, finances and family were frittering away.
Thankfully the New York native turned to God.
“There are always your darkest moments before the birth of a beautiful thing. Rev Run at his low point was not quite Rev Run,” he says, speaking in third person about himself, to the Guardian. “He was trying to understand this great thing that was happening to him. There was a time to reap, a time to sow. A time for it to be sunny outside and a time when it’s so dark you have no option but to just be or you’ll go nuts.”
“Records sales weren’t as high as they was (sic),” he says on NPR. “I was a little unhappy with what was going on so I started going to church. And when I started going to church I started to feel better. Things were starting to look brighter for me. I started to see that learning the principles of God was helping to shape my life better.”
As the rap genre turned dark and promoted drugs and gang violence, Simmons turned to church. It was a former Run DMC bodyguard, Bobby Walker, who finding Run wallowing in depression persuaded him to attend New York’s Zoe Ministries Church in 1990. Within five years Run had gone from usher to ordained minister, donning the moniker Reverend Run.
Today, the 55-year-old who once rapped Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” on colab now teaches people to “walk His way” and preaches an aggressive, rhapsodic message wherever he’s invited: “You must be born again, my friend, or you’re going straight to hell,” Southcoast Today quoted him at a 1996 church service.
As a Pentecostal pastor, Rev Run was turning heads. In 2005, he got the chance to bring God’s truths about family and marriage to a reality show on MTV.
Yes, you read that right. MTV — that profane purveyor of hedonism, anti-God-ism and ADD — the last a result of the rapid fire succession of endless images to music. It was MTV where potty-mouthed Ozzy Osbourne, the satanic concert chicken-head decapitator, had his reality show. It was an imponderable spot for a reverend to be preaching — or rather practicing what he preaches.
MTV was also an extraordinary opportunity to shine light into an incredible dark space, and he was given the opportunity to dispense sound spiritual advice on “Run’s House” because of his previous work as Run DMC’s front man. Now he had, instead of platinum sales, an eternal view toward streets of gold. Read the rest: How did Rev Run become Christian?
Young Noah was succeeding wildly in the secular rap game while his life was going down the drain, but he turned things around after he nearly got shot to pieces.
“Duck,” God told him.
“I ducked down in the car and pushed my buddy’s head down into the steering wheel,” he says on a 2016 Testimony Stories video. “The next thing I knew there were shots fired and glass was just flying everywhere,” “It was at that moment I realized that I was about to die.”
He had been trying to help some girls escape a college party, and “a hundred football guys, drunk and high and out of their minds” chased him down because they wanted the girls, he says. He had pulled out a non-working gun to scare them off and keep from getting beat up. They had run off but returned before Noah and his buddy could escape in their car. They had at least one gun, and it worked.
William Noah Bohannon aka Young Noah was born in Neunan, Georgia, into a family so Christian that he wasn’t hardly aware of the world. He accepted Jesus at a young age and got baptized. He was being home-schooled, but when he attended secular high school he got involved in hip hop, alcohol, marijuana, gangs and robbery.
“It was weird to grow up in church and end up so far away from God,” he says. “Church and growing up in church can’t save your soul. It kind of shapes you, but eventually you have to make a decision whether or not you’re going to allow God to live in you and cause you to do good works. Church can’t save you. You need to accept Christ. You need to have a regeneration in your mind. You have to be born-again.”
Winning a rap contest, he was given the chance to record in Los Angeles. By the time he got there, however, God had already orchestrated events to the point that he was already questioning his great breakthrough.
“I found myself succeeding in this dark industry,” he says. “At the same time I began to wonder if God really approved of my lifestyle. I knew that if I was really going to be a Christian, I was going to have to let this music thing go. I told my manager, I told the record company, I told everybody that I couldn’t continue. Read the rest: Young Noah’s testimony
One woman’s husband died at war while she was pregnant. Another lost 198 Jewish family members during the Holocaust. A man witnessed the sexual abuse of his sister and withdrew into himself, drinking excessively to deaden the memory.
How do you move beyond life’s pain and suffering? Between the Lines, Beyond the Pain examines that question and weighs why some people never recover from the injustices of our fallen world.
The author, Dawn Forman, personally experienced her own torment when she was raped by her step-dad.
Remarkably, she makes the case for compassion — and empathy — for everyone. She urges her readers to stop judging others or writing them off. She exhorts them to greater understanding, valuing everyone.
“The stars cannot be seen until they are set against ebony background of the night sky,” Forman writes. “So it is with people… (they) shine as stars (when we learn) what they have endured or overcome in their lives.”
Forman is a poet and includes some of her poems in the small volume. In the process of overcoming pain, poetry can be part of the healing journey, as evidenced by David in the Psalms.
Forman was born in the San Fernando Valley to an angry, distant father, who never processed his childhood trauma and lashed out at those around him, including his three girls.
“Though I have found much healing,” she says, “I still bear scars.”
Absent a loving father, Forman became promiscuous. Sex, drugs and the under-21 dance club “The Sugar Shack” were part of the equation.
“Emotionally crippled by my formative years spent with my father, the choices I began to make as a teenager reflect my aching soul,” she narrates in the autobiographical volume. “Unworthy, unloved and unequal to those around me, I was always searching for a place where I felt I belonged. This left me extremely vulnerable. Male attention became like a drug itself. I was gouging multiple, deeper scars into my already wounded heart and soul.”
Her parents divorced when she was 16. She started spending more time with friends as lost as herself. Quaaludes, cocaine, barbiturates and angel dust became her thing, all to the beat of David Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel.”
She went from hanging out with drug addicts to hanging out with drug dealers. Once she got accused of being a narc at a satanic party in San Francisco. Several times she had brushes with death.
After a three-day drug binge, she overdosed. Only then did she think of the Jesus freaks she ridiculed when she passed them on the sidewalk. They told her Jesus loved her and had a plan for her; she sneered and moved on. But when she overdosed, she remembered.
“My life was a miserable mess,” she recalls. “In my eyes, I was a pathetic waste of flesh, a failure, unlovable wretch, full of anger and pain.”
For piping hot yet tender delicious fillets, a bamboo steamer is ideal! The trick is to line the basket trays with lettuce leaves (Romaine works well). I put lemon slices in with the lettuce so that the juices can saturate the fillet. Try 1 ½ lb of cod, halibut or salmon. Depending on the thickness of the filet, it will take 4 to 12 minutes; the flesh should whiten and lose its translucent appearance.
As a three year old, Ada Betsabe Ruiz would sing in the church and wind up crying under the power of the Holy Spirit.
But when she was 14, she left the church because of controlling and abusive leaders. She became a skeptic and rebelled against everything she had learned. God had been “misrepresented” to her, so she turned her back on Him.
As an immigrant from the Dominican Republic with her parents, she lived from age three in New York’s Bronx where people blasted from cars either salsa, bachata or hip hop. Biggie and Pun enthralled her, and she started mimicking and composing verses herself.
With no moral compass, Ada fell into lesbianism. She began a formal relationship in 2012 with a domestic partner who had no background in Christianity. Their home was adorned with Buddhas and crystals. “We were both really searching,” she says.
Ada launched a secular hip hop career in English, and she was gaining notoriety. She got a handler and was at the point of signing a major record label. She attended a music conference in Los Angeles in April 2014 to interview with executives.
But the bosses and her new friends did more than just worldly music; they were into Luciferianism, and they invited Ada to participate. They drank wine mixed with blood and apparently performed human sacrifices. Somebody in the cult died mysteriously during the conference, Ada tells God Reports.
Frightened by what she saw and by what was happening, Ada declined to join.
“I had the opportunity to be a part of it, but instead decided to run to Jesus,” she says.
She never signed the record deal and, no longer “skeptical” about the reality of supernatural things, went to her Airbnb in Hollywood to reconcile with Jesus.
“I was terrified after the things that took place in LA,” Ada says. “This situation, however, proved to me that evil was real and good was real.”
When Valerie Gatto’s uncommon beauty allowed her to win the Miss Pennsylvania pageant in 2014, it was impossible to imagine she was a product of rape.
Her mom was only 19 and planning on law school when she was attacked at knifepoint, raped and nearly killed.
The assailant wanted to prevent his victim from going to the cops by silencing her permanently, but an unusual flash of light scared him and he ran from the scene.
How does light emerge from the depths of darkness and despair?
“Mom always told me I was her light,” she told LifeSite News.
Valerie found out about her conception in the third grade when, when she wondered why she didn’t have a father like other kids and asked her mom.
Absorbing this difficult news, she never accepted an attitude of victimhood. Her mother, who had to abandon her plans for law school to take care of her baby, brought her to church and got Valerie involved in social outreach.
She was raised by her mother and grandparents in a stable, loving home.
“I knew God put me here for a purpose, and He’s the reason my mother and I were saved,” she told CBN. Mom “always would tell me I was her light. I am the light to illuminate the darkness for all to see, and I look at it from that moment of conception, there has been that light associated with darkness.”
Valerie got involved in clothing drives, giving gifts to children in hospital care, and Operation Dear Abby, which gives cards to U.S. military members stationed overseas, according to LifeSite.
“I live my life not thinking of it as something negative but looking at how to turn a negative into a positive,” Valerie told CBN Read the rest abortion in case of rape.
Merari Rodriguez earned the nickname “the Black Widow.”
“The black widow lures her mate and after she’s done, she kills him,” Merari says in a 700 Club video. “And that’s exactly what I was doing.”
Her father left when she was just 6, and her mom was working many jobs. Merari was always with a babysitter, who happened to be married to a police officer. The cop exploited little Merari for a year.
“The words he would speak to me were so controlling. I remember him putting such fear in me,” she remembers. “The message he was telling me pretty much was that I belonged to him. I felt like it was my fault. The hatred for myself began to build.”
Her mother eventually picked up on the activity and intervened to put a stop to it. But when Merari was 11 years old, a family friend took advantage of her. Her mother confronted him with Merari present, and the man opened the Bible in front of them, put his hand on top and swore to his innocence.
When Merari saw his total lack of fear or respect for God, she assumed, “God does not exist.”
“I decided right there that I would never want to hear in my life of God or the name of God — ever,” she recalls with tears.
She started to act out of rebellion by drinking, smoking, skipping school.
Merari also encountered many abusive relationships and had three kids while she was still a teenager.
“I felt like I had become a label,” she says. “I felt like I had written all over myself: ‘I’m fatherless, I’m alone, and I have no protection so come and hurt me, use me, and abuse me.”
When Merari was 18 she thought she found the answer through witchcraft and Goth subculture.
“They seemed so together and always talking about power and how you could now have the power to control someone else,” she says. “All of my life I was controlled. Now I wanted to control those around me.”
She was baptized into witchcraft and given a special name.
Merari began casting spells to control people around her. Now she felt like she could protect herself.
She continued in the occult, but when the other witches wanted to initiate her children, Merari drew the line. She moved out of town and wanted a fresh start. She thought she had moved on, but at home one night she had a hair-raising vision.
“I see this beast just standing in a yard and it was a form of a lion, but he was awful-looking,” Merari says. “And I look and he opens his mouth and I noticed someone is in his mouth, and so I yell out ‘Oh my God, help! He’s got someone in his mouth!’ and when he turned the person right before he’s going to swallow, I looked and I saw it was me.
“And I saw myself and he began to squeeze, and I could hear my bones cracking and I could hear myself gasping for air and blood just gush out of my mouth,” she remembers.
Then she heard a different voice, one that she didn’t recognize but wasn’t one to stir fear. It was soothing.
“Merari, I’ve been calling you for a long time,” the voice beckoned. “If you don’t come to me now, he’s going to kill you.”
Somehow she knew the voice belonged to God. She asked for time, but God spoke a soft word to her that melted her heart.
Tobe Nwigwe’s dreams of making the NFL pulverized when the top-ranked linebacker suffered a career-ending foot injury. On lengthy bedrest, with no one visiting him, his crutches out of reach, his left leg in a full cast, the University of North Texas MVP and captain had to Army-crawl to the bathroom. That’s where, lying on the floor, he broke down.
“Tears were coming strong down my face,” he says on a Behind the Artist video. “I was on some real carnal stuff with God, like ‘Why would You do this to me. I didn’t kill nobody. I ain’t robbed nobody. I’m bad, but I’m not as bad.’ It was at that moment on the bathroom floor that God was like, ‘You have lost your identity in the game, and you have purpose in your life outside of your circumstances and your situation.’”
The injury represented a major reset for the man who once thought “you have to suck at football” to need to devise a Plan B. Today, Tobechukwu Nwigwe helps drifting youth avoid gangs, violence and drugs by discovering their God-given purpose.
“If you would’ve asked me what my purpose was back in college, I promise you I would’ve said something like, ‘Hit the league, money, cars, clothes,’” he says. “I literally got to the lowest of the lows because the only thing I ever dedicated all of my time, effort and energy to was football and when that was gone, I literally had to rethink life. I became like a monk as it relates to the study of purpose. Once I was able to cut off the mania of the world, I was able to figure out who I am and what my calling is and what my natural gifts are.”
His hip-hop has blasted through the stratosphere with millions of views on YouTube. Tobe is the T.S. Elliot of rap. Elliot was the most heralded poet of the 20th century who led readers to “certain half-deserted streets.” Tobe takes his listeners to the SWAT — South West Alief, Houston, the roughest of slums where he “dropped a bullet” in the fourth grade and got treated like “King Arthur with his sword raised.”
Tobe evokes the poignant experience of being a poor child of immigrant parents and fighting to survive in much of his music. He was a “hard-headed” kid who smoked weed, listened to Biggie and snuck out at night, to the chagrin of his mom, who prayed for him and counseled him. They were five kids in one room.
Tobe discovered he was good at football and won a scholarship to North Texas, where he ranked #5 nationally in tackles and reading defenses, a good foundation for an NFL career. The dream was coming true until his teammate fell on his foot, causing the “best worst injury of my life,” he says.
“It ended my football career. It made me think of who is Tobe outside of the Tobe the football player,” he says. “I had to realize that before I was in the sport, I had a purpose. It was a blessing in disguise.”
He planned to recover from the injury and try out for the NFL, but “God shut almost every single door to football and halted a whole bunch of stuff in my life until I made a conscious decision to let my little dreams die and move in the direction with the non profit organization,” he says.
The injury brought him close to the God of his parents, and the God of his parents brought him to his purpose: a non profit that he launched in 2016 called TeamGINI (from “Gini Bu Nkpa Gi?” — Igbo for “What’s your purpose?”) which brought “edu-tainment” to high schoolers. If there is no meaning to life, all the kids would fall into “the trap” — rap speak for a hood out of which you escape only by jail or a casket. By imbuing their existence with purpose, it is hoped kids will choose college and meaning.
It was a stroke of genius born of his own “monk-like” quest to find his own purpose. And it led him to stage two in his life: he linked up with motivational speaker PhD Eric Thomas, the “hip hop preacher.” ET, as he goes by, was making waves in Texas encouraging African Americans to dream big. On a fluke, Tobe called him and got him on the line.
“We don’t have any money right now,” Tobe told the man he watched “religiously.” “But as soon as we have some money, we want to have you come.”
ET declined the speaker’s fees and came for free. What he saw surprised him. Tobe moved the high school kids at the event as a warm-up for ET. Reportedly, ET had never seen anybody move the crowd in that way.
So he signed Tobe to be part of his motivational speakers team.
Then, team members found his Facebook page and watched a video of him free-styling. It was a video made with the family that was only meant to be fun and funny. ET thought Tobe had talent and wanted his ministry to branch out into the music of the community. ETA Records was born with Tobe as their first artist.
It wasn’t long before Tobe outgrew the team. He began uploading new music every single Sunday. His then-girlfriend, Ivory, would twist tufts of his hair on the couch as he would sing. The set was called “getTWISTEDsundays.” LaNell Grant, the kid sister of a high school football chum, produced the beats. Read the rest about Tobe Nwigwe, from football to rap.
Bob Hamilton was still a college student in the throes of getting a medical degree and becoming a doctor when his young wife delivered shocking news.
She was pregnant.
“How did this happen?” he wondered almost out loud. “What are we going to do now?”
A line of well-meaning friends and fellow students began to lecture them: having a child at such a young age, while in medical school, while scrimping finances, would “destroy us both, along with any career plans,” he remembers. They spoke “with great authority.”
“What we discovered was quite the opposite,” says Dr. Bob in his new book 7 Secrets of the Newborn: Secrets and (Happy) Surprises of the First Year.
The stated goal of the book is to reassure overly-worried newlyweds that parenting is still possible in the perfection-obsessed 2010s and that having children is delightful. It might as well have been a how-to guide as he delves into the nitty-gritty details of changing diapers, scheduling sleep and coping with colic.
Robert Hamilton is a Christian pediatrician in Santa Monica who has led medical teams into Africa and Latin America for 20 years. His viral video “The Hold” — showing how to stop an infant’s crying by wrapping his arms and holding him at 45 degrees — created a sensation and put him on the world’s radar. Currently clocking 37 million views, the 4-minute video earned him the moniker “The Baby Whisperer.”
First he calmed babies, now he’s calming anxiety-ridden parents: Relax and enjoy the cute critters.
The book spends considerable time describing the wonder and beauty of babies in scientific detail. With elegant prose, it evokes images as if it were a documentary inside and outside of the womb. It leaves the reader with a sensation of awe and wonder.
When Ayesha Curry tweeted that women should dress modestly, a maelstrom of criticism rained down on her from people who felt she was “shaming” women.
”Its okay for Ayesha Curry to have a preference for how she dresses,” retorted Brandon Patterson a day later in December 2015. “It’s not okay for her to shame other women who don’t share it as classless.”
When it comes to strong faith, Ayesha Curry, wife to NBA sensation Stephen Curry, is a very passionate Christian. She also is the author of the best selling cookbook The Seasoned Life: Food, Family, Faith, and the Joy of Eating Well. She began her career by posting videos of herself cooking on YouTube, which have also featured Steph Curry.
Ayesha invented a meal kit called “Homemade” which delivers family inspired ingredients and recipes that she handpicked herself. The meals are available in the San Francisco Bay area through Whole Foods or can be ordered in 48 states for $75 per week.
Ayesha also thinks about the community. She is an active brand ambassador for team FNV and No Kid Hungry, which are organizations built to end worldwide child hunger.
Her love for cooking and giving back to the community brings out her happy side. But her opinion on apparel brings out controversy.
“Everyone’s into barely wearing clothes these days huh?” tweeted Ayesha on the fifth of December in 2015,” Not my style. I like to keep the good stuff covered up for the one who matters.”
A backlash came immediately.
”Sounds as if Ayesha Curry thinks her body/other women’s bodies are like consumer goods marketed exclusively for use by men, or something,” tweeted Félicicette La Critique Ayesha.
“@ayeshacurry you’re tearing women down by saying that certain types of dresses make them not ‘classy,’” tweeted Paige.
Some people defended Ayesha.
“Twitter feminists: your body, your rules! Ayesha Curry: I prefer to be covered up. Twitter feminists: No, you can’t do that,” tweeted Kingdakkar.
Ayesha responded, “Regardless of if you like my “style of clothes” or not (which I don’t care) please do not tear women down and degrade them… Not cool peeps” Read the rest of Ayesha Curry modesty controversy.
Jourdan Ortiz first got free from the witch, then from the Hebrew Israelites.
When his parents got divorced, Mom was distraught and went to the witch “doctor.” Little Jourdan thought that the waiting room looked very similar to a regular medical office.
But when he went in the patient room, his stomach turned from a bitter smoke smell. His mom took off his shirt and rubbed oil on his body. Then the “doctor” blew cigar smoke on him. There was also a voodoo doll with a cigar in the corner.
The appointment had no effect on him, but his mom seemed adversely affected. She started losing her vision and hair.
One day, his mom seemed terror-stricken. “Promise me you won’t leave me,” she pleaded to her son, who was full of fear and incomprehension. He tried to calm and console her, but he had no idea what to do.
Another day, his mom was sitting at the edge of the bed looking angry and afraid. “Mom are you ok?” a scared Jourdan recounts on a YouTube video.
She responded in Spanish, but since he never learned his mom’s native language, he only caught “God” and “cross.”
He drew crosses in the dust of the TV set and in a foggy windowpane.
“What do you think that is going to do?” his mom asked. It wasn’t his mom speaking.
But Jourdan didn’t know what to do.
“Jourdan please help, please help me,” his mom pleaded.
Both mom and son were traumatized by the event.
Eventually, mom met and married a good man who cared for and loved them. He was part of the Hebrew Israelites, a group of blacks and other minorities who believe they are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The movement is active in the jails and in the ghettos and helps people get out of drugs and gangbanging with a message that promotes obedience to the Old Testament.
Observers have described the group as black supremacist at its extremist fringe. Some members “believe that Jews are devilish impostors and … openly condemn whites as evil personified, deserving only death or slavery,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Happy to find some stability in his family and life, Jourdan naively joined the group all the way up to high school.
But then he got a retail job and met a girl. They started going out and eventually kissed, which was a grave infraction of Hebrew Israelite norms. Read the rest of the story about freedom from Hebrew Israelites.
Is eating the area where Christians have trouble with self-control? There are fellowship dinners and snacks at Bible studies. We may not go to the bar to drain alcoholic beverages, but we go to the restaurant and knock back the extra fries and milkshakes. It’s not a beer belly; it’s a potluck paunch.
Extra pounds around the waist or on the thighs are more often carried to church than Bibles. In fact, one pastor in Guatemala teased a slim colleague, “Pastor sin panza no da confianza,” which translated means: A pastor without a paunch doesn’t inspire confidence (it’s mirthful in Spanish because it rhymes).
But while there is a disturbing trend in Christianity toward obesity, there is a new generation of shepherds who are saying no to the second helping of shepherd’s pie.
Take Steve Reynold for example. The way he sees it, he was “trashing” his temple of the Holy Spirit (his body), according to US News & World Report. The pastor of Capital Baptist Church in Annandale, Virginia weighed 340 pounds.
While Reynolds never pumped iron, he downed a tub of ice cream each night. While he circumvented cardio, he crammed carbs.
As a result, doctors ordered him to take eight separate medications to stave off diabetes and other disorders. At some point, Reynolds had an epiphany.
“I’m looking forward to heaven,” came the flash, “but I’m not ready to get there yet.”
Reynolds had to upend some bad habits. He started an exercise regime and began a diet inspired by the Bible. It turns out the Holy Writ has much to say about healthy living, but he hadn’t noticed previously. By searching the word “body” in his concordance, he found some inspired guidance.
According to Reynolds, healthy diet and exercise “has been a kind of forsaken thing in churches.”
Health Fitness Revolution unearthed stats to back up Reynolds’ claim: A 2006 Purdue study found that the fundamental Christians are by far the heaviest of all religious groups, led by the Baptists with a 30% obesity rate. A 2011 Northwestern University study tracking 3,433 men and women for 18 years found that young adults who attend church or a bible study once a week are 50% likelier be obese.
Jesus “could walk 40 miles, not in Reeboks but in leather sandals,” Reynolds wrote in his book. “Yet His followers on this planet are unhealthy, overweight, sedentary couch potatoes.”
As a result of the regimen developed by Reynolds, he dropped 100 pounds and no longer needed the medications. His findings and testimony were published in his book Bod4God.
“We believe our bodies are very important to our faith,” says Scott Roberts, head of William Jessup University’s kinesiology department, where faith-based fitness courses are offered.
Pastor Chuck Bernal
If 1 Timothy 4:7 says, “Bodily exercise profiteth little” to highlight spiritual health, nevertheless the verse does says that there is value in physical health. The purpose is not to counter pose bad/good, but to compare good/better.
In 2014, Health Fitness Revolution named the top 10 fittest pastors. Joel Olsteen topped the list for his enviable six pack.
Scott Bennefield was also featured as the “Iron Man Pastor.” Prior to 1991, he never gave much thought to fitness. But then he decided he’d better start running for exercise. He progressed and amplified his goals: at age 43, the pastor of the New Covenant Church in New Mexico competed in his first Iron Man competition and completed six more by time of publication.
Chuck Bernal, pastor of the LifePointe Church in Crowley, Texas, also earned an honorable mention. Through diet and exercise, he slimmed down from 367 pounds to a fit 226.
Mega-church Pastor Rick Warren joined the list. His introduction to health came by way of baptizing 858 people. Two-thirds of the way through dunking disciples, his arms grew tired. And he noticed the excess water displacement by the obese — including himself. Consequently, he lost 30 pounds.
Today, there are Christian diet plans, aps, tapes, exercise routines — all of which motivate through the Word of God for the goal of fitness. Exercising has become as important to some as healthy eating. Read the rest of Christian health.