Issue 1| 2023

Your Life Has Purpose

Your Life Has Purpose


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PARA VER<br />




Y O U R<br />

L I F E<br />

H A S<br />


A magazine<br />

on a mission:<br />

see page 2<br />

<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong>

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ISSUE 1, JANUARY <strong>2023</strong><br />

“God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was<br />

his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 1:9 NLT<br />

Publisher & Executive Director<br />

Kristi Overton Johnson<br />

Accounting Manager<br />

Carla Owens<br />

Cover Photography<br />

Arizona Portraits Photography LLC<br />

Editor<br />

Rachel Overton<br />

Spanish Editorial Team<br />

Karissa Anderson, Proofreader<br />

Monica Colangelo, Translator<br />

Creative Designer<br />

Lauren Jones<br />

Creative Content Team<br />

Kristi Overton Johnson<br />

Christina Kimbrel<br />

Production Manager<br />

Christina Kimbrel<br />

Digital Content Manager<br />

Sheridan Correa<br />

Roman Randall<br />

Director of Prison Correspondence<br />

Simone Bryant<br />

Lauren Everett<br />

Director of Partner Care & Development<br />

Pat Avery<br />

Hispanic Outreach Director<br />

Denise San Miguel<br />

Story Contributors<br />

Sheridan Correa<br />

Danny R. Cox<br />

Linda Cubbedge-Smith<br />

Kory Gordon<br />

Ronnie Hopkins<br />

Gerald B. Hurst<br />

Kristi Overton Johnson<br />

Christina Kimbrel<br />

Andre Lightsey-Copeland<br />

Juliana McFadden<br />

Latoya Williams<br />

Photography<br />

Arizona Portraits Photography LLC<br />

Mike Barber Ministries<br />

EDOVO<br />

The Hurst Family<br />

Ty Johnson<br />

Joey Meddock Photography<br />

Ross Outerbridge<br />

Gunnar Rathbun<br />

Geri Simpkins Photography<br />

Holly Stratford<br />

Sweetbee Photography<br />

Noah Vieke<br />

Lyssa Yates<br />

Artwork<br />

Alberto H.<br />

Jared Emerson<br />

Victorious Living magazine is a publication of Kristi Overton Johnson Ministries, a 501c3<br />

organization. Copyright © <strong>2023</strong>, Kristi Overton Johnson Ministries, all rights<br />

reserved. For permission to reprint or copy any material contained herein, please<br />

contact us at admin@vlmag.org.<br />

DISCLAIMER: The articles featured in Victorious Living are designed to inspire and encourage<br />

our readers by sharing powerful testimonies from people who, we believe, have been transformed<br />

by God’s grace, love, and power. The articles are focused on each individual’s testimony.<br />

Although we conduct some independent research, we rely heavily on the information provided<br />

to us by those we interview. Our articles are not intended to be an endorsement of the views,<br />

opinions, choices, or activities of the persons whose stories we feature. The statements, views,<br />

and opinions of those persons whose stories we feature are purely their own, and we do not<br />

control and are not responsible for any such statements, views, or opinions.<br />


General, Subscription, and Partnership Inquiries<br />

• Victorious Living<br />

PO Box 2801, Greenville, NC 27836<br />

• 352-478-2098<br />

• admin@vlmag.org<br />

All Prison Inmate Correspondence<br />

• Victorious Living Correspondence Outreach<br />

PO Box 2751, Greenville, NC 27836<br />

• hope@vlmag.org<br />

Scripture Permissions<br />

Scripture marked NIV is taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®, copyright<br />

©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. | Scripture marked NLT is taken from the Holy Bible, New<br />

Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. | All Scripture is<br />

used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.<br />

La escritura marcada NVI es tomada de La Santa Biblia, Nueva Versión Internacional®<br />

NVI®, copyright © 1999, 2015 por Biblica, Inc.® | La escritura marcada NTV es tomada<br />

de La Santa Biblia, Nueva Traducción Viviente, © Tyndale House Foundation, 2010.<br />

| Toda la escritura usado con permiso. Reservados todos los derechos en todo el<br />

mundo.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />



One visit with an incarcerated friend in 2013 opened the eyes<br />

of Victorious Living founder, Kristi Overton Johnson, to the<br />

hopelessness of life behind bars. It also birthed in her a desire to<br />

deliver hope to the souls of incarcerated men and women.<br />

Soon after, God opened doors for Victorious Living magazine to<br />

be distributed in the prison system. He then led Kristi and the VL<br />

team onto prison yards to share His message of hope in person and,<br />

more recently, digitally through prison tablets.<br />

Before that prison encounter, Kristi had<br />

spent 35 years water-skiing competitively<br />

worldwide, never considering those<br />

who had lost their freedom. But God<br />

had a plan for this world champion<br />

water-skier to go behind bars to<br />

encourage hearts with God’s love<br />

and His message of redemption<br />

and to equip people to get up and<br />

experience victorious living for<br />

themselves.<br />

Since 2013, Victorious Living<br />

magazine has impacted the lives of<br />

over one million incarcerated souls...<br />

and the story is still being written.<br />


VL STORY<br />

Victorious Living is a great<br />

way to carry out God’s<br />

command to remember the<br />

prisoner (Matthew 25:34–40;<br />

Hebrews 13:3). Here’s how<br />

you can help us deliver hope<br />

to the incarcerated.<br />

SHARE<br />

Share VL with your local church,<br />

chaplain, jail, or prison. VL is a<br />

great mission to support and a<br />

good tool to use too!<br />


VL is partner supported. Your taxdeductible<br />

gift sends copies of<br />

VLMag into jails and prisons, where<br />

it saves lives. And when you give,<br />

we’ll send you a copy too.<br />


Sponsor jails and prisons to receive<br />

quarterly cases of VL. It costs us<br />

$500 to supply 1 case of VL to 1<br />

facility, each quarter, for 1 year.<br />


Visit our website and social media<br />

platforms. Like. Follow. Share.<br />

@victoriouslivingmag<br />



ISSUE 1, JANUARY <strong>2023</strong><br />


8<br />

9<br />

19<br />


God, Be with Me<br />



Flourish in His Care<br />


Benched by God? Use Your<br />

Time Wisely<br />


14<br />

28<br />


LIVES<br />

Commitment and<br />

Consistency: Keys to<br />

Transformation<br />


When the decisions you’ve made have<br />

destroyed the life and relationships you<br />

once treasured and love and trust are<br />

gone, is there hope for recovery?<br />

See Yourself as a Champion<br />

10<br />

16<br />


From Guns to Grace<br />



Found guilty of murder at age 28, Andre<br />

experienced the life-changing goodness of<br />

God when he finally surrendered his will and<br />

his way to the perfect plan God already had<br />

in place.<br />

Graced for Success<br />


31<br />

32<br />

Your Pain Has Purpose<br />


You Don’t Have to Go Back<br />



Do you see yourself as champion or a<br />

loser? If you’re a child of God, He sees<br />

you as a champion, no matter what<br />

your circumstances or past actions.<br />

Come on, He created you. You are<br />

champion material!<br />

“Have it your way” might be a good slogan<br />

for a burger joint, but when Latoya applied<br />

it to her life, she found it only brought hardship<br />

and pain.<br />


20<br />

You Have Purpose<br />




After experiencing<br />

the grace of God<br />

for herself, Juliana<br />

McFadden was able<br />

to extend grace to<br />

her brother, Charlie,<br />

and her husband,<br />

David.<br />

God’s divine grace<br />

restored their<br />

relationships and<br />

brought them into<br />

His purposes for<br />

their lives.<br />

24<br />

“Can Charlie stay at your place for a few days?<br />

The cops are looking for him.” That Christmas<br />

morning phone call changed Juliana’s<br />

previously normal life. From that day on, she<br />

struggled with the shame of being the sister of<br />

a murderer and a growing resentment toward<br />

God. But God had purpose in her pain, and<br />

today she uses her experience to help others<br />

see Christ in their circumstances as well.<br />

More of Jesus, Less of Me<br />


Years of anger and self-pity kept Ronnie from<br />

recognizing anything good in his life—and<br />

led him straight into prison. With no other<br />

choice, he finally stopped long enough to<br />

hear God’s voice, quietly saying, “Trust Me,<br />

Ronnie.”<br />


6<br />

Publisher’s Note<br />

More Than a Magazine<br />

33<br />

Want to Know Jesus?<br />

I’m Saved...Now What?<br />

34<br />

Ministry News/Resources<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />



More Than a Magazine<br />

If you’d like to partner with<br />

our magazine to deliver God’s<br />

hope and to impact the lives of<br />

incarcerated men and women,<br />

visit victoriouslivingmagazine<br />

.com. Your gift enables us to<br />

send this magazine into prisons<br />

around the nation. Each<br />

magazine impacts many lives<br />

for years to come.<br />

God never ceases to amaze me. It’s<br />

mind-boggling how He works behind<br />

the scenes to bring to fruition<br />

the plans He has uniquely purposed<br />

for us. Day after day, God patiently pursues<br />

us and lovingly draws us onto His path,<br />

even though we fight hard against Him.<br />

You’re about to read stories of people<br />

who resisted God’s love and plan. Some<br />

refused Him out of anger, blaming Him for<br />

the pain that existed in their lives. Others<br />

rebelled against Him, wanting to do things<br />

their way, not His.<br />

Years of living apart from God took<br />

the subjects of our feature stories down<br />

dark paths that brought much pain. But<br />

God’s love pursued them, and everything<br />

changed when they turned to Him.<br />

There was a time when I didn’t trust His<br />

love for me either. My young mind thought,<br />

“If God sent His own Son to die—a Son who<br />

was perfect—then what will He do to me?”<br />

I couldn’t live up to His perfect standard<br />

on my best day (Romans 3:23).<br />

I didn’t understand the sacrifice He’d<br />

made for me. Nor did I comprehend His<br />

grace or desire to be part of my life. God<br />

wanted my heart, not perfection or performance.<br />

He wanted to give me a better,<br />

purpose-filled life.<br />

I grew up in the church and heard the<br />

Gospel of Jesus Christ—how God had sent<br />

His Son to die for my sin so that I could go<br />

to heaven (John 3:16). I believed it wholeheartedly,<br />

and at the age of eight, I accepted<br />

Jesus as my Savior and was baptized. But<br />

I did that out of fear of being sent to hell,<br />

not because I understood God’s love for<br />

me and not really because I loved Him.<br />

For years, I imagined God sitting on His<br />

throne of judgment, watching my every<br />

move and analyzing my every thought. I<br />

saw Him sitting on the edge of His seat,<br />

gavel in hand, ready to bring forth punishment.<br />

Being warned that “God’s watching<br />

you” and listening to regular sermons on<br />

God’s wrath and my need to be good helped<br />

shape my unhealthy view of God.<br />

When you’re afraid of someone, you<br />

either try desperately to please them or<br />

you keep your distance. I did both. Every<br />

week, I went to church in my Sunday best.<br />

I prayed at bedtime and before meals, and<br />

I worked hard in school and sports. Oh,<br />

and of course, I tried to be kind to people.<br />

Yet, because I was determined to maintain<br />

control of my life, I kept my distance<br />

from God. If I surrendered my life to Him,<br />

where would He take me? What would He<br />

ask me to do or give up? I was too afraid to<br />

find out, so I kept my faith in a nice, neat,<br />

safe religious box. I wanted Jesus to be my<br />

Savior, but not my Lord.<br />

In my midtwenties, I faced bigger trials<br />

than I could handle. Suddenly, my safe,<br />

boxed-up religion wasn’t cutting it. Nothing<br />

the world offered was helping either.<br />

Finally, I cried out to God, and through<br />

His Word, His Holy Spirit, my circumstances,<br />

and other people, He revealed His true<br />

nature and love for me. I quit stiff-arming<br />

God and let Him draw me close (James<br />

4:8). Understanding the depths of His<br />

love gave me the courage to trust His plan<br />

(Ephesians 3:18–19). And like everyone<br />

else in this issue, my life has never been<br />

the same.<br />

God changed me; He made all things<br />

new. Once I tasted and saw how good He<br />

truly was, I couldn’t keep it to myself. Now,<br />

I help others understand the goodness of<br />

God, and this magazine is part of how I<br />

do that.<br />

It’s been more than 27 years since I<br />

surrendered my life to the lordship of<br />

Jesus Christ. I am so glad I did. Just look—<br />

God’s plan has enabled us, you and me, to<br />

cross paths! And I believe He wants to reveal<br />

something about Himself to you today.<br />

If there is anything our ministry can<br />

do for you, please don’t hesitate to call.<br />

Victorious Living is more than a magazine.<br />

It’s a family.<br />

Kristi Overton Johnson<br />

Publisher & Executive Director<br />


6 <strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM

Through the stories of Victorious Living,<br />

men and women behind bars<br />

meet the God of another chance.<br />

Testimony of Victorious Living<br />

Impact: Alberto H.<br />

Biblical characters are imperfect, regular<br />

people just like me and everyone featured in<br />

this magazine. Their lives reveal how God deals<br />

with our human weaknesses and leads us to our<br />

potential. That’s why I love reading Victorious<br />

Living. Every testimony here is a contemporary<br />

example of what I’ve read in the Bible.<br />

Of all the stories shared in VLMag, Melisha<br />

Johnson’s (<strong>Issue</strong> 02/2022) touched me the most<br />

deeply. Her devotion to Jesus enabled her to go<br />

through many trials, each of which God used to<br />

strengthen her character, refine her, and lead<br />

her to a new path that He had prepared for her<br />

long ago. He’s doing the same in me.<br />

Melisha taught me the importance of<br />

consistency. I won’t give up or give in as the<br />

Lord molds me into who He wants me to be.<br />

Thank you, Melisha, for being vulnerable and<br />

sharing your story with those of us still behind<br />

bars. I’m sending you this portrait (displayed on<br />

the right) as a token of my appreciation.<br />

I wanted to capture the spiritual fruit—peace,<br />

passion, love, and kindness—I see in your face.<br />

I used dense, intense colors to express your<br />

passion and determination; pastel and bright<br />

but subtle hues to denote the light the Holy<br />

Spirit has poured into you.<br />

May the Lord continue using you, Melisha,<br />

and everyone featured in VLMag, as examples<br />

of His transformative glory. Let your light shine<br />

before men and bring glory to our Father.<br />




Visit victoriouslivingmagazine.com.<br />

<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />



God,<br />

Be with Me<br />




ways in my many years. Like when I was<br />

Above: This photo of the wreckage of his plane<br />

is a constant reminder to Gerald of God’s grace.<br />

flying combat in Vietnam in the late 1960s.<br />

The air force assigned me to the F-105<br />

Thunderchief aircraft and sent me to the<br />

Right: Major Gerald Hurst in 1970 with his plane<br />

at the Takhli RTAFB prior to the crash. Major<br />

Hurst retired in 1982 as a full colonel.<br />

Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. After<br />

three days of orientation, I flew my first<br />

combat mission.<br />

I was more than anxious as I headed to-<br />

another prayer, and pulled hard. Wham!<br />

ward my assigned target, but I took the time<br />

The ejection seat fired, and my head<br />

to pray. “God, please be with me.” Praying<br />

slapped down hard on my knee. My chin<br />

to my heavenly Father brought peace and<br />

strap went into my voice box; I couldn’t<br />

comfort. I would repeat that short prayer<br />

breathe. Disoriented, I fell from the air-<br />

on all 91 of my subsequent missions.<br />

craft. When I finally got my bearings, I<br />

On my 38th mission, my aircraft suf-<br />

realized my chute hadn’t automatically<br />

fered enemy fire and lost all oil pressure.<br />

deployed. I quickly grabbed the D-ring and<br />

Ejection was imminent, and that didn’t ex-<br />

manually opened the chute. I breathed a<br />

cite me. At that time, ejections were only<br />

80 percent successful. So I prayed.<br />

Generally, with no oil, a jet engine will<br />

continue to run no more than a minute.<br />

I’ve even heard the time be as short as 15<br />

seconds. Miraculously, my engine ran for<br />

over six minutes, allowing me to get away<br />

from enemy territory.<br />

I told the electronic warfare officer in the<br />

back of our F-105G to prepare for ejection<br />

sigh of relief and then focused on where I<br />

was going to land.<br />

The chute was drifting toward obstacles,<br />

I tried to steer clear, but I went down hard<br />

and broke my ankle. Twelve minutes later,<br />

a rescue chopper was right above me.<br />

I’d never been happier! The other officer<br />

survived as well. After rehab, I, like many<br />

others who served, went back to fly 53<br />

more missions. I took more gunfire, and<br />

Those moments are disappointing, and<br />

they can shake our faith if we aren’t careful.<br />

I’ve said my share of “unanswered”<br />

prayers too. But I don’t give up on God<br />

or doubt His ability to hear and answer<br />

prayer. Instead, I trust His love for me and<br />

keep asking, seeking, and knocking on the<br />

heart of God (Matthew 7:7).<br />

It helps when I think back on the times<br />

I’ve witnessed God at work. Those mo-<br />


and headed for the closest airbase.<br />

you can believe, the words, “God, please be<br />

ments serve as powerful reminders of<br />

As I started my descent, the aircraft<br />

with me,” were always forth coming. I had<br />

God’s power and grace and give me hope<br />

accelerated to over 450 knots (518 mph).<br />

no better protection than the Lord’s help.<br />

that if He did it then, He can do it now.<br />

I retarded the throttle and expended the<br />

I believe God hears all our prayers. He<br />

Whatever you are facing today, I encour-<br />

speed brakes—and the engine seized.<br />

knows our hearts. He hears us when all<br />

age you to pray about it (Philippians 4:6–8).<br />

My wingman came over the intercom.<br />

we can say is “help,” and He welcomes our<br />

When you give your situation to God, He<br />

“You’re on fire! You need to get out.”<br />

longer prayers too, when we pour out our<br />

will give you His peace and enable you to<br />

I pulled up the nose to slow the airplane<br />

hearts to Him.<br />

face the difficult thing before you.<br />

and ordered the officer with me to eject.<br />

Two orders and some not-so-religious<br />

words from me later, he finally obeyed.<br />

Smoke filled the cockpit. It was my turn<br />

to eject. I grabbed the ejection lever, said<br />

Of course, God doesn’t always answer<br />

our prayers the way we think He should.<br />

Sometimes, for reasons we’ll never know,<br />

He chooses not to perform a life-saving<br />

miracle on this side of heaven.<br />

GERALD B. HURST served in the US Air Force for<br />

26 years and has also served as a representative in<br />

the NC Legislature. Colonel Hurst has been married<br />

to his sweetheart, Amelia, for 65 years and still<br />

enjoys flying. He has flown over 5,300 hours.<br />

8 <strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM


Flourish in His Care<br />

BY LINDA<br />


LINDA<br />


was Victorious<br />

Living’s Prison<br />

Correspondence<br />

Outreach Director<br />

from 2014 until June of<br />

2021. She is currently<br />

working on a book<br />

about the goodness<br />

of God and remains<br />

passionate about<br />

leading others to Him.<br />

I LOVE SPRINGTIME! Sprucing up my yard and<br />

home with colorful flowers and beautiful plants is a<br />

favorite pastime that makes me smile.<br />

A couple years ago, I added some pygmy palm trees<br />

to our home’s landscape. They are known to do well<br />

with proper care and a little pruning. I planted two<br />

in the yard and two in large planters. I was excited to<br />

watch them grow.<br />

I thought I did a good job looking after them, but<br />

I soon noticed distinct differences between the ones<br />

in the yard and the ones in the planters. The trees I<br />

regularly pruned were noticeably taller and healthier<br />

than the ones that had not had as much attention. They<br />

were also producing tender new palm branches from<br />

the top center of the trees, each one reaching toward<br />

the sun. I marveled at how they knew to stretch toward<br />

their source of life. The two palms that received less<br />

attention were not exactly living their best lives.<br />

My gardening lesson reminded me of Psalm 92:12–<br />

13: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they<br />

will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house<br />

of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God”<br />

(NIV).<br />

The repetition of the word “flourish” in this passage<br />

piqued my interest, and I searched for its meaning.<br />

Merriam-Webster defines it as “a period of thriving”<br />

and “to grow luxuriantly.” The Hebrew definition,<br />

the original language of the Old Testament, refers to<br />

a “breaking forth” and “blooming.” In the New Testament,<br />

the word appears once and means “to put<br />

forth anew.”<br />

God’s loving intention for His people is that we grow<br />

in maturity and fruitfulness as we shed our old nature<br />

and bloom anew.<br />

I can’t speak for my palm trees, but in my human<br />

experience, growing is hard work. Flourishing doesn’t<br />

just magically happen for plants or for people. It<br />

requires a pruning process that can be downright<br />

painful and sometimes make you question the Lord’s<br />

goodness.<br />

But I’ve learned that in those times, we must take<br />

our cue from the palm trees and keep stretching for the<br />

“Son.” Jesus’s light will sustain us and cause our faith<br />

and love for others to flourish (2 Thessalonians 1:3).<br />

God’s pruning process comes in different forms.<br />

Sometimes it requires the removal of selfishness, pride,<br />

stubbornness, bitterness, hate, and jealousy. As we<br />

submit our emotions to God and renew our hearts and<br />

minds with His Word, we experience God’s perfect will<br />

for our lives (Romans 12:2). His Holy Spirit will help<br />

us grow in love, grace, and humility. He will develop a<br />

desire in us to walk in obedience to His Word.<br />

At times, pruning requires the removal of people<br />

and things. Hebrews 12:1 says we are to cut away anything<br />

that hinders our steps. Sometimes even beautiful<br />

things must be cut away to make room for God’s better.<br />

Those are the hardest things to release.<br />

You can trust the pruning process to the hands of<br />

the Master Gardener. Pruning is evidence of His love<br />

for you. God knows which branches to cut off so you<br />

can be fruitful and experience an abundant life (John<br />

15:1–8). Whatever He removes will make space for<br />

something more beautiful than you can imagine.<br />

Let His promises sustain you as you bloom into the<br />

person He intends you to be. God will help you grow,<br />

produce fruit, and remain full of life even into old age<br />

(Psalm 92:13–15).<br />

Now that is some much-needed hope, isn’t it? May it<br />

nourish your soul as you flourish in your relationship<br />

with Jesus.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


F R O M<br />

GUNS<br />

T O<br />



GRACE<br />

MMy childhood is shrouded in mystery. I’m 41 years old,<br />

and I still don’t have answers, but this much I know: God<br />

wasn’t confused. He wasn’t absent. He’s always had a<br />

plan and purpose for my life (Jeremiah 29:11). I just had<br />

to come to the end of myself before I could receive them.<br />

No one has ever explained why my biological mom<br />

didn’t raise me or why I lived with another family. I’ve<br />

always had more questions than answers. My mom battled<br />

something great; whatever it was, she ended her<br />

life when I was ten. Everyone worked hard to protect<br />

me—from what horrible truth, I’ll never know.<br />

After my mom passed, the family I lived with adopted<br />

me. They let me choose my last name. I decided to<br />

use both surnames and joined them with a hyphen:<br />

Lightsey-Copeland.<br />

Even though Mom wasn’t around much, she always<br />

made sure I knew she loved me. No matter what had<br />

happened, she would always be a part of me, so I wanted<br />

to honor her. But I also wanted to honor Mrs. Copeland,<br />

the woman who ensured I never wanted or needed any-<br />

thing. She was my mother now, and I even got three big<br />

brothers out of the deal!<br />

In the Copeland home, I experienced love and positive<br />

male role models. But I took them for granted and became<br />

vulnerable to the world’s influences. My thoughts<br />

were quickly shaped by the lies of an enemy I was not even<br />

aware of, much less equipped to fight. Satan was prowling<br />

around like a roaring lion, and he was about to try to devour<br />

me (1 Peter 5:8).<br />

I remember playing outside our apartment one day, when<br />

this guy walked by with sagging pants, a cocked baseball<br />

cap, and a gun in his pocket. I admired the confidence in<br />

his stride and thought, “Wow! He’s cool.”<br />

I didn’t know who he was, but I wanted to be like him. I<br />

stopped playing with Legos and digging holes in the dirt<br />

and headed into high school with a new style and attitude.<br />


10 <strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM

My new look quickly attracted the wrong kind of attention.<br />

The colors I wore insulted gang members in my<br />

neighborhood, and I had to deal with them daily, even<br />

though I wasn’t in a gang. I was in their territory, and<br />

that’s all that mattered.<br />

I couldn’t even walk to the bus stop without having to<br />

defend myself, but I didn’t back down, no matter how<br />

many fights I had to endure. I stood my ground and<br />

did what I wanted, and eventually, the bullying and the<br />

fighting stopped.<br />

My rebellion grew rapidly, as did my ego. I started<br />

messing with drugs, using first and then selling. Once<br />

I tasted that fast money, I couldn’t walk away. It made<br />

me feel powerful, accepted, and like I was somebody.<br />

I kept my grades up so my mom wouldn’t think things<br />

were off with me. Plus, I didn’t want to disappoint her.<br />

I followed the house rules, did my homework, and excelled<br />

in sports. After I graduated from high school, I<br />

went to college. But that didn’t last long.<br />

I lived a double life, walking a tightrope between two<br />

opposing identities. My street ego grew and grew, and<br />

I felt invincible. Giving in to the lure of the fast life, I<br />

dropped out of college and hit the streets full time.<br />

And then, one day a drive-by shooting happened in<br />

front of my mom’s house. No one was hurt, but it was<br />

quite the reality check. Those bullets had my name on<br />

them. I was ashamed as I realized the danger I’d brought<br />

to my family, not to mention the heartbreak.<br />

But there was more disappointment ahead, and there<br />

was nothing I could do to prepare my family for it. I didn’t<br />

even see it coming until it was too late.<br />

Something told me not to leave the house that day, but<br />

with full-blown arrogance, I ignored the warning and<br />

headed out, looking for trouble. I found it in a strip-club<br />

parking lot. Before the night was over, a man was dead,<br />

and his blood was on my hands.<br />

I fled the scene and hid in a shed in the backyard of<br />

an abandoned house. Adrenaline pumped through my<br />

racing heart as I heard police sirens and a helicopter<br />

in the distance. I was twenty-eight years old and on the<br />

run for murder.<br />

I’d never prayed before or even thought about God, but<br />

as reality sank in, I somehow knew He was my only hope.<br />

“God, please help me.”<br />

I didn’t expect an answer. At that moment, I felt as<br />

far away from God as a person could get. Why would He<br />

even listen to my prayer? I had just murdered a man!<br />

But He heard it, and He didn’t waste any time responding.<br />

“Are you ready to surrender your life to Me, Andre?”<br />

It was a gentle but direct question, and I knew without<br />

a doubt that it was Him. I wasn’t one to hear voices.<br />

What caught my attention was the use of my name. To<br />

think that God would know me by name! Suddenly, His<br />

presence was tangible, and I realized I wasn’t alone.<br />

Frightened, I continued to run from the authorities and<br />

evaded capture for two weeks. But as I ran, that encounter<br />

never left my thoughts.<br />

What could God possibly want with me? The thought was<br />

confusing. As far as I knew, my life was over.<br />

When the cops finally caught up with me, I was relieved.<br />

They booked me into Pima County Jail and charged me with<br />

first-degree murder. The weight of what I’d done hit me with<br />

such force that I could barely breathe. I became numb and<br />

was unable to process what was happening.<br />

Mom came to see me, utterly shocked by the charges<br />

against me. She had no idea the<br />

depths of my rebellion. “Son, I<br />

know you didn’t do this terrible<br />

thing,” she said. “Tell me what<br />

happened so we can straighten<br />

this all out.”<br />

There was no fixing the situation.<br />

I had to tell her the truth. I<br />

was totally to blame for what had<br />

happened.<br />

Alone in my cell, God’s question<br />

kept coming to mind, “Are<br />

you ready to surrender your life<br />

to Me, Andre?”<br />

Fear. Shame. Guilt. Grief. Anger.<br />

Confusion. Waves of emotion<br />

washed over me. What did I have<br />

to give God?<br />

“I don’t have anything to give<br />

you, God.” I finally told Him. “I’m<br />

a mess, and I’m probably in prison<br />

for the rest of my life.”<br />

I knew nothing about the Bible,<br />

but when I picked one up, the<br />

Lord wasted no time speaking to<br />

I K N E W<br />


A B O U T T H E<br />

BIBLE, BUT<br />


ONE UP, T H E<br />


N O T I M E<br />


MY HEART.<br />

my heart. He showed me Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates<br />

his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners,<br />

Christ died for us” (NIV).<br />

I couldn’t wrap my head around what I was reading. Jesus<br />

died for me even though He knew I was a sinner? Why? I<br />

had never paid attention to Him. Why would He care about<br />

me? But that’s what it said.<br />

Wow.<br />

I kept reading the Bible and learned so much. Jesus was a<br />

perfect man and also God. He died a horrible death so that I<br />

could have my sins forgiven. That blew my mind. I became<br />

hungry to learn all I could about Jesus, the resurrected<br />

Savior. I was fascinated by His teachings and the people He<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


ROM G<br />

chose to be His disciples. What a motley crew! Then I<br />

learned about King David and how God used him even<br />

though he was an adulterer and a murderer (2 Samuel<br />

11–12; Psalm 51).<br />

As soon as I could, I got baptized and committed my<br />

life to follow Jesus no matter what, even if I had to spend<br />

the rest of my life in prison.<br />

My case dragged through the court system for two<br />

and a half years. As I awaited my sentence, I leaned into<br />

God’s Word for courage and comfort. I discovered who I<br />

was in God’s eyes. Satan had been feeding me lies about<br />

my identity since my youth.<br />

I attended church with my Spanish-speaking cellie,<br />

who was also a Christian. I didn’t understand much<br />

because the service was in Spanish, but it didn’t matter.<br />

God’s presence was there as those men sought the Lord. I<br />

soaked it in like a plant that hadn’t been watered in years.<br />

God showed me that He had pursued me since I was<br />

a kid. He revealed people He had used to sow seeds in<br />

my heart about Jesus. God knew that, eventually, I would<br />

turn to Him, and just like the father of the prodigal son,<br />

He waited patiently for me (Luke 15:11–32).<br />

I remembered a picture my mom had hanging in her<br />

house. As a child, I wondered who all those people were<br />

sitting around a big table sharing a meal. Now I know<br />

it was a painting of the Last Supper with Jesus and His<br />

disciples (Matthew 26:26–29). Thinking of that picture<br />

now comforts my heart. I think maybe Mom knew Jesus too.<br />

Waiting for trial was exhausting. I had no plea bargain, so<br />

when my court date arrived, I expected to get the maximum<br />

sentence. I thought I was dreaming when the jury found me<br />

guilty of a lesser charge, second-degree murder.<br />

The judge’s voice was kind but firm on sentencing day.<br />

“Sir, I believe that you are a decent man who lost your way<br />

when you started hanging out with the wrong people.” She<br />

then handed me a 12-year sentence. It was nothing short<br />

of a miracle.<br />

God’s hand touched my life that day in a way I will never<br />

forget, and I came to understand grace and mercy in a way<br />

many don’t. I was receiving a gift that I could never earn or<br />

deserve, and I knew it.<br />

Within a week, I walked through the gates of Arizona State<br />

Prison to begin serving my time. I connected immediately<br />

with other men of faith. Wanting to be a true disciple of<br />

Jesus Christ, I surrounded myself with those whose lives<br />

were testimonies of His transforming power. God worked<br />

through them to help me change.<br />

Before long, I felt God calling me deeper. My salvation, a<br />

reduced prison sentence, and this new life weren’t for me to<br />

keep to myself. God wanted to use me for His purpose and<br />

glory (Ephesians 2:8–10). He wanted me to tell others about<br />

His grace and to help them avoid the mistakes I’d made.<br />

Helping others was something I’d never considered before<br />

giving my life to Christ. To better prepare, I took advantage<br />

Left: Mama<br />

Copeland has<br />

always provided<br />

for Andre and<br />

been a source of<br />

encouragement<br />

and comfort.<br />

Right: Andre<br />

(in sweater)<br />

experienced the<br />

blessing of family<br />

in the Copeland<br />

home. Shown<br />

here with his<br />

nephew.<br />

12 <strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM


UNS<br />







of the education available behind bars and obtained<br />

an associate’s degree in alcohol and substance abuse<br />

disorders. I also worked as a peer support facilitator,<br />

helping to prepare men for their release.<br />

It was a privilege to pray for them and introduce them<br />

to Jesus, the true Friend who would be there every step<br />

of the way (John 15:13–14). So many people want to leave<br />

prison, enter the world, and live right, but it isn’t easy<br />

to do. With Jesus, these men could succeed.<br />

Still wanting to deepen my roots in Christ, I signed up<br />

for a discipleship training program offered by Alongside<br />

Ministries in Phoenix. A mentor journeyed with me while<br />

I was still in prison. He became my friend and prayer<br />

warrior and met me at the gate the day of my release.<br />

He even took me out for a delicious breakfast before<br />

dropping me off at the ministry’s residential program<br />

that I still call home.<br />

It felt great to be out from behind those bars, but Jesus<br />

had already set me free long before I walked out of<br />

prison. He freed me from the wages of my sin and gave<br />

me eternal life the day I believed in Him (Romans 6:23).<br />

And not only was I free, but I was rich beyond measure.<br />

I didn’t have any worldly possessions, but I had<br />

eternal life, joy, peace, worth, and purpose.<br />

Today, I work with and encourage men coming out of<br />

prison who are learning to walk with the Lord. It’s only<br />

been a few years since I was where they are now. Only<br />

God could have rewritten my story.<br />


Genesis 50:20 says that God can take what the enemy<br />

meant for our harm and use it for good. Romans 8:28 promises<br />

that God works all situations for good for those who<br />

love Him and are called to His purposes. God has kept these<br />

promises and more. His undeserved kindness will remain<br />

beyond my comprehension.<br />

I’ll never forget that I took a life and brought pain to undeserving<br />

people. I wish I could go back and make it right,<br />

but I can’t. All I can do is live my life in thankfulness, serving<br />

others and sharing the hope of Jesus. I want to honor God<br />

so He can bring purpose out of the pain I caused.<br />

God offers this same chance to you. I hope you’ll accept it.<br />

If you’re like I was, you’re wondering what God could<br />

possibly want with your life. And why would He bother?<br />

Let me tell you: God doesn’t look at what you’ve done. He<br />

looks at who He knows you can become.<br />

He is calling you by name, inviting you to come, right<br />

now, just as you are. God loves you no matter what you’ve<br />

done. The blood He shed for you on the cross of Calvary<br />

can wash away the blood on your hands.<br />

Brothers and sisters, the forgiveness of sin is a gift of<br />

true freedom that no one can ever take away from you, no<br />

matter where you find yourself (John 8:36).<br />

ANDRE LIGHTSEY-COPELAND, having experienced God’s<br />

faithfulness and grace for himself, seeks to share that message of<br />

hope and victory with everyone he encounters. He enjoys the fellowship<br />

of his Alongside Ministries community and uses his testimony to<br />

encourage his family and students at St. Mary’s Skill Center in Phoenix.<br />

<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />

O GRACE<br />




Commitment<br />

+ Consistency<br />



saying my soon-to-be ex-husband had<br />

been awarded full temporary custody of<br />

our two sons. Two days later, my children<br />

and I were separated. My heart broke into<br />

a million pieces.<br />

My sadness turned to rage, and I took on<br />

the victim role. Roots of bitterness grew<br />

deep, and I hurt many people (Hebrews<br />

12:15). Intense shame and depression set<br />

in, and I slid into a hopeless pit. I lost all<br />

sense of who I was and my life’s purpose.<br />

I had no one to blame but myself. Seven<br />

years of poor decisions caused by drug<br />

and alcohol addiction had led me into dark<br />

places where I had neglected my children.<br />

The court ordered that I would have supervised<br />

visitation, pay full child support, and<br />

attend family drug court for a year.<br />

I set out to avenge my motherhood, but I<br />

was quickly overwhelmed because I didn’t<br />

know the Lord and I was fighting my battle<br />

alone. Four months into the court program,<br />

I failed a random drug test. The court took<br />

disciplinary action, but I didn’t have the<br />

courage or strength to follow through with<br />

the requirements.<br />

My shame and selfishness kept me from<br />

taking responsibility and fighting for my<br />

life. I gave up and gave myself over entirely<br />

to my addiction and a life of lawlessness. I<br />

became homeless, revolving in and out of<br />

psychiatric hospitals and jail for years. My<br />

children were distant memories.<br />

If you read my story in <strong>Issue</strong> 03/2022,<br />

you know that the light of Jesus Christ<br />

overcame the darkness of my life (John<br />

1:4–5) while I was in jail awaiting a prison<br />

sentence. Right there, Christ made<br />

me new—He gave me a new heart, a clear<br />

mind, new desires, and a new will to live<br />

and love again. His presence and Word<br />

gave me strength, courage, and hope for<br />

future reunification with my children. My<br />

heart clung to the promise that with God,<br />

all things were possible (Matthew 19:26).<br />

Then He stepped in and made a way for<br />

me to go to the Phoenix Rescue Mission, a<br />

Christ-centered facility providing solutions<br />

for people trapped in cycles of homelessness,<br />

addiction, and poverty. There, I committed<br />

my whole self—heart, mind, body,<br />

will, emotions—as a living sacrifice to God<br />

and renewed it daily (Romans 12:1). I laid<br />

my relationship with my children and their<br />

father on God’s altar. Only God could bring<br />

the healing we needed.<br />

The first few months I was at the Mission,<br />

I wasn’t allowed to have contact with the<br />

outside world except through writing to<br />

approved people. Each week, I wrote my<br />

two sons. I didn’t know if they were getting<br />

my letters, but I continued to pursue them<br />

in faith.<br />

Three months into the program, I received<br />

permission to call them twice weekly.<br />

God planted the words commitment and<br />

consistency in my mind. Commitment and<br />

consistency were new ideas for me, but I’ve<br />

since learned they are critical components<br />

for life transformation.<br />

A couple months later, my boys were<br />

approved to visit me. I loved those weekend<br />

visits! We would talk, laugh, and play<br />

games. I was grateful their dad allowed<br />

these interactions.<br />

Eventually, I got a car and gained even<br />

more freedom. I felt hopeful and eager. I<br />

was ready to be their mom again and to<br />

have unsupervised visits. But their father<br />

said, “Not yet.”<br />

This delay hurt, and I felt rejected. I’d<br />

worked hard and made significant progress.<br />

But my addiction, actions, and brokenness<br />

had betrayed the trust of many, especially<br />

my sons’ father. It would take time to unravel<br />

and reshape the mess I’d made. I had<br />

to trust God’s timing and His ability to heal<br />

and change hearts. If I rushed the process,<br />

I might cause more delays.<br />

“Commitment and consistency, Sheridan.”<br />

The Lord kept urging me to stay the<br />

course, to not react to my hurt feelings, and<br />

14 <strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM



to keep my eyes fixed on Him. His plans<br />

were good (Jeremiah 29:11); I just had to<br />

trust them.<br />

And then I learned my ex and his family,<br />

including my boys, were moving to Georgia.<br />

My heart broke as my reunification<br />

plan fell apart. “No, God!” I cried. “Why<br />

would You save me and change me, only to<br />

let my boys move away from me?”<br />

I wrestled with my emotions for a hot<br />

minute but returned to the truth—God had<br />

a plan, and I could trust it. I saw that I had<br />

two choices. I could either succumb to the<br />

crippling heaviness of this news and the<br />

uncertainty of my reconciliation process,<br />

or I could “lean not on my own understanding”<br />

(Proverbs 3:5–6) and “be still<br />

and know that He is God” (Psalm 46:10).<br />

Leaning on my minimal and faulty understanding<br />

had consistently led me to<br />

destruction. I had to remain committed<br />

and consistent in my relationship with<br />

God, no matter what my emotions were<br />

telling me. God knew the end of my reconciliation<br />

from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).<br />

His plan would prevail. “Many are the plans<br />

in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose<br />

that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21 NIV).<br />

I was amazed at the peace in my heart.<br />

Before giving my life to Jesus, a circumstance<br />

like this would have taken me out.<br />

I would have played the victim card, used<br />

drugs, fought for my rights, and been depressed<br />

and filled with despair.<br />

Instead, because of God’s presence, power,<br />

and promises in my life, I was able to<br />

receive this news without sliding into that<br />

hopeless pit. He had transformed my heart<br />

and mind and made me a new creation (2<br />

Corinthians 5:17). This new creation was<br />

no longer doing old things. Praise God!<br />

My sons often asked me when I would<br />

move near them. I wasn’t able to answer<br />

them definitively, and that hurt. I still had<br />

to complete the program at the Mission<br />

and finish three years of probation before<br />

I could go anywhere.<br />

“Whenever God allows it,” I’d reply. I<br />

had to surrender to the unknown and trust<br />

that God was working behind the scenes to<br />

bring about His plan. And you know what?<br />

That’s all God asked me to do.<br />

All things are possible for God,<br />

even the restoration of once<br />

broken families. Sheridan<br />

is pictured here with her<br />

husband and two sons.<br />

While I waited, I strove to remain faithful<br />

to the Lord. I started working in ministry,<br />

completed my probation, restored my civil<br />

rights, and returned to school.<br />

God impressed on my heart to pay the<br />

child support I owed, including seven years<br />

of arrearages. I had no idea how to do this—<br />

the bottom line didn’t add up. I was already<br />

working two jobs and didn’t have enough<br />

money to meet my personal needs. But God<br />

soon blessed me with a promotion. “Commitment<br />

and consistency” kept ringing<br />

in my ears.<br />

I flew back and forth from Arizona to<br />

Georgia to visit my children for the following<br />

year. Before too long, their father<br />

agreed to unsupervised parenting time.<br />

I burst into tears of joy at the news, and a<br />

year later, I moved to Georgia.<br />

Today, my husband and I are coparenting<br />

with my ex-husband and his wife. Only<br />

God could restore such brokenness and<br />

bring forth such beauty (Joel 2:25). Only He<br />

could transform my messed-up self into a<br />

mother who is now part of the solution and<br />

not the problem. And only He could have<br />

softened my ex-husband’s heart to bring<br />

us into this arrangement.<br />

You know, God can do the same for you.<br />

You have to realize, however, that transformation<br />

and restoration take time. It’s<br />

a process that starts with surrendering<br />

your heart, mind, life, and desires to God.<br />

It requires unwavering commitment and<br />

consistency to God and doing whatever is<br />

necessary to move toward your goal, no<br />

matter how difficult or long it takes.<br />

Along the way, God will give you His<br />

strength, peace, and contentment for the<br />

journey. Trust Him.<br />

SHERIDAN CORREA is a biblical counselor who<br />

is trained in trauma-informed care. She’s a wife,<br />

mother of two teenage boys, singer, and avid runner<br />

who has been radically changed by Jesus. She<br />

joined the Victorious Living family in 2022 as digital<br />

content manager.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


Graced for Success<br />


In the early 2000s, I began a long journey of<br />

redirection. It started with one step, then a series of<br />

steps until finally, I arrived in a spacious place where<br />

today, I am passionately living out my God-given<br />

purpose and helping others do the same (Psalm 18:19).<br />

God’s love and grace rescued me from the powers of<br />

darkness that had held me captive since my youth<br />

(Colossians 1:13).<br />

Did I deserve His kindness? No. I had<br />

rebelled early in life and trampled His<br />

gifts, especially the gift of loving parents.<br />

After eighth grade, I ran away from home<br />

and dropped out of school. I wanted to do<br />

things my way.<br />

My parents tried desperately to get me<br />

back on track, but I ignored them. My<br />

only focus was making money. I imagined<br />

it would give me the freedom to do<br />

whatever I wanted. So I found a place to<br />

live with a relative and got a job at the local<br />

Burger King.<br />

Every morning I rode my bike to a place<br />

that tells its customers to “have it your<br />

way.” Well, having it my way might have<br />

been desirable for a hamburger, but not<br />

in life. I needed God’s way, but it would take<br />

years of hardship for me to figure that out.<br />

Selfish desires, irrational decisions, and<br />

a lack of direction carried me into dark<br />

places where I experienced much physical,<br />

emotional, and mental pain. It still hurts<br />

to revisit that time of my life.<br />

By 17, I was pregnant with my first child.<br />

I had an on-and-off relationship with the<br />

baby’s father and gave birth to two more<br />

children with him in the next couple of<br />

years. As often happens to baby mamas,<br />

the father gave no support.<br />

I did my best under the circumstances,<br />

but the weight of raising and providing<br />

for three children was a lot to carry.<br />

Not to mention I was far too emotionally<br />

im mature to care for them properly.<br />

How thankful I am for immediate family<br />

members and community programs that<br />

provided support.<br />

One day, a case worker knocked on my<br />

door and told me about a program that assisted<br />

parents with young children. This<br />

program would allow me to attend a local<br />

community college and obtain my GED<br />


16 <strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM

while my children participated in a Head<br />

Start program.<br />

The thought of getting my GED kindled<br />

new hope in me. For years, my educational<br />

status had prevented me from obtaining<br />

jobs outside of food service. I was only 19,<br />

but my future had already seemed set in<br />

stone. Suddenly, I could see a way to take a<br />

step toward something positive in my life.<br />

Maybe there was a future for me after all.<br />

I entered the program excitedly and set<br />

what I thought was a reasonable goal to<br />

pass one test a month. Obtaining my GED<br />

took longer than expected, though, as I<br />

had trouble staying focused. I would get<br />

inspired, then fall away.<br />

Math slowed me down. It took three attempts<br />

for me to pass that exam. I didn’t<br />

know it then, but depression was contributing<br />

to my inability to stay consistent. At<br />

the time, all I knew to do was push my feelings<br />

down and keep trying.<br />

My teachers noticed my determination<br />

and asked me to be a guest speaker at the<br />

basic skills recognition ceremony. I was<br />

surprised when my speech and a picture<br />

of me in my cap and gown were published<br />

in the local newspaper. It was my birthday,<br />

and I couldn’t have received a better gift.<br />

The newspaper article and picture<br />

proved that good things are possible to<br />

those who work hard and believe. I showed<br />

it to my children with pride and encouraged<br />

them those good things were possible<br />

for them, too.<br />

From that day forward, I set more goals<br />

and entered the local community college<br />

to pursue my college education. Filled with<br />

newfound confidence, I refused to count<br />

myself out or be content with just getting<br />

by and relying on others. I wanted more out<br />

of life and was determined to defeat every<br />

challenge that came my way. My children<br />

were looking up to me, so giving up wasn’t<br />

an option.<br />

I began pursuing a degree in human services<br />

technology. I wanted to help people,<br />

especially women like me who struggled to<br />

make ends meet. It felt good to take daily<br />

steps to better myself. But in 2005, I lost<br />

focus when the father of my children came<br />

back around. I got pregnant again and had<br />

to put my education goals on hold for nearly<br />

a decade to care for my four children.<br />

Looking back, I see that continuing a<br />

relationship with a man who didn’t stay<br />

and didn’t care enough to provide for his<br />

family was unwise. But I couldn’t see past<br />

the moment. Insecurities and an unhealed<br />

heart led me to make many choices that<br />

resulted in hard consequences.<br />

Don’t get me wrong. I love my children<br />

and would make every sacrifice again for<br />

them. But being a single mom and living<br />

in poverty was hard—for my kids and me.<br />

I often felt discouraged by my circumstances<br />

and would isolate myself as I<br />

fought depression and suicidal thoughts.<br />







Only by God’s grace were my kids and I able<br />

to survive that long, dark season.<br />

The church was the only place I experienced<br />

a sense of relief. I started attending<br />

with the kids around the same time I<br />

got my GED. We’d walk down the street to<br />

church each Sunday, and there, I’d find the<br />

strength to make it through another week.<br />

Being in the presence of God, His Word,<br />

powerful worship music, and fellowshipping<br />

with other believers lifted a heavy<br />

weight off my shoulders. I knew no matter<br />

what, I needed to cling to my faith. And I<br />

did. But I didn’t yet understand the importance<br />

of living in Christ daily.<br />

God used my children to draw me closer<br />

to Him. My children have always been my<br />

motivation to live a better life. I wanted<br />

them to be proud of their mother and see<br />

that they could achieve their goals if they<br />

focused and worked hard.<br />

But God showed me that it was even<br />

more important to teach them to live a life<br />

of faith daily. Worldly success is worthless<br />

if they don’t know Jesus Christ as their Lord<br />

and Savior (Philippians 3:8).<br />

I began to seek God daily through prayer<br />

and studying the Bible. I was determined<br />

to give Him more than church attendance.<br />

Soon, God’s Holy Spirit convicted me of my<br />

life choices. He showed me that my going<br />

to church and then hitting the clubs and<br />

hanging out was sending mixed messages<br />

to my kids.<br />

Having one foot in the world was also<br />

causing me to be unstable. James 1:8 says<br />

that a person who divides their loyalty<br />

between God and the world is unstable in<br />

all they do.<br />

Setting a bad example for my children<br />

was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted<br />

to live a life of faith that honored God<br />

and exhibited character worth imitating—<br />

and God gave me the power to accomplish<br />

it (Philippians 2:13).<br />

I returned to school again, and in 2014,<br />

I finally graduated with my college degree.<br />

My older self told my younger self,<br />

“Girl, you did it!” I thanked God for this<br />

joyous day. Later that year, I got married—<br />

something I never thought I’d experience.<br />

But the honeymoon didn’t last long as my<br />

kids and I tried to adjust to our new family<br />

unit. We all struggled, and soon, my children<br />

rebelled.<br />

I kept pushing down my emotions and<br />

pressing through situations as I’d always<br />

done. It seemed to be paying off when<br />

in 2016, I started a job at East Carolina<br />

University in an administrative role. I<br />

could hardly contain myself when I sat<br />

down at my very own desk in a private<br />

office. I rejoiced in the Lord and thanked<br />

Him for bringing me so far in life. He had<br />

helped me overcome so many obstacles<br />

(Philippians 4:13).<br />

But things fell apart in the fall of 2018.<br />

My husband and I separated, and my son,<br />

arrested for double homicide, was facing<br />

the death penalty. (Instead of death, he is<br />

now serving a 38-year sentence in prison.)<br />

His arrest took a toll on my mental state.<br />

Life had thrown me many curves in the<br />

past, but I’d always managed to bob and<br />

weave and keep moving. This time, I was<br />

drowning in sorrow.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


Satan had a heyday with me while I was<br />

down. He reminded me daily how I had<br />

missed the mark as a mother and wife. He<br />

told me God’s plan would never come to<br />

fruition for my kids or me and that I had<br />

experienced all the good I ever would. It<br />

didn’t take long before I was engulfed again<br />

in a hopeless pit of despair and self-pity.<br />

All I could see was an endless dark tunnel<br />

with no light, closing in on me. I lost sight<br />

of all the progress I’d made.<br />

A good thing happened during this dark<br />

season though. For years, I had refused to<br />

talk to anyone about my mental health or<br />

seek medical help. I’d used God as an excuse,<br />

telling myself that He alone was my<br />

Healer; I didn’t need anyone else.<br />

Don’t get me wrong—God is the Great<br />

Physician, and He can heal anyone of anything.<br />

But I wasn’t actually receptive to His<br />

help because I didn’t want to confront the<br />

painful issues of my past. Finally, I realized<br />

that unless I faced my past with God, I had<br />

no hope of breaking free from the darkness<br />

that held me captive.<br />

It wasn’t easy, but I started sharing my<br />

pain, first with God and then with other<br />

trustworthy people. I took the cap off the<br />

place in my heart where I stored my emotions<br />

and painful traumas and let them<br />

rise to the surface. One by one, I gave them<br />

over to God.<br />

First Peter 5:7 (NIV) invites us to “Cast<br />

all your anxiety on him because he cares<br />

for you.” As I realized the depth of God’s<br />

love for me, I trusted Him more with my<br />

pain. As the old traumas, disappointments,<br />

emotions, and my sinful behavior came to<br />

light, I would write them down, pray, and<br />

then release them to God. It helped me to<br />

remember that God’s love was unconditional<br />

and that no matter what I shared, He<br />

would not reject or judge me (John 3:17).<br />

With time, the light of His love overcame<br />

the darkness that had tormented<br />

me (Psalm 18:28; Matthew 4:16). The Lord<br />

also gave me strength and peace to seek<br />

professional help. I am grateful for those<br />

He put in my path to help me. God never<br />

gave up on me, even when I wanted to give<br />

up on myself.<br />

Today, praise God, my mental and emotional<br />

health is more stable. In 2020, God<br />

graced me to launch a nonprofit called<br />

Striving with Vision. I now have the privilege<br />

of helping women discover their worth<br />

in Christ and encouraging them to strive<br />

toward a better future. My past victories<br />

with God have equipped me for this journey.<br />

In the process, I’ve found that serving<br />

others helps me avoid becoming consumed<br />

with my own struggles, especially my son’s<br />

incarceration.<br />

There’s a saying, “Nothing worth having<br />

is easy.” I know this is true. My life has<br />

been one fight of faith after another. But<br />

the “good fight of faith” is what we must<br />

all face if we want to be victorious over our<br />

circumstances (1 Timothy 6:12).<br />

Satan and this world are not just going to<br />

roll over and let you experience the goodness<br />

of God’s plan. You must be willing to<br />

face the fight! God will strengthen you for<br />

the journey and grace you for success.<br />

It may not seem like it now, but there is<br />

hope for your tunnel’s end. Keep casting<br />

your cares over to God. Remind yourself<br />

daily of the victories you’ve already experienced<br />

and cling to your faith that more<br />

will come. And then rise, aim, and move<br />

forward with purpose (1 Corinthians 9:26).<br />

In Christ, you are a conqueror over every<br />

situation (Romans 8:37). No circumstance<br />

or person has the power to stop what God<br />

has purposed for your life (Isaiah 54:17;<br />

Jeremiah 29:11). Well, no one except you.<br />

Your unbelief in God, refusal to believe in<br />

yourself, and unwillingness to keep going<br />

will stop you in your tracks every time.<br />

Right now, maybe you’re fighting that<br />

good fight of faith. You’re taking steps with<br />

God toward a better future. I’m so glad.<br />

Keep going; you’re going to make it. You<br />

can be victorious.<br />

But maybe, like I often did, you’ve gotten<br />

sidetracked, knocked down, or delayed.<br />

Friend, it’s time to get back up. It’s not too<br />

late. God’s love is big. Nothing you’ve done<br />

or experienced has disqualified you from<br />

the good things He has for you.<br />

Get your eyes off your circumstances,<br />

your failures, and those deceitful emotions.<br />

Instead, give them to God. He will help you.<br />

Then rise and take the next step He has<br />

for you.<br />

Don’t know which step to take next? Ask<br />

Him. He’ll show you the way (Proverbs<br />

3:5–6; James 1:5). And when He does, move<br />

in faith and purpose with tightly secured<br />

boxing gloves.<br />

You’ve got this because God’s got you!<br />

Above left: Latoya and her children approximately 15 years ago. Above right: Latoya<br />

and her mother, Sarah Grady, at Latoya’s ordination ceremony.<br />

LATOYA WILLIAMS is the founder of Striving<br />

with Vision, an empowerment support group, and<br />

an ordained minister. To find out more about her<br />

nonprofit or to invite Latoya to speak at your event,<br />

visit strivingwithvision.com.<br />

18 <strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM






of any kind. Then I got married.<br />

For the last two years, I have been in<br />

boot camp, learning to be the wife of an<br />

avid sports lover. Any game involving a ball<br />

makes my otherwise attentive husband<br />

oblivious to the world around him.<br />

To keep harmony in my home and avoid<br />

being a nagging wife, I sometimes sit with<br />

him through the games, absorbing more<br />

information than I will ever need or use. I<br />

have learned about teams, players, touchdowns,<br />

field goals, offense and defense,<br />

and good versus poor sportsmanship.<br />

Players who spend time on the bench<br />

consistently catch my attention. Whether<br />

they’re there because of injury, poor performance,<br />

or not following the game plan<br />

or their coach’s lead, being benched is a<br />

big deal. It can be a temporary setback,<br />

or it can define their career.<br />

The player’s attitude and ability to receive<br />

correction and instruction is what<br />

makes the difference. Those who decide<br />

to use the experience to gain wisdom and<br />

guidance are likely to emerge as better<br />

players and possibly even better people.<br />

The same principles apply to our life and<br />

our walk with Jesus. My ultimate bench<br />

experience happened the third time I went<br />

to prison. The first two times I got locked<br />

up, I didn’t know the Lord, and I wasn’t interested<br />

in trying to do better in life.<br />

I didn’t see myself as the problem. I<br />

blamed other people and my circumstances<br />

for where I had wound up. The chaos<br />

and dysfunction of my life had become<br />

comfortable, so it didn’t even occur to me<br />

that I should try to change.<br />

But after 25 years of repeating the same<br />

cycle, I was barely alive and exhausted<br />

from doing things my way. In His grace<br />

and mercy, God put me on the bench, and<br />

I finally realized my need for Him. There,<br />

I surrendered my life to Jesus and decided<br />

to let Him be the head coach of my life.<br />

I spent the rest of my prison time immersed in my Bible.<br />

It’s God’s playbook for a meaningful life (Hebrews 4:12). If you<br />

want lasting transformation, God’s Word is where you’ll find it.<br />

Once released, I surrounded myself with like-minded people<br />

who were invested in my success. Five years later, they still<br />

take the time to walk with me, share their wisdom, and cover<br />

me in prayer as I learn to live for Christ. When I mess up or<br />

when my thinking is skewed or I misbehave, they don’t just<br />

tell me what they think I want to hear. They tell me the truth<br />

about myself and lovingly redirect me to God’s Word.<br />

No matter how you get to the bench, trust that God knows<br />

what’s best for you. He may require you to sit it out with Him<br />

several times throughout your life. Our heavenly Father deals<br />

with us individually according to what we need (Hebrews 12:7).<br />

If He puts you on the bench, sit there and learn!<br />

Is yours a physical bench or an invisible one? Are you in a<br />

season of correction? Maybe God wants you to be still for a<br />

while and get your priorities straight. Pay attention! Look for<br />

the lessons and the wisdom around you. More importantly,<br />

listen for God.<br />

Spend your time on the bench wisely. Ask the Lord to show<br />

you in His Word how to change, how to break old habits and<br />

behaviors, and how to become more like Him. God disciplines<br />

you because He loves you (Proverbs 3:12). He wants you to<br />

become everything He created you to be—for your good and<br />

His glory (Ephesians 1:4–6).<br />

No matter<br />

how you get<br />

to the bench,<br />

believe that<br />

God knows<br />

what is best<br />

for you.<br />


serves as Victorious Living’s<br />

production manager. Once<br />

incarcerated, she now<br />

ministers hope to those<br />

held captive by their past<br />

and current circumstances<br />

while sharing the message of<br />

healing she found in Jesus.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


YO U<br />

H AV E<br />



It was Christmas morning 1982, and my phone would<br />

not stop ringing. I snuggled up in my warm bed, willing<br />

the phone to hush. But it kept on until finally I gave in,<br />

grabbed the receiver, and muttered an irritated, “Hello?”<br />

It was my mother, and she got straight to the point.<br />

“Can Charlie stay at your place for a few days? The cops<br />

are looking for him. They want to talk to him about some<br />

murders that happened last night.”<br />

I was horrified and tried to clear my head. “Murders!<br />

What? Oh, Mom, I can’t.”<br />

“Juliana, he didn’t hurt anyone.” She took a drag off<br />

her cigarette, but not even the nicotine could hide the<br />

shaking of her voice. I agreed to come over and meet<br />

with Charlie but committed to nothing more.<br />

This was not my brother’s first brush with the cops.<br />

He had already been to prison twice. My gut was telling<br />

me which way to lean.<br />

But we did what most families would do—we protected<br />

our own. Charlie came to stay with me while my parents<br />

arranged to send him away. We didn’t talk about what<br />

had happened; we couldn’t. The dark cloud hanging over<br />

us was too thick. Nothing would ever be the same again.<br />

Dad and I took Charlie to the airport, and he boarded a<br />

plane for Dallas. I took a train to the city.<br />

I rode the entire day aimlessly. I didn’t know what to<br />

do or where to go. I desperately needed to talk to someone.<br />

I thought about going to the church we’d attended<br />

growing up, but those people had not been part of our<br />

lives since Charlie’s first time down. Besides, all they’d<br />

do was tell me to pray. Forget that!<br />

But then I remembered Father Baseheart. He had given<br />

me my first holy communion at St. Gregory’s Church.<br />

I bussed my way to the old neighborhood, walked to the<br />

parish, and knocked on the door.<br />

Father Baseheart reached out and welcomed me. He led me to an<br />

office, and I sat down. “Now, how may I help you?” he asked gently.<br />

Tears flowed as I passed him a tattered newspaper containing<br />

the story of the murders. “My brother did this, and I don’t know<br />

what to do.”<br />

Father Baseheart read the article. “We need to pray,” he said.<br />

I left the parish soon after, walked to the nearest bus stop, and<br />

rode home. “Pray?!” I yelled internally as the bus bumped along.<br />

“Did You not see what happened, God? Why didn’t You stop it?<br />

Where were You? Nowhere to be found, that’s where! And now, I’m<br />

supposed to pray to You? I don’t think so.”<br />

I was so angry. My family had been falling apart for years, and I<br />

had asked God to step in more than once. He didn’t seem to care<br />

enough to intervene. And now this? I couldn’t wrap my head around<br />

the pain and horror of the murders and the hopeless reality of my<br />

life. And so, for the next 16 years, I cut off communication with God.<br />

It didn’t matter that I hadn’t hurt anyone. My brother had, and he<br />

was family. We were the same. I deliberately set out to escape my<br />

reality. I was embarrassed and ashamed of my life, my family, and<br />

of what my brother had done. I had no one to talk to.<br />

I tried to blend into society. I didn’t want to be identified as the<br />

sister of a murderer, yet I felt such remorse for Charlie’s victims.<br />


20 <strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM

It was too much to bear, and I stepped into the fast lane. Men.<br />

Cash. Coke. Jack. I spun quickly out of control.<br />

When Charlie was given a triple death sentence, I vowed I<br />

would never speak to him again. I was done with Charlie and<br />

Chicago, and I decided to move.<br />

I set off to live with my older brother in Dallas. There I met his<br />

best friend, David. He was another bad boy—but boy, was he cute.<br />

Daily life with David was one big party—until I found out I was<br />

pregnant. My maternal instincts kicked in, and I stopped doing<br />

drugs. I returned to Chicago. David followed me there, and we got<br />

married. Three months later, our daughter Jennifer was born.<br />

We remained in Chicago for the next 13 years. During that<br />

time, I didn’t think once about God. I was doing just fine without<br />

Despite the wreckage of my<br />

life, I could feel His presence.<br />

He was still here.<br />

Him. We had another little girl, Kelly, and set out to give our girls<br />

an incredible life.<br />

When our oldest daughter was starting middle school, we decided<br />

to move to Phoenix. I was excited about this new adventure<br />

and proud of the family David and I had built.<br />

But one day, as I mentally patted myself on the back for the<br />

incredible life we had given our girls, God spoke loud and clear.<br />

“But you have not given them the most important thing they need—Me!”<br />

Once close, Juliana and her brother, Charlie (above left),<br />

didn’t speak for 20 years due to hurt and unforgiveness.<br />

The gift of forgiveness not only restored Juliana’s relation ship with<br />

Charlie, but with her husband, David (above right), as well.<br />

You could have heard a pin drop inside my head. I<br />

hadn’t spoken to God in decades, but I recognized His<br />

voice. Conviction gripped my heart. “You’re right,” I<br />

replied. It’s all I could say.<br />

Reluctantly, I promised God I would take the girls<br />

to church. But I made it very clear that I wasn’t going.<br />

Drop off and pick up, that’s all He was getting from me.<br />

Of course, God knew better.<br />

One night as I was preparing to pick the girls up from<br />

Wednesday night church, the telephone rang. It was the<br />

police. David had been in a head-on collision. He was<br />

okay, but they were holding him in custody. The victim,<br />

they said, had been hospitalized with injuries.<br />

Custody? Victim? I was bewildered. The officer continued,<br />

“Ma’am, it appears Mr. McFadden may have been<br />

under the influence at the time of the crash. We need<br />

you to pick him up at the station.”<br />

Turns out, David had fallen asleep at the wheel while<br />

under the influence of opiates and hit a Mercedes headon.<br />

On May 16, 2000, just a year and a half after moving<br />

to our new home in Phoenix, David was charged with<br />

aggravated assault and given a two-and-a-half-year<br />

prison sentence.<br />

Once again, a man I loved and trusted had turned my<br />

world upside down. First Charlie, and now my husband.<br />

Really, God? Still, I pressed on and tried to do the right<br />

thing. I kept my end of the bargain and kept taking the<br />

girls to church. But inside, I was devastated.<br />

Week after week, I dropped them off, went home, and<br />

then back again. But I was a single mom<br />

now, and I was tired. So I began staying at<br />

the church with the girls. I thought it was<br />

a matter of convenience, but God knew it<br />

was a matter of connection.<br />

One night, my friend Joanne invited me<br />

to go with her to hear someone named<br />

Anne Graham Lotz. I had no idea Mrs.<br />

Lotz was the daughter of the great evangelist<br />

Billy Graham until Joanne told me.<br />

I agreed to go.<br />

Perhaps, I thought, if I went to the service,<br />

God would tell me whether I should<br />

stay with my husband or if He would give<br />

me the green light to walk away from my<br />

marriage. I was hurt, betrayed, exhausted,<br />

and emotionally done.<br />

Funny thing, Anne Graham Lotz didn’t<br />

say one word about whether I should stay with David, but<br />

I still came away from the event with an answer. Can you<br />

believe God used a statement on a bookmark inserted<br />

in the event program to convey His message? On it were<br />

the words: “I have decided to .”<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


At the close of the event, we were each instructed to<br />

write down what God was leading us to do based on the<br />

evening’s experience. My eyes fell to the blank line, and<br />

I thought about my life. It was a mess.<br />

For years I had sought comfort, hope, and peace but<br />

had always come up empty. I dropped my head to my<br />

hands and cried. I needed Jesus. And I knew it because<br />

I had once personally known Him.<br />

I’d accepted Him long ago as my Savior. When I was<br />

little, Jesus had been my friend, and I’d loved Him. Then<br />

life happened, and I got angry and walked away from<br />

Him. But God had never walked away from me. Despite<br />

the wreckage of my life, I could feel His presence. He<br />

was still here.<br />

I laid down my anger and prayed a true prayer of surrender.<br />

This was different. No longer was I acting like a<br />

spoiled little girl with arms folded defiantly across her<br />

chest. My arms and heart were open. I was ready to go<br />

wherever God would lead me. I had no hope without Him.<br />

That night, in the blank spaces of the bookmark, I<br />

wrote, “I have decided to surrender my life to God—<br />

my will for His will. I commit myself to serve Christ.”<br />

This bookmark is still in my Bible today. Like in Joshua<br />

4:21–24, it serves as a stone of remembrance of my<br />

commitment to the Lord.<br />

Through spending time with the Lord, I knew I was<br />

to remain with David. I did, and God renewed my love<br />

for my husband and our marriage. He also led me to<br />

serve Him in a place I’d never dreamed—prison. It all<br />

happened because of my attending Al-Anon meetings.<br />

Al-Anon provides support to people who have been<br />

affected by another person’s alcoholism. I started attending<br />

meetings after David was incarcerated. One night,<br />

about a year in, there was a request for volunteers to<br />

host Al-Anon meetings at Perryville Prison for women<br />

in Goodyear, Arizona. God poked my heart and would<br />

not relent about this new thing I could do to serve Him.<br />

“But, God,” I protested. “There is no way I’m going to<br />

visit anyone in prison, especially people I don’t know!”<br />

God shocked me with His reply. “But you love people<br />

who are in prison.”<br />

“Actually,” I said, “I do not.” I hadn’t talked to Charlie<br />

in nearly 20 years, and I still wasn’t happy speaking<br />

with my incarcerated husband.<br />

“Try it,” He said. “If you don’t like it, you can quit.”<br />

I spent the next five years hosting Al-Anon meetings<br />

at Perryville. I loved the ladies and being able to serve<br />

God in this way. In Al-Anon, you share your experience,<br />

strength, and hope. I wasn’t shy in telling the ladies that<br />

I’d found all these things in God alone—the great I Am<br />

(Exodus 3:14).<br />

And then, it occurred to me, “How can I love these<br />

Above: The<br />

bookmark<br />

that serves as<br />

Juliana’s stone of<br />

rememberance.<br />

Right: After<br />

seeing the need<br />

for formerly<br />

incarcerated<br />

people to receive<br />

reentry support,<br />

Juliana founded<br />

SISTER Ministries.<br />

ladies and not even speak to my brother?” I felt a deep sense of<br />

guilt. God was preparing my heart for what was to come.<br />

Not long after that, my younger sister called. “Juliana,” she<br />

said, “Charlie tried to commit suicide. He’s been transferred<br />

to Statesville.” Charlie’s death sentences had been commuted,<br />

but he would spend the rest of his life in prison. I had not seen<br />

him in 20 years, and I knew I had to change that. I could not live<br />

with myself if he took his life and I had not reconciled with him.<br />

I had just finished reading The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick<br />

Warren (Zondervan, 2002). I was particularly inspired by these<br />

words, “God wants you to have a Christlike ministry on earth.<br />

That means other people are going to find healing in your<br />

wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective<br />

ministry will come out of your deepest hurts” (275).<br />

22 <strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM


Charlie needed to know that God had a purpose for his life. I<br />

immediately mailed the book to him, asked him to read it, and<br />

told him I would visit him in January. I booked a flight to Chicago<br />

and contacted the warden at Statesville with a request to allow me<br />

extra time with Charlie since I was traveling such a long distance.<br />

God granted me much favor. I was allowed to visit two days in<br />

a row, two hours per visit. My heart leaped when I saw him. All I<br />

could think was that he was the most beautiful thing I had ever<br />

seen. I couldn’t help but think that that is how Jesus sees us, no<br />

matter what we’ve done. We are beautiful and precious in His<br />

eyes, and His heart is full of love for us. (See John 3:16.)<br />

Charlie and I hugged each other tightly. Neither of us wanted<br />

to let go. Afterward, we stared at each other with tear-filled eyes.<br />

We had so much to catch up on. I asked Charlie to forgive me for<br />

abandoning him for so long. I told him I loved him and begged<br />

him never to hurt himself again. He accepted my apology and<br />

jokingly apologized for beating me up when we were kids. We<br />

both had a good laugh.<br />

On our second day’s visit, I asked Charlie if he had read the book<br />

I had sent. He was halfway through it. I encouraged him to keep<br />

reading. “Juliana, you don’t understand,” Charlie interjected, “I<br />

don’t have a purpose. I’m in prison. There is nothing here for me.”<br />

“God gives everyone a purpose, no matter where they are or<br />

what they’ve done,” I told him. “God has a purpose for your life<br />

even in here.” He looked confused.<br />

“You are an OG, Charlie, and God wants to use you. Imagine if<br />

some OG on your first time down had befriended you and taught<br />

you about Jesus. Think about how different things would be.<br />

Instead of wanting to fit in with a gang, you would have been a<br />

disciple for Christ. But you can do that for someone else now. You<br />

might be sentenced to prison for life, but that doesn’t prevent<br />

God from using you. Don’t cheat yourself, Charlie. Keep reading<br />

the book. God has a plan, and you’re about to discover it!”<br />

Not long after, Charlie rededicated his life to Christ. He remembered<br />

the God of his youth just as I had done. And in March<br />

2006, he was baptized. It’s been more than 16 years since that<br />

visit. Charlie has persistently pursued a relationship with Jesus,<br />

just like Jesus pursued him—with his life.<br />

Charlie’s thirst for learning about Jesus has been unquenchable,<br />

and his heart is on fire. Though incarcerated, he has completed<br />

multiple Bible courses, three college degrees, and earned<br />

a doctorate in theology.<br />

Through the power of Jesus in him, Charlie has turned his<br />

deepest hurt into his Christlike ministry on earth. Once low and<br />

despised, he submitted to Jesus, and as promised in 1 Corinthians<br />

1:26–28, God has used what the world would call weak and<br />

foolish to teach righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.<br />

Just days after my initial visit with Charlie, God brought a new<br />

friendship into my life. Cheryl lived in Tucson and hosted a weekly<br />

Bible study called SISTER (Spiritually in Step to Encourage Restoration)<br />

Connection, for women recently released from prison.<br />

I was intrigued for many reasons by this unique ministry.<br />

First, I knew that if Charlie had had a Christian friend<br />

come alongside him the first time he was released from<br />

prison, he might have surrendered his life to Jesus<br />

sooner and experienced a different life outcome. And<br />

his victims would still be alive. Second, I realized that,<br />

while many programs existed behind prison walls, few<br />

existed that were willing to help formerly incarcerated<br />

people upon their release and in subsequent years.<br />

Interested to learn more, I visited Cheryl and observed<br />

her ministry in action.<br />

Not long after, God opened doors for me to mirror<br />

Cheryl’s SISTER Connection in Phoenix. My friend<br />

graciously mentored me for nearly five years. In April<br />

God gives everyone a purpose,<br />

no matter where they are or<br />

what they’ve done.<br />

2012, I incorporated SISTER Ministries, Inc. as a 501(c)3<br />

nonprofit outreach to formerly incarcerated women.<br />

In addition to its weekly Bible study and support meetings,<br />

SISTER Ministries maintains a pen-pal ministry<br />

for currently incarcerated women and a gatekeeper<br />

program to assist with transportation upon release. In<br />

November 2022, SISTER Ministries celebrated 16 years<br />

of serving formerly incarcerated women.<br />

I recently asked Charlie, “What did you feel when I<br />

told you that God has a purpose for your life?” He told<br />

me he was shocked. But then, I was surprised God had a<br />

purpose for my life, too. No, I hadn’t murdered anyone,<br />

but I had rebelled against God and rejected His love.<br />

There’s no difference.<br />

How thankful we are that God is rich in mercy, and He<br />

pursued us. His goodness brought us to surrender (Romans<br />

2:4). God loves to shock us with exceedingly more<br />

than we could ever hope or ask (Ephesians 3:14–20).<br />

Does God really have a purpose for your life? Yes,<br />

He does.<br />

God has a purpose, no matter what you’ve done or<br />

where you are. Don’t think that you’ve messed up God’s<br />

plans for a minute. You’re not that big. Surrender your<br />

life to Him—His will, His way. Jesus Christ is a restorer<br />

of hope. He gives purpose to anyone who will lay down<br />

their lives to Him.<br />

Friend, what He did for me and for my brother Charlie,<br />

He can do for you, too.<br />

JULIANA MCFADDEN lives out her life mission daily by<br />

ministering to formerly incarcerated women. To learn more about<br />

how she serves, go to sisterministries.org.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />




for it! Have some fun! You<br />

deserve this. Everybody has<br />

it better than you. Your mom’s<br />

sick. Your dad’s a drug addict.<br />

God cheated you. Life cheated<br />

you. Everybody cheated you.”<br />

Anger and self-pity fueled me<br />

for decades. It never mattered<br />

that I knew that what I was doing<br />

was wrong. My inner voice<br />

always urged me to move forward.<br />

I was a victim, and the<br />

world owed me.<br />

As far back as I can remember,<br />

I’ve felt sorry for myself. It<br />

started in elementary school<br />

when I began comparing my<br />

home life to what I imagined<br />

my peers experienced. I could<br />

never pinpoint exactly what<br />

they had that I didn’t, but I<br />

knew it was better. I lost sight<br />

of any good thing in my life and<br />

focused only on the negative.<br />

I loved my family and knew<br />

they loved me, but our home<br />

was dysfunctional and chaotic.<br />

Dad was a full-blown crack<br />

cocaine addict and alcoholic.<br />

His addiction brought much<br />

grief into our home, especially<br />

for my older brother, whom<br />

Dad abused. My brother was<br />


24 <strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM

my father’s stepson; perhaps<br />

that’s why he targeted him so<br />

fiercely. Whatever the reason,<br />

it made me uncomfortable because<br />

Dad treated me like the<br />

golden child.<br />

Dad’s addiction led him in<br />

and out of jail and eventually<br />

to prison. It also caused us to<br />

move a lot. By the time I was 15,<br />

we had moved ten times.<br />

My mother was loving, but<br />

she had her own struggles,<br />

primarily due to her battle with<br />

diabetes. I don’t remember a<br />

time when she wasn’t in intense<br />

pain or homebound. She<br />

ultimately became blind and<br />

addicted to prescription pain<br />

pills. Her addiction and physical<br />

misery made it difficult for<br />

her to be emotionally present<br />

for my brother and me, but she<br />

did the best she could.<br />

Extended family provided<br />

much-needed support. My<br />

grandmother, aunt, and uncle<br />

loved our family well. We often<br />

attended church together.<br />

I heard many stories about<br />

Jesus when I was a kid. Early<br />

on, I believed that God had<br />

sent His Son to die for me. I<br />

even prayed to receive His gift<br />

of eternal salvation. But as often<br />

happens, my Christian faith<br />

stopped at my head and never<br />

settled in my heart.<br />

I had no relationship with<br />

God outside of the church, nor<br />

was I interested in developing<br />

one. To me, God was to blame<br />

for the chaos in my home, especially<br />

Mom’s sickness. She<br />

passed when I was 15, and that<br />

was just proof that God didn’t<br />

care about us.<br />

Dad was in prison then, and<br />

my brother had moved from<br />

West Virginia to Ohio. I felt so<br />

alone, lost, and overwhelmed<br />

by the uncertainty of my future.<br />

Where was God, and why was<br />

He allowing me to endure such<br />

hardships?<br />

Anger pumped through my<br />

veins as I recounted how He<br />

had cheated me.<br />

My Aunt Kathy and Uncle<br />

Herb, a kind Christian couple,<br />

welcomed me into their home.<br />

They loved, accepted, and supported<br />

me daily, and they modeled<br />

God’s sacrificial love and<br />

faithfulness. Through them,<br />

I learned the benefits of hard<br />

work and integrity and experienced<br />

a stable home life for<br />

the first time.<br />

But the anger, resentment,<br />

and self-pity inside kept me<br />

from accepting their love or<br />

God’s gift of a new life. I spent<br />

the best years of my life at my<br />

aunt and uncle’s home, yet I<br />

wasn’t satisfied. By focusing<br />

only on the things I didn’t have,<br />

I forfeited the very things I had<br />

longed for in a family.<br />

During my two years in<br />

their home, I partied, smoked,<br />

cussed, and messed around<br />

with girls. I occasionally dabbled<br />

in weed. Tired of their<br />

watchful eye, I devised a plan<br />

for my brother to obtain legal<br />

guardianship of me. Because I<br />

was 17, I could make that foolish<br />

choice without my aunt and<br />

uncle’s permission. They knew<br />

it would not end well for me as<br />

my brother was involved with<br />

drugs too.<br />

The court granted my request,<br />

and I moved to Ohio.<br />

My brother enrolled me in<br />

high school, but after only six<br />

months, I dropped out and dove<br />

headfirst into a life of destruction.<br />

I traded weed for methamphetamines,<br />

and for the next 13<br />

years, I served a harsh master.<br />

I did whatever I had to do to<br />

satisfy my addiction, including<br />

manufacturing and selling the<br />

drug myself. My choices caught<br />

up with me when I was 30, and<br />

My Christian faith<br />

stopped at my head and never<br />

settled in my heart.<br />

I was arrested. It was the first<br />

time I’d ever been in serious<br />

trouble, and there I was, facing<br />

prison time.<br />

While in solitary confinement<br />

in jail, I came across a<br />

Bible. I opened it a few times,<br />

but my heart of stone couldn’t<br />

receive anything it had to offer.<br />

I still blamed God for my miserable<br />

life.<br />

The day before my sentencing<br />

hearing, my lawyer visited<br />

and told me he was getting<br />

me a great deal. His promises<br />

brought me a sense of hope.<br />

That night I decided I’d better<br />

make one more deal. “God,” I<br />

said, “if You’ll come through for<br />

me tomorrow, I’ll follow You. Do<br />

this for me, and I’ll trust You. I’ll<br />

even read the Bible.”<br />

But God wasn’t playing my<br />

Let’s Make a Deal game.<br />

The lawyer didn’t show<br />

up for court. Instead, some<br />

wet-behind-the-ears, state-<br />

appointed attorney represented<br />

me. This new guy knew<br />

nothing about my case, and<br />

the judge sentenced me to a<br />

mandatory three years in prison<br />

with no possibility of early<br />

release. I sat in disbelief as life<br />

as I knew it came to an end.<br />

The officer took me back<br />

to solitary confinement. The<br />

clanging of the chains connected<br />

to my hands and feet was the<br />

only sound in the corridor. As<br />

I shuffled, I searched for some<br />

emotion but felt numb.<br />

Back in my cell, I punched<br />

the wall to feel something. Anything.<br />

Nothing. I turned on the<br />

small 5-station radio in my cell.<br />

I couldn’t stand the silence.<br />

“Drunk on a Plane” by Dierks<br />

Bentley echoed through the<br />

cell. I quickly changed the station.<br />

I wasn’t in the mood. Suddenly,<br />

“How He Loves” by David<br />

Crowder Band rang through the<br />

emptiness. It’s a song about<br />

the unconditional love of God,<br />

and the words brought me to<br />

my knees.<br />

It was a surreal moment.<br />

Years of anger and resentment<br />

toward God drained from my<br />

heart in tears. I was so tired of<br />

fighting for my rightful place<br />

A rebellious spirit led to Ronnie’s<br />

arrest. Pictured above is his<br />

mug shot from 2014.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


in this world. It had only led<br />

to one painful, lonely, rockbottom<br />

place after another.<br />

In that humble posture, I<br />

heard God’s voice. “Trust Me<br />

anyway.”<br />

I reached toward the small<br />

window at the top of my cell<br />

and surrendered to the love of<br />

Jesus. “Okay, God. I will trust<br />

You anyway!”<br />

Immediately, His presence<br />

engulfed me and the space<br />

around me. Peace replaced<br />

years of frustration and fear.<br />

Love replaced hatred and<br />

bitterness. Suddenly, unexpectedly,<br />

I no longer felt like a<br />

victim. It was an instantaneous<br />

transformation of the heart.<br />

Back in general population,<br />

the guys immediately knew<br />

something was different.<br />

“What in the world happened<br />

to you?” they asked. Just a few<br />

days before, I’d been dealing<br />

Ronnie began his<br />

education behind<br />

bars and received<br />

his degree from<br />

Ashland University.<br />

Pictured here with<br />

his Aunt Kathy and<br />

Uncle Herb.<br />

Ronnie and his<br />

wife, Kaitlyn, on<br />

their wedding day<br />

in 2020, with Uncle<br />

Herb and Aunt<br />

Kathy. They have<br />

always provided<br />

support for Ronnie,<br />

even at his lowest.<br />

and stealing. Now, I wasn’t even<br />

cussing.<br />

The moment I died to myself<br />

and my perception of life,<br />

God raised me.<br />

“Jesus happened.”<br />

From then on, I read the Bible<br />

daily and sought God’s will. I<br />

was about to spend three years<br />

in prison and—I must admit—I<br />

was afraid. But knowing God<br />

would be walking through those<br />

prison doors with me brought<br />

comfort, courage, and confidence<br />

(Deuteronomy 31:8).<br />

I wanted to honor the second<br />

chance God was giving me and<br />

do my part to better myself. If I<br />

wasn’t willing to invest in myself,<br />

I certainly couldn’t expect<br />

anyone else to care.<br />

I sensed God telling me, “If<br />

you’ll commit yourself and do<br />

the work, I will help you get to<br />

where you need to be.” Now that<br />

was a good deal!<br />

My first commitment was<br />

to obtain my GED. Since math<br />

had always been a difficult<br />

subject for me, I asked another<br />

inmate to tutor me. Every<br />

day after lunch, this former<br />

doctor helped me. It wasn’t<br />

easy preparing for the GED, as<br />

the test had recently become<br />

more complex. I studied for<br />

hours daily. It’s like they say:<br />

Nothing worth having is easy.<br />

I scored so high on the test<br />

that I was asked to tutor other<br />

inmates for the GED. I couldn’t<br />

believe it. For the first time, I<br />

was a leader. That alone was a<br />

testament to what God can do.<br />

Not only had He saved my<br />

soul, but He helped me understand<br />

things I had struggled<br />

with before. He was changing<br />

me, making me a better man. I<br />

found the confidence to pursue<br />

a college degree from Ashland<br />

University. They offered an<br />

associate’s program to incarcerated<br />

people that other universities<br />

would accept.<br />

I studied hard and was<br />

amazed when I made the dean’s<br />

list. I’d never cared to apply myself<br />

in school, so I’d had no idea<br />

what I could do academically.<br />

Once released from prison, I<br />

completed my education and<br />

received my associate’s degree<br />

from Ashland.<br />

God’s Spirit continually reminded<br />

me, “You’re worth the<br />

work, Ronnie.”<br />

I had never felt worthy of<br />

anything good. Nor had I believed<br />

I could ever be anything<br />

other than a drug addict. But<br />

God thought differently about<br />

me. He didn’t see an addict or<br />

a boy raised in poverty who’d<br />

lost his mom and dad. He saw<br />

a son whom He loved.<br />

Believing I was worthy<br />

helped me continue down this<br />

new path. It wasn’t always easy.<br />

There were many times, especially<br />

after I was released from<br />

prison, that I was tempted to<br />

quit college and return to where<br />

I’d been. But God kept spurring<br />

me on. “You’re worth the work,<br />

Ronnie! Keep pressing forward<br />

with Me.”<br />

After I graduated from Ashland<br />

in 2018, I became a youth<br />

26 <strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM

Above: Ronnie had John 3:30 tattooed on his forearm<br />

to remind him of John the Baptist’s message that<br />

Jesus must increase and we must decrease.<br />

3:30 tattooed on my arm. It<br />

than you ever imagined possi-<br />

helps me remember the im-<br />

ble. I know. I’ve been there. But<br />

portant words of John the<br />

I’ve learned that with Christ,<br />

Baptist about Jesus. “He [Jesus]<br />

rock bottom is a great place to<br />

must become greater; I must<br />

lay a foundation for your new<br />

become less” (NIV).<br />

life (Matthew 7:24–27).<br />


pastor at a local church. I wanted<br />

to help kids discover their<br />

worth in God.<br />

For so long, I had wanted<br />

nothing to do with Him, and<br />

now, I was bringing the Gospel<br />

of Jesus Christ to others!<br />

People used to cross the street<br />

to avoid me. Now parents and<br />

tion after promotion as I stayed<br />

faithful. It’s just like Luke 16:10<br />

promises: “Whoever can be<br />

trusted with very little can also<br />

be trusted with much” (NIV).<br />

Today, I am over the training<br />

and development of more than<br />

300 employees.<br />

This incredible new life<br />

John knew the secret to life:<br />

more of Jesus, less of self. It’s<br />

the only way to experience the<br />

abundant life Jesus promises<br />

in John 10:10.<br />

How about you? Will you<br />

choose to trust God anyway?<br />

Will you lay down your anger<br />

and disappointments, uncurl<br />

God’s got good plans in store<br />

for you (Jeremiah 29:11). How<br />

can you experience them? Remember<br />

John 3:30. More of<br />

Him and less of you.<br />

Trust God today. When you<br />

do, He won’t waste any time restoring<br />

and rebuilding your life.<br />

I won’t promise His plans will<br />

youth were coming to me for<br />

started with a simple: “Okay,<br />

your fists, and open your heart<br />

be easy. But no matter what you<br />

advice. It was incredible.<br />

God, I’ll trust You anyway.”<br />

to the One who loves you—even<br />

face, God’s goodness will meet<br />

Only God could transform<br />

The moment I died to myself<br />

if life hasn’t happened like you<br />

you there. And His grace will<br />

this dirty, lying, and conniving<br />

and my perception of life, God<br />

thought it should? And will you<br />

help you move forward to great<br />

manipulator into a man other<br />

raised me. He gave me new<br />

believe that you are worth a bet-<br />

heights.<br />

people trusted.<br />

eyes and a new heart (Ezekiel<br />

ter life?<br />

Don’t focus on that thing you<br />

New doors began opening for<br />

36:26) and set my feet on a new<br />

Right now, your experiences<br />

never had. You’ll miss the better<br />

me, and I left my youth pastor<br />

path (Proverbs 3:5–6). And as<br />

might have brought you lower<br />

thing God has for you today.<br />

position to travel nationwide,<br />

I humble myself before Him<br />

sharing my story. I also took<br />

a job at Christian Healthcare<br />

Ministries. God brought promo-<br />

daily, God continues to lift me<br />

(James 4:10).<br />

Not too long ago, I had John<br />

RONNIE HOPKINS is the training and development coordinator for Christian<br />

Healthcare Ministries. He is also a spokesperson and advocate for educational<br />

opportunities in prison.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />



VL Publisher,<br />

Kristi Overton<br />

Johnson, after<br />

capturing the<br />

1999 women’s<br />

World Slalom<br />

Title in Milan,<br />

Italy.<br />



Vennesa Vieke asked me what I thought it<br />

takes to be a champion. For the next year,<br />

she and I spent time together talking about<br />

how I had achieved my success. It was fun,<br />

going back and sharing my 35-year athletic<br />

journey with my new friend. (See her story<br />

in <strong>Issue</strong> 03/2021.)<br />

What I’ve learned is that if you want to be<br />

a champion in anything—sports, relationships,<br />

careers, ministries, you name it—the<br />

principles are the same. If you want victory<br />

in your physical, mental, and emotional<br />

health, you must apply these principles.<br />

But here’s the kicker: mentally agreeing<br />

with them won’t get you anywhere. You’ll<br />

have to do the hard work, make sacrifices,<br />

and persevere daily.<br />

If you want to be a champion for the<br />

kingdom of God, you have to use the same<br />

principles.<br />

Let’s talk about that phrase, a champion<br />

for the kingdom of God. I chose those words<br />

deliberately because I’ve realized there<br />

are many champions of God who are not<br />

actively being champions for God’s kingdom.<br />

There is a profound difference.<br />

As believers, we are all champions in<br />

God’s eyes. And our champion status<br />

isn’t based on what we do. It’s based on<br />

the simple fact that we are God’s children.<br />

There are no chumps in God’s family, only<br />

champions.<br />

Right now, maybe you’re thinking, “No<br />

way am I a champion. I’ve never succeeded<br />

at anything. You have no idea what I’ve<br />

done or what has happened to me. God<br />

couldn’t possibly see a champion in me.”<br />

The Bible says otherwise.<br />

If you’ve put your faith and trust in Jesus<br />

for salvation, then you are His champion.<br />

The blood of Jesus has made you one.<br />

Romans 3:25 says, “For God presented<br />

Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are<br />

made right with God when they believe<br />

that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his<br />

blood” (NLT).<br />

While we were still sinners—not after<br />

we got it all together and had a champion’s<br />

success record—God sent His Son, Jesus,<br />

to die for us. Jesus’s blood makes us right<br />

in God’s sight (Romans 5:8–9). Because of<br />

Jesus, God can’t even see our failures. It’s<br />

the work of the cross that makes us His<br />

champions, not what we do.<br />

There is nothing we can do to become<br />


28 <strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM


more of a champion to God. He loves us just<br />

as we are for one simple reason: we’re His<br />

kids. There are no conditions to our heavenly<br />

Father’s love. You can’t earn it, and you<br />

can’t lose it. It just is, and it’s everlasting.<br />

There aren’t different degrees of God’s<br />

love either. His love doesn’t change. He<br />

can’t love you any more than He does right<br />

now. And He doesn’t love one person more<br />

than He does someone else. This is great<br />

and amazing news.<br />

So if we’re already champions, isn’t that<br />

all there is? No. Even though God loves us<br />

and even though He sees a champion when<br />

He looks at us, that doesn’t mean every<br />

believer will live the life of a champion. Not<br />

every believer will determine to be a champion<br />

for God and His kingdom.<br />

I didn’t for a long time.<br />

I was all about championing my kingdom.<br />

I was focused on using my gifts and<br />

talents for my glory, not His. I didn’t realize<br />

there was more to being a Christian than<br />

asking Jesus to forgive me of my sins and<br />

give me eternal life (John 3:16).<br />

I knew I was supposed to go to church,<br />

pray, and read my Bible, but I didn’t understand<br />

that God wanted to partner with<br />

me in life and use me for His kingdom<br />

purposes. I had no idea someone could<br />

be a champion for God’s kingdom, and I<br />

certainly didn’t know how to be one.<br />

Let’s look at the life of Moses to understand<br />

this better. God created Moses to<br />

lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into<br />

the Promised Land. God knew Moses was<br />

the right person for the job—even after<br />

he’d killed a man and had to hide out in<br />

the wilderness shepherding his father-inlaw’s<br />

sheep. (Check out Exodus 1–2.) Does<br />

that sound like someone who’s a champion?<br />

A wanted man, a murderer, living in<br />

obscurity?<br />

Thankfully, when God chooses people<br />

to champion His causes, He doesn’t look<br />

at their outward appearance, their past,<br />

or where they live. He looks at the inner<br />

qualities He put in us.<br />

God created Moses to lead. He allowed<br />

Moses to have unique and even painful<br />

experiences to prepare him for the task.<br />

He wanted to journey with Moses to help<br />

him develop those leadership qualities.<br />

In Exodus 3–4, we see God inviting His<br />

champion to go on this adventure with<br />

Him. A voice from a burning bush? You can<br />

believe God had Moses’s attention as He<br />

began to reveal what He wanted him to do.<br />

God was like, “Moses, I’ve chosen you<br />

to champion the cause of My people. I’m<br />

going to use you to save them from the<br />

Egyptians. I want you to lead them, protect<br />

them, and teach them how to live and<br />

love Me.”<br />

But Moses couldn’t imagine himself<br />

leading anyone. Maybe before, but now?<br />

No way. So he began to object.<br />

“Me?” he said. “Appear before Pharaoh?<br />

But, God—! Who am I to lead the people of<br />

Israel out of Egypt? What if they don’t believe<br />

me? What if they won’t listen to me?”<br />

It’s the work of<br />

the cross that<br />

makes us His<br />

champions, not<br />

our works.<br />

Even after God promised to be with Moses,<br />

even after He gave him instructions<br />

and the words to speak and supernatural<br />

powers, Moses still refused to accept God’s<br />

call. He only saw his limitations: “I–I can’t<br />

be Your mouthpiece, God. I st–stutter.”<br />

Do you ever feel like Moses? Do you<br />

have trouble seeing yourself as someone<br />

God can use? When you think of the word<br />

“champion,” do you have difficulty seeing<br />

yourself in that category? Or do you see<br />

yourself as the least of the least, when God<br />

is saying you are a mighty warrior?<br />

Well, I have some good news. God uses<br />

the least of the least to champion His causes!<br />

Consider 1 Corinthians 1:27–28: “God<br />

chose things the world considers foolish<br />

in order to shame those who think they are<br />

wise. And he chose things that are powerless<br />

to shame those who are powerful. God<br />

chose things despised by the world, things<br />

counted as nothing at all, and used them to<br />

bring to nothing what the world considers<br />

important” (NLT).<br />

Have you ever been called a fool? Worthless?<br />

A big fat zero? Have you ever felt despised<br />

or rejected? Well, you are who God<br />

wants to use.<br />

Your past doesn’t matter; neither do your<br />

limitations. All that matters is that you are<br />

willing to be used by God. Friend, God is in<br />

you, and Christ in you is the hope of glory<br />

(Colossians 1:27).<br />

You can face anything and do anything<br />

God has called you to do (Philippians 4:13)<br />

because God’s Spirit lives in you. The very<br />

power of God, the heart of God, the mind of<br />

Christ is in you (1 Corinthians 2). His Spirit<br />

empowers you to do what He asks you to<br />

do. It’s not by your might or power; it’s by<br />

His (Zechariah 4:6). You are a champion<br />

because God, the greatest Champion of all,<br />

lives inside you!<br />

It’s time to start walking with your head<br />

held high. I love Leviticus 26:13, where<br />

God says to His children: “I am the Lord<br />

your God, who brought you out of the land<br />

of Egypt so you would no longer be their<br />

slaves. I broke the yoke of slavery from your<br />

neck so you can walk with your heads held<br />

high.”<br />

We aren’t to walk in shame or be overcome<br />

with guilt. We aren’t to walk burdened<br />

down by the weight of sin or the words of<br />

others. God sent His Son, Jesus, to die for<br />

us. And in doing so, He freed us from the<br />

penalty and power of sin. He broke the yoke<br />

of bondage.<br />

Now, I am not suggesting that we get all<br />

puffed up with pride and become overconfident<br />

in our abilities. No. Our confidence<br />

is in God and His love for us. God declared<br />

our worth when He created us, and He has<br />

promised to be with us every day since.<br />

Have you ever thought about the moment<br />

you were created? According to Psalm 139,<br />

God was at work in your mother’s womb,<br />

fashioning and forming you with His very<br />

hands. Maybe you think, “God didn’t plan<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />



me. I was an accident. I was unwanted, a<br />

product of violence.”<br />

There is no life outside of God. He is the<br />

Creator, Giver, and Sustainer of life. (See<br />

Job 33:4; Acts 17:28; Colossians 1:17; and<br />

1 Corinthians 8:6.) Negative circumstances<br />

around your conception or birth do not<br />

negate the fact that God created you, He<br />

loves you, and that He has a good plan for<br />

your life that He wants you to fulfill.<br />

You, no matter who you are, are God’s<br />

masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). He created<br />

you on purpose and for a purpose. Your<br />

earthly parents might have cursed the day<br />

you were born, but God didn’t. He wanted<br />

you to be born because He values your life.<br />

Not only that—He took great delight in<br />

forming all the delicate parts of your body<br />

(Psalm 139:13). God knit you together. You<br />

are wonderfully fashioned, and when He<br />

looks at you, He smiles. He has precious<br />

thoughts toward you that outnumber the<br />

grains of sand (Psalm 139:17–18).<br />

You’re His prized possession, worth even<br />

the life of His only Son.<br />

It’s hard sometimes to remember that.<br />

The world likes to remind us of our shortcomings,<br />

as does Satan, the enemy of our<br />

soul. But God thinks differently, and it is<br />

time we align our thoughts with His. We<br />

can’t live the life God intends us to live<br />

without doing so.<br />

Let’s do an exercise. Write down the<br />

negative words your parents, spouse, children,<br />

so-called friends, or coworkers have<br />

spoken over you. Write down the negative<br />

thoughts you’ve had about yourself too.<br />

How many are there? Ten? A hundred?<br />

Maybe a thousand?<br />

With a pen, place a dot of ink on your<br />

paper to represent each countable thought.<br />

When you’re done, compare those dots<br />

against all the grains of sand in the world.<br />

The sand represents God’s thoughts toward<br />

you—His good, precious, innumerable<br />

thoughts. Remember Psalm 139? No<br />

matter how many negative statements you<br />

came up with, there’s no comparison!<br />

Friend, God thinks you are the bomb,<br />

and it’s time you realize it. You can’t be the<br />

champion He has created you to be if you<br />

don’t believe you are champion material.<br />

God does not create junk! He doesn’t<br />

make mistakes. He created you—you!—on<br />

purpose and with a purpose. Why should<br />

it matter what other people think or say?<br />

Let’s continue our exercise. Dive into<br />

God’s Word and discover His thoughts toward<br />

you. Write His words next to the negative<br />

ones you listed. For example, if you<br />

wrote, “You are a failure,” write next to it, “I<br />

am not a failure. I am the righteousness of<br />

God.” If you wrote, “You will never amount<br />

to anything. You are just like your father.”<br />

Write down this truth, “My Father is God<br />

Almighty, and I was made in His image. He<br />

has great plans for me and will help me accomplish<br />

them. I can do all things through<br />

Christ who gives me strength!” Exchange<br />

each lie for the truth of God.<br />

Search the Bible daily and renew your<br />

mind with God’s thoughts toward you. If<br />

you want to know God’s will for your life,<br />

you have to renew your mind. Change the<br />

way you think about everything, including<br />

yourself. As you do, God will transform you<br />

into a new person—the champion He created<br />

you to be (Romans 12:2).<br />

Capturing negative thoughts, rebuking<br />

condemning words (2 Corinthians 10:5),<br />

guarding your mouth (Psalm 141:3)—it’s<br />

a full-time job. But it’s worth the effort.<br />

Far Left: Vennesa is all<br />

smiles after winning the<br />

2022 Moomba Masters in<br />

Melbourne, Australia.<br />

Below: Vennesa and Kristi<br />

formed a close friendship<br />

as Vennesa pursued her<br />

championship title.<br />

KRISTI OVERTON JOHNSON encourages and equips people for victory through her<br />

writings, speaking engagements, and prison ministry. To learn more, go to kojministries.org.<br />


30 <strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM


Your Pain Has Purpose<br />



bunks in jails and prisons, staring hopelessly<br />

at the ceiling. At the time, I’d bought<br />

into the lie that I had gone too far and it<br />

was too late for me.<br />

Fear, regret, and defeat convinced me<br />

that I had wasted the best years of my life.<br />

Those thoughts overshadowed any positivity<br />

about my future. The emotional pain<br />

was so intense, I could feel it physically.<br />

I tried to escape the weight of these<br />

emotions with drugs, pornography, and<br />

gambling, but those things only took me<br />

deeper into darkness. I would have died of<br />

an overdose if Christ hadn’t responded to<br />

my cries, but He did. He jumped into my pit<br />

and pulled me out (Job 33:28, Jonah 2:6).<br />

Not once did He chastise or condemn me.<br />

Instead, He wrapped His arms around me<br />

and set my feet on solid ground. He traded<br />

my prison blues for His robe of righteousness<br />

and resurrected my life into one with<br />

meaning. Because of Jesus, my life is now a<br />

testimony of powerful restoration that leads<br />

others to freedom. (See Psalm 40:1–3.)<br />

As a redeemed son of God, I now walk<br />

confidently through gates that once held<br />

me prisoner. I am a seasoned veteran with<br />

many battle wounds, but I am also an overcomer<br />

through Jesus Christ. He alone has<br />

given me the keys to freedom, and I am<br />

committed to sharing them with my incarcerated<br />

brothers and sisters.<br />

It never ceases to amaze me how my<br />

painful past helps me get eye level with<br />

others. They have hope when they hear<br />

what God has done and is doing in my life.<br />

They realize if He could set me free, He can<br />

set anyone free!<br />

With Jesus, nothing in my life is wasted—<br />

not even my biggest mistakes. Every experience<br />

has become an opportunity to learn<br />

and a powerful testimony of the goodness<br />

of God.<br />

Did you know that the Apostle Paul wrote<br />

two-thirds of the New Testament from a<br />

prison cell? Paul rejoiced in his suffering<br />

and wanted everyone to understand that<br />

his time in chains had a divine purpose.<br />

He said, “Now I want you to know, brothers<br />

and sisters, that what has happened to me<br />

has actually served to advance the gospel”<br />

(Philippians 1:12 NIV).<br />

I can relate to Paul here because my<br />

incarceration has also served to advance<br />

the Gospel. Of course, my incarceration<br />

was due to my disobedience to God, not<br />

my loyalty to Him. But God’s mercy is for<br />

people on both spectrums—the sinner and<br />

the saint. He brings beauty from ashes for<br />

His glory, no matter how our ashes were<br />

formed (Isaiah 61:3).<br />

It’s time to look at your past through<br />

God’s lens of purpose. Give Him those ashes.<br />

Don’t buy into the lie that your life is a<br />

waste; God never wastes anything.<br />

Every broken road you have traveled<br />

has uniquely equipped you to help others.<br />

Through your life story, you may reach<br />

people for Christ that others cannot. And<br />

every time you find the courage to share<br />

the goodness of God, your testimony defeats<br />

the enemy’s hold on someone else<br />

(Revelation 12:11).<br />

Purpose, though, begins with surrendering<br />

your broken life to Christ and then courageously<br />

journeying through it with Him.<br />

Despite all the pain you’ve been through, an<br />

overwhelming victory can be yours through<br />

Christ, who loves you (Romans 8:37).<br />

Your testimony holds the key to someone<br />

else’s freedom. Please don’t keep it to<br />

yourself.<br />

KORY GORDON spent 11 years in incarceration,<br />

where he gave his life to Christ. He is now an<br />

evangelist, sharing the Good News that set him<br />

free. In 2021, he founded Damascus Road, a<br />

nonprofit residential discipleship program battling<br />

addiction, recidivism, and homelessness. Email<br />

damascusroad2021@gmail.com for more info.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />






prison sentence when a friend said to me, “I don’t know<br />

how you’ve been able to do these ten years, Danny.”<br />

Without thinking, I said, “One day at a time, John.”<br />

If you think about it, we’re all doing time somewhere.<br />

The question is, what are we doing, every day, with the<br />

time we’ve been given?<br />

There are two things we all do, no matter who we are.<br />

One, we live till we die, and two, every day we’re alive,<br />

we make decisions. Good decisions generally lead to<br />

good results, and bad decisions usually lead to bad ones.<br />

I’ll admit, I have made more than my share of bad<br />

decisions—but that doesn’t mean I have to continue<br />

making them. No way! It took serving time in 12 federal<br />

prisons and 5 county jails in 8 states for me to come to<br />

my senses, but I’ve now made it my aim to make the<br />

best decisions I can.<br />

I’m in my 70s, and I have been out of prison for 20<br />

years now, clean and green. I guess you could say I’ve<br />

“learned a thing or two, about a thing or two.”<br />

Society has decided that incarceration is a form of<br />

punishment that will deter an individual from making<br />

If you think<br />

about it,<br />

we’re all<br />

doing time<br />

somewhere.<br />

The question<br />

is, what are<br />

we doing<br />

with each<br />

day, every<br />

day?<br />

the same bad decisions a second time. But does it?<br />

Recently, I asked the men at a Bible study I<br />

teach at a halfway house to raise their hands if<br />

they had done more than one bit. More than half<br />

of them raised their hands. One man had been<br />

down 11 times. But then he said, “This is the last<br />

time, because I’ve found Jesus.”<br />

Hold that thought!<br />

What is it about Jesus that can prevent someone<br />

from going back to prison? Shouldn’t the<br />

shame, guilt, and financial hardship we’ve placed<br />

on our families be enough? Or living miles away<br />

from everything we love? How about living in<br />

fear and constantly looking over our shoulders?<br />

For so many, none of those things prevent them<br />

from going back to their old ways and ultimately<br />

returning to prison. But Jesus can change things.<br />

Galatians 3:22 says, “we are all prisoners of sin,<br />

so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by<br />

believing in Jesus Christ” (NLT).<br />

I got right with God during my first two weeks<br />

in jail by accepting Jesus into my life. In that moment,<br />

I knew that I was corrected. Sure, I still had<br />

to serve the rest of my time and work through some wrong thinking, but<br />

from that day until now, Jesus has been doing time with me. He’s helped<br />

me overcome every obstacle I’ve met. He’s given me His strength, wisdom,<br />

peace, and power to face each day.<br />

Is Jesus doing time with you, or are you still trying to do everything your<br />

way? Whatever trial you’re facing, are you doing it with Him or on your own?<br />

I’ve tried doing life my way. It didn’t work. But when I began doing things<br />

God’s way, everything changed. He is the reason I am an ex-con, an ex-drug<br />

dealer, an ex-drug addict, and an ex-alcoholic.<br />

I saw a poster once that said, “Never be a prisoner of your past. It was<br />

just a lesson, not a life sentence.” With Jesus, you can be free from your<br />

past, once and for all. His truth and Spirit can set you free (John 8:32; 2<br />

Corinthians 3:17).<br />

Stop trying to do things your way. Let Jesus change your heart and mind<br />

so He can change your ways and future. You don’t have to go back to your<br />

dead-end ways; you don’t have to be a statistic.<br />

Life is about decisions, and the most important decision you can ever<br />

make is to ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. Go ahead, make it today.<br />

When you do, Jesus will come into your life and serve your time with you.<br />


DANNY R. COX was called by God to be an evangelist while serving time in prison.<br />

He is now a credentialed evangelist and correctional chaplain and serves on the board<br />

of KOJ Ministries. Danny shares his story in churches and prisons worldwide. His book,<br />

High on a Lie, may be purchased on Amazon in English and Spanish. He is the founder of<br />

Prison2Preacher Ministries.<br />

32 <strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM


“Come to me, all you who are<br />

weary and burdened, and I will<br />

give you rest.” —Matthew 11:28 NIV<br />

Jared Emerson, Artist, jaredemerson.com<br />

Do you need rest? Peace? Freedom? Forgiveness? Restoration?<br />

Call out to Jesus, accept Him as your Savior, and be made whole.<br />

Pray: “Jesus, I invite You into my life. I confess that I am a sinner in<br />

need of a Savior. Thank You for saving me from my sins and making<br />

me whole. Thank You for laying down Your life for me so that I can<br />

have a new life in You. I receive, by faith, this forgiveness of sin. Take<br />

my life—my past and my future. Guide my steps and speak to my<br />

heart, Lord. Use me, God. Amen.”<br />

Let us know of your decision so we can help you grow in your faith.<br />

Write to: VL Correspondence, PO Box 2751, Greenville, NC 27836.<br />

PERHAPS AFTER READING the stories in this magazine, you’ve surrendered your life to<br />

Jesus. Congratulations—it’s the most important decision you will ever make! But you might<br />

be wondering, now what? Here are five ways to ensure spiritual growth. Remember, the<br />

Christian life is a journey that brings lifelong transformation.<br />

1. PRAY. Talk to God about everything and listen for His response. You don’t need<br />

fancy words, just a sincere heart.<br />

2. STUDY THE BIBLE. God’s Word contains all the instructions we need for life. Get<br />

into a Bible study and discover new revelations daily. Free resources are on page 34.<br />

3. GET BAPTIZED. Although baptism is not a requirement of salvation, the Bible<br />

clearly tells us that we are to be water baptized after salvation. Baptism symbolizes<br />

our dying to sin and being raised to a new life in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:4). Prison<br />

restrictions may make immersion by water difficult, so get creative and let the Holy<br />

Spirit reveal how you can take this step of obedience until immersion is possible.<br />

4. FIND CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY. Join a local congregation of Christ-followers. If<br />

incarceration makes attending church difficult, fellowship with other believers the<br />

best you can. They will help you stand strong and keep you accountable.<br />

5. TELL SOMEONE. Share your decision to follow Christ and tell them what He has<br />

done for you. And then, tell us! We’d love to hear from you.<br />

WHAT NOW?<br />

I’ve Accepted God’s Salvation.<br />

Now What?<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 01 / <strong>2023</strong><br />



Victorious Living Prison<br />

Outreach Update<br />

through your prison tablet at hope@vlmag.org. PLEASE<br />

NOTE: We cannot receive COD emails or phone calls nor<br />

accept stories for publication or legal documents.<br />

Because of the Lord, generous financial partners,<br />

and new digital opportunities, Victorious Living’s<br />

ministries continue to expand across America.<br />

• Did you know that VLMag is available on both sides of prison<br />

walls? It is a gift to our ministry partners and can be delivered to<br />

anyone in free society. Call 352-478-2098 or visit vlmag.org and<br />

click the “give now” tab. A gift of any amount is appreciated.<br />

• We offer inmates discipleship materials on tablet systems.<br />

Search “Victorious Living” on the prison tablet to discover VL<br />

broadcasts and podcasts.<br />

• Family members of our incarcerated family and our ministry<br />

partners can also enjoy our resources through pandoapp.tv<br />

and VL’s online platforms like vlmag.org, Facebook,<br />

Instagram, and YouTube. Our care team is available to pray<br />

with family members of our inmate family by telephone.<br />

• We encourage believers everywhere to use our materials in their<br />

ministry. VLMag makes an incredible witnessing tool and can<br />

be ordered in bulk copies in free society.<br />

• We offer fellowship to inmates through personal correspon dence.<br />

Write to us at PO Box 2751, Greenville, NC 27836, or email us<br />

• High transitional rates of inmates and new DOC restrictions<br />

prevent us from mailing individual subscriptions of VLMag to<br />

inmates. However, bulk copies are provided free of charge,<br />

with or without staples, at the request of chaplains and<br />

program directors. Contact us at 352-478-2098 for these free<br />

resources. Ask about our <strong>2023</strong>–2024 VL Prison Tour too.<br />


Below are opportunities for free Christian-based<br />

resources for both English- and Spanish-speaking<br />

inmates and chaplains. When you contact the<br />

addresses below, tell our partners VL referred you.<br />


Personal correspondence available in English and Spanish.<br />

Bulk copies of VLMag are available for jail and prison libraries<br />

at chaplain’s request.<br />

PO Box 2751<br />

Email: hope@vlmag.org<br />

Greenville, NC 27836<br />


Reentry and employmentreadiness<br />

programming;<br />

job and housing referrals<br />

for inmates in<br />

jails and prisons<br />

upon request.<br />

PO Box 3411<br />

Peachtree City, GA 30269<br />


Personal discipleship<br />

studies by mail for inmates<br />

in jails and prisons;<br />

free Christian books and<br />

Bibles for libraries at<br />

request of chaplain or<br />

authorized personnel.<br />

PO Box 97095<br />

Raleigh, NC 27624<br />


Free NIV Bibles, Bible study<br />

correspondence course, and<br />

NIV Life Application Study Bible<br />

upon completion of study for<br />

inmates in jails and prisons.<br />

Call: 602-647-8325<br />

PO Box 90606<br />

Phoenix, AZ 85066<br />


SUMMIT<br />

Bring world-class<br />

leadership training<br />

and tools to your facility<br />

through the GL Summit<br />

and GL Network. Write to<br />

GlobalLeadership.org.<br />

PO Box 3188<br />

Barrington, IL 60011<br />

34<br />



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