Issue 2 | 2023

God Can Change Your Future

God Can Change Your Future


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WHY NOT YOU?<br />


PARA VER<br />




GOD<br />

CAN<br />

CHANGE<br />

YOUR<br />

FUTURE<br />

A magazine<br />

on a mission:<br />

see page 2<br />

<strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong>

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life-changing resources on:<br />

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Search<br />


Real life testimonies of the transforming<br />

power of Jesus Christ through our bilingual<br />

magazine, available in jails and<br />

prisons in print and digital formats.<br />




Christian discipleship to inmates through<br />

personal correspondence and digital<br />

resources.<br />

Connection to national organizations that<br />

provide helpful resources for current and<br />

former inmates and their families.<br />

Prison outreach tools to help local<br />

churches carry out God’s command to<br />

remember the prisoner.<br />

Encouragement through prison and<br />

jail events.<br />

Write to us and join<br />

our Victorious Living<br />

Family today!<br />

VL Correspondence<br />

PO Box 2751<br />

Greenville, NC 27836<br />

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prison tablet:<br />

hope@vlmag.org<br />

Available on Securus, ViaPath,<br />

and ICS Corrections tablets<br />


ISSUE 2, APRIL <strong>2023</strong><br />

“All these blessings will come on you and accompany you<br />

if you obey the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 28:2 NIV<br />

Publisher & Executive Director<br />

Kristi Overton Johnson<br />

Director of Prison Correspondence<br />

Lauren Everett<br />

Cover Photography<br />

Geri Simpkins Photography<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 />

Administrative Director<br />

Carla Owens<br />

Production Manager<br />

Christina Kimbrel<br />

Digital Content Manager<br />

Sheridan Correa<br />

Roman Randall<br />

Assistant to Director of Correspondence<br />

Simone Bryant<br />

Director of Partner Care & Development<br />

Pat Avery<br />

Hispanic Outreach Director<br />

Denise San Miguel<br />

Story Contributors<br />

Patricia Borges<br />

Roy A. Borges<br />

Simone Bryant<br />

Sheridan Correa<br />

Julie Engstrom<br />

Chuck Foreman<br />

Paula Fox<br />

Mike Jenkins<br />

Kristi Overton Johnson<br />

Christina Kimbrel<br />

Kenny Munds<br />

Carla Owens<br />

Photography<br />

Mike Barber Ministries<br />

Douglas Boyd<br />

Daz Photos<br />

EDOVO<br />

Joey Meddock Photography<br />

Parker Rose Overton<br />

Marissa Parker<br />

Geri Simpkins Photography<br />

Artwork<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> 02 / <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 2, APRIL <strong>2023</strong><br />



one depends on you and the choices<br />

you make.<br />

16<br />


God Can Change Your Future<br />


8<br />

9<br />

15<br />

21<br />

25<br />

10<br />

Embrace the Thorn<br />


God’s Perfect Gifts<br />


Time for an Eye Exam<br />


Let Your Revelation Be Your<br />

Conversation<br />


God’s Purpose; Your Trials<br />



LIVES<br />

Consider Your Surroundings<br />


God sees you as a champion, but living as<br />

28<br />

12<br />

Take Control of Your<br />

Thought Life<br />


How many times have you wished your life<br />

was different, that you were different, that<br />

you could be all you wanted to be? Well, a<br />

good place to start is with the things you<br />

tell yourself. Fill your inner thoughts with<br />

God’s truth, not Satan’s lies.<br />


Will You Trust God?<br />


Paula never expected the phone call informing<br />

her that her son was going to prison, but<br />

it came. How could God let this happen?<br />

And how could she make it better? Paula<br />

soon learned that she couldn’t—but God, in<br />

His impeccable way, could. She needed only<br />

to trust Him.<br />

22<br />

26<br />


Mike had never thought of himself as anything<br />

more than a poor kid from the hood,<br />

the son of a crack addict. A waste of talent,<br />

space, and effort. He had given up any hope<br />

or effort for being more. But God knew who<br />

He had created Mike to be, and He didn’t let<br />

up until Mike surrendered.<br />

Love Like Jesus<br />



After more than 20 years in ministry,<br />

both in the US and Taiwan, Pastor Chuck<br />

thought he knew what serving God with<br />

an open heart and open mind meant. And<br />

then God asked him to open his church to<br />

a group of former prison inmates. Would a<br />

staid and older congregation accept this<br />

group of people?<br />

Use What’s in Your Hand<br />


Widowed for a second time and in her 80s,<br />

Patricia refused to believe that she was too<br />


Mike Jenkins’s life<br />

was never easy.<br />

Addiction ravaged<br />

his home, and<br />

anger consumed<br />

him. But through<br />

a relationship with<br />

God, Mike found<br />

freedom and a<br />

new life, as did<br />

his grandmother,<br />

Glenda (left), and<br />

his mother, Sandra<br />

(right). The grace of<br />

God rewrote their life<br />

stories and changed<br />

their family’s legacy.<br />

30<br />

old for God to use her. Determined to use<br />

all that God had given her for His glory, she<br />

pressed forward—and found blessings she’d<br />

never expected.<br />

Why Not You?<br />


When the pressures of her job as a social<br />

worker caused a mental breakdown, Simone<br />

finally faced the scars that she herself<br />

carried from her own time as a child in the<br />

foster-care system. And she learned her true<br />

identity as a child of God and stepped into<br />

the destiny He had prepared for her.<br />


6<br />

Publisher’s Note<br />

The Power of Yes<br />

33<br />

Want to Know Jesus?<br />

I’m Saved...Now What?<br />

34<br />

Ministry News/Resources<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />



The Power of Yes<br />

Would you 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 />

Your gift enables us to send<br />

this magazine into prisons<br />

around the nation. Each<br />

magazine impacts many lives<br />

for years to come. To help, visit<br />

victoriouslivingmagazine.com.<br />

The letter began, “Kristi, I’m sorry<br />

for any harm I caused your ministry.”<br />

It was from Bill, a friend<br />

I hadn’t seen or even thought about for<br />

several years. And he was writing to me<br />

from prison.<br />

Bill had been a professional boat driver<br />

on the water-ski and wakeboard tour, and<br />

I was a competitor. We’d met at a lakeside<br />

church service where Bill shared how God<br />

had saved his life. I even included his faith<br />

testimony in our ministry’s materials.<br />

Then Bill was arrested and sent to prison.<br />

I, like many in our sport, dissociated<br />

from him. I stopped using those materials<br />

that contained his testimony and looked<br />

for better ways to protect the ministry.<br />

I got busy doing God’s business and soon<br />

completely forgot about Bill. He was out of<br />

sight and out of mind.<br />

Ironically, in my quest for damage control,<br />

I never considered God’s heart concerning<br />

Bill or what being busy with God’s<br />

business might look like to Him. If I had, I<br />

would have seen alternatives, like drawing<br />

closer to Bill instead of running from him.<br />

Jesus always went after the ones who’d lost<br />

their way (Luke 15:3–7).<br />

I would have remembered Bill during<br />

his incarceration, reached out to him, and<br />

visited him like Hebrews 13:3 and Matthew<br />

25:34–36 command. I would have<br />

encouraged my brother in Christ instead<br />

of abandoning him.<br />

But I didn’t. My only concerns were protecting<br />

the ministry...and myself.<br />

When I received his letter, Bill was halfway<br />

through his sentence. He told me<br />

about prison life and how God was helping<br />

him survive. And he invited me to visit.<br />

The idea intrigued me, and I prayed<br />

about Bill’s invitation. I also talked to my<br />

husband, Tim. It was an interesting conversation.<br />

“Hey, honey. Can I go visit another<br />

man in prison?”<br />

Thank God for a godly husband who<br />

could see the bigger picture.<br />

It’s been almost a decade since I walked<br />

into that Miami Federal Prison reception<br />

room. On August 17, 2013, God downloaded<br />

His love for the incarcerated into my<br />

heart and showed me a place where He<br />

wanted me to minister.<br />

The God of another chance gave me another<br />

opportunity to remember the prisoner.<br />

I’m grateful for His grace. I’m glad<br />

I didn’t miss the opportunity that time.<br />

Saying yes to God changed my life, and it<br />

brought you and me together!<br />

That simple visit led to Victorious Living’s<br />

prison outreach, which includes this bilingual<br />

magazine. Since 2013, over a million<br />

inmates have heard the Gospel of Jesus<br />

through these pages, tens of thousands<br />

of inmates have been discipled through<br />

correspondence and digital broadcasts,<br />

and our team has provided inmates and<br />

their family members pastoral care and<br />

reentry support. To God be the glory.<br />

Have you considered the power of saying<br />

yes? One yes leads to another, and that leads<br />

to another, and so on. (Of course, that also<br />

means one no stops the chain effect.)<br />

Because Bill said yes to the Holy Spirit’s<br />

prompting to write to me, I was given<br />

a unique opportunity to say yes myself,<br />

and then others were allowed to say yes.<br />

Some became ministry partners while others<br />

shared their stories publicly here. And<br />

many have accepted Jesus as their Savior.<br />

Is God inviting you to say yes today?<br />

Whether to a deeper relationship or a new<br />

ministry, please don’t refuse His invitation.<br />

That can feel scary, risky, unfamiliar,<br />

and uncomfortable. I know. Maybe you<br />

feel unqualified, unable, unequipped, or<br />

unprepared. It’s okay. All God needs is your<br />

willingness—your yes. He’ll take care of the<br />

rest. There are a million copies of Victorious<br />

Living circulating in prisons nationwide<br />

to prove it.<br />

May God put His blessing on your yes<br />

today!<br />

Kristi Overton Johnson<br />

Publisher & Executive Director<br />


6 <strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <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: Calvin McLeod<br />


I became a part of the Victorious Living<br />

family in 2015 behind the gates of Avon<br />

Park Correctional Institution. I came across<br />

your magazine and reached out to the<br />

correspondence team for fellowship. In the<br />

same year, my son died in a car accident.<br />

Hearing that my son had died was<br />

devasting and especially difficult to<br />

learn from behind prison walls. But God<br />

used Victorious Living magazine, its<br />

correspondence team, and personal visits by<br />

Kristi to our facility to keep me encouraged.<br />

The stories in VLMag and letters from<br />

the VL correspondence team delivered<br />

joy, peace, and everlasting hope in my<br />

time of need. There was so much love and<br />

compassion in every handwritten note and<br />

hope in every article. The ministry team<br />

walked this difficult journey with me and ministered to my heart.<br />

I often shared my letters and VL magazine with my brothers there, and many<br />

of them reached out to the ministry too. God used my difficult situation for His glory<br />

and to deliver hope to others.<br />

I am a free man today and living a victorious life in Christ. I even have a thriving car<br />

detailing business through which I tell others about God’s goodness. My love for this<br />

ministry will never be forgotten. Victorious Living was an anchor for my soul while I was in<br />

prison, and it still is today.<br />



Visit victoriouslivingmagazine.com.<br />

<strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />



Embrace the Thorn<br />



that caused him great discomfort. He called it a thorn in<br />

his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). And although it made him<br />

miserable, the Lord allowed the torment to continue. He<br />

didn’t remove it, even though Paul begged Him for relief.<br />

Eventually, Paul surrendered to the Lord’s will and<br />

relied on God’s strength to endure. He knew that God<br />

had a purpose in the thorn. In fact, he said it kept him<br />

from becoming prideful about who he was in Christ.<br />

I was in prison for over three decades. It was a thorn<br />

that I thought would never be removed. I prayed for God<br />

to free me from captivity, and I promised Him that, if<br />

He set me free, I would live out my life doing His will.<br />

God had a reason for letting me stay locked up. I had<br />

much to learn about my need for Christ and what it<br />

means to follow Him. Today I can say that living with<br />

the grace of God through my trials and weaknesses is<br />

much greater than being delivered from them.<br />

In prison, I learned to lean on God for supernatural<br />

strength. He never failed to help me endure the hardships<br />

and difficulties of prison life.<br />

It wasn’t easy, but I turned my focus from having my<br />

prayers answered to seeking ways to do God’s will and<br />

be effective behind prison fences. I started using my<br />

talent for writing and my gift of encouragement to help<br />

others learn about the Lord.<br />

Embracing my situation as an opportunity to serve<br />

helped take my mind off myself and my problems. It<br />

gave me purpose.<br />

For 31 years, I continually reminded myself, “When I<br />

am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NIV).<br />

Like Paul, I chose to boast about my weaknesses and<br />

how God’s strength helped me overcome.<br />

The Lord used my thorn to mold me into the man I<br />

am today and to lead others to Him. My time in prison<br />

developed my character and deepened my worship. I<br />

had to humble myself before the Lord and admit my<br />

sins and weaknesses, but when I did, His strength was<br />

magnified (2 Corinthians 12:9).<br />

I knew it was unlikely that I would ever be a free man,<br />

but through Christ, I found contentment being in prison.<br />

Today, I appreciate my freedom more because of the<br />

thorn I suffered for so long.<br />

Maybe there are painful thorns in your life too,<br />

and you’ve been begging God to take them away.<br />

Maybe you don’t understand why He hasn’t removed<br />

them from you yet. Please don’t lose hope.<br />

Continue to seek God’s will with your whole heart.<br />

Trust His presence to comfort you through this season<br />

of suffering.<br />

The Lord never wastes a thorn. Just like He did for<br />

me, He will use every thorny experience to reveal<br />

His love, faithfulness, and power and to prepare<br />

you for what’s ahead.<br />

Ask God to give you an attitude of thankfulness<br />

and a teachable spirit that will help you endure despite<br />

your trials. Your praise will bring God’s presence<br />

and power into your situation and strengthen<br />

you. And it will be a testimony to an onlooking world<br />

of the goodness of God.<br />


served 31 years in the<br />

Florida Department<br />

of Corrections, where<br />

he realized his need<br />

for a Savior. While<br />

incarcerated, Roy<br />

ministered to others<br />

through his writings,<br />

over 300 of which have<br />

been published. He is<br />

also the author of 101<br />

Short Stories: From the<br />

Prison Cell.<br />

8 <strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM


GOD’S<br />


GIFTS<br />



for a child can be challenging. Sometimes<br />

it’s rewarding, and sometimes not so<br />

much.<br />

I recently visited a friend who was<br />

babysitting her granddaughter for the day.<br />

On my way, I thought it would be nice to<br />

stop to get something special for the fouryear-old.<br />

When shopping for a child, I try to think<br />

like a child, but this felt a bit more complicated.<br />

I wasn’t sure I knew what a little girl<br />

might want. Finally, I decided that any toy<br />

that stimulates a young mind and helps it<br />

grow would be appropriate.<br />

I strolled through Walmart’s toy section,<br />

almost dizzy from the endless variety and<br />

choices. The toys were arranged in sections<br />

by age group: puzzles, Play-Doh,<br />

dolls, action figures, dart guns...on and on<br />

they went. I walked up and down the aisles<br />

until I’d finally picked out a few things I<br />

thought she might like. Satisfied with my<br />

selections, I hurried off to visit my friend<br />

and deliver the gifts.<br />

Things went well initially, and the young<br />

missy seemed to like what I got her. Watching<br />

her piece together the wooden puzzles<br />

and draw the animals on the art pad was a<br />

real treat. She enjoyed blowing some bubbles<br />

and turning Play-Doh into a flower for<br />

me. But soon, she turned to me and asked,<br />

“What else did you bring me?”<br />

Some might think that was a presumptuous<br />

or even rude question, but I saw her<br />

as Jesus must see us.<br />

Interestingly, Jesus tells us to posture<br />

our hearts like a child to receive His gifts.<br />

In Mark 10:13–16, we see some children<br />

who approached Jesus, looking for His attention.<br />

The disciples, however, tried to<br />

shoo the children away. Hmm. I wonder<br />

if they thought maybe the children were<br />

being presumptuous or rude.<br />

But how did Jesus react? He welcomed<br />

them with open arms—the same way He<br />

receives us. Jesus rebuked the disciples,<br />

saying, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will<br />

not receive the kingdom of God like a little<br />

child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15 NIV).<br />

He wants us to come to Him with open<br />

arms and open hearts.<br />

God offers us the most incredible gifts<br />

anyone could hope for, and according to<br />

James 1:17, they are good and perfect.<br />

Jesus gives us forgiveness for our sins,<br />

redemption, unconditional love, the gift<br />

of the Holy Spirit, and so much more.<br />

But to receive His gifts, we must have a<br />

child’s attitude. We must be trusting, meek,<br />

curious, and have a never-ending appetite<br />

for more.<br />

“Come to me,” Jesus says. “I have much<br />

to show and give you!”<br />

Children don’t feel powerful, perfectly<br />

righteous, or self-sufficient like most<br />

adults do. They realize their need for protection<br />

and provision. They aren’t afraid<br />

to ask questions and eagerly accept what<br />

is being given.<br />

And that’s how we should be. We must<br />

shed the cloaks of self-sufficiency that<br />

arise from our life experiences. God wants<br />

us to realize our need for His gifts. He invites<br />

us to come to Him so He can touch<br />

and bless us.<br />

May God give us the never-ceasing energy<br />

and curiosity of a child in our relationship<br />

with Jesus. May we search constantly<br />

for new and exciting things to satisfy our<br />

hunger to know Him more. When we come<br />

to Him with that childlike attitude, He’ll<br />

continue to offer gifts that will stimulate<br />

our spiritual growth.<br />

So go ahead—embrace the beautiful<br />

blessings your heavenly Father has in<br />

store for you. Don’t be afraid to ask Him,<br />

“Lord, what else do You have for me?”<br />

KENNY MUNDS takes the good news of<br />

God’s love and forgiveness into prisons across<br />

America. To learn more about his ministry, go to<br />

kennymundsministry.org.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />



Consider Your<br />

Surroundings<br />



a champion starts with seeing yourself as<br />

one. And why not? That’s how God sees you.<br />

Experiencing victory, however, depends<br />

on you. It takes commitment, courage, determination,<br />

sacrifice, and surrender. You<br />

must move out of your comfort zone and<br />

do the work. Nobody else can do it for you.<br />

As you move toward victory, it’s essential<br />

to consider your surroundings. Here’s<br />

a practical example from my water-ski<br />

career. After graduating from high school,<br />

I moved from North Carolina to Florida to<br />

train year-round in warmer weather.<br />

Moving, however, required me to leave<br />

my familiar surroundings. No longer would<br />

I have my parents to coach me or my brother<br />

to drive the boat. Plus, I was leaving our<br />

private facility, Lake Kristi, that my parents<br />

had built for me. It was a perfect training<br />

site. Nonetheless, I knew moving was necessary<br />

if I wanted to train with the best in<br />

the world.<br />

So, with the help of my parents, I sought<br />

out a healthy support system in Florida. I<br />

found an elite coach who would push me<br />

out of my comfort zone, and I made sure<br />

his lake was challenging. Training in calm,<br />

easy conditions wasn’t going to help me<br />

win against the world’s best on the rough<br />

rivers of the pro circuit. I needed to do<br />

some tough training if I wanted to climb<br />

the championship podium.<br />

I also needed to surround myself with<br />

people of excellence. That meant finding<br />

training partners who would push me beyond<br />

my current abilities—and boy, did<br />

they! Those four guys didn’t cut this girl<br />

any slack, and I wouldn’t have wanted it<br />

any other way.<br />

For years, I had trained with people at or<br />

below my level, and I had grown mentally<br />

and physically stagnant. I needed a push<br />

from a fresh crew and a new training regimen.<br />

Those top male athletes were just<br />

the ones to do it.<br />

Their performances were much higher<br />

than mine, which was initially intimidating.<br />

But once I embraced the challenge, I<br />

found I could do so much more, on and off<br />

the water. It was time to grow as an athlete.<br />

These guys trained in unbelievably<br />

tough conditions—wind, rain, and rough<br />

water. And they trained just as hard off the<br />

water, in the gym. Seeing their commitment,<br />

courage, and success led me to get<br />

off the dock when otherwise, I would have<br />

stayed in the lake cabin eating Pop-Tarts.<br />

Being surrounded by greatness fueled a<br />

fire in me, and I started emulating how they<br />

trained. As a result, I became the numberone-ranked<br />

female water-skier in the world<br />

and posted performances that ranked with<br />

the top male skiers.<br />

I say all that to say this: to be a champion,<br />

you must place yourself in surroundings<br />

conducive to greatness. And you must put<br />

yourself in the company of winners—this<br />

is true in every area of your life.<br />

10 <strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM


Right: Leaving her supportive parents, Parker<br />

and Becky Overton, and the comfort of her private<br />

training facility in North Carolina to train in Florida<br />

with professional skiers was a difficult decision.<br />

But the move provided the training and coaching<br />

Kristi needed to become a world record holder in<br />

waterskiing for 18 years.<br />

Far right: Careful choosing of her training partners<br />

and practice location paid off. Pictured here with<br />

the US team at the 1999 Pan Am Games.<br />

You become what and who you hang<br />

around with. First Corinthians 15:33 says,<br />

“Bad company corrupts good character”<br />

(NLT). If you hang around with chumps in<br />

chumpy places (spiritually or physically<br />

speaking), you will also become a chump.<br />

But a chump is not who you were created<br />

to become. You were made in the image<br />

of Almighty God, and He doesn’t make<br />

chumps. He makes champions, and it’s<br />

never too late to become one.<br />

Jeremiah 29:11 promises that God has<br />

plans for victory for you, but whether you<br />

experience them or not is determined in<br />

part by your circle of influence.<br />

King David, a shepherd boy who defeated<br />

a giant and became a king, made<br />

daily choices regarding his surroundings.<br />

His choices led him to God’s winner circle.<br />

Let’s read Psalm 101 (NLT).<br />

I will sing of your love and justice, Lord. I<br />

will praise you with songs. I will be careful<br />

to live a blameless life—when will<br />

you come to help me? I will lead a life of<br />

integrity in my own home. I will refuse<br />

to look at anything vile and vulgar. I<br />

hate all who deal crookedly; I will have<br />

nothing to do with them. I will reject<br />

perverse ideas and stay away from every<br />

evil. I will not tolerate people who<br />

slander their neighbors. I will not endure<br />

conceit and pride. I will search for<br />

faithful people to be my companions.<br />

Only those who are above reproach will<br />

be allowed to serve me. I will not allow<br />

deceivers to serve in my house, and liars<br />

will not stay in my presence. My daily<br />

task will be to ferret out the wicked and<br />

free the city of the Lord from their grip.<br />

In this psalm, we see David praising God,<br />

but we also see the daily choices he made<br />

to live a life worthy of a child of God. (See<br />

also Philippians 1:27; 4:4–9.) While he was<br />

not a perfect man, David was a champion<br />

in both public and private places.<br />

He made choices behind closed doors to<br />

keep his heart and mind pure. He also protected<br />

his eyes (the gateway to the soul) by<br />

refusing to look at anything vile and vulgar.<br />

(See also Matthew 6:22–24.) David ensured<br />

his surroundings were conducive to a godly<br />

lifestyle—the life of a true champion.<br />

But also notice that David surrounded<br />

himself with other champions. He<br />

had nothing to do with people who dealt<br />

crookedly with others, and he didn’t tolerate<br />

prideful and hurtful people. Instead,<br />

he found faithful people who were full of<br />

integrity to be his companions and only<br />

allowed people above reproach (those with<br />

good reputations) to serve him.<br />

David protected his surroundings and<br />

kept himself away from liars and deceivers.<br />

He exposed wicked people and pushed<br />

them out of his presence and the city.<br />

Like David, we must be proactive in how<br />

we live and who we live among.<br />

Of course, you could say, “But, Kristi, evil<br />

people are around every corner. There’s<br />

nothing I can do about that.”<br />

I wouldn’t argue with you. Evil does surround<br />

us. You might even be in prison or<br />

a workplace where being a believer puts<br />

you in the minority. That doesn’t mean you<br />

should lose hope.<br />

Ask the Lord to show you godly people<br />

and new places you can go. Proverbs 3:6<br />

says if you seek God’s will, He will show you<br />

which path to take. God will show you what<br />

to do and who to be around. He promises<br />

He will help you.<br />

Just as there are evil people, there are<br />

godly people near you too who are determined<br />

to live above reproach. They are full<br />

of integrity and have a good reputation.<br />

They are serious about changing and committed<br />

to growing in faith. Search for them<br />

and join them.<br />

When you do, bring something to the<br />

group. Don’t just be a taker; be a giver of<br />

what you have. Bring enthusiasm, eagerness,<br />

integrity, commitment, and faithfulness.<br />

I’m sure that when I was training, my<br />

desire to learn, my steady improvement,<br />

and loyalty to my mentors pushed them to<br />

new levels on the water too.<br />

Take a moment to consider your peer<br />

group. Is who you hang around with who<br />

you want to become? If not, then it’s time<br />

to make a change.<br />

How about your surroundings? Will the<br />

places you hang out and the people you<br />

hang out with fuel the champion in you and<br />

lead you to victory? Or will they cause you<br />

to remain stagnant or pull you into defeat?<br />

Your surroundings and your peer group<br />

are vital for success, especially for those<br />

reentering society. Victory never just happens;<br />

you must plan for it. Take time to<br />

consider where you should live and who<br />

you should live among. Pray and ask God<br />

to direct your steps.<br />

With His help, the right environment,<br />

and a good support system, victory will<br />

be yours.<br />

KRISTI OVERTON JOHNSON encourages and<br />

equips people for victory through her writings,<br />

speaking engagements, and prison ministry. To<br />

learn more, go to kojministries.org.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


Will You<br />

Trust God?<br />



C<br />

ertain events stay<br />

fresh in our memories<br />

forever, like the<br />

birth of a child and<br />

taking them home<br />

for the first time. Even now, I can vividly<br />

recall the sleeper my youngest son, Brett,<br />

wore when I brought him home from the<br />

hadn’t spoken in months, and our previous<br />

call had ended in an argument. Sadly, that<br />

was the norm between us.<br />

But this call would be different. I answered<br />

and immediately heard sobs on<br />

the other end of the line. It was a crying<br />

that came from a place of absolute fear<br />

and panic.<br />

The days and weeks that followed are<br />

a blur. My mother’s heart attempted to<br />

reconcile terms like “suicide watch” and<br />

“no release on bail.” I was drowning in<br />

an overwhelming mix of emotions: fear,<br />

sadness, shame, guilt, and helplessness. I<br />

cried a lifetime of tears.<br />

I sat alone in my closet and rifled<br />


hospital—his “froggie.” I loved to cuddle<br />

My son attempted to catch his breath<br />

through my Bible, desperately seeking a<br />

him in that soft outfit. Memories like that<br />

as he told me a warrant was out for his<br />

way to escape my sorrow. I didn’t under-<br />

are precious.<br />

arrest. He was on his way to turn himself<br />

stand the depth of God’s love for my son<br />

But then there are the memories I wish I<br />

in to the police.<br />

and me then, so I was scared to death.<br />

could forget, like the day I learned that same<br />

Trust me—no parent is prepared for that<br />

One day as I was begging God to take<br />

son was going to jail. That life-changing<br />

conversation.<br />

away my pain, He led me to the story of<br />

phone call came four days before Christ-<br />

As his mom, I searched frantically for<br />

Paul and his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corin-<br />

mas in 2015. I remember every detail.<br />

the right words to comfort him, to assure<br />

thians 12:7–9). Like me, Paul had begged<br />

I was heading out the door to finish<br />

him that everything would be okay. But<br />

the Lord to take some hardship from his<br />

some last-minute holiday shopping when<br />

all I could do was cry with him and say,<br />

life. But the Lord answered, “My grace<br />

my phone rang. I wasn’t going to answer it,<br />

“I love you.” I was terrified and alone as I<br />

is all you need. My power works best in<br />

but then I noticed it was Brett calling. We<br />

hung up the phone.<br />

weakness” (NLT).<br />

12 <strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM

I couldn’t move past this verse. I read it<br />

again. And again. Each time, a different part<br />

of it jumped out at me.<br />

“His power is made perfect in my weakness.”<br />

“His power is made perfect in my weakness.”<br />

“His power is made perfect in my weakness.”<br />

God illuminated my heart and mind as I<br />

meditated on this verse, and I noticed the<br />

contrast between my weakness and God’s<br />

power. Being in that weakened state positioned<br />

me to experience the fullness of God’s<br />

power. It allowed me to witness God’s power<br />

in action, and I realized that hardship wasn’t<br />

my enemy. It wasn’t something to pray away<br />

immediately.<br />

Still, I didn’t appreciate feeling helpless or<br />

weak. I’ve always been a take-control person,<br />

as self-reliant as they come. And yet…I never<br />

seemed to achieve the desired outcome. Honestly,<br />

I often made things worse. And that led<br />

to feelings of self-pity and bitterness.<br />

I was a living example of God’s Word in<br />

Jere miah 17:5, “Cursed are those who put<br />

their trust in mere humans, who rely on human<br />

strength and turn their hearts away from<br />

the Lord” (NLT).<br />

The Lord showed me that self-reliance had<br />

prevented me from having a deep personal<br />

relationship with Him. I was a spiritually<br />

dead Christian who foolishly believed I was<br />

in control.<br />

My son’s arrest presented a situation over<br />

which I had zero control. My child was facing<br />

serious prison time, and there was no amount<br />

of action or self-reliance that would change<br />

the outcome. For the first time in my life, I was<br />

desperate for God. Without His intervention<br />

and help, I would have drowned in my sea<br />

of troubles.<br />

And that’s when I started to discern God’s<br />

presence in my life. He kept nudging me and<br />

asking, “Do you trust Me?”<br />

I wish I could say I immediately surrendered<br />

and said yes, but it wasn’t that easy.<br />

After all, this was my son. How could I trust<br />

anyone else to care for and love him more<br />

than I did?<br />

I wrestled with God for months, until my<br />

brother sent me a copy of an article about a<br />

desperate mother with a prodigal son.<br />

This woman talked about a dream<br />

where she’d recited a prayer for her son,<br />

touched him with the blood of Jesus, and<br />

then asked God, “What now?” God told<br />

her to leave her son with Him. She then<br />

shared how she laid her son at the foot<br />

of the cross and trusted the love of God.<br />

By the time I finished reading the article,<br />

I was sobbing, overcome by tears of joy<br />

and relief as God spoke to my heart. He<br />

invited me to leave my son with Him and<br />

trust His love. No, I couldn’t be with Brett.<br />

I couldn’t help him.<br />

But God could, and He would.<br />

I surrendered my son that day into my<br />

heavenly Father’s loving arms. I found<br />

immediate relief as He lifted that heavy<br />

burden from my shoulders.<br />

After that, my prayers became more<br />

confident. I began coming boldly to God’s<br />

throne of grace to find the help I needed<br />

(Hebrews 4:16). I asked God to send the<br />

Holy Spirit to comfort and strengthen my<br />

son (John 14:16) and to place Christians in<br />

his path to guide him and share the love<br />

of Jesus with him. God’s Spirit comforted<br />

me too.<br />

A few years into Brett’s prison sentence,<br />

I learned of a prison ministry called Kairos.<br />

I attended an orientation meeting for<br />

a local group of volunteers who hosted<br />

weekends inside a women’s prison with<br />

the intent of building a Christian community<br />

there.<br />

I felt drawn to the ministry as I heard<br />

stories of how lives were being transformed.<br />

God had led me to this place and<br />

prepared me for this moment.<br />

I thought back to when I’d asked God<br />

to place believers in Brett’s path in his<br />

prison. Now the Lord was calling me to<br />

step into the path of someone else’s child<br />

behind bars and be a living example of<br />

Christ’s love.<br />

Those Kairos weekends were a blessing<br />

for me; I felt so at home! I had come full<br />

circle from wallowing as the cursed one in<br />

Jeremiah 17:5 to being a living testimony<br />

of Romans 8:28. Because I loved the Lord<br />

The Lord was calling me to step into the<br />

path of someone else’s child behind bars<br />

and be a living example of Christ’s love.<br />

Paula and Brett pictured<br />

at her college graduation,<br />

then later at his high school<br />

graduation.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


I am grateful for my son’s incarceration.<br />

We both needed to get to the end of<br />

ourselves to find Jesus sitting beside us.<br />

and was living out His purposes, He was<br />

working the most challenging trial of my<br />

life for my good and the good of others.<br />

The greatest blessing on this journey<br />

has been reconciling with my son and<br />

growing in our faith together. Quite frankly,<br />

it’s more than a blessing; it’s a miracle.<br />

Before Brett’s arrest, our relationship<br />

was defined by conflict and separation.<br />

With every year that passed, I lost more of<br />

him. The thread that bound us was steadily<br />

unraveling in my grasp. But I had been<br />

praying that God would save my son, and<br />

He heard my prayers (1 Thessalonians<br />

5:16–18).<br />

While Brett’s story is his to share, he<br />

would freely tell you that he was walking<br />

down a dark path of destruction until<br />

Christ intervened. The Lord has done<br />

a mighty work in his life. Of course, his<br />

transformation didn’t happen overnight;<br />

no one’s does. But God never gave up on<br />

him, and neither did I.<br />

Paula and Brett’s visits in prison<br />

have encouraged both of them<br />

greatly. Pictured here in 2019.<br />

In 2019, I attended a family day at the<br />

prison, where my son gave his testimony.<br />

Toward the end of his talk, he turned<br />

and thanked me for refusing to give up<br />

on him. He apologized for the pain he had<br />

caused, and then he shared the foundation<br />

of faith that I had instilled in him. I cannot<br />

describe the joy I experienced that day.<br />

I never thought I would say this, but I<br />

am grateful for my son’s incarceration. We<br />

both needed to get to the end of ourselves<br />

so we could see that Jesus had been sitting<br />

beside us the whole time.<br />

Jesus is the only One who could free us<br />

from the grip of the enemy. Only He could<br />

show us the path to redemption and love<br />

us enough to forgive our past mistakes.<br />

And then He taught us how to forgive ourselves<br />

and each other, so we could love one<br />

another as He loves us.<br />

I won’t lie; Brett and I still have difficult<br />

days. It’s been a long and arduous journey<br />

with many challenges. In seven years, he<br />

has been housed in seven different prisons<br />

and moved farther away from home each<br />

time. We’ve survived a pandemic that resulted<br />

in our inability to see each other for<br />

more than a year. And I can’t even begin<br />

to tell you the injustices he has endured<br />

to survive.<br />

God’s Word consistently encourages and<br />

uplifts us. Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and<br />

courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged.<br />

For the Lord your God is with you<br />

wherever you go” (NLT). I recall this verse<br />

whenever I need to be reminded that God<br />

is with me.<br />

While I am grateful for all God has<br />

done for us over the past several years,<br />

I look forward to concluding this chapter<br />

of our lives. Brett will be released in<br />

a few months, and I’m eagerly awaiting<br />

his homecoming and being able to embrace<br />

him. No longer will I have to leave<br />

him behind. I look forward to long walks<br />

and enjoying our favorite meals together.<br />

At the same time, I’m well aware that<br />

adjusting to life outside of prison will be<br />

a challenge on its own. Brett will have to<br />

deal with the collateral consequences of<br />

his felony conviction. I’m sometimes overwhelmed<br />

by the reality of the challenges<br />

he’ll be facing. I’ve even asked God, “How<br />

much more can we endure?”<br />

But God was prompt with His answer<br />

and led me to Matthew 16:9: “Don’t you<br />

understand even yet? Don’t you remember<br />

the 5,000 I fed with five loaves, and the<br />

baskets of leftovers you picked up?” (NLT).<br />

Jesus had to remind His disciples about<br />

the miracles of the past, and now, God was<br />

reminding me too. I must never forget His<br />

mercies and all He has done for my son<br />

and for me; doing so would allow the enemy<br />

to sneak in and overwhelm me with<br />

his lies.<br />

No situation is too hard for God (Jeremiah<br />

32:17). In fact, the bigger the challenge,<br />

the greater the opportunity for us<br />

to experience God’s power. We can face<br />

anything with Christ (Matthew 19:26; Philippians<br />

4:13). There is no darkness that<br />

we will encounter that the light of Jesus<br />

has not already conquered (John 1:5).<br />

Maybe you’re fighting doubts and whatif<br />

scenarios too. It’s hard to face the unknown.<br />

Let me encourage you to remember<br />

God’s faithfulness and His promise found<br />

in Joshua 1:9. You are not facing the darkness<br />

alone. God is with you. Always.<br />

He will show up and work in your situation<br />

in amazing ways. Will you trust Him?<br />

I hope my story helps you answer with<br />

a resounding yes and amen.<br />

PAULA FOX loves the Lord and serving His<br />

children behind bars. She volunteers her time at<br />

Kairos Prison Ministry and Victorious Living.<br />

14 <strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM





began in elementary school. Thankfully,<br />

a teacher noticed that I was straining to<br />

see the chalkboard. I was also regularly<br />

complaining of headaches. She called my<br />

parents with her concerns.<br />

A trip to the optometrist determined that<br />

I was severely nearsighted. I got my first<br />

pair of eyeglasses in the fifth grade, and I<br />

instantly enjoyed the crisp and clear sight<br />

they provided. But the relief was shortlived<br />

as my vision soon deteriorated again<br />

and I needed new glasses.<br />

Over the last four decades, I’ve made<br />

dozens of trips to the eye doctor. I can always<br />

tell when it’s time to go back because<br />

my eyesight starts to get blurry again. Despite<br />

the need for regular readjustments,<br />

however, I am grateful for the technological<br />

developments in optometry that continue<br />

to effectively correct my vision.<br />

It’s important to take care of our spiritual<br />

eyes as well. In fact, regular visits with the<br />

Great Physician are essential for keeping<br />

our spiritual eyesight crisp and clear.<br />

In Matthew 6:22–23, Jesus said, “If your<br />

eyes are healthy, your whole body will<br />

be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,<br />

your whole body will be full of<br />

darkness” (NIV).<br />

Of course, He was not talking about the<br />

eyes in our head but those in our spirit.<br />

We view every person and circumstance<br />

in our lives through a spiritual lens; therefore,<br />

we must be diligent in how we care<br />

for that vision. If our sight is out of whack,<br />

we cannot view life from an eternal perspective.<br />

Nor can we look at others with<br />

the same loving eyes that Jesus has.<br />

Before we know Him, we are spiritually<br />

blind and cannot see the things that reveal<br />

God’s glory, like creation and the truth of<br />

scripture (1 Corinthians 2:14). But with the<br />

help of the Holy Spirit, our eyes miraculously<br />

open to our need for the salvation<br />

that comes only from Jesus.<br />

Once He lives in our hearts, we begin to<br />

see things about ourselves, our sins, and<br />

the world around us in new ways. The apostle<br />

Paul prayed for all of us who become<br />

believers to have the eyes of our hearts<br />

enlightened so we can know the hope He<br />

brings (Ephesians 1:18).<br />

Just like with my physical eyesight, I<br />

can tell when my spiritual vision is getting<br />

blurry. I know when I need an adjustment.<br />

If I’m paying attention, I’ll realize that<br />

my discontent comes from not looking at<br />

my life with gratitude. My judgmental or<br />

impatient attitude is evidence that I’m for-<br />

getting to offer others the same grace and<br />

mercy that God gives me every day. When<br />

I’m consumed by the need for approval<br />

from those around me, then I know my<br />

eyes are fixed on everything else but Jesus.<br />

Is your outlook on life currently distorted<br />

and unhealthy? Are you noticing the<br />

faults and shortcomings of others more<br />

frequently? Is a positive outcome to a tough<br />

situation difficult for you to envision?<br />

If you answered yes to any of those<br />

questions, it might be time to get your<br />

eyes checked.<br />

Spend some quiet time with the Lord<br />

and ask Him to show you why your spiritual<br />

vision is declining. Only He can help<br />

you see again clearly. Allow Him to search<br />

your heart for the sin or distractions that<br />

have clouded your perspective. Invite Him<br />

to restore your sight so you can again see<br />

the light in the darkness and blessings<br />

amid trials.<br />

If you visit Him regularly and willingly<br />

allow Him to adjust your lenses, your vision<br />

will always be sharp.<br />

CHRISTINA KIMBREL serves as VL’s production<br />

manager. Once incarcerated, she now ministers<br />

hope to those held captive by their past and current<br />

circumstances while sharing the message of<br />

healing she found in Jesus.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


GOD CAN<br />

CHANGE<br />

YOUR<br />

FUTURE<br />

H<br />



ow you feelin’, Mike?”<br />

Grandma asked me this question every time<br />

we were alone in her car. My behavior had grown<br />

increasingly dark, and she was convinced it was<br />

only a matter of time before I hurt myself or maybe<br />

someone else.<br />

“It ain’t good to keep all those emotions bottled<br />

up inside you,” she’d warn.<br />

But even if I’d wanted to answer her, I couldn’t. I<br />

didn’t feel anything. I wasn’t always that way. As a<br />

kid, I’d had lots of emotions…but few felt good. So<br />

I stuffed them deep inside and kept going.<br />

My mom was 15 when she gave birth to me.<br />

She was young, single, poor, and severely addicted<br />

to crack cocaine. Our home was chaotic, and<br />

I didn’t have a safe space to express how I felt.<br />

Mom wasn’t emotionally, mentally, or physically<br />

able to hear me, much less help me sort through<br />

my pain.<br />

If I told anyone else how I felt, I’d have to reveal<br />

the root of the problem, and that would break an<br />

unwritten code between Mom and me. Whatever<br />

happened in our house, stayed in our house.<br />

16 <strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />



Mom’s addiction and our life in the projects exposed<br />

me to many evils. Our neighborhood was full<br />

of evil, drugs, and crime. When I was five years old,<br />

I witnessed a drive-by shooting. Not long after, my<br />

best friend was shot and killed. Those traumatic<br />

experiences hurt my young heart. Mom ran with<br />

a tough crowd, and sometimes terrible things<br />

happened to her.<br />

I was the most afraid and vulnerable at night. I<br />

would lie on my bed and listen to the noises from<br />

the street, neighboring apartments, and sometimes,<br />

my own home. Yelling. Screaming. Gunfire.<br />

When Mom gave birth to my sister, I was the<br />

one who changed my sister’s diapers, warmed<br />

her bottle, and fed her in the middle of the night<br />

because Mom was incapacitated. And I was only<br />

seven years old.<br />

Eventually, Mom moved us from the projects of<br />

Virginia to North Carolina to be near family. But<br />

her addiction and poverty moved with us.<br />

Please understand: I love my mother. Today she<br />

is free from her addiction, and we have a good<br />

relationship. I share these details only to lay the<br />

foundation for my story and to testify to the goodness<br />

of God. He rescued my grandmother, mother,<br />

and me from destructive generational patterns<br />

and choices. But we went through a lot to get there.<br />

With time, fear and loneliness turned into<br />

disappointment. Every time Mom chose crack<br />

over me, I felt let down. Her addiction resulted<br />

in countless broken promises and a lack of basic<br />

necessities. Disappointment eventually turned<br />

to resentment.<br />

I was angry with Mom for not providing for<br />

us. I resented her because I had to care for my<br />

siblings, even though I loved them. While that<br />

responsibility probably saved my life by keeping<br />

me busy and off the streets, at the time, it felt my<br />

childhood had been stolen from me.<br />

Mom’s addiction and eventual incarceration<br />

meant my siblings and I were bounced around<br />

between relatives in North and South Carolina.<br />

I’m thankful for the intervening love and security<br />

Grandma and her sister, Aunt Sarah, gave us, but<br />

moving meant new neighborhoods and schools. It<br />

seemed I was always the new kid and people were<br />

always sizing me up. My self-esteem was almost<br />

nonexistent. Mostly, I stayed to myself and kept<br />

my mouth closed.<br />

Going from Mom’s house, where there were no<br />

rules, to Aunt Sarah’s, where there were rules and<br />

consequences, was not easy. I didn’t like being<br />

told what to do and became rebellious. My new<br />

elementary school had to develop an in-school<br />

suspension program just for me.<br />

About that time, movies glorifying gang life<br />

became popular. Suddenly, my life experiences<br />

were right there on the big screen, and I realized<br />

how much power someone from the hood—like<br />

me—could have over others. Dark thoughts and<br />

ideas swirled through my head as I imagined what<br />

it’d be like to be a killer. Maybe I’d be a hitman.<br />

By seventh grade, I was carrying knives, threatening<br />

classmates, and smoking weed. I liked being<br />

high. I owned my first handgun by eighth grade,<br />

and in ninth, I swung a machete at a man’s head.<br />

Right: Young Mike<br />

was exposed<br />

to many evils<br />

growing up that<br />

often turned<br />

playgrounds into<br />

places of violence.<br />

Far right: Mike<br />

filled a parental<br />

role with his<br />

younger siblings.<br />

Pictured here<br />

with his younger<br />

brother.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


Sports provided<br />

a great escape<br />

for Mike from his<br />

trauma-filled life.<br />

Pictured above<br />

as a senior in high<br />

school and below<br />

as a member of<br />

the Kinston High<br />

School basketball<br />

team.<br />

In my defense, he was trying to sexually assault me,<br />

but it’s only by God’s grace that I didn’t kill him or hurt<br />

others.<br />

On a positive note, I joined the football team in junior<br />

high. I’d always been athletic but had never played organized<br />

sports because of my responsibilities at home. I<br />

did well, and the coach told me if I worked hard, I could<br />

attend college on a football scholarship. That was a foreign<br />

concept to me; I’d never considered the idea of me<br />

having a future.<br />

It felt great to be a part of an organized team and to be<br />

good at something, but it was short-lived. Mom made me<br />

a grand promise of a summer vacation that turned into<br />

my having to care for my siblings long-term. Football<br />

practice was off the table. I resented her even more.<br />

In eleventh grade, I moved to a relative’s house in<br />

Kinston, North Carolina, and made the football team.<br />

Amazingly, I was soon ranked number two in the state<br />

for sacks. I went from being a nobody to a somebody. The local<br />

“big homie” bought me expensive shoes; girls chased me; and<br />

people I didn’t even know talked to me.<br />

I made plans to attend NC State University and crushed the<br />

football camp—but my confidence quickly became embarrassment<br />

when my grades didn’t make the cut. I walked on at Fayetteville<br />

State University instead. Still, I played well and worked hard, and<br />

the coach said I had what it took to make it to the pros.<br />

I hadn’t been at school one month when my girlfriend told me<br />

she was pregnant. I didn’t take it well. I’d just gotten free from<br />

raising my siblings, and now I was supposed to raise another<br />

child? No.<br />

I ran. Dropped out of school, abandoned the gridiron, and<br />

moved back to Aunt Sarah’s in South Carolina. I needed space to<br />

figure things out and more drugs to silence the confusing voices<br />

screaming in my head.<br />

I took a miserable job in masonry that paid a lousy wage. My<br />

coworkers sat around and smoked their crack pipes every day<br />

after work. Was this my future? It didn’t look much different from<br />

growing up, and I resented Mom even more. I was still holding<br />

her responsible for my wretched life.<br />

Sure, Mom’s lifestyle had impacted me and my siblings, but<br />

what about the things I’d done? I’d wielded guns and knives and<br />

sold drugs. I’d rebelled against authority and planned robberies.<br />

I’d gotten my girlfriend pregnant and then abandoned her and a<br />

potential future in football. None of that was on Mom, but I was<br />

harboring hate and unforgiveness in my heart.<br />

Hebrews 12:15 (NLT) says, “Watch out that no poisonous root of<br />

bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” For years, I<br />

had allowed a poisonous root of bitterness to grow unchecked in<br />

my heart and mind, and now, I was eating the fruit of it.<br />

I soon left my brickmason job to be a drug dealer and bodyguard.<br />

I made $3,000 my first day and was hooked. But selling<br />

those drugs often filled me with guilt. I was destroying kids’ lives<br />

with the very drug that had destroyed my mother’s. It began to<br />

wear heavy on me.<br />

There was a lot of tension between me and the guys who worked<br />

for my boss too. They had been with him longer than me, yet I<br />

was his righthand man.<br />

I became so worried that someone would take me out that I<br />

actually had a nervous breakdown. I was at a bar doing a drug<br />

deal, and I started crying uncontrollably. I went to the bathroom<br />

to get myself together, but I couldn’t. So I called Grandma and<br />

told her what was happening.<br />

“Mike, you need to get in church, and you need to see a mental<br />

health professional.” It was only the hundredth time she’d said<br />

it. Instead, I moved back to North Carolina. Grandma kept telling<br />

me to get help, but I wasn’t about to have my head examined by<br />

a doctor; I knew I had issues!<br />

Finally, I decided I’d go to church, walk to the altar, and pretend<br />

to give my life to Jesus. I’d only have to go once, and then I could<br />

tell Grandma her plan didn’t work. Then I’d hit the streets with<br />

18 <strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM

a vengeance. I’d learned much over the years; I was ready to run<br />

my own crew.<br />

Sunday came, and I waited on the back pew for the pastor to<br />

do an altar call. I stepped into the aisle and took a step toward<br />

the front—but suddenly, tears flooded my eyes. The closer I got<br />

to the pastor, the harder I cried.<br />

I had my plan. God had a different one.<br />

After that day, I started going to church more consistently. It<br />

was the only place I could find peace from my dark thoughts.<br />

Sometimes, I’d walk out of church and light up a joint. The guys<br />

would tease me, “Mike, you ain’t even out of your suit, and you’re<br />

smoking weed!” I still had much to overcome, but I was headed<br />

in the right direction.<br />

Since I was in North Carolina, I began spending more time<br />

with my son. I’d never experienced a healthy parent-child<br />

relationship myself, but I was trying. And God would use that kid<br />

to melt my hardened heart.<br />

I’d take him to the park and tell him to go play while I sat in<br />

the car smoking weed. Over time, I noticed how other parents<br />

interacted with their kids. They played and talked with them. I<br />

wanted a relationship like that with my son. The day I saw some<br />

other kid’s father play with my son on the slide was the day I put<br />

out the weed and got out of the car. That was my son!<br />

During this time, I was in and out of a relationship with his<br />

mother, Tanya. I ended up getting her pregnant again. I wish I<br />

could say I was trying to be good to her like I was our son, but I<br />

wasn’t. Seeing fear in her eyes gave me such a rush. It sickens<br />

me to think of the hell I put her through.<br />

But when our daughter was stillborn, everything changed. The<br />

doctor said prenatal stress had caused her death. Tanya and I both<br />

knew I was the source of that stress. In her grief, she cut me out<br />

of her life, and I can’t blame her. I hated me too.<br />

How ironic: for years I’d wanted to be a killer, and now I was one.<br />

I’m grateful that God doesn’t waste anything, not even our sin.<br />

Through this experience, I came to a point of true surrender and<br />

got serious about my faith. I no longer attended church to feel<br />

better; I was there for God to teach, change, and use me.<br />

Scripture began speaking directly to my heart, revealing the<br />

depths of God’s love for me (Ephesians 3:18) and declaring my<br />

identity as a child of God (1 John 3:1). It brought correction (2<br />

Timothy 3:16–17) and showed me that to become a new person,<br />

I had to change the way I thought (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians<br />

10:5, Colossians 3:1–3).<br />

Retraining my thoughts was a full-time job. I had never thought<br />

of myself as anything more than a poor kid from the hood. An<br />

outcast. A son of a crack addict. A waster of talent. A destroyer of<br />

lives. But the Bible told me otherwise. In Christ, I was loved and<br />

accepted, and God had great plans for me.<br />

Tanya noticed the change but didn’t believe it. Over time, however,<br />

she saw that it was real. We got back together, and I got her<br />

pregnant again. I hadn’t lined up my sex life with God’s Word yet.<br />

After our son was born, Tanya gave her life to Jesus, and we were<br />

married. I worked as a janitor at a local church, served<br />

in the youth ministry, and tried to imitate the pastor—all<br />

the way down to his clothes! Tanya worked hard too.<br />

A year later, Tanya and I had a daughter. Raising three<br />

kids was tough, but it got harder when family members<br />

descended on our home. Ten people were sharing a<br />

three-bedroom house with one bathroom!<br />

I was about at my wit’s end when I heard a voice say,<br />

“Go to Rhema” (a Bible training college in Oklahoma). I<br />

was alone at work that day, and I knew it was the Lord<br />

speaking. I shared the experience with Tanya, and we<br />

obeyed God’s direction, even though everyone else<br />

thought we’d lost our minds.<br />

God began a good work in us at Rhema that He continues<br />

to fulfill to this day (Philippians 1:6)—but I must<br />

admit, I often doubted Him.<br />

Every week, I’d run to the altar and cry out to Him<br />

for provision. “Where are you God? Can’t You see our<br />






needs?” I’d make quite a scene praying, worshipping,<br />

dancing, and declaring His promises. I pointed out Mark<br />

11:24 to Him so many times, but nothing got better. One<br />

day, I refused to go forward anymore.<br />

“God, I’ve been ‘believing to receive’ for weeks. I’ve<br />

done everything I know to do, and it ain’t working! We<br />

obeyed You and came to Rhema, and now we’re about<br />

to be evicted from our home. We can’t even afford gas<br />

for our car.” I threw up my hands in the spiritual realm<br />

and told God if He wanted us to stay, then He would just<br />

have to provide. I was done worrying about it.<br />

With the conclusion of those words, a rush of peace<br />

came over me. Turns out, my trust was all He wanted.<br />

God was calling me to believe, not perform; to be still and<br />

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

on, God has shown up in the most unbelievable ways;<br />

He hasn’t failed us yet.<br />

At Rhema, I began a journey of unravelling the pain<br />

of my childhood. I learned about grace, and God helped<br />

me forgive both my mother and myself. He revealed how<br />

He’d always been there for me. Saving me. Protecting me.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


Right: God has<br />

restored Mike’s<br />

relationship with<br />

his grandmother,<br />

Glenda, and<br />

mother, Sandra,<br />

and healed their<br />

lives.<br />

Far right: Mike<br />

serves as FCA’s<br />

character coach<br />

for the ECU<br />

football team.<br />

I HAD MY PLAN.<br />

GOD HAD A<br />


Guiding me. Drawing<br />

me to Himself.<br />

My faith grew by<br />

leaps and bounds.<br />

We knew God was<br />

with us as we prepared<br />

for yet another<br />

child. We’d planned to move back to North Carolina<br />

immediately after graduation, but Tanya went into labor<br />

twelve weeks early.<br />

Our son was born dead. I’ll never forget his blue face<br />

and the panic on the faces of the nurses. Thank God,<br />

he was resuscitated, but he would spend the next two<br />

months in an incubator.<br />

Tanya and I visited him every day, as did prayer teams<br />

from Rhema. God answered our prayers and healed our<br />

son, but our bank account was depleted. This was a true<br />

test of faith, and I was failing.<br />

By the time we got back to North Carolina, we were<br />

not only broke, we were in a deep financial hole. We<br />

had nothing to our name, and I felt like a failure as<br />

we moved in with Tanya’s mother.<br />

No matter how hard I worked, we consistently fell<br />

short. Depression overtook me, and I considered returning<br />

to the streets. I knew how to make money there—I<br />

could get us out of this mess! My friend Travis talked<br />

me down. He and I had run together in junior high until<br />

he was sent to prison for robbery.<br />

“Mike,” he said, “I’m doing enough time for the both of<br />

us. Get another job. Don’t go back to the streets.” Travis<br />

had always been there for me.<br />

I took his advice and picked up extra jobs. I worked at<br />

Chick-fil-A, coached football, was a teacher’s assistant,<br />

and drove the bus. But we still struggled.<br />

“Where are You, God?” He seemed lost. Or maybe I<br />

was lost or had missed some direction from Him.<br />

At Rhema, I had learned that when you feel you’ve<br />

lost connection to God, think back to the spot you left<br />

Him. God doesn’t go anywhere; He doesn’t abandon His children<br />

(Deuteronomy 31:6).<br />

The last time I’d heard clearly from God was when He told me to<br />

go to Rhema. I wondered if I’d made a mistake coming back here.<br />

Maybe we should go back to Oklahoma. I asked God to forgive me<br />

and to give me direction. Not long after, a friend told me about a<br />

local position at Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).<br />

“Man, they ain’t gonna hire someone like me.” I was a guy from<br />

the hood who knew nothing about nonprofits or raising financial<br />

support. I didn’t have connections with successful and respectable<br />

business leaders in the community. My only connections were<br />

on the street, and those guys weren’t looking for a tax write-off!<br />

But God showed me that I only needed Him. I didn’t need connections<br />

or special qualifications; I just needed a willing heart.<br />

He blessed me with a position as the FCA area rep. Within two<br />

years, I was overseeing more than a thousand kids who were<br />

drawn to the authenticity of my message and could identify with<br />

my upbringing and experiences.<br />

In 2022, the Lord allowed me to return to the gridiron at East<br />

Carolina University, not as a player, but as a character coach for<br />

the ECU football team under the umbrella of FCA. Today, I am<br />

connecting with young men who are looking for hope, stability,<br />

and a father figure, just as I was at their age. What a privilege I<br />

have, sharing what I’ve learned (and am still learning) as I help<br />

them navigate their emotions.<br />

Right now, God is teaching me about humility and serving others.<br />

Before, I had freedom to do things my way. Now, I’m working<br />

under the authority of other coaches and leaders, and it’s a new<br />

experience. God is helping me lay down my pride.<br />

A never-ending growth is part of the Christian journey. It’s not<br />

always easy or comfortable, but it’s worth it. If you’re willing to<br />

do the work with God, He will bless your life in ways you never<br />

dreamed (Ephesians 3:20).<br />

You can’t change the past—no one can. But with God, you can<br />

change your future.<br />

MIKE JENKINS is the FCA character coach at East Carolina University. He is<br />

passionate about helping young men find their identity in Christ.<br />


20 <strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM


Let Your Revelation<br />

Be Your Conversation<br />



past 40 years, but every time I arrive in a<br />

new place, I wonder how safe it is to share<br />

my heart. How much of my past should I<br />

allow into a conversation?<br />

I’m blessed today with a husband of 30<br />

years, but I have faced my share of battles.<br />

Long before I met the Lord or my husband,<br />

I was in an abusive relationship with a drug<br />

addict.<br />

Amid the instability and danger that<br />

come with addiction and domestic violence,<br />

I became codependent and an<br />

enabler. I stayed in the relationship even<br />

after he held a gun to my head and threatened<br />

my life. When I did eventually leave,<br />

it was because I’d finally realized that I<br />

couldn’t save him.<br />

It has taken many years to heal from all<br />

that trauma, and I still have triggers that<br />

I have to work through during my prayer<br />

time with Jesus.<br />

I couldn’t talk about that part of my life for<br />

many years afterward. I was afraid of being<br />

rejected or judged. Now that I’ve met Jesus<br />

and experienced His forgiveness and<br />

grace, I’m not so worried about explaining<br />

who I was in the past because my focus is<br />

on who—and whose—I am now.<br />

Having the freedom to be real with people<br />

is incredible. The transparency I’ve<br />

gained has released me from shame and<br />

guilt. It liberates others to share their experiences<br />

as well.<br />

I love the story of the Samaritan woman.<br />

She felt so isolated and estranged from her<br />

community that she went to great lengths<br />

to avoid people. Yet Jesus went to greater<br />

lengths—extraordinary ones—to meet her<br />

in her loneliness. (See John 4.)<br />

As they began to speak, her shame was<br />

evident: “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan<br />

woman. Why are you asking me for a<br />

drink?” (John 4:9 NLT). I relate to this because,<br />

for a long time, I couldn’t wrap my<br />

I’m not so<br />

worried<br />

about<br />

explaining<br />

who I was<br />

in the past<br />

because my<br />

focus is on<br />

who—and<br />

whose—I<br />

am now.<br />

head around why Jesus would want anything to do with<br />

me either.<br />

Jesus already knew all about this woman’s past. His<br />

point in asking her about it was to open her eyes to the<br />

forgiveness and salvation He was offering.<br />

And when she saw His gift, the narrative of her conversation<br />

changed. Now instead of being defined by her<br />

reputation, she could talk about her revelation.<br />

She ran back to all those people she usually hid from<br />

and proclaimed, “Come and see a man who told me<br />

every thing I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?”<br />

(John 4:29 NLT).<br />

I was just like the Samaritan woman when I first met<br />

Jesus. It’s much easier now to talk about where I have<br />

been in life because the story ultimately points to Him,<br />

but I pray that I will always be excited to talk about Him.<br />

He saved my life, healed my wounds, and mended all<br />

that was broken inside me, and I want you and everyone<br />

to know that.<br />

I found freedom in Christ, and it changed my conversation.<br />

Knowing Him will change yours too.<br />

JULIE ENGSTROM is a wife and mother who uses her gifts of<br />

teaching and encouragement to help others find and embrace their<br />

identity in Christ.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


Love Like Jesus<br />


I have always been passionate about sharing<br />

the gospel and helping people who have<br />

never heard about Jesus to become His<br />

followers. I even planned to carry out Jesus’s<br />

Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20) as a<br />

missionary in a faraway land.<br />

My dream was to travel to the deepest<br />

jungles of Central America and live in a hut<br />

complete with anacondas hanging from<br />

the ceiling. The Lord seemed to confirm<br />

this plan when He sent me a beautiful wife<br />

who shared my passion for mission work.<br />

She was even on board with hut-dwelling.<br />

I imagined us going to unreached people<br />

groups. I would translate the Bible, she<br />

would teach, and we would live happily<br />

ever after, serving the Lord.<br />

Sounds like a fantastic plan, right? We<br />

thought so, too, but God had other plans<br />

for us first (Proverbs 19:21). After our wedding,<br />

Kathy joined me in Topeka, Kansas,<br />

where I had begun pastoring a church.<br />

God, in His wisdom, postponed our desire<br />

to serve Him overseas. We still knew<br />

we’d get there someday, but not yet. God<br />

placed us in Kansas because He knew we<br />

needed a little experience under our young<br />

belts and a good sending church before<br />

we sailed off to the other side of the world.<br />

After five long years, the Lord finally<br />

gave us the desire of our hearts. He and<br />

our church in Kansas sent us to Taiwan.<br />

It would be our home for the next twenty<br />

years. We learned to speak Chinese and<br />

planted a church. It was a challenging task,<br />

but God helped us.<br />

It was another five years before a single<br />

person responded to the Good News, but<br />

when they did, God moved mightily. Kathy<br />

and I were amazed at how the Lord melted<br />

the hearts of people who had been so far<br />

from believing in Him. Lives all around us<br />

were transformed. The Lord used those<br />

precious people to teach us how to live<br />

and love like Jesus.<br />

In 2006, we felt the Lord leading us back<br />

to the United States, and I settled into a<br />

new position as the teaching and missions<br />

pastor at First Christian Church (FCC) in<br />


22 <strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM

Phoenix, Arizona. I would need everything<br />

I had learned in Taiwan, as God was about<br />

to do a new thing in our congregation<br />

(Isaiah 43:19). And He would use formerly<br />

incarcerated people to do it.<br />

Ministering to former inmates was<br />

the one thing that had not made it into<br />

my busy schedule. Yes, I had known exoffenders<br />

over the years and had heard<br />

their powerful redemption stories. I’d even<br />

visited the county jail with my brother who<br />

is a police chaplain and student pastor.<br />

I admired my brother’s work and his<br />

special relationship with former gangsters,<br />

but I’d never imagined myself in that<br />

role. Nor had I ever been in a Christian<br />

community with a significant constituency<br />

of ex-cons. That was about to change,<br />

however, after an unexpected visit from<br />

two men—Collis, the founder and director<br />

of Alongside Ministries (ASM), and Austin,<br />

the men’s director there.<br />

ASM is a dynamic local prison ministry<br />

that matches men and women behind bars<br />

with Christian mentors before they are<br />

released and provides residential discipleship<br />

training for nine more months after<br />

their release from prison.<br />

Collis and Austin had discovered a missing<br />

piece to the intricate puzzle of rehabilitation<br />

and reentry, and they were on a<br />

mission to put this piece in place within<br />

their ministry. That’s what brought them<br />

through FCC’s doors.<br />

They wanted a church home for the men<br />

and women in their program and all future<br />

ASM programmers. They met with me and<br />

my coworker, Jon, to discuss their idea.<br />

“Pastor Chuck,” Collis began, “our men<br />

and women need to experience what it<br />

means to be part of a church family. We’ve<br />

hopped around Sunday after Sunday, visiting<br />

various congregations that support our<br />

ministry. We need to find a church home<br />

so our men and women can experience<br />

life in the body of Christ.<br />

“We recently polled our folks to find out<br />

where they would want to settle down, and<br />

it was unanimous. They like the biblical<br />

focus of FCC’s teaching and always feel<br />

welcomed. So what do you think? Can we<br />

make this our home?”<br />

I was glad the men and women had<br />

WE WOULD<br />





IT GOT.<br />

chosen FCC over all the other churches<br />

in town, but I was also wary of an influx of<br />

ex-cons into our membership. How would<br />

our people react? Then I remembered the<br />

heart of God for this group of people.<br />

There was no question about what He’d<br />

have us do. He loves formerly incarcerated<br />

people the same as He does anyone else.<br />

His love had redeemed them from a deep,<br />

Chuck’s wife,<br />

Kathy, shares his<br />

passion for overseas<br />

missions and his<br />

heart for all God’s<br />

children.<br />

dark pit. How could we as a body of believers<br />

refuse them a place in God’s family?<br />

So there was only one answer. We would<br />

love like Jesus, no matter how messy or<br />

uncomfortable it got.<br />

Jon and I had no idea the massive evolution<br />

our church was about to undergo, but<br />

we sensed God was orchestrating something<br />

big. Our part in His plan was to say<br />

yes to the opportunity and trust God with<br />

the results. We could do that.<br />

But then, Collis presented another<br />

request that caught us a bit off-guard.<br />

“Guys,” he said, “not only do our men and<br />

women want to attend the main service,<br />

but they want to spend their entire Sunday<br />

mornings at FCC. Is there a class they<br />

could join?”<br />

I began to sweat a little.<br />

We offered small groups through the<br />

week at FCC and around the city but had<br />

eliminated our Sunday classes. Well, except<br />

for one attended by the congregation’s<br />

most senior crowd.<br />

Faithful grandmas and grandpas who<br />

had led our church through challenging<br />

brush fires and storms comprised this<br />

class. Still, we weren’t sure they would be<br />

excited about 30 formerly incarcerated<br />

men and women descending upon their<br />

classroom. I wasn’t sure they could handle<br />

the culture shock.<br />

We informed Collis and Austin that we<br />

would check with our church elders and<br />

get back to them.<br />

We met with three of the church’s patriarchs<br />

and recounted our meeting with<br />

Collis and Austin. I smiled as I spoke,<br />

hoping to soften the impact of the news<br />

that FCC would now be the home church<br />

of a community of former inmates. Then<br />

I dropped the big news: “And they want to<br />

join your Sunday School class!”<br />

I held my breath, expecting a negative<br />

response, but the men simply said they<br />

would ask the class. The following Sunday,<br />

after their group met, the men said,<br />

“The class thinks it sounds like something<br />

Jesus would want us to do.” I’d never been<br />

prouder to be their pastor.<br />

It’s been 12 years since that first group of<br />

pierced and tattooed wonders descended<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


Chuck had never considered<br />

prison ministry, but God had<br />

other plans. Today, discipling<br />

incarcerated and formerly<br />

incarcerated men and women<br />

in their faith is a significant<br />

part of Chuck’s ministry.<br />

Pictured here with his<br />

discipleship group.<br />


on the Kingdom Seekers Sunday School The irony in the way God works makes<br />

class. I have to smile when I think back me chuckle.<br />

to that first Sunday. I can still hear Glen’s Some people have difficulty believing<br />

voice (one of those elders) calling me. there’s a church who will love them like a<br />

“Chuck, come quick. You have to see family and help them reenter society. Many<br />

what’s happened to our class!” At first, respond with, “Yeah, right. No church will<br />

I didn’t know how to respond, but then want someone like me around.”<br />

his face broke into a bright smile. “These But after they come, I usually hear, “I’ve<br />

people have doubled our attendance and never felt loved and accepted like this.”<br />

reduced our average age by one-third!” That makes my day like nothing else.<br />

That day was a happy, pivotal moment, These folks don’t realize what it means<br />




both in the life of First Christian Church to us to be loved and accepted by them.<br />

and in those of the men and women who On any given Sunday, I can look into the<br />

desperately needed to experience the love congregation and see the faces of people I<br />

of a family. We’ve all been changed for have met in prison. It has been a privilege<br />

the better.<br />

to continue to teach and disciple them;<br />

Austin soon persuaded me to accompany<br />

him into the men’s prison in Florence, times, they teach me how to follow Jesus<br />

many have become close friends. Some-<br />

Arizona. I was apprehensive, but my fear and reflect Him in our broken world.<br />

dissipated when those men welcomed me God is moving powerfully from the inside<br />

out. Who knew He could use trans-<br />

into their family. I have been a religious<br />

volunteer for the Arizona Department of formed men and women from the inside<br />

Corrections ever since. Now I do what I to bring transformation to people on the<br />

used to watch my little brother do—teach outside? I’m glad to have a front-row seat.<br />

men about Jesus and the Word of God in God refashioned what was once a very<br />

prison. Talk about a foreign mission field! traditional, upper-middle-class church<br />

into a diverse community where incredible<br />

stories of redemption abound and<br />

where people from every tribe, tongue,<br />

and nation live in harmony, worshipping<br />

their Savior together.<br />

It’s a beautiful sight—and I imagine<br />

heaven will be much like it.<br />

You know, not everyone appreciated our<br />

saying yes to God and welcoming these<br />

folks. Love and grace are messy. Many<br />

people left our church because they didn’t<br />

want to sit next to an ex-con.<br />

But that’s okay. Life isn’t about making<br />

everyone comfortable; it’s about obeying<br />

the Lord. It’s about loving others and welcoming<br />

them into God’s family. It’s about<br />

moving over and making room for people<br />

who are different from us.<br />

Making disciples is a journey of ongoing<br />

healing and growth. It’s deliberate,<br />

intentional, and often challenging.<br />

Is it easy? No. It requires God’s wisdom<br />

and strength and patience (Philippians<br />

4:13). But it’s worth the effort.<br />

And in the process, you’ll grow. You’ll<br />

make new friends. And you’ll experience<br />

God doing something incredible in and<br />

through you.<br />

Don’t miss it! Open the door. Scoot over<br />

and make room for others today.<br />

CHUCK FOREMAN and his wife, Kathy, have<br />

established deep roots at First Christian Church<br />

of Phoenix, Arizona, a church known for humbly<br />

serving its community. In addition to being proud<br />

parents and grandparents, Chuck and Kathy<br />

consider dozens of men and women part of their<br />

beloved family of disciples.<br />

24 <strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM


fulfill his purpose for me. He will send help from heaven to rescue me, disgracing<br />

those who hound me. My God will send<br />

forth his unfailing love and faithfulness” (NLT).<br />

David was on the run, hiding in a cave from<br />

King Saul, when he wrote this psalm. The king<br />

was trying to kill him! Surely, David was confused.<br />

He had loved this man who was attacking him.<br />

So how did he maintain hope and not become<br />

discouraged? He drew close to the Lord in prayer.<br />

He remembered God’s unfailing love and faithfulness.<br />

He trusted in the promise that God would<br />

fulfill His purpose in David’s life.<br />

We need to do the same during our times of<br />

attack. It’s how we emerge from the battle victorious.<br />

But if we forget, how do we overcome<br />

hopelessness and get back on track with God?<br />

Here are some tips I learned from David.<br />

God’s Purpose;<br />

Your Trials<br />



According to Webster’s, the definition of purpose is “something set up as an<br />

object or end to be attained.”<br />

I desire God’s purpose in my life. Jeremiah 29:11 promises He has good<br />

plans for me, and I have a future and hope. I’ve heard this verse my entire life.<br />

But hearing it and resting on that promise are two different things.<br />

I struggle with knowing God’s purpose for my life, especially when trouble<br />

comes at me from different directions at the same time. That’s when I have to<br />

draw close to God. Only He can help me withstand those fiery darts. If I forget<br />

that, I quickly become hopeless and start questioning everything.<br />

Am I making the right decisions? I wonder. Is everyone against me? Is this<br />

what I’m supposed to be doing? Am I following God’s will? Have I disappointed<br />

Him? Am I being punished? Stress gathers and grows.<br />

But then I remember Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything<br />

to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to<br />

his purpose for them” (NLT). God is always working every circumstance<br />

together for good for His children.<br />

The psalms written by David bring me great comfort. It’s incredible that<br />

even a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) faced opposition and felt<br />

discouraged at times. It shows me that I can be in the center of God’s will for<br />

my life, actively pursuing Him, and still have trials.<br />

David teaches me how to fight and how to overcome discouragement during<br />

attacks. He says in Psalm 57:2–3, “I cry out to God Most High, to God who will<br />

PRAY. Cry out to God. Tell Him what you need<br />

and leave your situation with Him (Philippians<br />

4:6–8). His peace will overcome your hopelessness<br />

and keep you moving forward. Prayer is<br />

powerful.<br />

READ HIS WORD. As we search the scriptures,<br />

we gain understanding and wisdom. The Bible<br />

isn’t something to be read and checked off a<br />

spiritual to-do list. It’s life to us. Study it intentionally<br />

and with a hungry heart, and you’ll find<br />

the strength you need for the battle. (See Psalm<br />

119:114; 2 Timothy 3:16–17.)<br />


PEOPLE. God designed us to do life together.<br />

Ecclesiastes 4:10 says two are better than one<br />

because “if either of them falls down, one can<br />

help the other up” (NIV). Ask God to send godly<br />

people who will support and encourage you.<br />

Likewise, be that person for someone else.<br />

TRUST GOD. God will never leave you or<br />

forsake you. He gave the ultimate sacrifice—<br />

Jesus—for you, and He will provide you with<br />

everything you need (Romans 8:32). No battle<br />

is too difficult for Him.<br />

God will fulfill His purpose for you. The battle<br />

you’re facing doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that<br />

He is absent. Do the above and trust that He will<br />

send His help from heaven and rescue you.<br />

CARLA OWENS loves the Lord and seeks daily to know<br />

Him more intimately. She serves as Victorious Living’s<br />

administrative director.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


I was born in 1938,<br />

just before<br />

the start of World War II. I’ve been on this<br />

earth for over eight decades, and, believe<br />

me, I have seen a lot.<br />

King Solomon knew what he was talking<br />

about when he shared his wisdom for life.<br />

Change is never-ending, and everything<br />

has its season (Ecclesiastes 3:1–8). And<br />

sometimes, God assigns our lives the most<br />

unexpected purpose and meaning during<br />

the most challenging seasons.<br />



I have experienced joy, sorrow, suffering,<br />

and contentment, sometimes all at<br />

once. Circumstances have fluctuated for<br />

me over the years, but there’s one thing<br />

I’ve always known: God’s presence will be<br />

with me no matter what comes my way.<br />

I had loving parents and a normal<br />

childhood, but we were not Christians. My<br />

grandmother sang beautiful hymns and<br />

taught us to pray before meals, but I didn’t<br />

learn anything that helped me grasp the<br />

importance of a relationship with Jesus.<br />

My first husband and I spent 45 years<br />

together and raised five beautiful children.<br />

Frank was the first to ask the Lord into his<br />

heart. A friend had been telling him about<br />

Jesus, and the Holy Spirit was doing a work<br />

in his heart, prepar ing him to lead our family<br />

in the Christian faith.<br />

Two weeks later, Frank took me to see<br />

King of Kings, a movie about the life of Jesus<br />

Christ. I was less than enthusiastic<br />

and sat outside during most of the movie,<br />

smoking cigarettes. I wandered back inside<br />

just in time to see the crucifixion of Jesus.<br />

I watched Him being nailed to the cross,<br />

and something inside my 23-year-old heart<br />

broke wide open and gave way to Jesus. I<br />

cried and asked for forgiveness of my sins,<br />

giving Him total reign over my life.<br />

That night the Holy Spirit ignited a fire<br />

inside me to win souls. I wanted to go door<br />

to door, telling everyone about the love and<br />

grace of Christ. My husband and I served<br />

together in church and purposed to learn<br />

the Word of God and raise our children in<br />

a home that honored Him (Deuteronomy<br />

6:6–7). Our marriage was not without challenges,<br />

but with God’s guidance, we weathered<br />

every storm together until Frank went<br />

home to be with the Lord in 2000.<br />

The Lord was gracious not to leave me<br />

alone for too long. My path soon crossed<br />

that of a wonderful man of God. Lester was<br />

a retired pastor who loved the Lord and my<br />

enthusiasm to serve others and spread the<br />

Gospel. We made a great team for Jesus<br />

until he became sick. I was privileged to<br />

care for him until he lost his battle with<br />

Alzheimer’s. I was a widow again, after just<br />

sixteen short years.<br />

With the death of my second husband, a<br />

heavy loneliness settled over my life. I had<br />

never been so completely alone as I was at<br />

that point. I had no idea how to survive on<br />

my own. I’d been married so young, and all<br />

I knew was how to be a wife and a mom.<br />

By now, I was a great-great-grandmother<br />

and had certainly lived a full life.<br />

Fear took root. I did not want to sit and<br />

become useless to God or anyone else. “Father,”<br />

I prayed, “I still have life left in me.<br />

Please don’t put me on a shelf. I want to<br />

be used by You. Where do You want me?”<br />

The enemy laughed in my ear. “Now,<br />

what could God possibly do with someone<br />

your age?”<br />

I had no problem reminding Satan that<br />

he was a liar and a loser. God still had an<br />

assignment for me. I just didn’t know what<br />

it was yet.<br />

I cried out to my Good Shepherd a lot<br />

during that dark valley season. He was the<br />

only One who could lead me out (Psalm 23),<br />

so I clung to Him for help.<br />

Determined not to slip into the pit of despair<br />

and depression, I kept knocking and<br />

asking and seeking for God to tell me what<br />

to do next (Matthew 7:7). I didn’t know how,<br />

but I knew He would answer my prayers.<br />

God reminded me that Moses was in his<br />

80s too, but He still called him to lead the<br />

Israel ites out of captivity. And when Moses<br />

expressed his doubts, God sent him<br />

on his way, promising that He’d be there<br />


26 <strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM

for every step. In fact, God told Moses that<br />

he already had everything in his hand that<br />

he needed to do the job God had for him.<br />

(See Exodus 4.)<br />

So I decided that I would trust too, that I<br />

would have what I needed to answer God’s<br />

call when it came. And then it hit me—there<br />

were people all around who could use encouragement,<br />

a kind note, a visit, a hug,<br />

or a prayer partner. My age would be no<br />

barrier to meeting those needs.<br />

From then on, I started using whatever<br />

I had in my hand to serve God and others.<br />

The loneliness didn’t go away completely,<br />

but focusing on others more than on<br />

myself brought renewed joy into my heart.<br />

I was leaving Bible study one day when<br />

I noticed a man sitting alone outside the<br />

church. He looked sad, but when I approached<br />

him, his face lit up with a smile.<br />

I introduced myself, and he told me his<br />

name was Roy and that he was new to our<br />

church family.<br />

I didn’t know what was troubling him or<br />

how I could help, but I knew God wanted<br />

me to show him kindness.<br />

Just use what’s in your hand, Patricia, I reminded<br />

myself. I went home that afternoon<br />

and wrote him a note of encouragement,<br />

hoping to cheer up my new friend.<br />

Roy was an unexpected gift from God to<br />

Patricia, as was Patricia to Roy. Today,<br />

these newlyweds faithfully serve the Lord<br />

together in their home church.<br />

The next time I saw Roy, I gave him the<br />

card. His face brightened as if I had handed<br />

him a million dollars. My heart was overjoyed<br />

to see how such a simple gesture<br />

could bless someone.<br />

I was intrigued by Roy’s infectious smile.<br />

Whatever his troubles, this was a man who<br />

was on fire for Jesus. When he invited me<br />

for dinner one evening, I agreed, happy to<br />

learn more about him. He was easy to talk<br />

to, and over the course of the evening, we<br />

shared stories about our lives. I learned<br />

that Roy was in his 70s and had endured<br />

a lifetime of struggles, including spending<br />

over three decades in prison!<br />

I wondered how on earth someone who<br />

had endured that kind of trial could be so<br />

content.<br />

Roy shared with me how God had<br />

brought purpose to his suffering by giving<br />

him a passion for helping others through<br />

writing. I was inspired and moved with<br />

compassion. I felt convicted for the many<br />

times I had lamented to the Lord about<br />

circumstances that weren’t comfortable<br />

in my life.<br />

We talked for hours, and when the evening<br />

ended, we both felt like we had known<br />

each other for a lifetime. It was nice to have<br />

a friend, and I was grateful that the Lord<br />

had crossed our paths.<br />

It came as quite a shock when Roy asked<br />

me to marry him. I had to go away for three<br />

weeks to seek direction from the Lord. The<br />

idea of Roy and me getting married would<br />

surely raise some eyebrows. I particularly<br />

worried that it might upset my children.<br />

But no matter what doubts and worries<br />

I presented to God, I received not even a<br />

hint that it would displease Him.<br />

In fact, God kept bringing me back to a<br />

place of comfort in His Word, a place that<br />

had always been my lifeline. Proverbs<br />

3:5–6 reassured me: “Trust in the Lord<br />

with all your heart and lean not on your<br />

own understanding; in all your ways submit<br />

to him, and he will make your path<br />

straight” (NIV).<br />

I returned home from my trip convinced<br />

that marrying Roy would be God’s will. I<br />

knew in my heart that by doing so, I would<br />

be answering the call from God on my life<br />

that I had so desperately needed. The answer<br />

to my prayers had come in such an<br />

unexpected and unpredictable way that<br />

only God could get the glory for it.<br />

I said yes to God and then to Roy, and we<br />

were married on August 27, 2022. All my<br />

children were in attendance and embraced<br />

Roy into our family during the ceremony. I<br />

will treasure the memories of that day for<br />

the rest of my years.<br />

And that is how God called Roy and me<br />

into the ministry of marriage. God had a<br />

purpose for both of us. We were to be obedient<br />

and trust Him with the details. Today,<br />

He uses Roy to bring meaning and companionship<br />

to my life, and Roy says that<br />

God brought me into his life to be the best<br />

friend he has ever had. We challenge each<br />

other to grow in our relationship with the<br />

Lord, which only serves to strengthen our<br />

bond. We truly keep each other sharp and<br />

make each other better (Proverbs 27:17).<br />

We are now ministry partners, in our<br />

home and to each other. We use whatever<br />

is in our hands as a team to point others<br />

to Jesus.<br />

Roy continues to use his writing to help<br />

others learn about the Savior, and I encourage<br />

whoever God puts in front of me when<br />

I see the need. Between the two of us, we<br />

have more hands than we did alone, so we<br />

can get a lot more done.<br />

God is always faithful. If you are going<br />

through a difficult season, don’t lose heart.<br />

Remember that God has a purpose for you<br />

in every season. Pray and ask Him to give<br />

you direction. Then, while you are waiting<br />

for your answer, start using whatever is in<br />

your hand to serve God and others.<br />

You might not think you have anything<br />

much to offer, but let God decide how He’ll<br />

use your obedience. You might just be<br />

walking along and end up crossing paths<br />

with your destiny.<br />

God did it for Roy and me, and He can<br />

do it for you too.<br />

PATRICIA BORGES and her husband, Roy, share<br />

the hope of Jesus every chance they get and with<br />

anyone who will listen. Grateful for finding love in<br />

this season of life, they plan to live out the rest of<br />

their lives loving and serving others.<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />



TAKE<br />


YOUR<br />

Thought Life<br />


to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians<br />

10:5 NIV).<br />

Life transformation lies in the thought<br />

life. I know that now, but for a long time, my<br />

mind was filled with loud, toxic thoughts<br />

that taunted me daily. They told me I was<br />

a hopeless loser, a failure, and unwanted.<br />

And I believed them.<br />

For years those thoughts ran wild and<br />

demanded my attention. I’m telling you,<br />

between my ears was one scary place. Sadly,<br />

I thought the noise was normal. No one<br />

had ever taught me about my true identity<br />

in Christ.<br />

I tried to drown out the voices and the<br />

shame with drugs and other things. I was<br />

so desperate to silence the madness that I<br />

attempted suicide several times. Each time<br />

I failed, the chaos in my mind grew louder.<br />

For three decades, I wrestled with anxiety<br />

and depression. I was a miserable<br />

person with a bipolar diagnosis and on a<br />

frustrating journey of psych prescriptions.<br />

But then I encountered Jesus, and He<br />

set me free from my mental and emotional<br />

chaos.<br />

I still remember the sudden calm in<br />

my mind as I bowed my heart to Him. It<br />

was how I’d imagine the stillness of the<br />

first morning after a long, violent war. For<br />

years, I’d been surrounded by chaos and<br />

fear and ruled by an evil enemy—and then,<br />

suddenly, I had peace and freedom. I could<br />

breathe in the fresh air and take in the<br />

beauty of the sunrise, the dew adorning<br />

the fields, the light fog hanging in the air.<br />

Jesus had silenced the tormenting voices<br />

that spoke endless, demeaning words<br />

of hate and destruction. He had muzzled<br />

those mocking voices that called me<br />

names and outright lied to me about who<br />

I was. And in the stillness, I could hear the<br />

tender voice of my heavenly Father, telling<br />

me He loved me, approved of me, and<br />

wanted me. In the light of His truth, I knew<br />

I wasn’t a failure or a waste—I was enough.<br />

Ironically, I found this freedom while<br />

I was locked up in jail. Jesus brought His<br />

light of truth and hope to that hopeless,<br />

terrifying place and shined it into the<br />

darkness of my mind. Who knew Jesus<br />

would hang out in places like that, ready<br />

and willing to free people?<br />

That was six years ago, and I’m still<br />

being transformed into His image. It’s a<br />

journey that will continue until I meet my<br />

Savior face to face. It’s not an easy road. In<br />

fact, it often feels like a battle.<br />

Satan knows he’s lost me for eternity,<br />

but he still attacks my mind by reminding<br />

me of my past and telling me what a failure<br />

I am. He seeks to destroy the image of God<br />

within me. But God’s Word and His Holy<br />

Spirit have taught me how to fight the war<br />

over toxic thoughts.<br />


Romans 12:2 says we are transformed<br />

into new people by renewing our minds.<br />

Where we focus our thought life is critical<br />

for spiritual, emotional, and mental<br />

health. Scripture is saturated with this<br />

truth. It’s where we find what renews us.<br />

There’s no way to get around it—if we<br />

want a new life, we have to change our<br />

thinking. The battle is won or lost in our<br />

minds.<br />

We need a special weapon to win the<br />

battle—and that’s God’s truth. When we<br />

expose our thoughts to God’s truth, strongholds<br />

are blown up by His divine power.<br />

It’s like spiritual TNT.<br />

Second Corinthians 10:3–5 tells us how<br />

we can have victory: “For though we live<br />

in the world, we do not wage war as the<br />

world does. The weapons we fight with<br />

are not the weapons of the world. On the<br />

contrary, they have divine power to demolish<br />

strongholds. We demolish arguments<br />

and every pretension that sets itself up<br />

against the knowledge of God, and we take<br />

captive every thought to make it obedient<br />

to Christ” (NIV).<br />

Let’s look closer at this passage. A<br />

stronghold is a fortress that holds something.<br />

It can protect us, or it can imprison<br />

us. Our thoughts can function as a prison,<br />

holding us captive, or they can be the place<br />

where we know we are safe and loved.<br />

That’s why Satan does his best to distort<br />

our thinking through the negative<br />

comments of others and difficult circumstances.<br />

He brings whispers of shame and<br />

guilt. He wants words, experiences, and<br />

feelings to impact our inner dialogue,<br />

so we don’t realize our true identities as<br />

victors in Christ (Romans 8:37).<br />

Paul teaches that if we take our thoughts<br />

captive and make them obedient to God’s<br />

truth, then Satan loses the battle. I envision<br />

it as a game of Capture the Flag—we<br />

chase down our thoughts, capture them,<br />

and bring them to God’s territory.<br />

Let me give you an example. Recently,<br />

someone shared how my past choices had<br />

deeply hurt them and the lingering pain<br />

that still impacted other areas of their life.<br />

Knowing that I had hurt someone I love,<br />

that I had caused them problems, made<br />

me lose sight of God’s truth. Satan began<br />

telling his lies. “You’re a failure, Sheridan.<br />

All you do is hurt people. No one wants you<br />

in their life. You’ll never be good enough.”<br />

For a day, I let those lies swirl around<br />

28 <strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM





in my head, and I became confused about<br />

who I was. I went into protection mode. I<br />

shut down, withdrew from others, and became<br />

sullen and silent. When I did speak,<br />

my words were critical and negative and<br />

hurt those around me.<br />

Finally, after nearly 24 hours, I came to<br />

my senses and realized I was being held<br />

captive by my thoughts. I was agreeing<br />

with Satan’s lies and rejecting God’s truth.<br />

It was like I was saying to Jesus, “No! You’re<br />

wrong about who I am. Your Word isn’t<br />

true.” Wow!<br />

I had to decide—would I continue to<br />

agree with Satan and let his lies consume<br />

me, or would I apply 2 Corin thians 10:3–5<br />

to my thought life and bring the battle to a<br />

victorious end? I chose the latter.<br />

I took out a journal and began to write.<br />

I reminded myself that God does not give<br />

me a spirit of fear but of power, love, and<br />

a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). There was<br />

no way my fearful and confusing thoughts<br />

were from God.<br />

Next, I wrote down each thought and<br />

analyzed it to see if it was a lie or the truth.<br />

For example, I penned, “I am rejected.”<br />

Then I searched the Bible and wrote<br />

down what God says: “I am accepted by<br />

Christ and belong to Him.” (See Ephesians<br />

1:6.) Then I took the thoughts that didn’t<br />

line up with God’s truth and rejected them.<br />

It wasn’t long before this exercise pulled<br />

me out of my stinkin’ thinkin’. God’s neverchanging<br />

truth always brings me to a place<br />

of freedom.<br />

Of course, Satan has brought other<br />

attacks since then. He won’t stop until<br />

Jesus comes with perfection and eternal<br />

peace. But that’s okay, because I’m winning<br />

the war. With the Holy Spirit’s help,<br />

I more quickly recognize when I’m being<br />

attacked. And since I’m fighting with godly<br />

weapons, Satan’s strongholds don’t stand<br />

a chance.<br />

You don’t have to live in mental torture.<br />

It’s time to silence that condemning internal<br />

dialogue. It is not from God.<br />

Start analyzing the thoughts in your<br />

head. Ask, “What is the story I’m telling<br />

myself?” Break it down and determine if<br />

it is based on a lie or the truth.<br />

The better you know God’s Word, the<br />

more quickly you’ll be able to recognize<br />

the truth. That comes through diving into<br />

God’s Word and applying it to your thought<br />

life every day.<br />

It takes time, but it’s the best investment<br />

you can make for yourself. Truth holds<br />

the key to your freedom, and according<br />

to John 14:6, Jesus Christ is the way, the<br />

truth, and the life. Get to know Him, and<br />

you’ll find everything you’ve ever needed<br />

or desired.<br />

Satan won’t stop trying to defeat you.<br />

But as you continually capture the misbeliefs<br />

and make them obedient to Christ,<br />

you won’t be imprisoned anymore.<br />

Stop calling yourself names like failure,<br />

dummy, stupid, idiot, and loser. Every time<br />

you do, it’s a slap in Truth’s face, and it impacts<br />

your life. Choose to no longer think<br />

of yourself as a sinner, prisoner, addict,<br />

or terrible person. You are a child of God.<br />

Romans 6:16–18 teaches that we are enslaved<br />

to whatever we listen to and obey.<br />

If you believe and act on the lies of Satan,<br />

then you are his captive. Trust me; he is<br />

not a kind taskmaster.<br />

But if you’ll submit your thoughts to<br />

God’s truth, you will find freedom (John<br />

8:32), and you will experience God’s will<br />

for your life, which is good and pleasing<br />

and perfect (Romans 12:2).<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> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />


WHY<br />

NOT<br />

YOU?<br />



I recognized the presence of God<br />

early in my life. I remember being<br />

at church as young as four,<br />

dancing around the sanctuary<br />

and praising God. Joy and<br />

peace filled my little frame as I<br />

jumped up and down, shouting<br />

His name.<br />

I loved being at church and<br />

around God’s people, and I<br />

loved God. Even so, I couldn’t<br />

imagine that God could love<br />

me. He was so big, and I felt so<br />

small. What did I possibly have<br />

to offer God? I was a nobody.<br />

I don’t remember a time<br />

when I wasn’t insecure. My<br />

low self-esteem was a byproduct<br />

of childhood events. I<br />

was six when my older brother,<br />

Simon, and I were taken from<br />

our mother’s care and placed<br />

in a foster home. My father has<br />

never been in my life.<br />

Mom had a mental disease<br />

that prevented her from properly<br />

caring for her seven kids.<br />

My other three older brothers<br />

and two younger sisters were<br />

also removed but placed in different<br />

homes. The foster-care<br />

system wasn’t kind to any of us.<br />

The absence of parents and<br />

siblings wounded my heart and<br />

mind. I felt abandoned, alone,<br />

rejected, and unwanted. I remember<br />

looking out the window<br />

of my foster home and<br />

wondering what my life would<br />

be like. Who would I become?<br />

Would my life always be this<br />

way? Would I ever get to be a<br />

somebody in this world?<br />

These were heavy concerns<br />

for a six-year-old, but I knew<br />

my future was bleak even at<br />

that age. I was a poor little girl<br />

without a family—what hope<br />

did I have?<br />

I would watch parents picking<br />

up their kids after school<br />

and imagine their lives. I envisioned<br />

them talking about<br />

school and then stopping for<br />

an afternoon treat before heading<br />

home.<br />

I longed for a family and a<br />

place to call home. As a foster<br />

child, my time in any one place<br />

was temporary. It always felt<br />

like I was borrowing someone<br />

else’s family because there always<br />

came a day when I had to<br />

give it all back.<br />

When I was nine, the Massachusetts<br />

Department of Social<br />

Services decided to separate Simon<br />

and me, but a kind social<br />

worker named Mrs. Edna made<br />

it her mission to keep us together.<br />

She located an aunt and<br />

uncle in North Carolina and<br />

told them our situation; they<br />

welcomed us into their home.<br />


30 <strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong> VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM

In North Carolina, I continued<br />

to attend church. I gave<br />

my life to the Lord; God was my<br />

best friend. I shared everything<br />

with Him.<br />

My aunt and uncle provided<br />

well for my brother and me. But<br />

even in a home with relatives, I<br />

still felt like a stranger. I imagined<br />

I was a burden.<br />

“Nobody wants you, Si mone.<br />

You’re weird.” That theme<br />

played constantly through my<br />

mind. Satan had convinced me<br />

that I didn’t belong anywhere.<br />

I felt disconnected from<br />

people and assumed those<br />

around me merely tolerated<br />

my presence. Satan used every<br />

rejection, especially by peers in<br />

the church, to cement the idea<br />

that I was an outcast, that I had<br />

nothing of value to say or give<br />

to this world.<br />

For most of my teenage<br />

years, I cycled in and out of depression.<br />

Mental health wasn’t<br />

discussed like it is today, so I<br />

didn’t know how to manage<br />

those dark seasons.<br />

My survival instinct was to<br />

isolate. Year after year, I put<br />

a smile on my face and went<br />

through the motions of life. I<br />

hid my wounds and told no one<br />

how I felt. Who would want to<br />

listen to me anyway?<br />

I didn’t know that those<br />

childhood events—being taken<br />

from my mother and siblings,<br />

growing up without a father, being<br />

shifted around and seeing<br />

vile things in the foster-care<br />

system—had created wounds<br />

that needed to be addressed.<br />

Nor did I know that God wanted<br />

to heal my broken heart.<br />

In 2013, I graduated high<br />

school and began my studies<br />

at Campbell University. I wanted<br />

to become a social worker<br />

and help children in the foster-<br />

care system like Mrs. Edna had<br />

helped Simon and me.<br />

A year later, I transferred to<br />

East Carolina University, where<br />

I eventually graduated with a<br />

bachelor of arts and a master’s<br />

degree in social work. I became<br />

a licensed clinical social worker<br />

and started working with children<br />

in crisis.<br />

But I was not prepared for<br />

what providing intervention<br />

services would do to my heart.<br />

Seeing kids being removed<br />

from their homes and shuffled<br />

around in the system took<br />

me on an unexpected collision<br />

course with my past.<br />

The wounds and emotions<br />

that I had suppressed for years<br />

were dredged to the surface.<br />

I attempted to push through<br />

those dark emotions as I’d always<br />

done, but the weight of the<br />

pain took me down.<br />

I had a nervous breakdown<br />

and had to leave my job. It was<br />

the best thing that could have<br />

happened, though, because I finally<br />

realized my need for help.<br />

With support from my husband,<br />

I started seeing a Christian<br />

counselor to confront the<br />

scars of my past. Three years<br />

later, I met Ms. Renee, a powerful<br />

woman of God, and I asked<br />

her to be my mentor.<br />

She helped me wade through<br />

my pain. Together, we uncovered<br />

why I felt so unwanted,<br />





Right: As a child,<br />

Simone hid her pain<br />

behind a big smile.<br />

Far right: Simone<br />

and her brother,<br />

Simon, grew up<br />

together through<br />

the generosity of<br />

family members.<br />

unworthy, anxious, and depressed.<br />

She also helped me<br />

discover the truth about how<br />

God thinks about me. That was<br />

a game-changer.<br />

It turns out that God is particularly<br />

close to the brokenhearted<br />

and crushed in spirit<br />

(Psalm 34:18). David, in Psalm<br />

68:5–6, tells us God is a father<br />

to the fatherless, a defender of<br />

widows, that He sets the lonely<br />

in families, and leads prisoners<br />

out of their captivity.<br />

God knew every disappointment<br />

I had ever faced, and He<br />

cared about how each one had<br />

impacted me. He sent His Son,<br />

Jesus, to bind my wounds and<br />

set me free from the effects of<br />

my sin and the world’s sin. (See<br />

Isaiah 53:4–6.) He cares for you<br />

in the same way.<br />

God never intended me to<br />

experience painful events like<br />

growing up without a father or<br />

having a mentally ill mother.<br />

Those were Satan’s desires.<br />

Satan’s purpose has always<br />

been to kill, steal, and destroy<br />

me and to cause me to see myself<br />

through the lying lens of<br />

“I’m not enough.” But Satan is<br />

a liar (John 8:44).<br />

With time, I have discovered<br />

and accepted my identity as the<br />

daughter of the King. I know<br />

that I am enough in God’s eyes,<br />

and according to the Bible,<br />

nothing I can do will change<br />

His mind about that. My acceptance<br />

into His family does not<br />

depend on my performance.<br />

No amount of worldly accolades,<br />

degrees, or titles will<br />

bring additional value to me<br />

because I have been valued by<br />

God since the day I was born. I<br />

am God’s daughter, forever. He<br />

has chosen me and adopted me<br />

into His family, and everything<br />


<strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />



that is my Father’s is now mine<br />

(Ephesians 1:5–8).<br />

Not having an earthly father<br />

or mother makes God’s role as<br />

a heavenly Father even more<br />

special to me. He fills the void<br />

in my heart created by the absence<br />

of my parents. Over the<br />

years, Psalm 27:10 (NLT) has<br />

comforted me. It says, “Even<br />

if my father and mother abandon<br />

me, the Lord will hold<br />

me close.”<br />

Unlike my earthly parents<br />

and other people, God continually<br />

holds me close. He never<br />

pushes me away or fails me,<br />

even if I fail Him. God doesn’t<br />

abandon His children or cause<br />

them to be disappointed<br />

(Romans 10:11).<br />

I still encounter depression,<br />

but when I do, God’s Holy Spirit<br />

comforts me. He jumps into<br />

those sad pits with me, reminds<br />

me of who He is and who I am<br />

in Him, and helps me get back<br />

on my feet. My circle of godly<br />

friends helps me out of those<br />

pits too. Their love and encouragement<br />

are vital to my mental<br />

health.<br />

For years, Satan tried to silence<br />

my voice by tricking me<br />

into believing I had no value<br />

and nothing to say. Satan knew<br />

how much I loved the Lord and<br />

that if I told others about God’s<br />

goodness, they’d want to know<br />

Him too. He also knew he would<br />

be defeated (Revelation 12:11).<br />

I remember one of the first<br />

times I sensed God wanting to<br />

use me. I couldn’t imagine how<br />

it could be true.<br />

“Me, Lord?” I asked, sure I<br />

had heard wrong.<br />

Simone’s husband,<br />

Kam, has supported<br />

her through her<br />

journey of freedom.<br />




“Yes, you.” And then He added<br />

the most profound question.<br />

“Why not you, Simone?”<br />

Why not me? I’d never considered<br />

that question.<br />

instead of his brothers as the<br />

called Samuel to anoint him<br />

But then I remembered that future king of Israel (1 Samuel<br />

the Bible is filled with examples 16:7–12). God can use any<br />

of God choosing and using people<br />

who felt unworthy and who purpose and to bring Him glo-<br />

willing person for a greater<br />

the world had discounted. The ry. He takes care of everything,<br />

Lord uses the foolish things of including drawing people to<br />

this world to confound the wise Himself.<br />

(1 Corinthians 1:27).<br />

Since that moment in Nica ragua,<br />

God has used my voice as<br />

I’ll never forget the first time<br />

I experienced Him using me a source of hope at my church,<br />

publicly. I was on a mission trip a local pregnancy center, and<br />

to Nicaragua, and the leaders through the correspondence<br />

had called on me to speak to a program of Victorious Living.<br />

group of students. I was scared Every day, I have the joy and<br />

to death and begged God to lead privilege of helping people<br />

them to choose someone else. overcome past traumas and<br />

And then, like Moses in Exodus<br />

4, I reminded God of my they are as children of God.<br />

wounds as they discover who<br />

inadequacies.<br />

There’s nothing like being<br />

used by God. And there’s<br />

“I can’t speak, Lord,” I said.<br />

“I have a weak voice!”<br />

nothing like resting in the truth<br />

But the Lord didn’t accept my that I am loved, accepted, and<br />

excuse. He replied, “Trust Me, enough. I hope you’ve realized<br />

Simone.”<br />

that truth too.<br />

The surge of power and boldness<br />

that came upon me when I any longer into viewing your<br />

Don’t let Satan trick you<br />

stepped in front of those young worth through his lying lens of<br />

people and opened my mouth “you’re not enough.” God gave<br />

to speak was overwhelming. His Son’s life for you—yes, you!<br />

God met me on the other side That should prove how much<br />

of my faith and filled my heart He values you, once and for all.<br />

with His words. They flowed effortlessly<br />

from my lips. Many cide today to exchange Satan’s<br />

So go ahead, right now. De-<br />

students came to know the lies for God’s truth and step into<br />

Lord that day, but I learned a your identity as a son or daughter<br />

of God. Discover His love<br />

lesson too.<br />

My shortcomings and my and faithfulness and all that is<br />

past don’t matter. All God yours through Him. And then,<br />

needs is a willing vessel to work be willing to be used however<br />

through. And what I’m seeing He desires.<br />

now is that the people God There’s so much God wants<br />

chooses to make a difference to do through you. There’s so<br />

for Him are the people society much purpose for your life that<br />

labels unlikely or unfit to do so! He wants to show you through<br />

King David was once just a the plans He has for you.<br />

shepherd boy, until the Lord Seriously. Why not you?<br />

SIMONE BRYANT is a daughter of God, as well as a wife, writer, and mental<br />

health advocate with a degree in social work. She serves to deliver hope with<br />

the Victorious Living inmate correspondence team.<br />

32 <strong>Issue</strong> 02 / <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> 02 / <strong>2023</strong><br />



Victorious Living Prison<br />

Outreach Update<br />

• Family members of our incarcerated family and our ministry<br />

partners can enjoy our free resources through pandoapp.tv<br />

and VL’s online platforms like vlmag.org, Facebook, Instagram,<br />

and YouTube.<br />

Because of the Lord, generous financial partners,<br />

and new digital opportunities, Victorious Living’s<br />

ministries continue to expand across America.<br />

• Last quarter, VLMag delivered hope to inmates in the Republic of<br />

Panama with the help of missionaries, Miguel Núñez and Mayra<br />

Ramos, and the Panama Baptist Church. We added 60 new<br />

facilities across the country to our shipping manifest and held<br />

prison tours in Florida and Arizona.<br />

• Prison inmates can write to us at PO Box 2751, Greenville, NC<br />

27836, or email us through their tablet at hope@vlmag.org. We<br />

cannot communicate through our phone line; please use the<br />

email system or write to us. We read and pray over every letter<br />

we receive. We cannot receive COD emails or phone calls, nor<br />

do we accept unsolicited stories for publication, photographs,<br />

or legal documents. If sent, these items cannot be returned to<br />

the sender. Please note: some emails may be responded to via<br />

traditional mail. We do our best to respond in a timely manner.<br />

• High transitional rates of inmates and DOC restrictions prevent<br />

us from mailing individual subscriptions of VLMag to inmates.<br />

However, bulk copies are provided free to prisons, jails, recovery,<br />

and reentry programs, with or without staples, at the request of<br />

chaplains and program directors.<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<br />

to anyone in free society. Call 352-478-2098 or visit vlmag.org<br />

and click the “give now” tab. A gift of any amount is<br />

appreciated.<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<br />

employmentreadiness<br />

programming; job/<br />

housing referrals upon<br />

request.<br />

PO Box 3411<br />

Peachtree City, GA<br />

30269<br />



Discipleship studies<br />

by mail; free Christian<br />

books and Bibles for<br />

libraries at request of<br />

authorized personnel.<br />

PO Box 97095<br />

Raleigh, NC 27624<br />



Free NIV Bibles, Bible<br />

study correspondence<br />

course, and NIV Life<br />

Application Study Bible<br />

upon completion of<br />

study.<br />

PO Box 90606<br />

Phoenix, AZ 85066<br />



Correspondence Bible<br />

studies and mentoring<br />

letters with completed<br />

lessons. Free Bibles for<br />

CRM students upon<br />

request.<br />

PO Box 900<br />

Grand Rapids, MI 49509<br />


Nationally-based sober<br />

living homes, faith-based<br />

support groups, and grief<br />

support groups for those<br />

impacted by addiction.<br />

14400 Bogert Parkway<br />

Suite 200<br />

Oklahoma City, OK<br />

73134<br />

34<br />



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