Issue 1| 2023
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REAL PEOPLE | REAL STORIES | REAL HOPE
KEYS TO TRANSFORMATION
SEE YOURSELF AS A
Y O U R
L I F E
H A S
on a mission:
see page 2
Issue 01 / 2023
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ISSUE 1, JANUARY 2023
“God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was
his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 1:9 NLT
Publisher & Executive Director
Kristi Overton Johnson
Arizona Portraits Photography LLC
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DISCLAIMER: The articles featured in Victorious Living are designed to inspire and encourage
our readers by sharing powerful testimonies from people who, we believe, have been transformed
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to us by those we interview. Our articles are not intended to be an endorsement of the views,
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Issue 01 / 2023
THE VICTORIOUS LIVING STORY
One visit with an incarcerated friend in 2013 opened the eyes
of Victorious Living founder, Kristi Overton Johnson, to the
hopelessness of life behind bars. It also birthed in her a desire to
deliver hope to the souls of incarcerated men and women.
Soon after, God opened doors for Victorious Living magazine to
be distributed in the prison system. He then led Kristi and the VL
team onto prison yards to share His message of hope in person and,
more recently, digitally through prison tablets.
Before that prison encounter, Kristi had
spent 35 years water-skiing competitively
worldwide, never considering those
who had lost their freedom. But God
had a plan for this world champion
water-skier to go behind bars to
encourage hearts with God’s love
and His message of redemption
and to equip people to get up and
experience victorious living for
Since 2013, Victorious Living
magazine has impacted the lives of
over one million incarcerated souls...
and the story is still being written.
BE A PART OF THE
Victorious Living is a great
way to carry out God’s
command to remember the
prisoner (Matthew 25:34–40;
Hebrews 13:3). Here’s how
you can help us deliver hope
to the incarcerated.
Share VL with your local church,
chaplain, jail, or prison. VL is a
great mission to support and a
good tool to use too!
VL is partner supported. Your taxdeductible
gift sends copies of
VLMag into jails and prisons, where
it saves lives. And when you give,
we’ll send you a copy too.
Sponsor jails and prisons to receive
quarterly cases of VL. It costs us
$500 to supply 1 case of VL to 1
facility, each quarter, for 1 year.
Visit our website and social media
platforms. Like. Follow. Share.
PHOTO BY MIKE BARBER MINISTRIES PHOTO BY JOEY MEDDOCK PHOTOGRAPHY
VISIT VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM OR CALL 352-478-2098
ISSUE 1, JANUARY 2023
God, Be with Me
BY GERALD B. HURST WITH KRISTI
Flourish in His Care
BY LINDA CUBBEDGE-SMITH
Benched by God? Use Your
BY CHRISTINA KIMBREL
Consistency: Keys to
BY SHERIDAN CORREA
When the decisions you’ve made have
destroyed the life and relationships you
once treasured and love and trust are
gone, is there hope for recovery?
See Yourself as a Champion
From Guns to Grace
THE STORY OF ANDRE
Found guilty of murder at age 28, Andre
experienced the life-changing goodness of
God when he finally surrendered his will and
his way to the perfect plan God already had
Graced for Success
THE STORY OF LATOYA WILLIAMS
Your Pain Has Purpose
BY KORY GORDON
You Don’t Have to Go Back
BY DANNY R. COX
BY KRISTI OVERTON JOHNSON
Do you see yourself as champion or a
loser? If you’re a child of God, He sees
you as a champion, no matter what
your circumstances or past actions.
Come on, He created you. You are
“Have it your way” might be a good slogan
for a burger joint, but when Latoya applied
it to her life, she found it only brought hardship
You Have Purpose
THE STORY OF JULIANA MCFADDEN
PHOTO BY ARIZONA PORTRAITS PHOTOGRAPHY LLC
ON THE COVER
the grace of God
for herself, Juliana
McFadden was able
to extend grace to
her brother, Charlie,
and her husband,
God’s divine grace
brought them into
His purposes for
“Can Charlie stay at your place for a few days?
The cops are looking for him.” That Christmas
morning phone call changed Juliana’s
previously normal life. From that day on, she
struggled with the shame of being the sister of
a murderer and a growing resentment toward
God. But God had purpose in her pain, and
today she uses her experience to help others
see Christ in their circumstances as well.
More of Jesus, Less of Me
THE STORY OF RONNIE HOPKINS
Years of anger and self-pity kept Ronnie from
recognizing anything good in his life—and
led him straight into prison. With no other
choice, he finally stopped long enough to
hear God’s voice, quietly saying, “Trust Me,
IN EVERY ISSUE
More Than a Magazine
Want to Know Jesus?
I’m Saved...Now What?
Issue 01 / 2023
More Than a Magazine
If you’d like to partner with
our magazine to deliver God’s
hope and to impact the lives of
incarcerated men and women,
.com. Your gift enables us to
send this magazine into prisons
around the nation. Each
magazine impacts many lives
for years to come.
God never ceases to amaze me. It’s
mind-boggling how He works behind
the scenes to bring to fruition
the plans He has uniquely purposed
for us. Day after day, God patiently pursues
us and lovingly draws us onto His path,
even though we fight hard against Him.
You’re about to read stories of people
who resisted God’s love and plan. Some
refused Him out of anger, blaming Him for
the pain that existed in their lives. Others
rebelled against Him, wanting to do things
their way, not His.
Years of living apart from God took
the subjects of our feature stories down
dark paths that brought much pain. But
God’s love pursued them, and everything
changed when they turned to Him.
There was a time when I didn’t trust His
love for me either. My young mind thought,
“If God sent His own Son to die—a Son who
was perfect—then what will He do to me?”
I couldn’t live up to His perfect standard
on my best day (Romans 3:23).
I didn’t understand the sacrifice He’d
made for me. Nor did I comprehend His
grace or desire to be part of my life. God
wanted my heart, not perfection or performance.
He wanted to give me a better,
I grew up in the church and heard the
Gospel of Jesus Christ—how God had sent
His Son to die for my sin so that I could go
to heaven (John 3:16). I believed it wholeheartedly,
and at the age of eight, I accepted
Jesus as my Savior and was baptized. But
I did that out of fear of being sent to hell,
not because I understood God’s love for
me and not really because I loved Him.
For years, I imagined God sitting on His
throne of judgment, watching my every
move and analyzing my every thought. I
saw Him sitting on the edge of His seat,
gavel in hand, ready to bring forth punishment.
Being warned that “God’s watching
you” and listening to regular sermons on
God’s wrath and my need to be good helped
shape my unhealthy view of God.
When you’re afraid of someone, you
either try desperately to please them or
you keep your distance. I did both. Every
week, I went to church in my Sunday best.
I prayed at bedtime and before meals, and
I worked hard in school and sports. Oh,
and of course, I tried to be kind to people.
Yet, because I was determined to maintain
control of my life, I kept my distance
from God. If I surrendered my life to Him,
where would He take me? What would He
ask me to do or give up? I was too afraid to
find out, so I kept my faith in a nice, neat,
safe religious box. I wanted Jesus to be my
Savior, but not my Lord.
In my midtwenties, I faced bigger trials
than I could handle. Suddenly, my safe,
boxed-up religion wasn’t cutting it. Nothing
the world offered was helping either.
Finally, I cried out to God, and through
His Word, His Holy Spirit, my circumstances,
and other people, He revealed His true
nature and love for me. I quit stiff-arming
God and let Him draw me close (James
4:8). Understanding the depths of His
love gave me the courage to trust His plan
(Ephesians 3:18–19). And like everyone
else in this issue, my life has never been
God changed me; He made all things
new. Once I tasted and saw how good He
truly was, I couldn’t keep it to myself. Now,
I help others understand the goodness of
God, and this magazine is part of how I
It’s been more than 27 years since I
surrendered my life to the lordship of
Jesus Christ. I am so glad I did. Just look—
God’s plan has enabled us, you and me, to
cross paths! And I believe He wants to reveal
something about Himself to you today.
If there is anything our ministry can
do for you, please don’t hesitate to call.
Victorious Living is more than a magazine.
It’s a family.
Kristi Overton Johnson
Publisher & Executive Director
PHOTO BY TY JOHNSON
6 Issue 01 / 2023 VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM
Through the stories of Victorious Living,
men and women behind bars
meet the God of another chance.
Testimony of Victorious Living
Impact: Alberto H.
Biblical characters are imperfect, regular
people just like me and everyone featured in
this magazine. Their lives reveal how God deals
with our human weaknesses and leads us to our
potential. That’s why I love reading Victorious
Living. Every testimony here is a contemporary
example of what I’ve read in the Bible.
Of all the stories shared in VLMag, Melisha
Johnson’s (Issue 02/2022) touched me the most
deeply. Her devotion to Jesus enabled her to go
through many trials, each of which God used to
strengthen her character, refine her, and lead
her to a new path that He had prepared for her
long ago. He’s doing the same in me.
Melisha taught me the importance of
consistency. I won’t give up or give in as the
Lord molds me into who He wants me to be.
Thank you, Melisha, for being vulnerable and
sharing your story with those of us still behind
bars. I’m sending you this portrait (displayed on
the right) as a token of my appreciation.
I wanted to capture the spiritual fruit—peace,
passion, love, and kindness—I see in your face.
I used dense, intense colors to express your
passion and determination; pastel and bright
but subtle hues to denote the light the Holy
Spirit has poured into you.
May the Lord continue using you, Melisha,
and everyone featured in VLMag, as examples
of His transformative glory. Let your light shine
before men and bring glory to our Father.
ARTWORK BY ALBERTO H.
SPONSOR A PRISON IN YOUR STATE AND IMPACT LIVES TODAY.
Issue 01 / 2023
Be with Me
BY GERALD B. HURST
WITH KRISTI OVERTON JOHNSON
I’VE SEEN GOD MOVE IN MIRACULOUS
ways in my many years. Like when I was
Above: This photo of the wreckage of his plane
is a constant reminder to Gerald of God’s grace.
flying combat in Vietnam in the late 1960s.
The air force assigned me to the F-105
Thunderchief aircraft and sent me to the
Right: Major Gerald Hurst in 1970 with his plane
at the Takhli RTAFB prior to the crash. Major
Hurst retired in 1982 as a full colonel.
Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. After
three days of orientation, I flew my first
I was more than anxious as I headed to-
another prayer, and pulled hard. Wham!
ward my assigned target, but I took the time
The ejection seat fired, and my head
to pray. “God, please be with me.” Praying
slapped down hard on my knee. My chin
to my heavenly Father brought peace and
strap went into my voice box; I couldn’t
comfort. I would repeat that short prayer
breathe. Disoriented, I fell from the air-
on all 91 of my subsequent missions.
craft. When I finally got my bearings, I
On my 38th mission, my aircraft suf-
realized my chute hadn’t automatically
fered enemy fire and lost all oil pressure.
deployed. I quickly grabbed the D-ring and
Ejection was imminent, and that didn’t ex-
manually opened the chute. I breathed a
cite me. At that time, ejections were only
80 percent successful. So I prayed.
Generally, with no oil, a jet engine will
continue to run no more than a minute.
I’ve even heard the time be as short as 15
seconds. Miraculously, my engine ran for
over six minutes, allowing me to get away
from enemy territory.
I told the electronic warfare officer in the
back of our F-105G to prepare for ejection
sigh of relief and then focused on where I
was going to land.
The chute was drifting toward obstacles,
I tried to steer clear, but I went down hard
and broke my ankle. Twelve minutes later,
a rescue chopper was right above me.
I’d never been happier! The other officer
survived as well. After rehab, I, like many
others who served, went back to fly 53
more missions. I took more gunfire, and
Those moments are disappointing, and
they can shake our faith if we aren’t careful.
I’ve said my share of “unanswered”
prayers too. But I don’t give up on God
or doubt His ability to hear and answer
prayer. Instead, I trust His love for me and
keep asking, seeking, and knocking on the
heart of God (Matthew 7:7).
It helps when I think back on the times
I’ve witnessed God at work. Those mo-
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE HURST FAMILY
and headed for the closest airbase.
you can believe, the words, “God, please be
ments serve as powerful reminders of
As I started my descent, the aircraft
with me,” were always forth coming. I had
God’s power and grace and give me hope
accelerated to over 450 knots (518 mph).
no better protection than the Lord’s help.
that if He did it then, He can do it now.
I retarded the throttle and expended the
I believe God hears all our prayers. He
Whatever you are facing today, I encour-
speed brakes—and the engine seized.
knows our hearts. He hears us when all
age you to pray about it (Philippians 4:6–8).
My wingman came over the intercom.
we can say is “help,” and He welcomes our
When you give your situation to God, He
“You’re on fire! You need to get out.”
longer prayers too, when we pour out our
will give you His peace and enable you to
I pulled up the nose to slow the airplane
hearts to Him.
face the difficult thing before you.
and ordered the officer with me to eject.
Two orders and some not-so-religious
words from me later, he finally obeyed.
Smoke filled the cockpit. It was my turn
to eject. I grabbed the ejection lever, said
Of course, God doesn’t always answer
our prayers the way we think He should.
Sometimes, for reasons we’ll never know,
He chooses not to perform a life-saving
miracle on this side of heaven.
GERALD B. HURST served in the US Air Force for
26 years and has also served as a representative in
the NC Legislature. Colonel Hurst has been married
to his sweetheart, Amelia, for 65 years and still
enjoys flying. He has flown over 5,300 hours.
8 Issue 01 / 2023 VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM
Flourish in His Care
from 2014 until June of
2021. She is currently
working on a book
about the goodness
of God and remains
leading others to Him.
I LOVE SPRINGTIME! Sprucing up my yard and
home with colorful flowers and beautiful plants is a
favorite pastime that makes me smile.
A couple years ago, I added some pygmy palm trees
to our home’s landscape. They are known to do well
with proper care and a little pruning. I planted two
in the yard and two in large planters. I was excited to
watch them grow.
I thought I did a good job looking after them, but
I soon noticed distinct differences between the ones
in the yard and the ones in the planters. The trees I
regularly pruned were noticeably taller and healthier
than the ones that had not had as much attention. They
were also producing tender new palm branches from
the top center of the trees, each one reaching toward
the sun. I marveled at how they knew to stretch toward
their source of life. The two palms that received less
attention were not exactly living their best lives.
My gardening lesson reminded me of Psalm 92:12–
13: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they
will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house
of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God”
The repetition of the word “flourish” in this passage
piqued my interest, and I searched for its meaning.
Merriam-Webster defines it as “a period of thriving”
and “to grow luxuriantly.” The Hebrew definition,
the original language of the Old Testament, refers to
a “breaking forth” and “blooming.” In the New Testament,
the word appears once and means “to put
God’s loving intention for His people is that we grow
in maturity and fruitfulness as we shed our old nature
and bloom anew.
I can’t speak for my palm trees, but in my human
experience, growing is hard work. Flourishing doesn’t
just magically happen for plants or for people. It
requires a pruning process that can be downright
painful and sometimes make you question the Lord’s
But I’ve learned that in those times, we must take
our cue from the palm trees and keep stretching for the
“Son.” Jesus’s light will sustain us and cause our faith
and love for others to flourish (2 Thessalonians 1:3).
God’s pruning process comes in different forms.
Sometimes it requires the removal of selfishness, pride,
stubbornness, bitterness, hate, and jealousy. As we
submit our emotions to God and renew our hearts and
minds with His Word, we experience God’s perfect will
for our lives (Romans 12:2). His Holy Spirit will help
us grow in love, grace, and humility. He will develop a
desire in us to walk in obedience to His Word.
At times, pruning requires the removal of people
and things. Hebrews 12:1 says we are to cut away anything
that hinders our steps. Sometimes even beautiful
things must be cut away to make room for God’s better.
Those are the hardest things to release.
You can trust the pruning process to the hands of
the Master Gardener. Pruning is evidence of His love
for you. God knows which branches to cut off so you
can be fruitful and experience an abundant life (John
15:1–8). Whatever He removes will make space for
something more beautiful than you can imagine.
Let His promises sustain you as you bloom into the
person He intends you to be. God will help you grow,
produce fruit, and remain full of life even into old age
Now that is some much-needed hope, isn’t it? May it
nourish your soul as you flourish in your relationship
Issue 01 / 2023
F R O M
THE STORY OF
MMy childhood is shrouded in mystery. I’m 41 years old,
and I still don’t have answers, but this much I know: God
wasn’t confused. He wasn’t absent. He’s always had a
plan and purpose for my life (Jeremiah 29:11). I just had
to come to the end of myself before I could receive them.
No one has ever explained why my biological mom
didn’t raise me or why I lived with another family. I’ve
always had more questions than answers. My mom battled
something great; whatever it was, she ended her
life when I was ten. Everyone worked hard to protect
me—from what horrible truth, I’ll never know.
After my mom passed, the family I lived with adopted
me. They let me choose my last name. I decided to
use both surnames and joined them with a hyphen:
Even though Mom wasn’t around much, she always
made sure I knew she loved me. No matter what had
happened, she would always be a part of me, so I wanted
to honor her. But I also wanted to honor Mrs. Copeland,
the woman who ensured I never wanted or needed any-
thing. She was my mother now, and I even got three big
brothers out of the deal!
In the Copeland home, I experienced love and positive
male role models. But I took them for granted and became
vulnerable to the world’s influences. My thoughts
were quickly shaped by the lies of an enemy I was not even
aware of, much less equipped to fight. Satan was prowling
around like a roaring lion, and he was about to try to devour
me (1 Peter 5:8).
I remember playing outside our apartment one day, when
this guy walked by with sagging pants, a cocked baseball
cap, and a gun in his pocket. I admired the confidence in
his stride and thought, “Wow! He’s cool.”
I didn’t know who he was, but I wanted to be like him. I
stopped playing with Legos and digging holes in the dirt
and headed into high school with a new style and attitude.
PHOTO BY ARIZONA PORTRAITS PHOTOGRAPHY LLC
10 Issue 01 / 2023 VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM
My new look quickly attracted the wrong kind of attention.
The colors I wore insulted gang members in my
neighborhood, and I had to deal with them daily, even
though I wasn’t in a gang. I was in their territory, and
that’s all that mattered.
I couldn’t even walk to the bus stop without having to
defend myself, but I didn’t back down, no matter how
many fights I had to endure. I stood my ground and
did what I wanted, and eventually, the bullying and the
My rebellion grew rapidly, as did my ego. I started
messing with drugs, using first and then selling. Once
I tasted that fast money, I couldn’t walk away. It made
me feel powerful, accepted, and like I was somebody.
I kept my grades up so my mom wouldn’t think things
were off with me. Plus, I didn’t want to disappoint her.
I followed the house rules, did my homework, and excelled
in sports. After I graduated from high school, I
went to college. But that didn’t last long.
I lived a double life, walking a tightrope between two
opposing identities. My street ego grew and grew, and
I felt invincible. Giving in to the lure of the fast life, I
dropped out of college and hit the streets full time.
And then, one day a drive-by shooting happened in
front of my mom’s house. No one was hurt, but it was
quite the reality check. Those bullets had my name on
them. I was ashamed as I realized the danger I’d brought
to my family, not to mention the heartbreak.
But there was more disappointment ahead, and there
was nothing I could do to prepare my family for it. I didn’t
even see it coming until it was too late.
Something told me not to leave the house that day, but
with full-blown arrogance, I ignored the warning and
headed out, looking for trouble. I found it in a strip-club
parking lot. Before the night was over, a man was dead,
and his blood was on my hands.
I fled the scene and hid in a shed in the backyard of
an abandoned house. Adrenaline pumped through my
racing heart as I heard police sirens and a helicopter
in the distance. I was twenty-eight years old and on the
run for murder.
I’d never prayed before or even thought about God, but
as reality sank in, I somehow knew He was my only hope.
“God, please help me.”
I didn’t expect an answer. At that moment, I felt as
far away from God as a person could get. Why would He
even listen to my prayer? I had just murdered a man!
But He heard it, and He didn’t waste any time responding.
“Are you ready to surrender your life to Me, Andre?”
It was a gentle but direct question, and I knew without
a doubt that it was Him. I wasn’t one to hear voices.
What caught my attention was the use of my name. To
think that God would know me by name! Suddenly, His
presence was tangible, and I realized I wasn’t alone.
Frightened, I continued to run from the authorities and
evaded capture for two weeks. But as I ran, that encounter
never left my thoughts.
What could God possibly want with me? The thought was
confusing. As far as I knew, my life was over.
When the cops finally caught up with me, I was relieved.
They booked me into Pima County Jail and charged me with
first-degree murder. The weight of what I’d done hit me with
such force that I could barely breathe. I became numb and
was unable to process what was happening.
Mom came to see me, utterly shocked by the charges
against me. She had no idea the
depths of my rebellion. “Son, I
know you didn’t do this terrible
thing,” she said. “Tell me what
happened so we can straighten
this all out.”
There was no fixing the situation.
I had to tell her the truth. I
was totally to blame for what had
Alone in my cell, God’s question
kept coming to mind, “Are
you ready to surrender your life
to Me, Andre?”
Fear. Shame. Guilt. Grief. Anger.
Confusion. Waves of emotion
washed over me. What did I have
to give God?
“I don’t have anything to give
you, God.” I finally told Him. “I’m
a mess, and I’m probably in prison
for the rest of my life.”
I knew nothing about the Bible,
but when I picked one up, the
Lord wasted no time speaking to
I K N E W
A B O U T T H E
WHEN I PICKED
ONE UP, T H E
N O T I M E
my heart. He showed me Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates
his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners,
Christ died for us” (NIV).
I couldn’t wrap my head around what I was reading. Jesus
died for me even though He knew I was a sinner? Why? I
had never paid attention to Him. Why would He care about
me? But that’s what it said.
I kept reading the Bible and learned so much. Jesus was a
perfect man and also God. He died a horrible death so that I
could have my sins forgiven. That blew my mind. I became
hungry to learn all I could about Jesus, the resurrected
Savior. I was fascinated by His teachings and the people He
Issue 01 / 2023
chose to be His disciples. What a motley crew! Then I
learned about King David and how God used him even
though he was an adulterer and a murderer (2 Samuel
11–12; Psalm 51).
As soon as I could, I got baptized and committed my
life to follow Jesus no matter what, even if I had to spend
the rest of my life in prison.
My case dragged through the court system for two
and a half years. As I awaited my sentence, I leaned into
God’s Word for courage and comfort. I discovered who I
was in God’s eyes. Satan had been feeding me lies about
my identity since my youth.
I attended church with my Spanish-speaking cellie,
who was also a Christian. I didn’t understand much
because the service was in Spanish, but it didn’t matter.
God’s presence was there as those men sought the Lord. I
soaked it in like a plant that hadn’t been watered in years.
God showed me that He had pursued me since I was
a kid. He revealed people He had used to sow seeds in
my heart about Jesus. God knew that, eventually, I would
turn to Him, and just like the father of the prodigal son,
He waited patiently for me (Luke 15:11–32).
I remembered a picture my mom had hanging in her
house. As a child, I wondered who all those people were
sitting around a big table sharing a meal. Now I know
it was a painting of the Last Supper with Jesus and His
disciples (Matthew 26:26–29). Thinking of that picture
now comforts my heart. I think maybe Mom knew Jesus too.
Waiting for trial was exhausting. I had no plea bargain, so
when my court date arrived, I expected to get the maximum
sentence. I thought I was dreaming when the jury found me
guilty of a lesser charge, second-degree murder.
The judge’s voice was kind but firm on sentencing day.
“Sir, I believe that you are a decent man who lost your way
when you started hanging out with the wrong people.” She
then handed me a 12-year sentence. It was nothing short
of a miracle.
God’s hand touched my life that day in a way I will never
forget, and I came to understand grace and mercy in a way
many don’t. I was receiving a gift that I could never earn or
deserve, and I knew it.
Within a week, I walked through the gates of Arizona State
Prison to begin serving my time. I connected immediately
with other men of faith. Wanting to be a true disciple of
Jesus Christ, I surrounded myself with those whose lives
were testimonies of His transforming power. God worked
through them to help me change.
Before long, I felt God calling me deeper. My salvation, a
reduced prison sentence, and this new life weren’t for me to
keep to myself. God wanted to use me for His purpose and
glory (Ephesians 2:8–10). He wanted me to tell others about
His grace and to help them avoid the mistakes I’d made.
Helping others was something I’d never considered before
giving my life to Christ. To better prepare, I took advantage
for Andre and
been a source of
blessing of family
in the Copeland
here with his
12 Issue 01 / 2023 VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM
PHOTO BY ARIZONA PORTRAITS PHOTOGRAPHY LLC
THE BLOOD JESUS
SHED FOR YOU
ON THE CROSS O F
CALVARY CAN WASH
AWAY THE BLOOD
ON YOUR HANDS.
of the education available behind bars and obtained
an associate’s degree in alcohol and substance abuse
disorders. I also worked as a peer support facilitator,
helping to prepare men for their release.
It was a privilege to pray for them and introduce them
to Jesus, the true Friend who would be there every step
of the way (John 15:13–14). So many people want to leave
prison, enter the world, and live right, but it isn’t easy
to do. With Jesus, these men could succeed.
Still wanting to deepen my roots in Christ, I signed up
for a discipleship training program offered by Alongside
Ministries in Phoenix. A mentor journeyed with me while
I was still in prison. He became my friend and prayer
warrior and met me at the gate the day of my release.
He even took me out for a delicious breakfast before
dropping me off at the ministry’s residential program
that I still call home.
It felt great to be out from behind those bars, but Jesus
had already set me free long before I walked out of
prison. He freed me from the wages of my sin and gave
me eternal life the day I believed in Him (Romans 6:23).
And not only was I free, but I was rich beyond measure.
I didn’t have any worldly possessions, but I had
eternal life, joy, peace, worth, and purpose.
Today, I work with and encourage men coming out of
prison who are learning to walk with the Lord. It’s only
been a few years since I was where they are now. Only
God could have rewritten my story.
Genesis 50:20 says that God can take what the enemy
meant for our harm and use it for good. Romans 8:28 promises
that God works all situations for good for those who
love Him and are called to His purposes. God has kept these
promises and more. His undeserved kindness will remain
beyond my comprehension.
I’ll never forget that I took a life and brought pain to undeserving
people. I wish I could go back and make it right,
but I can’t. All I can do is live my life in thankfulness, serving
others and sharing the hope of Jesus. I want to honor God
so He can bring purpose out of the pain I caused.
God offers this same chance to you. I hope you’ll accept it.
If you’re like I was, you’re wondering what God could
possibly want with your life. And why would He bother?
Let me tell you: God doesn’t look at what you’ve done. He
looks at who He knows you can become.
He is calling you by name, inviting you to come, right
now, just as you are. God loves you no matter what you’ve
done. The blood He shed for you on the cross of Calvary
can wash away the blood on your hands.
Brothers and sisters, the forgiveness of sin is a gift of
true freedom that no one can ever take away from you, no
matter where you find yourself (John 8:36).
ANDRE LIGHTSEY-COPELAND, having experienced God’s
faithfulness and grace for himself, seeks to share that message of
hope and victory with everyone he encounters. He enjoys the fellowship
of his Alongside Ministries community and uses his testimony to
encourage his family and students at St. Mary’s Skill Center in Phoenix.
Issue 01 / 2023
BY SHERIDAN CORREA
KEYS TO TRANSFORMATION
IN JULY 2012, I RECEIVED AN EMAIL
saying my soon-to-be ex-husband had
been awarded full temporary custody of
our two sons. Two days later, my children
and I were separated. My heart broke into
a million pieces.
My sadness turned to rage, and I took on
the victim role. Roots of bitterness grew
deep, and I hurt many people (Hebrews
12:15). Intense shame and depression set
in, and I slid into a hopeless pit. I lost all
sense of who I was and my life’s purpose.
I had no one to blame but myself. Seven
years of poor decisions caused by drug
and alcohol addiction had led me into dark
places where I had neglected my children.
The court ordered that I would have supervised
visitation, pay full child support, and
attend family drug court for a year.
I set out to avenge my motherhood, but I
was quickly overwhelmed because I didn’t
know the Lord and I was fighting my battle
alone. Four months into the court program,
I failed a random drug test. The court took
disciplinary action, but I didn’t have the
courage or strength to follow through with
My shame and selfishness kept me from
taking responsibility and fighting for my
life. I gave up and gave myself over entirely
to my addiction and a life of lawlessness. I
became homeless, revolving in and out of
psychiatric hospitals and jail for years. My
children were distant memories.
If you read my story in Issue 03/2022,
you know that the light of Jesus Christ
overcame the darkness of my life (John
1:4–5) while I was in jail awaiting a prison
sentence. Right there, Christ made
me new—He gave me a new heart, a clear
mind, new desires, and a new will to live
and love again. His presence and Word
gave me strength, courage, and hope for
future reunification with my children. My
heart clung to the promise that with God,
all things were possible (Matthew 19:26).
Then He stepped in and made a way for
me to go to the Phoenix Rescue Mission, a
Christ-centered facility providing solutions
for people trapped in cycles of homelessness,
addiction, and poverty. There, I committed
my whole self—heart, mind, body,
will, emotions—as a living sacrifice to God
and renewed it daily (Romans 12:1). I laid
my relationship with my children and their
father on God’s altar. Only God could bring
the healing we needed.
The first few months I was at the Mission,
I wasn’t allowed to have contact with the
outside world except through writing to
approved people. Each week, I wrote my
two sons. I didn’t know if they were getting
my letters, but I continued to pursue them
Three months into the program, I received
permission to call them twice weekly.
God planted the words commitment and
consistency in my mind. Commitment and
consistency were new ideas for me, but I’ve
since learned they are critical components
for life transformation.
A couple months later, my boys were
approved to visit me. I loved those weekend
visits! We would talk, laugh, and play
games. I was grateful their dad allowed
Eventually, I got a car and gained even
more freedom. I felt hopeful and eager. I
was ready to be their mom again and to
have unsupervised visits. But their father
said, “Not yet.”
This delay hurt, and I felt rejected. I’d
worked hard and made significant progress.
But my addiction, actions, and brokenness
had betrayed the trust of many, especially
my sons’ father. It would take time to unravel
and reshape the mess I’d made. I had
to trust God’s timing and His ability to heal
and change hearts. If I rushed the process,
I might cause more delays.
“Commitment and consistency, Sheridan.”
The Lord kept urging me to stay the
course, to not react to my hurt feelings, and
14 Issue 01 / 2023 VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM
PHOTO BY LYSSA YATES
to keep my eyes fixed on Him. His plans
were good (Jeremiah 29:11); I just had to
And then I learned my ex and his family,
including my boys, were moving to Georgia.
My heart broke as my reunification
plan fell apart. “No, God!” I cried. “Why
would You save me and change me, only to
let my boys move away from me?”
I wrestled with my emotions for a hot
minute but returned to the truth—God had
a plan, and I could trust it. I saw that I had
two choices. I could either succumb to the
crippling heaviness of this news and the
uncertainty of my reconciliation process,
or I could “lean not on my own understanding”
(Proverbs 3:5–6) and “be still
and know that He is God” (Psalm 46:10).
Leaning on my minimal and faulty understanding
had consistently led me to
destruction. I had to remain committed
and consistent in my relationship with
God, no matter what my emotions were
telling me. God knew the end of my reconciliation
from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
His plan would prevail. “Many are the plans
in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose
that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21 NIV).
I was amazed at the peace in my heart.
Before giving my life to Jesus, a circumstance
like this would have taken me out.
I would have played the victim card, used
drugs, fought for my rights, and been depressed
and filled with despair.
Instead, because of God’s presence, power,
and promises in my life, I was able to
receive this news without sliding into that
hopeless pit. He had transformed my heart
and mind and made me a new creation (2
Corinthians 5:17). This new creation was
no longer doing old things. Praise God!
My sons often asked me when I would
move near them. I wasn’t able to answer
them definitively, and that hurt. I still had
to complete the program at the Mission
and finish three years of probation before
I could go anywhere.
“Whenever God allows it,” I’d reply. I
had to surrender to the unknown and trust
that God was working behind the scenes to
bring about His plan. And you know what?
That’s all God asked me to do.
All things are possible for God,
even the restoration of once
broken families. Sheridan
is pictured here with her
husband and two sons.
While I waited, I strove to remain faithful
to the Lord. I started working in ministry,
completed my probation, restored my civil
rights, and returned to school.
God impressed on my heart to pay the
child support I owed, including seven years
of arrearages. I had no idea how to do this—
the bottom line didn’t add up. I was already
working two jobs and didn’t have enough
money to meet my personal needs. But God
soon blessed me with a promotion. “Commitment
and consistency” kept ringing
in my ears.
I flew back and forth from Arizona to
Georgia to visit my children for the following
year. Before too long, their father
agreed to unsupervised parenting time.
I burst into tears of joy at the news, and a
year later, I moved to Georgia.
Today, my husband and I are coparenting
with my ex-husband and his wife. Only
God could restore such brokenness and
bring forth such beauty (Joel 2:25). Only He
could transform my messed-up self into a
mother who is now part of the solution and
not the problem. And only He could have
softened my ex-husband’s heart to bring
us into this arrangement.
You know, God can do the same for you.
You have to realize, however, that transformation
and restoration take time. It’s
a process that starts with surrendering
your heart, mind, life, and desires to God.
It requires unwavering commitment and
consistency to God and doing whatever is
necessary to move toward your goal, no
matter how difficult or long it takes.
Along the way, God will give you His
strength, peace, and contentment for the
journey. Trust Him.
SHERIDAN CORREA is a biblical counselor who
is trained in trauma-informed care. She’s a wife,
mother of two teenage boys, singer, and avid runner
who has been radically changed by Jesus. She
joined the Victorious Living family in 2022 as digital
Issue 01 / 2023
Graced for Success
THE STORY OF LATOYA WILLIAMS
In the early 2000s, I began a long journey of
redirection. It started with one step, then a series of
steps until finally, I arrived in a spacious place where
today, I am passionately living out my God-given
purpose and helping others do the same (Psalm 18:19).
God’s love and grace rescued me from the powers of
darkness that had held me captive since my youth
Did I deserve His kindness? No. I had
rebelled early in life and trampled His
gifts, especially the gift of loving parents.
After eighth grade, I ran away from home
and dropped out of school. I wanted to do
things my way.
My parents tried desperately to get me
back on track, but I ignored them. My
only focus was making money. I imagined
it would give me the freedom to do
whatever I wanted. So I found a place to
live with a relative and got a job at the local
Every morning I rode my bike to a place
that tells its customers to “have it your
way.” Well, having it my way might have
been desirable for a hamburger, but not
in life. I needed God’s way, but it would take
years of hardship for me to figure that out.
Selfish desires, irrational decisions, and
a lack of direction carried me into dark
places where I experienced much physical,
emotional, and mental pain. It still hurts
to revisit that time of my life.
By 17, I was pregnant with my first child.
I had an on-and-off relationship with the
baby’s father and gave birth to two more
children with him in the next couple of
years. As often happens to baby mamas,
the father gave no support.
I did my best under the circumstances,
but the weight of raising and providing
for three children was a lot to carry.
Not to mention I was far too emotionally
im mature to care for them properly.
How thankful I am for immediate family
members and community programs that
One day, a case worker knocked on my
door and told me about a program that assisted
parents with young children. This
program would allow me to attend a local
community college and obtain my GED
PHOTO BY GERI SIMPKINS PHOTOGRAPHY
16 Issue 01 / 2023 VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM
while my children participated in a Head
The thought of getting my GED kindled
new hope in me. For years, my educational
status had prevented me from obtaining
jobs outside of food service. I was only 19,
but my future had already seemed set in
stone. Suddenly, I could see a way to take a
step toward something positive in my life.
Maybe there was a future for me after all.
I entered the program excitedly and set
what I thought was a reasonable goal to
pass one test a month. Obtaining my GED
took longer than expected, though, as I
had trouble staying focused. I would get
inspired, then fall away.
Math slowed me down. It took three attempts
for me to pass that exam. I didn’t
know it then, but depression was contributing
to my inability to stay consistent. At
the time, all I knew to do was push my feelings
down and keep trying.
My teachers noticed my determination
and asked me to be a guest speaker at the
basic skills recognition ceremony. I was
surprised when my speech and a picture
of me in my cap and gown were published
in the local newspaper. It was my birthday,
and I couldn’t have received a better gift.
The newspaper article and picture
proved that good things are possible to
those who work hard and believe. I showed
it to my children with pride and encouraged
them those good things were possible
for them, too.
From that day forward, I set more goals
and entered the local community college
to pursue my college education. Filled with
newfound confidence, I refused to count
myself out or be content with just getting
by and relying on others. I wanted more out
of life and was determined to defeat every
challenge that came my way. My children
were looking up to me, so giving up wasn’t
I began pursuing a degree in human services
technology. I wanted to help people,
especially women like me who struggled to
make ends meet. It felt good to take daily
steps to better myself. But in 2005, I lost
focus when the father of my children came
back around. I got pregnant again and had
to put my education goals on hold for nearly
a decade to care for my four children.
Looking back, I see that continuing a
relationship with a man who didn’t stay
and didn’t care enough to provide for his
family was unwise. But I couldn’t see past
the moment. Insecurities and an unhealed
heart led me to make many choices that
resulted in hard consequences.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my children
and would make every sacrifice again for
them. But being a single mom and living
in poverty was hard—for my kids and me.
I often felt discouraged by my circumstances
and would isolate myself as I
fought depression and suicidal thoughts.
I’VE FOUND THAT
HELPS ME AVOID
WITH MY OWN
Only by God’s grace were my kids and I able
to survive that long, dark season.
The church was the only place I experienced
a sense of relief. I started attending
with the kids around the same time I
got my GED. We’d walk down the street to
church each Sunday, and there, I’d find the
strength to make it through another week.
Being in the presence of God, His Word,
powerful worship music, and fellowshipping
with other believers lifted a heavy
weight off my shoulders. I knew no matter
what, I needed to cling to my faith. And I
did. But I didn’t yet understand the importance
of living in Christ daily.
God used my children to draw me closer
to Him. My children have always been my
motivation to live a better life. I wanted
them to be proud of their mother and see
that they could achieve their goals if they
focused and worked hard.
But God showed me that it was even
more important to teach them to live a life
of faith daily. Worldly success is worthless
if they don’t know Jesus Christ as their Lord
and Savior (Philippians 3:8).
I began to seek God daily through prayer
and studying the Bible. I was determined
to give Him more than church attendance.
Soon, God’s Holy Spirit convicted me of my
life choices. He showed me that my going
to church and then hitting the clubs and
hanging out was sending mixed messages
to my kids.
Having one foot in the world was also
causing me to be unstable. James 1:8 says
that a person who divides their loyalty
between God and the world is unstable in
all they do.
Setting a bad example for my children
was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted
to live a life of faith that honored God
and exhibited character worth imitating—
and God gave me the power to accomplish
it (Philippians 2:13).
I returned to school again, and in 2014,
I finally graduated with my college degree.
My older self told my younger self,
“Girl, you did it!” I thanked God for this
joyous day. Later that year, I got married—
something I never thought I’d experience.
But the honeymoon didn’t last long as my
kids and I tried to adjust to our new family
unit. We all struggled, and soon, my children
I kept pushing down my emotions and
pressing through situations as I’d always
done. It seemed to be paying off when
in 2016, I started a job at East Carolina
University in an administrative role. I
could hardly contain myself when I sat
down at my very own desk in a private
office. I rejoiced in the Lord and thanked
Him for bringing me so far in life. He had
helped me overcome so many obstacles
But things fell apart in the fall of 2018.
My husband and I separated, and my son,
arrested for double homicide, was facing
the death penalty. (Instead of death, he is
now serving a 38-year sentence in prison.)
His arrest took a toll on my mental state.
Life had thrown me many curves in the
past, but I’d always managed to bob and
weave and keep moving. This time, I was
drowning in sorrow.
Issue 01 / 2023
Satan had a heyday with me while I was
down. He reminded me daily how I had
missed the mark as a mother and wife. He
told me God’s plan would never come to
fruition for my kids or me and that I had
experienced all the good I ever would. It
didn’t take long before I was engulfed again
in a hopeless pit of despair and self-pity.
All I could see was an endless dark tunnel
with no light, closing in on me. I lost sight
of all the progress I’d made.
A good thing happened during this dark
season though. For years, I had refused to
talk to anyone about my mental health or
seek medical help. I’d used God as an excuse,
telling myself that He alone was my
Healer; I didn’t need anyone else.
Don’t get me wrong—God is the Great
Physician, and He can heal anyone of anything.
But I wasn’t actually receptive to His
help because I didn’t want to confront the
painful issues of my past. Finally, I realized
that unless I faced my past with God, I had
no hope of breaking free from the darkness
that held me captive.
It wasn’t easy, but I started sharing my
pain, first with God and then with other
trustworthy people. I took the cap off the
place in my heart where I stored my emotions
and painful traumas and let them
rise to the surface. One by one, I gave them
over to God.
First Peter 5:7 (NIV) invites us to “Cast
all your anxiety on him because he cares
for you.” As I realized the depth of God’s
love for me, I trusted Him more with my
pain. As the old traumas, disappointments,
emotions, and my sinful behavior came to
light, I would write them down, pray, and
then release them to God. It helped me to
remember that God’s love was unconditional
and that no matter what I shared, He
would not reject or judge me (John 3:17).
With time, the light of His love overcame
the darkness that had tormented
me (Psalm 18:28; Matthew 4:16). The Lord
also gave me strength and peace to seek
professional help. I am grateful for those
He put in my path to help me. God never
gave up on me, even when I wanted to give
up on myself.
Today, praise God, my mental and emotional
health is more stable. In 2020, God
graced me to launch a nonprofit called
Striving with Vision. I now have the privilege
of helping women discover their worth
in Christ and encouraging them to strive
toward a better future. My past victories
with God have equipped me for this journey.
In the process, I’ve found that serving
others helps me avoid becoming consumed
with my own struggles, especially my son’s
There’s a saying, “Nothing worth having
is easy.” I know this is true. My life has
been one fight of faith after another. But
the “good fight of faith” is what we must
all face if we want to be victorious over our
circumstances (1 Timothy 6:12).
Satan and this world are not just going to
roll over and let you experience the goodness
of God’s plan. You must be willing to
face the fight! God will strengthen you for
the journey and grace you for success.
It may not seem like it now, but there is
hope for your tunnel’s end. Keep casting
your cares over to God. Remind yourself
daily of the victories you’ve already experienced
and cling to your faith that more
will come. And then rise, aim, and move
forward with purpose (1 Corinthians 9:26).
In Christ, you are a conqueror over every
situation (Romans 8:37). No circumstance
or person has the power to stop what God
has purposed for your life (Isaiah 54:17;
Jeremiah 29:11). Well, no one except you.
Your unbelief in God, refusal to believe in
yourself, and unwillingness to keep going
will stop you in your tracks every time.
Right now, maybe you’re fighting that
good fight of faith. You’re taking steps with
God toward a better future. I’m so glad.
Keep going; you’re going to make it. You
can be victorious.
But maybe, like I often did, you’ve gotten
sidetracked, knocked down, or delayed.
Friend, it’s time to get back up. It’s not too
late. God’s love is big. Nothing you’ve done
or experienced has disqualified you from
the good things He has for you.
Get your eyes off your circumstances,
your failures, and those deceitful emotions.
Instead, give them to God. He will help you.
Then rise and take the next step He has
Don’t know which step to take next? Ask
Him. He’ll show you the way (Proverbs
3:5–6; James 1:5). And when He does, move
in faith and purpose with tightly secured
You’ve got this because God’s got you!
Above left: Latoya and her children approximately 15 years ago. Above right: Latoya
and her mother, Sarah Grady, at Latoya’s ordination ceremony.
LATOYA WILLIAMS is the founder of Striving
with Vision, an empowerment support group, and
an ordained minister. To find out more about her
nonprofit or to invite Latoya to speak at your event,
18 Issue 01 / 2023 VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM
BENCHED BY GOD?
USE YOUR TIME WISELY
BY CHRISTINA KIMBREL
I HAVE NEVER CARED ABOUT SPORTS
of any kind. Then I got married.
For the last two years, I have been in
boot camp, learning to be the wife of an
avid sports lover. Any game involving a ball
makes my otherwise attentive husband
oblivious to the world around him.
To keep harmony in my home and avoid
being a nagging wife, I sometimes sit with
him through the games, absorbing more
information than I will ever need or use. I
have learned about teams, players, touchdowns,
field goals, offense and defense,
and good versus poor sportsmanship.
Players who spend time on the bench
consistently catch my attention. Whether
they’re there because of injury, poor performance,
or not following the game plan
or their coach’s lead, being benched is a
big deal. It can be a temporary setback,
or it can define their career.
The player’s attitude and ability to receive
correction and instruction is what
makes the difference. Those who decide
to use the experience to gain wisdom and
guidance are likely to emerge as better
players and possibly even better people.
The same principles apply to our life and
our walk with Jesus. My ultimate bench
experience happened the third time I went
to prison. The first two times I got locked
up, I didn’t know the Lord, and I wasn’t interested
in trying to do better in life.
I didn’t see myself as the problem. I
blamed other people and my circumstances
for where I had wound up. The chaos
and dysfunction of my life had become
comfortable, so it didn’t even occur to me
that I should try to change.
But after 25 years of repeating the same
cycle, I was barely alive and exhausted
from doing things my way. In His grace
and mercy, God put me on the bench, and
I finally realized my need for Him. There,
I surrendered my life to Jesus and decided
to let Him be the head coach of my life.
I spent the rest of my prison time immersed in my Bible.
It’s God’s playbook for a meaningful life (Hebrews 4:12). If you
want lasting transformation, God’s Word is where you’ll find it.
Once released, I surrounded myself with like-minded people
who were invested in my success. Five years later, they still
take the time to walk with me, share their wisdom, and cover
me in prayer as I learn to live for Christ. When I mess up or
when my thinking is skewed or I misbehave, they don’t just
tell me what they think I want to hear. They tell me the truth
about myself and lovingly redirect me to God’s Word.
No matter how you get to the bench, trust that God knows
what’s best for you. He may require you to sit it out with Him
several times throughout your life. Our heavenly Father deals
with us individually according to what we need (Hebrews 12:7).
If He puts you on the bench, sit there and learn!
Is yours a physical bench or an invisible one? Are you in a
season of correction? Maybe God wants you to be still for a
while and get your priorities straight. Pay attention! Look for
the lessons and the wisdom around you. More importantly,
listen for God.
Spend your time on the bench wisely. Ask the Lord to show
you in His Word how to change, how to break old habits and
behaviors, and how to become more like Him. God disciplines
you because He loves you (Proverbs 3:12). He wants you to
become everything He created you to be—for your good and
His glory (Ephesians 1:4–6).
how you get
to the bench,
what is best
serves as Victorious Living’s
production manager. Once
incarcerated, she now
ministers hope to those
held captive by their past
and current circumstances
while sharing the message of
healing she found in Jesus.
Issue 01 / 2023
H AV E
THE STORY OF JULIANA MCFADDEN
It was Christmas morning 1982, and my phone would
not stop ringing. I snuggled up in my warm bed, willing
the phone to hush. But it kept on until finally I gave in,
grabbed the receiver, and muttered an irritated, “Hello?”
It was my mother, and she got straight to the point.
“Can Charlie stay at your place for a few days? The cops
are looking for him. They want to talk to him about some
murders that happened last night.”
I was horrified and tried to clear my head. “Murders!
What? Oh, Mom, I can’t.”
“Juliana, he didn’t hurt anyone.” She took a drag off
her cigarette, but not even the nicotine could hide the
shaking of her voice. I agreed to come over and meet
with Charlie but committed to nothing more.
This was not my brother’s first brush with the cops.
He had already been to prison twice. My gut was telling
me which way to lean.
But we did what most families would do—we protected
our own. Charlie came to stay with me while my parents
arranged to send him away. We didn’t talk about what
had happened; we couldn’t. The dark cloud hanging over
us was too thick. Nothing would ever be the same again.
Dad and I took Charlie to the airport, and he boarded a
plane for Dallas. I took a train to the city.
I rode the entire day aimlessly. I didn’t know what to
do or where to go. I desperately needed to talk to someone.
I thought about going to the church we’d attended
growing up, but those people had not been part of our
lives since Charlie’s first time down. Besides, all they’d
do was tell me to pray. Forget that!
But then I remembered Father Baseheart. He had given
me my first holy communion at St. Gregory’s Church.
I bussed my way to the old neighborhood, walked to the
parish, and knocked on the door.
Father Baseheart reached out and welcomed me. He led me to an
office, and I sat down. “Now, how may I help you?” he asked gently.
Tears flowed as I passed him a tattered newspaper containing
the story of the murders. “My brother did this, and I don’t know
what to do.”
Father Baseheart read the article. “We need to pray,” he said.
I left the parish soon after, walked to the nearest bus stop, and
rode home. “Pray?!” I yelled internally as the bus bumped along.
“Did You not see what happened, God? Why didn’t You stop it?
Where were You? Nowhere to be found, that’s where! And now, I’m
supposed to pray to You? I don’t think so.”
I was so angry. My family had been falling apart for years, and I
had asked God to step in more than once. He didn’t seem to care
enough to intervene. And now this? I couldn’t wrap my head around
the pain and horror of the murders and the hopeless reality of my
life. And so, for the next 16 years, I cut off communication with God.
It didn’t matter that I hadn’t hurt anyone. My brother had, and he
was family. We were the same. I deliberately set out to escape my
reality. I was embarrassed and ashamed of my life, my family, and
of what my brother had done. I had no one to talk to.
I tried to blend into society. I didn’t want to be identified as the
sister of a murderer, yet I felt such remorse for Charlie’s victims.
PHOTO BY ARIZONA PORTRAITS PHOTOGRAPHY LLC
20 Issue 01 / 2023 VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM
It was too much to bear, and I stepped into the fast lane. Men.
Cash. Coke. Jack. I spun quickly out of control.
When Charlie was given a triple death sentence, I vowed I
would never speak to him again. I was done with Charlie and
Chicago, and I decided to move.
I set off to live with my older brother in Dallas. There I met his
best friend, David. He was another bad boy—but boy, was he cute.
Daily life with David was one big party—until I found out I was
pregnant. My maternal instincts kicked in, and I stopped doing
drugs. I returned to Chicago. David followed me there, and we got
married. Three months later, our daughter Jennifer was born.
We remained in Chicago for the next 13 years. During that
time, I didn’t think once about God. I was doing just fine without
Despite the wreckage of my
life, I could feel His presence.
He was still here.
Him. We had another little girl, Kelly, and set out to give our girls
an incredible life.
When our oldest daughter was starting middle school, we decided
to move to Phoenix. I was excited about this new adventure
and proud of the family David and I had built.
But one day, as I mentally patted myself on the back for the
incredible life we had given our girls, God spoke loud and clear.
“But you have not given them the most important thing they need—Me!”
Once close, Juliana and her brother, Charlie (above left),
didn’t speak for 20 years due to hurt and unforgiveness.
The gift of forgiveness not only restored Juliana’s relation ship with
Charlie, but with her husband, David (above right), as well.
You could have heard a pin drop inside my head. I
hadn’t spoken to God in decades, but I recognized His
voice. Conviction gripped my heart. “You’re right,” I
replied. It’s all I could say.
Reluctantly, I promised God I would take the girls
to church. But I made it very clear that I wasn’t going.
Drop off and pick up, that’s all He was getting from me.
Of course, God knew better.
One night as I was preparing to pick the girls up from
Wednesday night church, the telephone rang. It was the
police. David had been in a head-on collision. He was
okay, but they were holding him in custody. The victim,
they said, had been hospitalized with injuries.
Custody? Victim? I was bewildered. The officer continued,
“Ma’am, it appears Mr. McFadden may have been
under the influence at the time of the crash. We need
you to pick him up at the station.”
Turns out, David had fallen asleep at the wheel while
under the influence of opiates and hit a Mercedes headon.
On May 16, 2000, just a year and a half after moving
to our new home in Phoenix, David was charged with
aggravated assault and given a two-and-a-half-year
Once again, a man I loved and trusted had turned my
world upside down. First Charlie, and now my husband.
Really, God? Still, I pressed on and tried to do the right
thing. I kept my end of the bargain and kept taking the
girls to church. But inside, I was devastated.
Week after week, I dropped them off, went home, and
then back again. But I was a single mom
now, and I was tired. So I began staying at
the church with the girls. I thought it was
a matter of convenience, but God knew it
was a matter of connection.
One night, my friend Joanne invited me
to go with her to hear someone named
Anne Graham Lotz. I had no idea Mrs.
Lotz was the daughter of the great evangelist
Billy Graham until Joanne told me.
I agreed to go.
Perhaps, I thought, if I went to the service,
God would tell me whether I should
stay with my husband or if He would give
me the green light to walk away from my
marriage. I was hurt, betrayed, exhausted,
and emotionally done.
Funny thing, Anne Graham Lotz didn’t
say one word about whether I should stay with David, but
I still came away from the event with an answer. Can you
believe God used a statement on a bookmark inserted
in the event program to convey His message? On it were
the words: “I have decided to .”
Issue 01 / 2023
At the close of the event, we were each instructed to
write down what God was leading us to do based on the
evening’s experience. My eyes fell to the blank line, and
I thought about my life. It was a mess.
For years I had sought comfort, hope, and peace but
had always come up empty. I dropped my head to my
hands and cried. I needed Jesus. And I knew it because
I had once personally known Him.
I’d accepted Him long ago as my Savior. When I was
little, Jesus had been my friend, and I’d loved Him. Then
life happened, and I got angry and walked away from
Him. But God had never walked away from me. Despite
the wreckage of my life, I could feel His presence. He
was still here.
I laid down my anger and prayed a true prayer of surrender.
This was different. No longer was I acting like a
spoiled little girl with arms folded defiantly across her
chest. My arms and heart were open. I was ready to go
wherever God would lead me. I had no hope without Him.
That night, in the blank spaces of the bookmark, I
wrote, “I have decided to surrender my life to God—
my will for His will. I commit myself to serve Christ.”
This bookmark is still in my Bible today. Like in Joshua
4:21–24, it serves as a stone of remembrance of my
commitment to the Lord.
Through spending time with the Lord, I knew I was
to remain with David. I did, and God renewed my love
for my husband and our marriage. He also led me to
serve Him in a place I’d never dreamed—prison. It all
happened because of my attending Al-Anon meetings.
Al-Anon provides support to people who have been
affected by another person’s alcoholism. I started attending
meetings after David was incarcerated. One night,
about a year in, there was a request for volunteers to
host Al-Anon meetings at Perryville Prison for women
in Goodyear, Arizona. God poked my heart and would
not relent about this new thing I could do to serve Him.
“But, God,” I protested. “There is no way I’m going to
visit anyone in prison, especially people I don’t know!”
God shocked me with His reply. “But you love people
who are in prison.”
“Actually,” I said, “I do not.” I hadn’t talked to Charlie
in nearly 20 years, and I still wasn’t happy speaking
with my incarcerated husband.
“Try it,” He said. “If you don’t like it, you can quit.”
I spent the next five years hosting Al-Anon meetings
at Perryville. I loved the ladies and being able to serve
God in this way. In Al-Anon, you share your experience,
strength, and hope. I wasn’t shy in telling the ladies that
I’d found all these things in God alone—the great I Am
And then, it occurred to me, “How can I love these
that serves as
Juliana’s stone of
seeing the need
people to receive
ladies and not even speak to my brother?” I felt a deep sense of
guilt. God was preparing my heart for what was to come.
Not long after that, my younger sister called. “Juliana,” she
said, “Charlie tried to commit suicide. He’s been transferred
to Statesville.” Charlie’s death sentences had been commuted,
but he would spend the rest of his life in prison. I had not seen
him in 20 years, and I knew I had to change that. I could not live
with myself if he took his life and I had not reconciled with him.
I had just finished reading The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick
Warren (Zondervan, 2002). I was particularly inspired by these
words, “God wants you to have a Christlike ministry on earth.
That means other people are going to find healing in your
wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective
ministry will come out of your deepest hurts” (275).
22 Issue 01 / 2023 VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM
PHOTO BY ARIZONA PORTRAITS PHOTOGRAPHY LLC
Charlie needed to know that God had a purpose for his life. I
immediately mailed the book to him, asked him to read it, and
told him I would visit him in January. I booked a flight to Chicago
and contacted the warden at Statesville with a request to allow me
extra time with Charlie since I was traveling such a long distance.
God granted me much favor. I was allowed to visit two days in
a row, two hours per visit. My heart leaped when I saw him. All I
could think was that he was the most beautiful thing I had ever
seen. I couldn’t help but think that that is how Jesus sees us, no
matter what we’ve done. We are beautiful and precious in His
eyes, and His heart is full of love for us. (See John 3:16.)
Charlie and I hugged each other tightly. Neither of us wanted
to let go. Afterward, we stared at each other with tear-filled eyes.
We had so much to catch up on. I asked Charlie to forgive me for
abandoning him for so long. I told him I loved him and begged
him never to hurt himself again. He accepted my apology and
jokingly apologized for beating me up when we were kids. We
both had a good laugh.
On our second day’s visit, I asked Charlie if he had read the book
I had sent. He was halfway through it. I encouraged him to keep
reading. “Juliana, you don’t understand,” Charlie interjected, “I
don’t have a purpose. I’m in prison. There is nothing here for me.”
“God gives everyone a purpose, no matter where they are or
what they’ve done,” I told him. “God has a purpose for your life
even in here.” He looked confused.
“You are an OG, Charlie, and God wants to use you. Imagine if
some OG on your first time down had befriended you and taught
you about Jesus. Think about how different things would be.
Instead of wanting to fit in with a gang, you would have been a
disciple for Christ. But you can do that for someone else now. You
might be sentenced to prison for life, but that doesn’t prevent
God from using you. Don’t cheat yourself, Charlie. Keep reading
the book. God has a plan, and you’re about to discover it!”
Not long after, Charlie rededicated his life to Christ. He remembered
the God of his youth just as I had done. And in March
2006, he was baptized. It’s been more than 16 years since that
visit. Charlie has persistently pursued a relationship with Jesus,
just like Jesus pursued him—with his life.
Charlie’s thirst for learning about Jesus has been unquenchable,
and his heart is on fire. Though incarcerated, he has completed
multiple Bible courses, three college degrees, and earned
a doctorate in theology.
Through the power of Jesus in him, Charlie has turned his
deepest hurt into his Christlike ministry on earth. Once low and
despised, he submitted to Jesus, and as promised in 1 Corinthians
1:26–28, God has used what the world would call weak and
foolish to teach righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
Just days after my initial visit with Charlie, God brought a new
friendship into my life. Cheryl lived in Tucson and hosted a weekly
Bible study called SISTER (Spiritually in Step to Encourage Restoration)
Connection, for women recently released from prison.
I was intrigued for many reasons by this unique ministry.
First, I knew that if Charlie had had a Christian friend
come alongside him the first time he was released from
prison, he might have surrendered his life to Jesus
sooner and experienced a different life outcome. And
his victims would still be alive. Second, I realized that,
while many programs existed behind prison walls, few
existed that were willing to help formerly incarcerated
people upon their release and in subsequent years.
Interested to learn more, I visited Cheryl and observed
her ministry in action.
Not long after, God opened doors for me to mirror
Cheryl’s SISTER Connection in Phoenix. My friend
graciously mentored me for nearly five years. In April
God gives everyone a purpose,
no matter where they are or
what they’ve done.
2012, I incorporated SISTER Ministries, Inc. as a 501(c)3
nonprofit outreach to formerly incarcerated women.
In addition to its weekly Bible study and support meetings,
SISTER Ministries maintains a pen-pal ministry
for currently incarcerated women and a gatekeeper
program to assist with transportation upon release. In
November 2022, SISTER Ministries celebrated 16 years
of serving formerly incarcerated women.
I recently asked Charlie, “What did you feel when I
told you that God has a purpose for your life?” He told
me he was shocked. But then, I was surprised God had a
purpose for my life, too. No, I hadn’t murdered anyone,
but I had rebelled against God and rejected His love.
There’s no difference.
How thankful we are that God is rich in mercy, and He
pursued us. His goodness brought us to surrender (Romans
2:4). God loves to shock us with exceedingly more
than we could ever hope or ask (Ephesians 3:14–20).
Does God really have a purpose for your life? Yes,
God has a purpose, no matter what you’ve done or
where you are. Don’t think that you’ve messed up God’s
plans for a minute. You’re not that big. Surrender your
life to Him—His will, His way. Jesus Christ is a restorer
of hope. He gives purpose to anyone who will lay down
their lives to Him.
Friend, what He did for me and for my brother Charlie,
He can do for you, too.
JULIANA MCFADDEN lives out her life mission daily by
ministering to formerly incarcerated women. To learn more about
how she serves, go to sisterministries.org.
Issue 01 / 2023
THE STORY OF
for it! Have some fun! You
deserve this. Everybody has
it better than you. Your mom’s
sick. Your dad’s a drug addict.
God cheated you. Life cheated
you. Everybody cheated you.”
Anger and self-pity fueled me
for decades. It never mattered
that I knew that what I was doing
was wrong. My inner voice
always urged me to move forward.
I was a victim, and the
world owed me.
As far back as I can remember,
I’ve felt sorry for myself. It
started in elementary school
when I began comparing my
home life to what I imagined
my peers experienced. I could
never pinpoint exactly what
they had that I didn’t, but I
knew it was better. I lost sight
of any good thing in my life and
focused only on the negative.
I loved my family and knew
they loved me, but our home
was dysfunctional and chaotic.
Dad was a full-blown crack
cocaine addict and alcoholic.
His addiction brought much
grief into our home, especially
for my older brother, whom
Dad abused. My brother was
PHOTO BY SWEETBEE PHOTOGRAPHY
24 Issue 01 / 2023 VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM
my father’s stepson; perhaps
that’s why he targeted him so
fiercely. Whatever the reason,
it made me uncomfortable because
Dad treated me like the
Dad’s addiction led him in
and out of jail and eventually
to prison. It also caused us to
move a lot. By the time I was 15,
we had moved ten times.
My mother was loving, but
she had her own struggles,
primarily due to her battle with
diabetes. I don’t remember a
time when she wasn’t in intense
pain or homebound. She
ultimately became blind and
addicted to prescription pain
pills. Her addiction and physical
misery made it difficult for
her to be emotionally present
for my brother and me, but she
did the best she could.
Extended family provided
much-needed support. My
grandmother, aunt, and uncle
loved our family well. We often
attended church together.
I heard many stories about
Jesus when I was a kid. Early
on, I believed that God had
sent His Son to die for me. I
even prayed to receive His gift
of eternal salvation. But as often
happens, my Christian faith
stopped at my head and never
settled in my heart.
I had no relationship with
God outside of the church, nor
was I interested in developing
one. To me, God was to blame
for the chaos in my home, especially
Mom’s sickness. She
passed when I was 15, and that
was just proof that God didn’t
care about us.
Dad was in prison then, and
my brother had moved from
West Virginia to Ohio. I felt so
alone, lost, and overwhelmed
by the uncertainty of my future.
Where was God, and why was
He allowing me to endure such
Anger pumped through my
veins as I recounted how He
had cheated me.
My Aunt Kathy and Uncle
Herb, a kind Christian couple,
welcomed me into their home.
They loved, accepted, and supported
me daily, and they modeled
God’s sacrificial love and
faithfulness. Through them,
I learned the benefits of hard
work and integrity and experienced
a stable home life for
the first time.
But the anger, resentment,
and self-pity inside kept me
from accepting their love or
God’s gift of a new life. I spent
the best years of my life at my
aunt and uncle’s home, yet I
wasn’t satisfied. By focusing
only on the things I didn’t have,
I forfeited the very things I had
longed for in a family.
During my two years in
their home, I partied, smoked,
cussed, and messed around
with girls. I occasionally dabbled
in weed. Tired of their
watchful eye, I devised a plan
for my brother to obtain legal
guardianship of me. Because I
was 17, I could make that foolish
choice without my aunt and
uncle’s permission. They knew
it would not end well for me as
my brother was involved with
The court granted my request,
and I moved to Ohio.
My brother enrolled me in
high school, but after only six
months, I dropped out and dove
headfirst into a life of destruction.
I traded weed for methamphetamines,
and for the next 13
years, I served a harsh master.
I did whatever I had to do to
satisfy my addiction, including
manufacturing and selling the
drug myself. My choices caught
up with me when I was 30, and
My Christian faith
stopped at my head and never
settled in my heart.
I was arrested. It was the first
time I’d ever been in serious
trouble, and there I was, facing
While in solitary confinement
in jail, I came across a
Bible. I opened it a few times,
but my heart of stone couldn’t
receive anything it had to offer.
I still blamed God for my miserable
The day before my sentencing
hearing, my lawyer visited
and told me he was getting
me a great deal. His promises
brought me a sense of hope.
That night I decided I’d better
make one more deal. “God,” I
said, “if You’ll come through for
me tomorrow, I’ll follow You. Do
this for me, and I’ll trust You. I’ll
even read the Bible.”
But God wasn’t playing my
Let’s Make a Deal game.
The lawyer didn’t show
up for court. Instead, some
appointed attorney represented
me. This new guy knew
nothing about my case, and
the judge sentenced me to a
mandatory three years in prison
with no possibility of early
release. I sat in disbelief as life
as I knew it came to an end.
The officer took me back
to solitary confinement. The
clanging of the chains connected
to my hands and feet was the
only sound in the corridor. As
I shuffled, I searched for some
emotion but felt numb.
Back in my cell, I punched
the wall to feel something. Anything.
Nothing. I turned on the
small 5-station radio in my cell.
I couldn’t stand the silence.
“Drunk on a Plane” by Dierks
Bentley echoed through the
cell. I quickly changed the station.
I wasn’t in the mood. Suddenly,
“How He Loves” by David
Crowder Band rang through the
emptiness. It’s a song about
the unconditional love of God,
and the words brought me to
It was a surreal moment.
Years of anger and resentment
toward God drained from my
heart in tears. I was so tired of
fighting for my rightful place
A rebellious spirit led to Ronnie’s
arrest. Pictured above is his
mug shot from 2014.
Issue 01 / 2023
in this world. It had only led
to one painful, lonely, rockbottom
place after another.
In that humble posture, I
heard God’s voice. “Trust Me
I reached toward the small
window at the top of my cell
and surrendered to the love of
Jesus. “Okay, God. I will trust
Immediately, His presence
engulfed me and the space
around me. Peace replaced
years of frustration and fear.
Love replaced hatred and
bitterness. Suddenly, unexpectedly,
I no longer felt like a
victim. It was an instantaneous
transformation of the heart.
Back in general population,
the guys immediately knew
something was different.
“What in the world happened
to you?” they asked. Just a few
days before, I’d been dealing
Ronnie began his
bars and received
his degree from
Pictured here with
his Aunt Kathy and
Ronnie and his
wife, Kaitlyn, on
their wedding day
in 2020, with Uncle
Herb and Aunt
Kathy. They have
support for Ronnie,
even at his lowest.
and stealing. Now, I wasn’t even
The moment I died to myself
and my perception of life,
God raised me.
From then on, I read the Bible
daily and sought God’s will. I
was about to spend three years
in prison and—I must admit—I
was afraid. But knowing God
would be walking through those
prison doors with me brought
comfort, courage, and confidence
I wanted to honor the second
chance God was giving me and
do my part to better myself. If I
wasn’t willing to invest in myself,
I certainly couldn’t expect
anyone else to care.
I sensed God telling me, “If
you’ll commit yourself and do
the work, I will help you get to
where you need to be.” Now that
was a good deal!
My first commitment was
to obtain my GED. Since math
had always been a difficult
subject for me, I asked another
inmate to tutor me. Every
day after lunch, this former
doctor helped me. It wasn’t
easy preparing for the GED, as
the test had recently become
more complex. I studied for
hours daily. It’s like they say:
Nothing worth having is easy.
I scored so high on the test
that I was asked to tutor other
inmates for the GED. I couldn’t
believe it. For the first time, I
was a leader. That alone was a
testament to what God can do.
Not only had He saved my
soul, but He helped me understand
things I had struggled
with before. He was changing
me, making me a better man. I
found the confidence to pursue
a college degree from Ashland
University. They offered an
associate’s program to incarcerated
people that other universities
I studied hard and was
amazed when I made the dean’s
list. I’d never cared to apply myself
in school, so I’d had no idea
what I could do academically.
Once released from prison, I
completed my education and
received my associate’s degree
God’s Spirit continually reminded
me, “You’re worth the
I had never felt worthy of
anything good. Nor had I believed
I could ever be anything
other than a drug addict. But
God thought differently about
me. He didn’t see an addict or
a boy raised in poverty who’d
lost his mom and dad. He saw
a son whom He loved.
Believing I was worthy
helped me continue down this
new path. It wasn’t always easy.
There were many times, especially
after I was released from
prison, that I was tempted to
quit college and return to where
I’d been. But God kept spurring
me on. “You’re worth the work,
Ronnie! Keep pressing forward
After I graduated from Ashland
in 2018, I became a youth
26 Issue 01 / 2023 VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM
Above: Ronnie had John 3:30 tattooed on his forearm
to remind him of John the Baptist’s message that
Jesus must increase and we must decrease.
3:30 tattooed on my arm. It
than you ever imagined possi-
helps me remember the im-
ble. I know. I’ve been there. But
portant words of John the
I’ve learned that with Christ,
Baptist about Jesus. “He [Jesus]
rock bottom is a great place to
must become greater; I must
lay a foundation for your new
become less” (NIV).
life (Matthew 7:24–27).
PHOTO BY SWEETBEE PHOTOGRAPHY
pastor at a local church. I wanted
to help kids discover their
worth in God.
For so long, I had wanted
nothing to do with Him, and
now, I was bringing the Gospel
of Jesus Christ to others!
People used to cross the street
to avoid me. Now parents and
tion after promotion as I stayed
faithful. It’s just like Luke 16:10
promises: “Whoever can be
trusted with very little can also
be trusted with much” (NIV).
Today, I am over the training
and development of more than
This incredible new life
John knew the secret to life:
more of Jesus, less of self. It’s
the only way to experience the
abundant life Jesus promises
in John 10:10.
How about you? Will you
choose to trust God anyway?
Will you lay down your anger
and disappointments, uncurl
God’s got good plans in store
for you (Jeremiah 29:11). How
can you experience them? Remember
John 3:30. More of
Him and less of you.
Trust God today. When you
do, He won’t waste any time restoring
and rebuilding your life.
I won’t promise His plans will
youth were coming to me for
started with a simple: “Okay,
your fists, and open your heart
be easy. But no matter what you
advice. It was incredible.
God, I’ll trust You anyway.”
to the One who loves you—even
face, God’s goodness will meet
Only God could transform
The moment I died to myself
if life hasn’t happened like you
you there. And His grace will
this dirty, lying, and conniving
and my perception of life, God
thought it should? And will you
help you move forward to great
manipulator into a man other
raised me. He gave me new
believe that you are worth a bet-
eyes and a new heart (Ezekiel
Don’t focus on that thing you
New doors began opening for
36:26) and set my feet on a new
Right now, your experiences
never had. You’ll miss the better
me, and I left my youth pastor
path (Proverbs 3:5–6). And as
might have brought you lower
thing God has for you today.
position to travel nationwide,
I humble myself before Him
sharing my story. I also took
a job at Christian Healthcare
Ministries. God brought promo-
daily, God continues to lift me
Not too long ago, I had John
RONNIE HOPKINS is the training and development coordinator for Christian
Healthcare Ministries. He is also a spokesperson and advocate for educational
opportunities in prison.
Issue 01 / 2023
Title in Milan,
BY KRISTI OVERTON JOHNSON
RECENTLY, WORLD-CLASS ATHLETE
Vennesa Vieke asked me what I thought it
takes to be a champion. For the next year,
she and I spent time together talking about
how I had achieved my success. It was fun,
going back and sharing my 35-year athletic
journey with my new friend. (See her story
in Issue 03/2021.)
What I’ve learned is that if you want to be
a champion in anything—sports, relationships,
careers, ministries, you name it—the
principles are the same. If you want victory
in your physical, mental, and emotional
health, you must apply these principles.
But here’s the kicker: mentally agreeing
with them won’t get you anywhere. You’ll
have to do the hard work, make sacrifices,
and persevere daily.
If you want to be a champion for the
kingdom of God, you have to use the same
Let’s talk about that phrase, a champion
for the kingdom of God. I chose those words
deliberately because I’ve realized there
are many champions of God who are not
actively being champions for God’s kingdom.
There is a profound difference.
As believers, we are all champions in
God’s eyes. And our champion status
isn’t based on what we do. It’s based on
the simple fact that we are God’s children.
There are no chumps in God’s family, only
Right now, maybe you’re thinking, “No
way am I a champion. I’ve never succeeded
at anything. You have no idea what I’ve
done or what has happened to me. God
couldn’t possibly see a champion in me.”
The Bible says otherwise.
If you’ve put your faith and trust in Jesus
for salvation, then you are His champion.
The blood of Jesus has made you one.
Romans 3:25 says, “For God presented
Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are
made right with God when they believe
that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his
While we were still sinners—not after
we got it all together and had a champion’s
success record—God sent His Son, Jesus,
to die for us. Jesus’s blood makes us right
in God’s sight (Romans 5:8–9). Because of
Jesus, God can’t even see our failures. It’s
the work of the cross that makes us His
champions, not what we do.
There is nothing we can do to become
PHOTO BY ROSS OUTERBRIDGE
28 Issue 01 / 2023 VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM
more of a champion to God. He loves us just
as we are for one simple reason: we’re His
kids. There are no conditions to our heavenly
Father’s love. You can’t earn it, and you
can’t lose it. It just is, and it’s everlasting.
There aren’t different degrees of God’s
love either. His love doesn’t change. He
can’t love you any more than He does right
now. And He doesn’t love one person more
than He does someone else. This is great
and amazing news.
So if we’re already champions, isn’t that
all there is? No. Even though God loves us
and even though He sees a champion when
He looks at us, that doesn’t mean every
believer will live the life of a champion. Not
every believer will determine to be a champion
for God and His kingdom.
I didn’t for a long time.
I was all about championing my kingdom.
I was focused on using my gifts and
talents for my glory, not His. I didn’t realize
there was more to being a Christian than
asking Jesus to forgive me of my sins and
give me eternal life (John 3:16).
I knew I was supposed to go to church,
pray, and read my Bible, but I didn’t understand
that God wanted to partner with
me in life and use me for His kingdom
purposes. I had no idea someone could
be a champion for God’s kingdom, and I
certainly didn’t know how to be one.
Let’s look at the life of Moses to understand
this better. God created Moses to
lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into
the Promised Land. God knew Moses was
the right person for the job—even after
he’d killed a man and had to hide out in
the wilderness shepherding his father-inlaw’s
sheep. (Check out Exodus 1–2.) Does
that sound like someone who’s a champion?
A wanted man, a murderer, living in
Thankfully, when God chooses people
to champion His causes, He doesn’t look
at their outward appearance, their past,
or where they live. He looks at the inner
qualities He put in us.
God created Moses to lead. He allowed
Moses to have unique and even painful
experiences to prepare him for the task.
He wanted to journey with Moses to help
him develop those leadership qualities.
In Exodus 3–4, we see God inviting His
champion to go on this adventure with
Him. A voice from a burning bush? You can
believe God had Moses’s attention as He
began to reveal what He wanted him to do.
God was like, “Moses, I’ve chosen you
to champion the cause of My people. I’m
going to use you to save them from the
Egyptians. I want you to lead them, protect
them, and teach them how to live and
But Moses couldn’t imagine himself
leading anyone. Maybe before, but now?
No way. So he began to object.
“Me?” he said. “Appear before Pharaoh?
But, God—! Who am I to lead the people of
Israel out of Egypt? What if they don’t believe
me? What if they won’t listen to me?”
It’s the work of
the cross that
makes us His
Even after God promised to be with Moses,
even after He gave him instructions
and the words to speak and supernatural
powers, Moses still refused to accept God’s
call. He only saw his limitations: “I–I can’t
be Your mouthpiece, God. I st–stutter.”
Do you ever feel like Moses? Do you
have trouble seeing yourself as someone
God can use? When you think of the word
“champion,” do you have difficulty seeing
yourself in that category? Or do you see
yourself as the least of the least, when God
is saying you are a mighty warrior?
Well, I have some good news. God uses
the least of the least to champion His causes!
Consider 1 Corinthians 1:27–28: “God
chose things the world considers foolish
in order to shame those who think they are
wise. And he chose things that are powerless
to shame those who are powerful. God
chose things despised by the world, things
counted as nothing at all, and used them to
bring to nothing what the world considers
Have you ever been called a fool? Worthless?
A big fat zero? Have you ever felt despised
or rejected? Well, you are who God
wants to use.
Your past doesn’t matter; neither do your
limitations. All that matters is that you are
willing to be used by God. Friend, God is in
you, and Christ in you is the hope of glory
You can face anything and do anything
God has called you to do (Philippians 4:13)
because God’s Spirit lives in you. The very
power of God, the heart of God, the mind of
Christ is in you (1 Corinthians 2). His Spirit
empowers you to do what He asks you to
do. It’s not by your might or power; it’s by
His (Zechariah 4:6). You are a champion
because God, the greatest Champion of all,
lives inside you!
It’s time to start walking with your head
held high. I love Leviticus 26:13, where
God says to His children: “I am the Lord
your God, who brought you out of the land
of Egypt so you would no longer be their
slaves. I broke the yoke of slavery from your
neck so you can walk with your heads held
We aren’t to walk in shame or be overcome
with guilt. We aren’t to walk burdened
down by the weight of sin or the words of
others. God sent His Son, Jesus, to die for
us. And in doing so, He freed us from the
penalty and power of sin. He broke the yoke
Now, I am not suggesting that we get all
puffed up with pride and become overconfident
in our abilities. No. Our confidence
is in God and His love for us. God declared
our worth when He created us, and He has
promised to be with us every day since.
Have you ever thought about the moment
you were created? According to Psalm 139,
God was at work in your mother’s womb,
fashioning and forming you with His very
hands. Maybe you think, “God didn’t plan
Issue 01 / 2023
me. I was an accident. I was unwanted, a
product of violence.”
There is no life outside of God. He is the
Creator, Giver, and Sustainer of life. (See
Job 33:4; Acts 17:28; Colossians 1:17; and
1 Corinthians 8:6.) Negative circumstances
around your conception or birth do not
negate the fact that God created you, He
loves you, and that He has a good plan for
your life that He wants you to fulfill.
You, no matter who you are, are God’s
masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). He created
you on purpose and for a purpose. Your
earthly parents might have cursed the day
you were born, but God didn’t. He wanted
you to be born because He values your life.
Not only that—He took great delight in
forming all the delicate parts of your body
(Psalm 139:13). God knit you together. You
are wonderfully fashioned, and when He
looks at you, He smiles. He has precious
thoughts toward you that outnumber the
grains of sand (Psalm 139:17–18).
You’re His prized possession, worth even
the life of His only Son.
It’s hard sometimes to remember that.
The world likes to remind us of our shortcomings,
as does Satan, the enemy of our
soul. But God thinks differently, and it is
time we align our thoughts with His. We
can’t live the life God intends us to live
without doing so.
Let’s do an exercise. Write down the
negative words your parents, spouse, children,
so-called friends, or coworkers have
spoken over you. Write down the negative
thoughts you’ve had about yourself too.
How many are there? Ten? A hundred?
Maybe a thousand?
With a pen, place a dot of ink on your
paper to represent each countable thought.
When you’re done, compare those dots
against all the grains of sand in the world.
The sand represents God’s thoughts toward
you—His good, precious, innumerable
thoughts. Remember Psalm 139? No
matter how many negative statements you
came up with, there’s no comparison!
Friend, God thinks you are the bomb,
and it’s time you realize it. You can’t be the
champion He has created you to be if you
don’t believe you are champion material.
God does not create junk! He doesn’t
make mistakes. He created you—you!—on
purpose and with a purpose. Why should
it matter what other people think or say?
Let’s continue our exercise. Dive into
God’s Word and discover His thoughts toward
you. Write His words next to the negative
ones you listed. For example, if you
wrote, “You are a failure,” write next to it, “I
am not a failure. I am the righteousness of
God.” If you wrote, “You will never amount
to anything. You are just like your father.”
Write down this truth, “My Father is God
Almighty, and I was made in His image. He
has great plans for me and will help me accomplish
them. I can do all things through
Christ who gives me strength!” Exchange
each lie for the truth of God.
Search the Bible daily and renew your
mind with God’s thoughts toward you. If
you want to know God’s will for your life,
you have to renew your mind. Change the
way you think about everything, including
yourself. As you do, God will transform you
into a new person—the champion He created
you to be (Romans 12:2).
Capturing negative thoughts, rebuking
condemning words (2 Corinthians 10:5),
guarding your mouth (Psalm 141:3)—it’s
a full-time job. But it’s worth the effort.
Far Left: Vennesa is all
smiles after winning the
2022 Moomba Masters in
Below: Vennesa and Kristi
formed a close friendship
as Vennesa pursued her
KRISTI OVERTON JOHNSON encourages and equips people for victory through her
writings, speaking engagements, and prison ministry. To learn more, go to kojministries.org.
PHOTOS BY HOLLY STRATFORD AND NOAH VIEKE
30 Issue 01 / 2023 VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM
Your Pain Has Purpose
BY KORY GORDON
I’VE SPENT MANY YEARS LYING ON
bunks in jails and prisons, staring hopelessly
at the ceiling. At the time, I’d bought
into the lie that I had gone too far and it
was too late for me.
Fear, regret, and defeat convinced me
that I had wasted the best years of my life.
Those thoughts overshadowed any positivity
about my future. The emotional pain
was so intense, I could feel it physically.
I tried to escape the weight of these
emotions with drugs, pornography, and
gambling, but those things only took me
deeper into darkness. I would have died of
an overdose if Christ hadn’t responded to
my cries, but He did. He jumped into my pit
and pulled me out (Job 33:28, Jonah 2:6).
Not once did He chastise or condemn me.
Instead, He wrapped His arms around me
and set my feet on solid ground. He traded
my prison blues for His robe of righteousness
and resurrected my life into one with
meaning. Because of Jesus, my life is now a
testimony of powerful restoration that leads
others to freedom. (See Psalm 40:1–3.)
As a redeemed son of God, I now walk
confidently through gates that once held
me prisoner. I am a seasoned veteran with
many battle wounds, but I am also an overcomer
through Jesus Christ. He alone has
given me the keys to freedom, and I am
committed to sharing them with my incarcerated
brothers and sisters.
It never ceases to amaze me how my
painful past helps me get eye level with
others. They have hope when they hear
what God has done and is doing in my life.
They realize if He could set me free, He can
set anyone free!
With Jesus, nothing in my life is wasted—
not even my biggest mistakes. Every experience
has become an opportunity to learn
and a powerful testimony of the goodness
Did you know that the Apostle Paul wrote
two-thirds of the New Testament from a
prison cell? Paul rejoiced in his suffering
and wanted everyone to understand that
his time in chains had a divine purpose.
He said, “Now I want you to know, brothers
and sisters, that what has happened to me
has actually served to advance the gospel”
(Philippians 1:12 NIV).
I can relate to Paul here because my
incarceration has also served to advance
the Gospel. Of course, my incarceration
was due to my disobedience to God, not
my loyalty to Him. But God’s mercy is for
people on both spectrums—the sinner and
the saint. He brings beauty from ashes for
His glory, no matter how our ashes were
formed (Isaiah 61:3).
It’s time to look at your past through
God’s lens of purpose. Give Him those ashes.
Don’t buy into the lie that your life is a
waste; God never wastes anything.
Every broken road you have traveled
has uniquely equipped you to help others.
Through your life story, you may reach
people for Christ that others cannot. And
every time you find the courage to share
the goodness of God, your testimony defeats
the enemy’s hold on someone else
Purpose, though, begins with surrendering
your broken life to Christ and then courageously
journeying through it with Him.
Despite all the pain you’ve been through, an
overwhelming victory can be yours through
Christ, who loves you (Romans 8:37).
Your testimony holds the key to someone
else’s freedom. Please don’t keep it to
KORY GORDON spent 11 years in incarceration,
where he gave his life to Christ. He is now an
evangelist, sharing the Good News that set him
free. In 2021, he founded Damascus Road, a
nonprofit residential discipleship program battling
addiction, recidivism, and homelessness. Email
email@example.com for more info.
Issue 01 / 2023
YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO BACK
BY DANNY R. COX
I HAD JUST A FEW MONTHS LEFT ON MY ten-year
prison sentence when a friend said to me, “I don’t know
how you’ve been able to do these ten years, Danny.”
Without thinking, I said, “One day at a time, John.”
If you think about it, we’re all doing time somewhere.
The question is, what are we doing, every day, with the
time we’ve been given?
There are two things we all do, no matter who we are.
One, we live till we die, and two, every day we’re alive,
we make decisions. Good decisions generally lead to
good results, and bad decisions usually lead to bad ones.
I’ll admit, I have made more than my share of bad
decisions—but that doesn’t mean I have to continue
making them. No way! It took serving time in 12 federal
prisons and 5 county jails in 8 states for me to come to
my senses, but I’ve now made it my aim to make the
best decisions I can.
I’m in my 70s, and I have been out of prison for 20
years now, clean and green. I guess you could say I’ve
“learned a thing or two, about a thing or two.”
Society has decided that incarceration is a form of
punishment that will deter an individual from making
If you think
is, what are
the same bad decisions a second time. But does it?
Recently, I asked the men at a Bible study I
teach at a halfway house to raise their hands if
they had done more than one bit. More than half
of them raised their hands. One man had been
down 11 times. But then he said, “This is the last
time, because I’ve found Jesus.”
Hold that thought!
What is it about Jesus that can prevent someone
from going back to prison? Shouldn’t the
shame, guilt, and financial hardship we’ve placed
on our families be enough? Or living miles away
from everything we love? How about living in
fear and constantly looking over our shoulders?
For so many, none of those things prevent them
from going back to their old ways and ultimately
returning to prison. But Jesus can change things.
Galatians 3:22 says, “we are all prisoners of sin,
so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by
believing in Jesus Christ” (NLT).
I got right with God during my first two weeks
in jail by accepting Jesus into my life. In that moment,
I knew that I was corrected. Sure, I still had
to serve the rest of my time and work through some wrong thinking, but
from that day until now, Jesus has been doing time with me. He’s helped
me overcome every obstacle I’ve met. He’s given me His strength, wisdom,
peace, and power to face each day.
Is Jesus doing time with you, or are you still trying to do everything your
way? Whatever trial you’re facing, are you doing it with Him or on your own?
I’ve tried doing life my way. It didn’t work. But when I began doing things
God’s way, everything changed. He is the reason I am an ex-con, an ex-drug
dealer, an ex-drug addict, and an ex-alcoholic.
I saw a poster once that said, “Never be a prisoner of your past. It was
just a lesson, not a life sentence.” With Jesus, you can be free from your
past, once and for all. His truth and Spirit can set you free (John 8:32; 2
Stop trying to do things your way. Let Jesus change your heart and mind
so He can change your ways and future. You don’t have to go back to your
dead-end ways; you don’t have to be a statistic.
Life is about decisions, and the most important decision you can ever
make is to ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. Go ahead, make it today.
When you do, Jesus will come into your life and serve your time with you.
PHOTO BY GUNNAR RATHBUN
DANNY R. COX was called by God to be an evangelist while serving time in prison.
He is now a credentialed evangelist and correctional chaplain and serves on the board
of KOJ Ministries. Danny shares his story in churches and prisons worldwide. His book,
High on a Lie, may be purchased on Amazon in English and Spanish. He is the founder of
32 Issue 01 / 2023 VICTORIOUSLIVINGMAGAZINE.COM
WANT TO KNOW JESUS?
“Come to me, all you who are
weary and burdened, and I will
give you rest.” —Matthew 11:28 NIV
Jared Emerson, Artist, jaredemerson.com
Do you need rest? Peace? Freedom? Forgiveness? Restoration?
Call out to Jesus, accept Him as your Savior, and be made whole.
Pray: “Jesus, I invite You into my life. I confess that I am a sinner in
need of a Savior. Thank You for saving me from my sins and making
me whole. Thank You for laying down Your life for me so that I can
have a new life in You. I receive, by faith, this forgiveness of sin. Take
my life—my past and my future. Guide my steps and speak to my
heart, Lord. Use me, God. Amen.”
Let us know of your decision so we can help you grow in your faith.
Write to: VL Correspondence, PO Box 2751, Greenville, NC 27836.
PERHAPS AFTER READING the stories in this magazine, you’ve surrendered your life to
Jesus. Congratulations—it’s the most important decision you will ever make! But you might
be wondering, now what? Here are five ways to ensure spiritual growth. Remember, the
Christian life is a journey that brings lifelong transformation.
1. PRAY. Talk to God about everything and listen for His response. You don’t need
fancy words, just a sincere heart.
2. STUDY THE BIBLE. God’s Word contains all the instructions we need for life. Get
into a Bible study and discover new revelations daily. Free resources are on page 34.
3. GET BAPTIZED. Although baptism is not a requirement of salvation, the Bible
clearly tells us that we are to be water baptized after salvation. Baptism symbolizes
our dying to sin and being raised to a new life in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:4). Prison
restrictions may make immersion by water difficult, so get creative and let the Holy
Spirit reveal how you can take this step of obedience until immersion is possible.
4. FIND CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY. Join a local congregation of Christ-followers. If
incarceration makes attending church difficult, fellowship with other believers the
best you can. They will help you stand strong and keep you accountable.
5. TELL SOMEONE. Share your decision to follow Christ and tell them what He has
done for you. And then, tell us! We’d love to hear from you.
I’ve Accepted God’s Salvation.
Issue 01 / 2023
Victorious Living Prison
through your prison tablet at firstname.lastname@example.org. PLEASE
NOTE: We cannot receive COD emails or phone calls nor
accept stories for publication or legal documents.
Because of the Lord, generous financial partners,
and new digital opportunities, Victorious Living’s
ministries continue to expand across America.
• Did you know that VLMag is available on both sides of prison
walls? It is a gift to our ministry partners and can be delivered to
anyone in free society. Call 352-478-2098 or visit vlmag.org and
click the “give now” tab. A gift of any amount is appreciated.
• We offer inmates discipleship materials on tablet systems.
Search “Victorious Living” on the prison tablet to discover VL
broadcasts and podcasts.
• Family members of our incarcerated family and our ministry
partners can also enjoy our resources through pandoapp.tv
and VL’s online platforms like vlmag.org, Facebook,
Instagram, and YouTube. Our care team is available to pray
with family members of our inmate family by telephone.
• We encourage believers everywhere to use our materials in their
ministry. VLMag makes an incredible witnessing tool and can
be ordered in bulk copies in free society.
• We offer fellowship to inmates through personal correspon dence.
Write to us at PO Box 2751, Greenville, NC 27836, or email us
• High transitional rates of inmates and new DOC restrictions
prevent us from mailing individual subscriptions of VLMag to
inmates. However, bulk copies are provided free of charge,
with or without staples, at the request of chaplains and
program directors. Contact us at 352-478-2098 for these free
resources. Ask about our 2023–2024 VL Prison Tour too.
Below are opportunities for free Christian-based
resources for both English- and Spanish-speaking
inmates and chaplains. When you contact the
addresses below, tell our partners VL referred you.
Personal correspondence available in English and Spanish.
Bulk copies of VLMag are available for jail and prison libraries
at chaplain’s request.
PO Box 2751
Greenville, NC 27836
Reentry and employmentreadiness
job and housing referrals
for inmates in
jails and prisons
PO Box 3411
Peachtree City, GA 30269
CLI PRISON ALLIANCE
studies by mail for inmates
in jails and prisons;
free Christian books and
Bibles for libraries at
request of chaplain or
PO Box 97095
Raleigh, NC 27624
RESCUED NOT ARRESTED
Free NIV Bibles, Bible study
correspondence course, and
NIV Life Application Study Bible
upon completion of study for
inmates in jails and prisons.
PO Box 90606
Phoenix, AZ 85066
and tools to your facility
through the GL Summit
and GL Network. Write to
PO Box 3188
Barrington, IL 60011