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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

More Than a Survivor

By John W. Kennedy
Apr. 27, 2014

Jennifer Faye Smith seems remarkably upbeat for someone who has been used and abused most of her life.

Her polite interactions, buoyant sense of humor, and ever-present toothy smile belie past episodes of surviving drug addiction, homelessness, prostitution, incarceration and rape.

Growing up as the youngest of seven children in a physically abusive and alcohol-dominated home, Jennifer herself turned into a full-blown addict at 11 — drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, eating psychedelic mushrooms, snorting cocaine, and ingesting LSD.

By 13, Jennifer entered the foster-care system and her future looked grim. At 15, she dropped out of school after eighth grade — she had flunked twice because of extended behavioral suspensions. She moved in with a man twice her age, and her drug abuse worsened.

At 19, Smith married someone 18 years older, a man she had known for a month. She gave birth to a healthy son, even though she partied on crystal meth throughout her pregnancy. The marriage quickly ended in divorce.

Again looking for a father figure, Smith married a second husband, one 15 years her senior. That relationship ended at 24. Smith also relinquished her 4-year-old son after her first husband sued for custody.

“I didn’t show up in court because I was high,” she recalls.

For the next eight years, Smith lived on the streets of Gainesville, Fla., as a crack addict and prostitute. She slept in tents, the woods, on park benches, and in jail cells. Her lengthy rap sheet included dozens of arrests for possession of cocaine, writing bad checks, prostitution, possession of crack, and theft.

Although days or weeks in jail provided shelter and meals, Smith didn’t view being locked up as relief.

“Addicts would rather be on the streets killing themselves than having a roof over their head and food to eat,” Smith says. She sometimes went a week without eating, and her skeletal 5-foot, 4-inch frame shrank to 80 pounds.

A “sugar daddy” took care of her while she worked the streets, but treated her harshly otherwise, commonly hitting her in the head with his fist or a clothes iron. The man locked her in a closet, prompting the 21-year addict to crave drugs.

While confined, Smith contemplated all the times relatives and judges told her she never would amount to anything. She thought about her failed marriages, and how much of her life she had wasted.

Smith called out to a God she didn’t believe in, saying she wanted to die.

She says she heard God say, Finally I can use you.  

“I was sleeping with a dozen people a day and doing whatever I could for one hit of crack, but God heard me when I cried out,” Smith says. “God delivered me instantly.”

Soon afterwards, her biological sister urged Smith to attend The Family Church of Gainesville, where she heard a salvation sermon about forsaking a sinful lifestyle. She ran to the altar to solidify her commitment to the Lord.

After the service, Smith made her way to the information booth and connected with Patsy Cook Whitaker, minister of family services at the megachurch. Smith wore a prostitute’s outfit, had sores on her face and rotting teeth.

“She looked emaciated,” Whitaker recalls. “I took one look at her and I wanted to cry because of the toll drugs had taken. I saw someone the enemy had lied to for so long that he was running her life. I was drawn to her even then. I saw a beautiful person deep down.”

Whitaker contends the church is meant for such people.

“Church is not just a gathering place for people to eat and talk and see how everybody else is dressed,” Whitaker says. “Church should be like a hospital.”

For the next year, Whitaker often counseled Smith in her office. Early in the mentoring process, Whitaker informed Smith that she needed to renounce her drug- and sex-addicted past. She told Smith to write down those with whom she should sever intertwining “soul ties.”

Smith brought a list comprised of 732 people, although she admitted she didn’t know the names of most of them. Whitaker prayed in authority over the list.

“God broke those bondages in the Spirit,” Whitaker says. “Jennifer was so happy to be set free.”

“Anytime I called, she was there for me,” Smith says of Whitaker. “She saved my life.”

Members of a small group at church discipled Smith, nursing her back to health and teaching her how to behave like a lady. She read the Bible voraciously and stopped her illicit behaviors cold turkey.

Whitaker helped Smith find an apartment and a job at a giant home improvement retailer, where she advanced to a supervisory training role within a year.

“I saw a metamorphosis from an almost dead moth into a beautiful butterfly, right in front of me,” Whitaker says.

After years of separation, Smith reconnected with her mother, Pearl — who had beaten her as a child. Pearl persuaded Smith to contact her son, Christopher Dye, whom Smith hadn’t talked to for six years. Smith’s first husband, Jerry Dye, agreed to allow a visit when Smith explained her newfound Christian faith.

On a subsequent visit to Gainesville, where Smith attended First Assembly of God at the time, the then 14-year-old Christopher accepted Jesus as Lord and was filled with the Holy Spirit.

In 2007, Jerry Dye died of liver cancer, and Smith moved to Kentucky to further heal her relationship with her son. Smith found a job as an administrative assistant in the AG district office and secured her ministerial credentials.

Although hesitant at first, Christopher slowly regained trust in his once-negligent mother. Dye says he wouldn’t have moved back in with his mom if his dad hadn’t died.

“The bond between us is stronger,” Dye says. “I’m excited she was able to turn herself around; I don’t know if I could make it today without her.”

Dye, now 23, is the first in Smith’s family not only to graduate from college (this spring with a music performance degree from the University of Louisville) but also from high school.

Smith is convinced her son has a special calling on his life because she never conceived another baby.

“God intended to give me this son,” Smith says. “Before I got pregnant with my son, I should have had 20 others, and 100 more after him, but it never happened. It’s only the grace of God.”

Smith has been single her 12 years as a Christian, and she believes she has been able to draw closer to the Lord without a husband.

She has been called back to the streets of Gainesville from which God delivered her. Initially she ministered to the poor, homeless and prostitutes through a ministry she started called Alabaster Box and Downtown Ministries. Smith turned that ministry over to others in January.

In 2011, she began to develop a women’s program for a Gainesville organization called House of Hope, which ministers to those whose lives have been devastated by crime, drugs and alcohol.

House of Hope provides a nurturing Christ-centered environment for ex-offenders to be assimilated back into society. In the transition, the ministry assists in basic food needs, shelter, spiritual development, employment opportunities, and life-skills training.

Smith travels and speaks at churches about the program. She also mentors six women living in a house on the ministry site. Smith spends at least an hour a week mentoring each resident individually. She also shares meals with the women and is involved in community activities with them.

Last year, Smith held her bedridden mother’s hand when Pearl Adams Gallion died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Smith earlier led Adams to salvation in Jesus, and Adams relinquished bitterness over the beatings she had endured from her former husband.

Smith also has restored her relationship with her dad, the man who spent multiple stints in jail because of violence against his wife. Smith says her father now has a gentle spirit.

Just how much Smith’s life has changed is evidenced by her role in mothering two children. In February Smith finalized the adoptions of two children, 9-year-old Tristan and 7-year-old Shelby. They have lived with her for more than a year.

Amazingly, despite her traumatic past Smith is the picture of health.

“God healed my teeth and my physical scars — and emotional ones, too,” Smith says. “He transformed me inside and out. He lifted me from the ash heap. Without Jesus Christ, we all are in the ash heap.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.


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