A lasting love

Saturday, June 9, 2007
Sherry Williams handed out food items Thursday with a Hands of Hope team in south Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)
Sherry Williams talked Tuesday about her transition from drugs to church with the support offered to her at Faith Tabernacle UPC. (Kit Doyle)

Sherry Williams of Fruitland is here today because Tim and Kathy Lee aren't the "love 'em and leave 'em" types.

Williams began using drugs and drinking when she was 12. Before that she was a straight-A student, the daughter of a Chaffee, Mo., police officer. When she was 12, her family moved to Cape Girardeau where she fell in with the wrong crowd.

"I quit school in the ninth grade," she said. "I was emancipated at 15. I kept running away from home. I would sneak out at night and lie about where I was going. My parents would drop me off at school and watch me go in the front door. I'd sneak out the back."

When she was older she hooked up with the man who fathered her daughter. He was a heavy drinker. The relationship soured. She tried everything there was to try: acid, methamphetamine, cocaine.

Through the booze and drugs, Williams knew she had problems. She lost her job. She went to AA, but couldn't commit to it. She tried a drug-treatment program in Hayti, Mo., she said, but was kicked out of it on the third day for smoking pot on the premises. She moved into a dank, dark basement apartment.

"I wanted it dark," she said. "I wanted to kill myself. I tried to overdose several times. I put my hands through windows."

In 2004, her grandparents in Indiana met a traveling Pentecostal evangelist, the Rev. Tim Lee. They learned that he was soon to take on his own congregation in Missouri, and were surprised to learn it would be Faith Tabernacle in Cape Girardeau. They told him about Williams and how they had been trying to help her live a better life and asked him to look in on her.

Vans from Faith Tabernacle would stop at Williams' basement apartment and pick up her daughter to take her to church. Williams, never much of a churchgoer, stayed away. Lee had been in Cape only a day or two when he visited her.

Being a friend

"He showed up at my door July 3, three years ago," Williams recalled. "Before, no one came to our door. They picked up kids and dropped them off."

Lee and his wife, Kathy, visited often.

"She was in a lot of trouble," Lee recalled. "She was depressed. She lived in a basement that was dark. She didn't like to come outside."

At the Lees' urging, Williams went to church one Sunday. She didn't like it and left. But Lee kept stopping by.

"I was just trying to be a friend to her and her family," he said.

A friend was what she needed.

"He would never say 'You need to get to church,'" Williams said. "He always said 'We want to make sure you're fine. Is there anything you need? Remember, our doors are always open for you.' He never pushed."

When she moved out of the basement to a mobile home in Fruitland, she hadn't even moved in fully when a neighbor came by and told her "There was a preacher here looking for you."

Williams reluctantly began a Bible study with Lee.

"It was a 12-week study, and it took me two years," she said.

She went to see the movie "The Passion of the Christ" and said, "That threw me for a loop. I started asking questions and thinking maybe I didn't want to kill myself anymore. Maybe I want to live my life for my daughter. But I still wanted to drink and do drugs."

She showed up for church on Easter Sunday 2004, and there was a drama about the Passion. So much began coming together for her, and she realized she needed to quit the drugs and drinking.

The Lees were there to guide her through it.

"When you get somebody who really wants to change, you know you have the answer for them," he said.

When she quit using and drinking, her old friends abandoned her. But her newfound friends, the Lees, were right there.

"Somebody showed me they care what I do," she said. "They could have walked away and not cared."

She cleaned up her life, got a job at Long John Silver's, and began going to Faith Tabernacle regularly, coming in on her days off to clean the church. She also became certified to lead a group through ACTS (Alcohol Chemical Treatment Series), a 12-week faith-based program. She took responsibility for her life. She says she still apologizes to her mother. She and her husband Guy now work together to provide a stable home for her 13-year-old daughter, Amanda.

Hands of Hope

And she volunteers regularly with David and Carolyn Whitmore of Faith Tabernacle, who go to the Good Hope area of town with their program, Hands of Hope, and feed the hungry. While feeding them, Williams talks to them about her own drug history and invites them to church.

"I go right up to them," she said. "It doesn't intimidate me at all. I understand; they know that. I have no problem saying I have been there."

She said she follows Lee's lead in reaching out. She doesn't push and especially doesn't judge. Lee did not judge her.

"It's not my place to judge anyone," she said. "That's God's job. Brother Lee says you cannot tell someone they're going to go to hell. It's God's place."

Lee says Williams' turnaround is "awesome."

"I don't think she wold be here today if somebody didn't intervene," he said.

If he hadn't met her grandparents when he was an evangelist, things might have turned out so differently. There was a reason for him to seek his own congregation.

"Evangelists love them and leave them," he said. "Here I get to keep loving them."

And Williams is beginning anew her Bible study.

"I don't remember much," she said. "The first time I did it I was still on drugs and alcohol. This is a new beginning."

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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