Today, Donna speaks to us about her jail and prison ministry, and God delivering her from drug abuse and fulfilling her heart’s desire to be a mother.
Tell us a bit about how you grew up and your childhood: I was born in a small town in Tennessee to Christian parents. I had a great childhood. I lived in one of those neighborhoods where all the neighbor kids went home when the street lights came on. I have one brother who is six years younger than me, and we fought like cats and dogs when we were kids. My parents made sure we were in church every time the doors were open, and I’m so grateful for that. I took piano lessons when I was younger, and played piano in church for many years. I accepted Christ as my Savior at age nine, and always had a strong desire to tell others about Jesus. I would witness to anyone who would listen to me on the school playground.
Inspiring biblical passage of the moment: “I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come.” Ephesians 1:18-21 (NLT)
This passage has always been one of my favorites. So often, we forget Who we belong to, and Whose power lives within us. He is far above anything in this world, and He loves us dearly! Only through His power can we be, and do, all He has called us to do.
“So often, we forget Who we belong to, and Whose power lives within us.”
Profession: I have had all kinds of professions—or titles—over the years. I started out as a cosmetologist. I’ve also worked as a secretary, a professional photographer, and a videographer. But, I consider my callings to be altogether different from my former professions. My favorite calling would have to be that of a wife and mom.
God called me into ministry eleven years ago, and I picked up the title of Licensed Assemblies of God Evangelist, Women’s Minister, and Keynote Speaker. Soon after that I became a jail and prison minister. Then, about three years ago, God opened the door for me to become a traditionally published author—with my third book coming out in October—so now I wear that hat as well.
“My favorite calling would have to be that of a wife and mom.”
If you wrote a memoir, what would the title be? Some might consider my first book to be a type of memoir. Beauty From Ashes: My Story of Grace, contains my testimony as well as the story of how God called me into ministry.
When did you first encounter God and how did you encounter Him? I first encountered God as a young girl at the age of nine. I was a good girl growing up, but after two divorces by the age of twenty-three, I became mad at God. I felt that I had tried my best to live my life for Him, and because of my divorces, He had let me down. I made a pretty big mess of my life after that.
The more I allowed the enemy of my soul to convince me it was all God’s fault, the more I began to drift away from my first love—Jesus. Pretty soon, I became addicted to drugs and alcohol and found myself spiraling out of control. A couple of years later, I met another man and married him. At that time, he was an agnostic. Morally, he was a better person than I was. He didn’t drink, use drugs or party. But, he didn’t care if I did and that caused many problems for us.
The first three years of our marriage was very rocky, and I assumed it would end in divorce just like my first two marriages. But, my husband—Bryan—stood beside me. He was stubborn and now, after twenty-two years of marriage, I realize he’s not going anywhere. But three years into our marriage my doctor told me I wouldn’t be able to have children. I was devastated. I was already extremely depressed because of the alcohol and drug abuse, but to find out I wouldn’t be able to conceive seemed to be the icing on the cake.
I ended up attempting suicide. But, God miraculously spared me! About two months later, I discovered I was pregnant. I couldn’t believe it. That is when the Holy Spirit began to deal with me. The night I found out I was pregnant, I was lying in bed thinking about how much I already loved this child. That’s when He gently whispered to me, “You are going to be responsible for someone’s life other than your own now. What will that look like?”
It shook me to the core. I thought back to how my mom made sure I was in church every time the doors were open. I took a good look at my life in its current state. I thought to myself, “Because my mom took me to church and raised me to know God, I know there is always a place I can run for help—the foot of the cross! I want my children to have that same knowledge.”
The next morning when I woke up, I asked Bryan if he would want to go to church with me on Sunday. He said, “Sure!” I couldn’t believe it was that easy.
I wanted to go to a church where no one knew me or knew anything about me, so we chose a non-denominational church in another town. When the service started and the pastor started preaching, it was as if he was reading my mail. Tears rolled down my face as conviction tore at my heart strings. I couldn’t wait for the sermon to end and for the altar call to be given. Bryan and I both ran to the altar when the pastor gave the invitation.
As the tears flowed down my cheeks like rivers, I asked God to please forgive me for turning my back on Him, and I asked Him to come back into my heart and fill the void that I had been trying to fill with everything the enemy offered me. I had immediate peace, and I never used drugs or alcohol again. Instantly delivered! We soon found a wonderful church and settled in.
God blessed us with two beautiful daughters, two years apart. Then He moved us from Tennessee to Iowa. I did not want to move to Iowa, but God had a bigger plan in store than I could ever have imagined. It was in Iowa that God called me into ministry and miraculously confirmed that call over and over again. After our nine year season in Iowa, God moved us back to Tennessee where we now reside. And the adventure is ongoing!
“I had immediate peace, and I never used drugs or alcohol again. Instantly delivered!”
How has your relationship with Him changed you? I think the words of this old song say it best:
If you could see where Jesus brought me from to where I am today, then you would know the reason why I love Him so.
You can take this world, its wealth and riches; I don’t need earth’s fame. It’s my desire to live for Him.
What has helped you grow spiritually in this season? Spending time in His presence and in His Word is a necessity. But one of my favorite things to do to keep me on track and help me monitor my spiritual growth is keeping an up to date prayer journal. I write in it just like I’m writing an open letter to Jesus. It helps me not only to concentrate without getting distracted by housework and other things, but I can look back and see where God has answered my prayers in the past, and it encourages me.
Sometimes we pray for things, and then we totally forget about it. Then, weeks later, when we look back at what we have prayed for, we realize that God answered those prayers even when we were unaware of it. I think it helps me to be more thankful for all of my blessings.
Just read/currently reading (and what has it taught you?): I just finished reading, Unmasking the Masquerade, by Rob Robison. I originally picked it up because the title is very similar to the title I chose for my upcoming book. But, I found it to be a very interesting read. It points out how we often give Satan too much credit, and we often believe he is more powerful than he actually is.
I am currently reading Slaying Dragons by Evangelist Daniel Kolenda. I’ve been so inspired by the ministry of Reinhard Bonnke and Daniel Kolenda, and I have enjoyed many of their books. I was also honored to have Daniel write the Foreword for my upcoming book. His book, Slaying Dragons, is packed full of truth and powerful insights. I am enjoying it immensely.
Top three essentials: My Bible, my prayer journal, and my favorite mechanical pencil—seriously, you can’t live without a great writing pencil.
Hobby: I enjoy camping with my family, photography, graphic design, reading, of course, and writing.
Top three practical tips for staying spiritually strong: 1. Read and study the Bible. 2. Pray in the Spirit, daily. 3. Love others as you love yourself.
Favorite person in scripture? I have so many favorites, and I know most women choose Esther. She has always been one of my favorites because of her bravery. But, I can relate to Peter so much. He turned his back on Jesus and denied Him three times. Still, Jesus did not give up on Peter, and He used him in powerful ways. One of my favorite examples is what happened on The Day of Pentecost. Emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter stood up and led many people to Christ.
What do you want people to learn about God when they look at you? I hope people look at me and realize that if God could rescue me, turn my life around, and use me for His glory, then He can do it for anyone. It doesn’t matter how bad you have messed up. You can’t blow it too bad for Jesus to fix it. His love is never-ending, His grace is sufficient, and His mercies are new every morning!
How do you engage with your community? I have a very fruitful jail and prison ministry. I come into contact with many in the community by ministering in local jails. I also encourage and train others to become jail ministers as well. We are currently serving in four local jails, as well as the Tennessee State Women’s Prison.
A goal you have? My number one goal is to lead as many people as I can to Jesus, and help them make it to heaven, so we can worship Him together forever.
For more Donna:
Facebook: Donna Sparks and Author Donna
LinkedIn: Donna Sparks
Donna’s books can be found on Amazon and at all major booksellers.
Until next time, keep witnessing!