Latashia’s Story

When I posted to ESI two weeks ago, I promised to share with readers the story of a young woman, Latashia, whose life has been deeply impacted by Love INC and the love and effort of people in the Columbia community who, upon hearing the word, became doers of the word as well (James 1:22). These people faithfully responded to God’s call to serve others and to build His kingdom by using the “wealth” He has given them – time, skills, education, money – to bring His love alive for those who desperately needed to see Him. Like Latashia.

Latashia has a relationship with Christ today because some people who claim Him showed her the love of Christ when she thought herself unlovable. As she herself told me, “God put (these people) in my life to love on me. I never felt loved before I came to Columbia (and met these people). Now I know God loves me, because of the way His people have loved me.”

This is Latashia’s story.

Latashia’s heavy Southern accent and bright smile immediately draw you in. This young woman has been through much in her 35 years, and yet her personality is feisty and lovable, and her warm way of speaking reveals a gentle heart. Though she’s lived a hard life up until now, she wouldn’t strike you as “a hard woman.”

She would tell you it’s the way God has changed her in the last year or so that you see.

Latashia shared her life story with me. Growing up in the small town of St. Elmo, Alabama, “Tasha” (as her friends call her) was one of three children being raised by a single mother in a fairly-strict Jehovah’s Witnesses home. She regularly went to Sunday school, but viewed religion as a set of rules and regulations. She confessed, “I didn’t have a deep understanding of who God was.”

When Tasha was a young teen, she was molested by a family member, and then later by her mother’s boyfriend, who had moved in with the family. When she found the courage to tell her mother, it didn’t go well. “She didn’t believe me, and I ended up in a group home at 14 years old.” Tasha described the group home as a place where she was, “always fightin’ and scrappin’ with the other girls there.” She was desperate to get away from that environment and, at age 16, married a young man to facilitate that escape.

She soon realized that she had jumped out of one bad situation and into another. “He abused me something terrible, would tie me up and lock me in the closet for a couple days, beating me like a child.” When she reached out to her mother for help, she was told that adults didn’t run away from their problems – they worked them out. “So I went back and took the beatings for another two years,” Tasha admitted sadly. “I didn’t know anyone who had gone through a divorce. My mother was 1 of 14 children, and everyone else in her family was married.”

When she finally left her marriage at age 20, Latashia took nothing but her purse. “I still have that purse,” she said, with a fair amount of spunk.

Following this heartbreaking entrance into adulthood, Latashia entered into a series of relationships with other men, and began experimenting with drugs and alcohol. She became pregnant with her first child, then her second, but did not stay in either relationship. “I was too broken to make (them) work,” she admitted.

When Latashia found herself pregnant for a third time, she determined to finally make some changes in her life. Up until this point, she’d lived her entire life in Alabama, surrounded by drugs, alcohol and abusive men. She knew she needed to make a big change, and she realized that she needed to get away from her boyfriend, who was dealing drugs at the time, and the environment she’d been living in, if she wanted to break free of the habit herself.

“I only knew one person who lived outside of Alabama, one of my best friends from high school.” Her friend purchased her ticket, and Latashia’s life was on a trajectory of change.

Though her friend’s assistance got her out of Alabama, living together didn’t work well for the two women, and soon Latashia was looking for a place of her own in Columbia. Jobless, nearly friendless, and soon to be homeless, Latashia met the first person in Columbia whose one small act of kindness would have a big impact in her life.

“I met this woman while I was just walkin’ down the road; I don’t even know her name. I told her I was looking for a place to stay, so she told me to go to Love INC; that’s where I met Jane (Williams), Randy (Hodill) and those folks.” Latashia shook her head as she recalled how this one small act put her on such a different path. “I’ve never seen that woman since.”

Love INC is a local non-profit organization whose primary goal is to help those in the Columbia community who are most in need, by coordinating the efforts and resources of churches in the community to put their efforts to greatest use. A national organization with hundreds of local chapters, Love INC has been actively working in the Columbia area since 2008.

Latashia credits Love INC and the people she met there as changing her life. “Through these people, I began to see that God loves me, and He (began to) fill my heart – in a way the drugs couldn’t.”

As a single pregnant mother, one of the things Latashia was encouraged to do was to take Love INC’s Living Large childbirth classes, held at Calvary Baptist and taught by Edith Prince, a registered nurse and Love INC volunteer. “Miss Edith loved on me (in that class), gave me things for the baby, and then after class we’d have an all-women’s Bible study.”

When Latashia’s third baby, Payton, was born on January 8, 2010, Edith was in the delivery room with her. “Miss Edith didn’t have to do that, come into the delivery with me. But she did. She sat with me and rubbed my back. She helped me with the most basic things.” Even now, as Latashia recalled those memories, her voice was filled with wonder that anyone would do that for her.

When Latashia began telling me about the impact of another individual she met through Love INC’s Living Large Bible study, her eyes filled with tears. “Then I met Miss Verna (Harris Laboy),” Latashia said emotionally. “Miss Verna loved on me. I was never taught how to be a proper lady. But no matter what I said or what I did, she didn’t look down on me or tell me ‘You shouldn’t do that.’ She just instructed me and loved me; she was like a mother. (In the Bible study) she taught us women how to be friends. She said women shouldn’t be cattin’ and fightin’, but we should be friends.”

Latashia laughed as she told me, “I’ve never had real friends before! I was always so secretive about my life…but now I have friends.”

When asked about meeting Tasha through the Bible study, Verna explained, “It is a safe place to come, where they can reveal their innermost secrets and pain and not be criticized. (Soon they) realize that they are not alone and that God kept them for such a time as this, to be healed and delivered and set free by the Love of Christ, and to then walk in that deliverance and lead others on the journey to freedom.”

One of the biggest changes in Latashia’s life now is that she has a church home. Through her contacts at Love INC, a gentleman offered to take her to church at Redeemer Presbyterian. She laughed as she told me her trepidation at going to church that first time. “I’m used to going to black churches, and I’d never been to a Presbyterian church. But Miss Jane (Williams) encouraged me, she said, ‘Just go, Tasha.’ So I said, ‘OK, I’ll go.’”

“I was scared. I was the only black person in the church! I didn’t know what to expect. But I thought, ‘If I came this far, I can take another step.’ I went to church, and pretty soon I fell in love with God.”

Latashia’s experience with God and His church was different this time, she thinks, largely because of the way the people of God treated her and lived out their faith around her and for her.

“People spoke to me (at Redeemer). But they did more than speak; they talked to me like they’d known me their whole lives. I can’t explain it. One of the deacon’s wives came up and hugged me. I jumped…white people in Alabama don’t hug black people!” Latashia exclaimed, laughing. “But they were so nice and talked to me like they really cared about me. They treated me like a person, like they treat everybody else. I couldn’t believe it.”

So she went back to Redeemer the following week, and the next. She now attends faithfully, calling it her church home. More than that, she considers many members of Redeemer Presbyterian to be family. “I never felt like a charity case to them. I always felt they really cared. I don’t have any family up here (in Missouri), but I feel like the folks at Love INC and the folks at Redeemer are my family. They’ve accepted me the way I am, with all my faults. I love them, and they love me!”

Since arriving in Columbia nearly penniless, pregnant and alone, Latashia’s life has turned around. She now has her own apartment and a job she loves.

“I’m a caregiver, and I love it. It’s ‘me’…I never would have applied for a job like this on my own, though, because I only have a high school diploma. I didn’t think (a job like this) was in the cards for me. Miss Prince and Miss Jane encouraged me, though, and gave me the confidence to apply. My pastor, Joe Rolison, and his wife, the deacon’s wife, they all told me they thought I would be good at it. Pastor Joe and I prayed together about it…and I got the job!”

It’s only been about 18 months, but Latashia says she feels like a different person. “God’s changed me, and He’s not done with me yet. You look me up in a couple years and see how much He’s done then!”

One person simply shared with a stranger what she knew about how to find help. Another used her education as a nurse to teach young pregnant women who might not otherwise get that level of care and instruction. Another woman led a simple Bible study and sought to know and love people through their hurts. And a small church congregation took in a lonely mother of three and – through acts of encouragement and acceptance, gifts of meals and car rides and baby items – began to turn a lifetime of pain and poor choices into a future brimming with hope.

All these people did was share what they already had, recognizing that all of it was given to them by God for His purposes, not theirs.

How will you use what God has given you today, for others?

Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Luke 12:33-34
“Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Luke 4:18
(Jesus Himself said he had come to)
“Proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

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