Tiffany Conn, Crawfordville United Methodist Church – In November of last year the outreach committee began searching for different area mission opportunities for CUMC to support financially. We attended an open house for the Radical Restoration Ministries. We were impressed by what we saw the Lord doing through this ministry and began supporting them financially monthly. This past June, as we explored opportunities to be the church in our community, we wanted to become involved on a deeper level with these women. “We exist to make committed disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Things started slowly, we took items they needed to the house and used clothes for their Thrift Store. Soon bonds were formed and we shared meals together listening to their testimonies and hearing about how they were being the hands and feet of Jesus in Panacea. Next thing we knew they were helping us with our Back to School outreach and we were fixtures at their monthly outreach in Panacea. Their Praise team recently shared with us at a Sunday service and two of our members danced right alongside of them. Amazingly, when the music went out that Sunday as they danced the congregation joined in song and not a beat was missed and not an eye was dry. The more we are with these women the more we feel close to God and to His purpose for our lives. The way they share the gospel of Jesus with reckless abandon and love is inspiring and infectious. Together, we have shared tears of brokenness and joyful celebrations. Together we have been vulnerable to them with our testimonies and brokenness. Together God has fit us for service alongside of each other.
In the book, The Next Christian, Gabe Lyons states, “as Christians we believe that following Jesus means restoring the broken.” Radical Restoration is not only restoring the broken that come through their program, they have restored those in their community, including many in Crawfordville United Methodist Church. Reaching out to these broken women has taught us no one is too far from God’s grace and that all it takes is a softened heart and willing hands to be a part of God’s kingdom right here in Wakulla County. These women who were once, drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, unfit mothers and members of the world’s marginalized were restored and made new in Jesus before our eyes. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. (2 Timothy 7:8)
Amie Tyson Newbern – Hello, my name is Amie. I was the first woman to ever go thru Radical Restoration Ministries. I was a crack addict and alcoholic for 13 years. I met Pastor Dawn Gaskin in 2004, in Volusia County Jail. I went to prison with her. I knew about Radical Restoration Ministries when it was just a seed that Jesus had planted in Dawn’s mind. When I was released Pastor Dawn picked me up and brought me home with her, you see in March of 2009, she stepped out in faith and without actually having a place for me to go, brought me home with her . At that time she already had another woman staying with her and I actually had to share a room with her! I say that to say this. I have watched this Ministry and Pastor Dawn grow from rags to riches in HIS GLORY!!!! Since my release this program has so many more classes, women , resources, and outreach not just for the women of the program ,but the people of the community! Today thanks to Jesus my Lord and Savior, Pastor Dawn Gaskin (my best friend , spiritual mother ,and teacher) and Radical Restoration Ministries…I am currently 5 years and 4 months sober, have quit smoking after 21 years, married , have custody of my son after 9 years, plus 2 step sons, I have found my Dad after 31 years, plus a brother and a sister I never knew about, recently my husband and I bought our first home and are receiving a 5 year scholarship for Bible College thru this ministry .I must say I have been RADICALLY RESTORED!!!!!!!! I am above and beyond grateful.
Angela – My name is Angela and I am 34 years old. I am now a graduate of Radical Restoration Ministries. I have been a client and now I have become staff. God has completely changed my life. I was addicted to crack for 12 years. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was ready to surrender my life to Jesus. I saw that the choices that I had made for my life were not wise. I found that my ways got me down the road to destruction every time. So when I came to Radical Restoration over a year ago, I tried something different. I tried Jesus. I have a love for Jesus that no one can take away from me. My entire life I was looking to fill a void in my life. Now I know that void was Jesus. He has become my everything. He alone is my rock and my salvation. I love Him and I want to help other women see that there is hope, and with God ALL things are possible. At one point I did not believe that I would ever be able to quit smoking cigarettes or crack. But God delivered me and set me free. Just know if He did it for me He can do it for you. God Bless You.
Lana Grimes – My name is Lana and I’m 44 years old. For 25 years I was a severe alcoholic and crack addict. Five of those years I lived homeless. I lived in a tent in the natural forest. I ate out of dumpsters, panhandled for money to support my addictions and what little food I ate. One morning I woke up in my tent and I decided that I didn’t want to live anymore. So I got a rope from my tent and threw it over a tree so I could hang myself. At that time what I called a voice in my head kept telling me to call my daughter. After a long time of arguing with myself and God, I walked three miles to the nearest store to call my daughter. After our conversation of my suicide attempt, she came and got me. I was placed in Apalachee Mental Health Center. For several days, I made many phone calls to try and get help for myself, but I kept getting turned down, because I was homeless had no money, insurance, etc. At one point I had decided that there was no help for me, but again that voice in my head kept saying make one more call. Well I did and thank God for it. That last call was to Pastor Dawn Gaskin of Radical Restoration Ministries. On March 29, 2010 Pastor Dawn came and got me from the mental health center. April 5, 2010 I turned my life over to the Lord. April 25, 2010 I was baptized. Today is March 29, 2011. I am very lucky to still be here with Pastor Dawn, my sisters in Christ at Radical Restoration Ministries. The Lord continues to help me grow daily. I didn’t know it then but now I know that the voice in my head was Jesus leading his lost sheep home.
Alexis – Being one of four sisters and brothers and a daughter of a pediatric oral surgeon, you would have thought life would have been grand. I lived through the total opposite. From the time I was seven years old one of the most influential and important people in my life told me she hated me, told me I was “nothing.” I was a loser, stupid and ugly. I could do nothing right and I was hopeless. Although I tried, nothing seemed to please her, so I became what was spoken over my life.
By the time I was thirteen I knew how to sell drugs and give away my body to anyone who wanted it. I had nothing else to give and felt like I was nothing. So I began to take what I thought I deserved or was entitled to in a violent way. I needed more money to buy more friends so I could be cooler than everyone else and feel important. I learned to rob people to get enough money to do just that. At the age of seventeen, I was shot at seventeen times over someone else’s material things. Materialism became my addiction, along with sex, drugs and alcohol. Life had spiraled out of control and by the time I was twenty-six I ended up with a charge of second degree murder and a ten year prison sentence. I lost my family, my children and after that I really did not care who I hurt. Life was over!
Then I had an encounter with God. He touched my life and I was never the same. God took out His toolbox during those ten years of prison and fixed some of those things that were broken inside of me. God changed my heart and my mind in a way I never thought was possible. He prepared me for what was to happen next. I was released from prison and entered the discipleship program, Radical Restoration. It wasn’t until after I came to Radical Restoration Ministries though that true, deeply rooted inner healing took place! I AM FREE . . “The Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is LIBERTY.” Pastor Dawn, thank you for loving me like only a mother could. I am so proud of you and I LOVE YOU!!!!!!
Belinda – As far back as I can remember my parents were addicted to drugs and alcohol. My sisters and I spent many days without running water or electricity. We would search dumpsters for food and clothing. By the age of eight I had been in and out of mental institutions and tried over and over again to commit suicide. By the age of eleven, I was arrested for breaking and entering for sleeping in an abandoned trailer and I was off to juvenile. I went and then was released to a program for juvenile girls. By the age of twelve, I quit school and started selling my body for drugs. It made no difference what it was – ecstasy, pills or crack – it made no difference. I just needed to self-medicate and take away the pain.
By the age of sixteen, I was a full-fledged junkie in search of whatever I could put in my arm. It wasn’t long before I was in prison in Georgia as a youth offender. I was released from there and about a year later I was right back as a youth offender in Florida. In and out, back and forth; that was my life. I was hopeless and uneducated. I was caught up in a life of homosexuality, drugs, and fighting. I thought my life could never change; I was hopeless and uneducated.
While doing my last bid in prison, I had a true encounter with GOD. He changed my life, broke my chains of years of addiction, incest, homosexuality, and suicidal thoughts, and replaced them all with the TRUE LOVE OF JESUS CHRIST. I then went on to pursue my education while being incarcerated and got my high school diploma. Sitting in a church service one day, I listened as Pastor Dawn shared her testimony and I knew I was supposed to be with her when I was released. She had what I needed.
In 2014, I was released from prison and came directly to Radical Restoration Ministries where I began to find healing through living a surrendered life in Jesus Christ. I have learned what it means to be a woman of excellence and to talk in a life pleasing unto the Lord. I am in awe of my Heavenly Father and the love that He has given as He has transformed my life. He has given me a vision to go to Africa to minister to children all over; especially those that don’t have food or water and are less fortunate. I know what it’s like to go hungry.
Since leaving prison, I have earned my first job which started out as being a maid in a resort. Recently I was promoted to activities director and since then I have received an employee of the month award. On April 12, 2015 my Dad came to church with me and came to the altar and gave his life to Christ. He is clean and sober now after thirty years of bondage to drugs and alcohol. I have a beautiful relationship with him and have had the opportunity to minister to him and help him heal from the pain of his past.
I am so grateful that God has given me Pastor Dawn as a beautiful Mother in Christ to be a living example for me of how to have a real loving relationship with Jesus. All that it takes is one REAL ENCOUNTER WITH GOD TO CHANGE YOUR WORLD. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Melanie – From what I remember, beginning at the age of four, I was being sold and trafficked without my family knowing. My dad was a drug addict and I don’t remember my mom being around much. I remember needles being stuck in my feet and always feeling dizzy. I never felt alive. My life was completely hidden behind closed doors.
My parents divorced and I would go from place to place. My dad was homeless and lived in a car and my Mom lived with my grandma. So I lived in both worlds. Having everything and then having nothing. My mom, brother, and I moved into an apartment and that’s when I began to try drugs on my own. I met a boyfriend who I fell in love with but he was a member of the gang, “The Bloods.” Living a street life was not for me, but captivity had made me a slave and I felt hopeless.
I tried my first suicide attempt with overdosing on pills leaving me breathless on a hospital bed. I woke up and when I realized I was still living, I began to cut my arms to feel pain to help release the emotional pain that was unbearable.
At fifteen, I moved in with my aunt and uncle. I had nightmares and would wet the bed. I felt like a dirty piece of trash that should always be dirty and covered in death. I was put in different behavioral centers around Florida, re-diagnosed and put on different medications. Eventually my aunt and uncle no longer had custody of me and I was put in foster care because of my mental status. On paper I was considered an orphan. I moved to a shelter where a lady brought me to church. That’s where I first met Pastor Dawn. I have been with here for two years and have graduated with my Advanced Associate’s Degree in Bible College.
God has pulled me out of the pits of hell and placed me under His Wing where I continue to dwell in His presence. I am now twenty-one years old and going to Daytona State University and continuing Bible College. I can proudly say that I was trapped but now I’m free. I was dead but now I am alive and only God can get the glory out of my life. “Greater is He that is in me than He that is in the world.” 1 John 4:4
Christine – I am forty-four years old and have been set free from a fifteen year addiction to alcohol and crack through the Power of Jesus. I had a normal childhood and grew up in Western Pennsylvania. It was very isolated and rural. In 2003 I decided to move to St. Petersburg, Florida to find a better job and something different for my life. I got a job at a restaurant and did good for about a year. But through loneliness and poor choices with men, I began using crack and alcohol to make me feel better and to be able to be with the men. By 2005 I was a full blown crack addict and living with a man who also had a crack addiction.
I was sent to prison for the first time in 2005 and was at the Lowell Correctional Institution. I had a thirteen month sentence for possession and prostitution. I got out with nowhere to go but back to the streets. I was living in hotels, letting drug dealers own me and sell me; prostituting all day, every day for my next hit of crack. I was working with everything I had for the enemy. In 2007 I was sent back to prison for twenty-eight months with charges of sales and possession. This time I was sent to Gadsden where I went through RTU (Residential Treatment Unit). It was a prison drug rehab program. I got out, but still had no plan. I had a desire to change but no desire for Jesus, at that time. I wasn’t ready to surrender. In 2010, I fell and fell hard, flat on my face. I was hopeless, homeless and with nothing to live for – I couldn’t afford a hotel room, clothing or food because I spent every dime I made from prostituting on vodka and crack.
I heard I had a warrant out for my arrest again, so I found a cop and turned myself in – I was tired and ready to surrender. I was sent to Gadsden for eighteen months. This time I went into the faith based dorm and truly surrendered my life to Jesus, was baptized in the Holy Spirit and received my prayer language. On April 18, 2012 I wasn’t Stewart – R39796 anymore. I was free, a new creation. I went to Radical Restoration Ministries upon my release and my life is changed forever. In God’s Presence is where my change happened and continues to happen. My life is amazing. I work for a mortgage company. I love my job. I am trusted and depended on; people love me now. They don’t run away from me and best of all, I love myself. All this is only possible through God’s never ending love and sacrifice for me. I have been out of prison for three years now. I work for God. Remember, “Nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37
Christine is now the Executive Director of the Indiana Dream Centerfor women.
Lauren – I grew up in a Christian family. Since the day I was born, I was in church. I attended every service, knew every hymn and could quote scripture before I was old enough to read and write. My upbringing was strict, controlled and disciplined. Although my parents loved me very much, our home and hearts were ruled by religion. Throughout the first eighteen years of my life, I did everything I could to live up to the standard of by what my church and my parents taught me about being a “good” Christian. For years I was plagued by a self-defeating attitude and an unhealthy, imbalanced view of myself and my ability to please God. During my freshman year at college, I was drugged, beaten and raped at a party. That night I lost more than my virginity, I lost my faith in the church, my trust in God and the little bit of self-worth that I had left. After so many years of feeling inadequate in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of God, and too ashamed and scared to confide in my family, I kept quiet about what happened. I allowed seeds of anger, hatred, depression, and loneliness to take root in my heart, and eventually turned to drugs to numb the constant pain and the quiet chaos I was living in every day.
Over the course of ten years, I went from being a “good Christian girl” to an IV drug user living in my car, cooking methamphetamine, and strung out on pain pills. I abandoned my two small children and severed all ties with my family. On October 24, 2013, I was arrested for the first time and charged with possession of meth. I was sentenced to thirteen months DOC. During my time in prison, I reconnected with my children and family. I reached out to God again and began reading my Bible and attending church services. I even became a part of the faith-based dorm program.
I left prison confident that I could live clean and sober and three weeks after my release, I relapsed. On July 6, 2015, I reached out to Pastor Dawn. I had been up for eight days on meth and heroine. I was living in a pay-by-the-week hotel with no job, no money and no hope. I had sold everything I owned, including my body, so my boyfriend and I could get high. I was desperate for a change, desperate for a life and willing to do whatever it took to break the chains that held me in bondage.
Pastor Dawn told me I could come and detox at Radical Restoration Ministries. I hung up the phone, went into my hotel room and stuck a needle in my arm for the very last time. As I packed my bags to leave, my then boyfriend stood over me picking bugs out of my hair that weren’t actually there.
Within seconds of meeting Pastor Dawn, I knew I wanted whatever she had and soon realized exactly what I was missing all those years. It was the all-consuming, awe-inspiring, unconditional love of Jesus Christ. She had an intimate relationship with Jesus and all I had ever had was intimidating religion. I now experience and understand the love Jesus and now I have surrendered my life to Christ Jesus, my Lord and Savior. No meeting, no rehab, and no length of incarceration could have changed me – Jesus is my only hope for true freedom for we all fall short of the Glory of God. The Word tells us that whom the son sets free is free indeed, and indeed I have been set FREE! What could one REAL encounter with God do for you?
Susan – I grew up in a good family, a family that loved me. My parents divorced when I was young and I lived with my mother and two sisters. I was the youngest of three. My mother worked a lot to take care of us girls. I grew up very fast. I was self-conscience and never felt like I fit in. At a very young age, I was seeking approval from boys. I lost my virginity at fourteen and by sixteen I had an abortion. I became very rebellious, skipping school, and hanging out with a bad crowd that smoked cigarettes and pot, drank, and huffed gas. You name it; I did it anything to make me feel good because inside I just felt empty.
By the time I was twenty-one, I had two children. I ended up in one abusive relationship after another. I turned to a destructive marriage and an opiate addiction. In 1995, I was pregnant with my third child. I was still using opiates throughout my pregnancy and taking it into my veins. My son was born with lung disease and eighteen days after he was born, I held him in my arms when he died. The guilt and shame were too much. I failed my other two children and now this. The devil had already consumed so much from my life but it gets worse. I began a crack addiction. Doing both crack and injecting opiates, I had a $500 to $1,000 a day habit. I began prostituting to support my habit. I just didn’t care, always hoping the next john or next hit would take me out. I ended up in a very physical and mentally abusive relationship and began self-harming. The first time I cut myself was to get him to stop beating on me. I finally found the release I was looking for and I could finally manifest on the outside what I was feeling on the inside.
After many rehabs and mental institutions and being incarcerated four times and still feeling the same way, I met Pastor Dawn at a revival in 2013 at Florida Women’s Reception Center. I had heard of her story and then God placed this woman of strong faith in my path. The seed had been planted because her story was so much like my own. I knew if He did that in her life He would do it in mine. Two and a half years later, I was released into her discipleship program. In just a short time, God started doing amazing things in my life. He is breaking down walls and years of hurt, building me up in Him and in faith. It has all become so clear with fasting and prayer that I have salvation, and the Presence of Jesus Christ has overwhelmed me.
Jessica – I am twenty-nine years old. At the age of twelve, I began smoking pot to fit in with my older siblings and friends. I had everything a child could ever want growing up from material items to a loving family, yet I still felt incomplete. For the next 17 years, I continued to use drugs. I would try to stay sober and tried many rehabs. None were successful for very long. To everyone around me I had a great life and should have been so happy, yet I felt so miserable inside. I was angry at myself for not being happy. My addiction began to spiral out of control. I was taking deadly amounts of heroin, Xanax, and pain pills daily. I overdosed three times within a month and a half, waking up strapped to a hospital bed or a respirator in intensive care. I was told I shouldn’t have survived. I know God had to have a purpose for my life.
Not a week later Pastor Dawn had come to Indiana to open up a Dream Center. The ladies from my church set up a meeting for me to meet with her. Moments after meeting with her, I knew I wanted what she had. She asked me if I wanted to go home with her and I quickly said yes. I flew home to Florida with her the next day. God has done amazing things in my life in just a month. He has set me free from a seventeen year drug addiction. I no longer have to feel angry and hopeless searching for something to fill my empty places. My heart is filled with Jesus and I can’t wait to see what He has planned for my life. I thank GOD every day for saving my life! And now I’m the Assistant Director at the Indiana Dream Center.
Hollie – In 2008, after twenty-five years of being in some form of addiction, I was a single mother of two, pregnant, homeless, jobless, and still searching. I had been partially raised by my grandparents because my mother was a severe drug addict and unable to be a mother. When I was with my grandparents I was surrounded by love and life was filled with God. I went to church, participated in church activities, church camp, choir, but then would have to go home. I lived between two homes, one filled with light and one with darkness. I always ended up in the darkness. When my mother committed suicide, I was fourteen and my life became completely worthless.
During those twenty-five years, I would search for God but it was something I could never really reach or sustain. In 2008, when I was at yet another bottom, I did the only thing I knew and one Sunday morning, I went to church. I had my third child, got a job, a home, a car; all I thought I needed but yet I was still empty. One morning, as I was crying out to God to save me and thinking I cannot be the only one like this, He told me how much He loved me, that I was not alone and that one day He would use me to help others. I hung on to that with all my life because I had not hit my bottom yet.
In 2009 I was about to lose my job and my apartment. I had wrecked my car and my two older children were not living with me. Again, I lay on the floor in an almost comatose, overdose state while my two year old lay in the other room. I did the only thing I knew how to do and I cried out to God. I ended up in rehab and my son in foster care. I spent the next year rebuilding my life with God not cleaning up another mess I had made. God revealed to me how important it was to be discipled and that I had to also let Him do His work in me through others.
During that year, I was also completing my case plan to get my son out of foster care. I had met Dawn while in rehab as she was starting Radical Restoration Ministries. After completing six months in rehab, I entered the ministry to fulfill another three month outpatient program to satisfy part of my case plan. Having someone disciple me, especially someone who had a similar past was a huge factor in my success. I learned how to have a relationship with my Savior not religion or a few goose bump Sundays. Six years later, Jesus has given me everything I have ever wanted, needed, searched for, thought I wanted and has completely filled me with the greatest joy. I am now raising my son in a ministry home discipling other women. To God be the glory, He left the ninety-nine to come after one, and He will do the same for you! And I’m now the Executive Director of Radical Restoration Ministries in Tallahassee, FL.
Gabriell – Coming from a life of brokenness, hurt and abuse, I tried to fill that void with using drugs and becoming bitter. I had no hope; I was lost in a world that I knew nothing about and it kept me bound for twenty years. I ended up in prison leaving four beautiful young children behind. During my time in incarceration, I felt hopeless and discouraged and then the unthinkable happened. I had to endure the fact that my youngest son was involved in a robbery at seventeen years old. Not just a robbery but one that left him paralyzed. He is a quadriplegic who is serving two life sentences. That deepened my pain to a depth that was indescribable.
Then the unimaginable happened, something that I would not wish on my enemy, my oldest son died. I did not want to live after that. I wanted to die and wished it had been me and not him. At that time I cried out to God and questioned Him, “Why?” and “What?”
And that’s when I knew I had only two choices, I either was going to die or surrender my life to Him. I chose to live and that’s when I heard about a lady named, Pastor Dawn Knighton. She had a home for women called Radical Restoration. I will never forget the day that Pastor Dawn came and opened up her heart and her home to me. What a blessing it was. She poured out all the love and knowledge of Jesus that she had into me and I absorbed it like a sponge. After have to deal with the devastation of almost losing a child to death and then losing him to the prison system and then actually dealing with the death of my son, I stayed on my face before God because I could not handle it in my own strength. But God . . . Through Christ, I gained peace; He has comforted my heart and given me the strength to get through each day. Some days are harder than others but the Lord always sustains me with that extra love because that’s just who He is.
Today my children and I are in a healthy, loving relationship that’s full of support and encouragement. God has given me exactly what He said He would give. Today I am encouraged to continue on living this second chance of life giving God all the glory and praise because He saw fit to save me, so I will bless Him continuously. I am a graduate of cosmetology school, graduate of Bible Seminary College and a supervisor on my job. Coming to the ministry has totally changed my life. I have a new love for Jesus Christ, a new way of thinking and a loving relationship with my children. I will never go back. Thank you Pastor Dawn.
“God is no respecter of persons. What He’s done for me and what He has done in the lives of these women, He wants to do for you. There is hope in Jesus Christ. I pray for a new day to dawn in your life.” – Pastor Dawn