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'My Story Is a Story of Restoration'

Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page GZ08

Jericho City of Praise was packed with more than 6,000 women last month as evangelist Paula White talked about growing up poor in a Mount Airy trailer park and the trauma of being an abused foster child unable to cope with her father's suicide.

"I was just a messed-up Mississippi girl living in a trailer," said White, 38, a graduate of Seneca Valley High School in Germantown who today pastors with her husband, Randy, the 18,000-member Without Walls International Church in Tampa.

Paula White preached during the "God's Leading Ladies" conference last month at Jericho City of Praise in Landover. (Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)

White's daily television program is seen on nine networks, including Black Entertainment Television, Court TV and the Trinity Broadcast Network. In addition, she has ministered to celebrities such as former baseball great Darryl Strawberry and pop singer Michael Jackson.

White preached a sermon titled "Giving Birth to Your Dream" during the Landover stop of Bishop T.D. Jakes's "God's Leading Ladies" conference Nov. 20. Just before she preached, she sat down for an interview with Washington Post staff writer Hamil R. Harris.

QWhat is it about your message that has enabled you to cross racial lines? You are a daughter of Mississippi, but your message resonates in New York City.

A The message is very real and relatable because of my life. God chose our footsteps. There are certain things that I would never repeat or would [want] anybody else to go through as well, but in some ways I am grateful because it has made me who I am.

I understand what it is to have pain. I understand that out of that pain can come power. Many people know that my story is a story of restoration. My father committed suicide when I was 5 years old. I was sexually and physically abused from 6 to 13, and I never heard the gospel until I was 18 years old. When I heard the gospel my life was radically changed.

Why have you been effective?

I never in my life have studied for a sermon, I just have the practice of every morning waking up and getting into the word of God because it is a lifeline to me, and out of those messages and out of those answers I share the overflow that has so radically changed me, healed me and brought me peace, contentment, identity and so many other things.

How did you get together with Bishop Jakes, and how important is it to have a conference specifically focused on women?

Men often have coaches, they understand the concept in business, sports and every different arena, but women have not. I believe that Bishop Jakes has put together a team of voices to empower us. Christ died to give us an abundant life, but that life is not just to make it to heaven, but how do I live victoriously? How do I handle my relationships, my work? How do I invest? How do I own my own home.

What church did you attend once you gave your life to Christ?

We were part of the National Church of God in Fort Washington under T.L. Lowery. We were actually out in Gaithersburg-Damascus area in a little tiny country church.

When did you think about coming back to the Washington area? When did you join the tour?

This is home for me. That's why I was so excited to come back here. What the 'God's Leading Ladies' tour does is put the tools in your hands. Bishop Jakes is my spiritual father. He helped impart tools to me to guide me, to give me wisdom and mentorship on the right pathway to choose.

How did you first come to this area?

I was born in Mississippi, but after my father killed himself we lived all over the place. My mother remarried when I was 9. He was a military man; that's how I ended up in D.C. He was stationed at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. I graduated from Seneca Valley High School in 1984.

Did you ever dream of being a preacher?

My husband was from five generations of preachers, and I was from five generations of heathens. Everyone told me that you were the apple of your daddy's eyes, but I thought, "If you loved me so much then why did you abandon me?"

I went on a journey for love, but those validations were not fulfilled until I heard the gospel. That changed my life. I didn't have to perform anymore to be loved.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company