From darkness, there comes light. Brenda Hill shares her story of tragedy to triumph. Through misfortune and heartbreak, Brenda was able to turn her life around and bring light back into the lives of many.This is Women of Diversity
I was born to a thirteen-year-old teenager in the little town of Coushatta, an hour outside Shreveport, Louisiana. My grandmother insisted that her daughter, my mother, should keep me as her child. My mother resented the fact that she had to miss out on all the fun activities for a normal teenager, and she took that frustration out on me, her baby girl. We lived most of my life in section eight project base housing.
My father was not present in those formative years of my childhood because he had moved to Shreveport. My first encounter with him was at age ten; this encounter marked my life with incredible hope, as my greatest desire had only been to know him. Shortly after meeting my father, my mother was expecting her second child with another man. My life changed swiftly with the birth of my sister. I constantly saw my mother show my sibling more affection. My sister was allowed many privileges that I was never permitted to enjoy. I would often be dropped off at my grandmother’s home while this newly formed family would go on outings without me. In my mind, I would question what was wrong with me and why I could never be a part of the family excursions.
I have always looked for a place to belong. I had once believed I had found it with my father when I finally met him. Those first few years, he gave me stability and security. He was well educated and engaged, and he had the appearance of a good life with his new girlfriend. He worked for a local news station and was very competent at his job. I later discovered that the only reason he had permitted me and his other child to be part of his life once again was at the request of this new lady of his.
I had a great rapport with my father as we would talk often. But, after some time, he betrayed that trust; a few years into the relationship, he began to touch me in sexually inappropriate ways. I was conflicted because I did not want to lose my best friend, but I didn’t want to be subject to his inappropriate behavior any longer. It ripped something out of me that day when I had to finally muster up enough courage to tell someone the truth. The person I confided in, his girlfriend, turned on me by blaming me for their break-up. The mini refuge that was my relation with my father’s house had crumbled, and with that all my dreams of ever being loved died.
I married young. I married the first man who promised to take care of me and love me. At age eighteen, we moved to Germany, where he was stationed for military service. Two months after our arrival, he began to physically abuse me. Although this wasn’t the first time to be abused for me, it was the first time of this type. One particular night in Germany was different. He held me down to the floor, choking me, and I thought I wasn’t going to make it out alive. Once I was able to get up, I put on a robe and house slippers, and I ran out of the house and into the snow to get help. I trudged through the harsh conditions to the barracks and, although the officials were informed of the distressing situation, I had to make my way back to home alone in the snow only to be beaten again for leaving. He apologized the following morning and vowed never to act like that ever again. His promise was short lived as the abuse started up again and continued for many more years. We moved from Germany to Colorado with much of the same behavior. I would look at my bruises, telling myself, “So you have to take a few beatings, it’s better than the projects.” We returned to Shreveport where he became a policeman. The abuse continued until he was fired from the Sheriff’s Department. During this time, I reached out to a pastor of the local church, where I had been attending, as my final cry for help. This Pastor convinced me that my husband was no good for me and helped me to divorce him.
Shortly after this I began lying, cheating, and stealing as a cover up for the pain and the shame. I now found my self arrested for the first time. Who was I becoming?
The next man who wanted to marry me seemed more promising. He was a preacher’s son. He had a lot of materialistic items. More than I had ever had before. I thought that perhaps owning expensive possessions and dressing the right way, people would like me and want to be around me. I had a void of love in my heart… I just wanted to be loved. I was constantly accumulating and purchasing only the best, till I ran out of money. When I thought we lost everything, I stole his mother’s credit card and charged a large sum of money. His father found out and, of course, all the blame was put on me. One night in services, I was asked to stand up in front of the entire congregation. I was excommunicated from the church. I was sent to jail for other fraudulent issues that I did not do. I bounded out and ran away in fear.
I became very fearful of the lies this family had told about me. I felt like the whole world was against me. I was scared that I would be serving a long sentence away from my kids. I fled to Seattle, taking my two children with me. In Seattle, I found a church called Christian Faith Center, where Casey Treat was the pastor. I began to attend regularly until, one day, I felt my heart softening and I made a commitment to follow Jesus. No one knew where I was, including my own family. On the roads there, though, I had no money. One day, a truck driver from Texas came along and gave me gas and food for my kids.
I made the long journey back to Dallas where I transferred there as a Regional Property Manager, a career I had landed in Seattle. It was here in Texas that, while attending The Potters House, my understanding of my infinite value to God was being restored. I knew I could no longer live the façade of a life I had. Although I was now finally making money and had a huge home in Frisco, Texas, the material possessions were not enough.
I later returned to Louisiana to face the music. I landed a job as a Hotel Manager to make a fresh start. I was sent to South Carolina for job training, and this is where I would meet my last and best husband. By this time, I had grown in my walk in the Lord and had given up any idea of sex before marriage. In South Carolina for training as a manager, Jimmie Hill and I spent time together. Jimmie was a welder from Louisiana, and we found that we had a lot in common. When I saw that he was a true man of God, I felt safe to get to know Jimmie as a friend. We continued our communication via emails, calls, and texts until I was sentenced to prison.
Even though I had told him about my past, I was ashamed to call him once sentenced. When I did decide to call him to tell him what had transpired, it had been over a year since he heard from me. He stated: “That day I heard your voice on the phone, I didn’t care where you had been. I was just glad to hear from you again.” We picked up our friendship right where it started over a year ago, and a year later we were married.
While in prison, my heart became filled with compassion for the other inmates. Prison was my bible school, this is where God trained me up in His word and healed my many inner wounds. Behind prison bars, I began to see a vison that extended far beyond my own limitations. I noticed that all the women in prison were a lot like me. They were there because they wanted to be loved. They committed these crimes for people to feel loved because they thought it was the only way. Moreover, this cycle would continue for these ladies because they had nowhere to go after leaving prison. They would just go right back where they came from and end up committing the same crimes. I decided when I got out, I needed to give these women a place to go. A fresh start. This was the birth of Woman of Diversity! I was determined to do everything in my power to help these women get back on their feet. Instead of looking for a building, I invited these women to live at my home. My mentor, Jeannie, my husband, and myself would not only give them counsel, but also help them in practical ways to get their lives in order. It still didn’t feel like enough, so Jimmie and I got a home that was large enough to house sixteen women. It came to the city officials notice when we weren’t zoned correctly. We would either have to go through a lengthy process of rezoning or move entirely. Jokingly, we thought, “We just need a hotel!” Through God and a series of connections, we found a man who was willing to invest in this vision and a month later we had our hotel.
The Women of Diversity is now located in the old Budget Inn off Industrial Drive. The hotel can sleep up to 330 guests, but 165 of the rooms are in a deplorable state. A lot of renovations need to be made. But as the building is transformed, the people come flooding in. The vision grew to also include men and children. There are currently about forty-eight women, ten men and four children on site, and several who visit their parents on the weekend, but the numbers grow week by week. Our waiting list is over 375 as of today. We are working hard to get the rest of our rooms ready, but we need a lot of help.
The men and woman come from correctional facilities, the streets, half way houses, etc. They are required to pass weekly drug tests after admittance, as well as agree to the restrictions placed on them during their stay at the facility. Each resident follows a strict conduct of rules, has certain duties to perform, and is not allowed to leave the premise the first few weeks of introduction into the program. Along with the weekly drug tests, we also hold life skill classes and bible studies. This entire project has been solely for God, as we haven’t had any funding from the federal government nor from the local churches in the area. In fact, we have only had one church donate $500.00. Many are now joining forces to help get rooms set up as their trust is growing in the validity of the program. But, still, God has provided for us to maintain the utilities, food, and hygiene of our residents monthly through much prayer.
We recently acquired a thrift store that is flourishing with the sale of clothes, house hold items, books, electronics, and jewelry. Many of the residents say that they have finally found a place that they can call home. There are daily testimonies of lives being radically transformed. They are learning not only how to live free of substance, but also how not to make their lifestyles simply a cycle of governmental assistance.
We have done so much, but still have so much more to improve in our mission. We believe this is only the beginning of the work God will have us do in Shreveport. There are so many women and men out there, like me, who desire to live differently but just do not know how to carry it out. We need your support in Shreveport/ Bossier: we are located at 4300 Industrial Drive, Bossier City, LA 71112, formerly the old Budget-Tel. Stop by, visit with the residents, and see how we can help build the lives of our community together.
Sponsor a room at WODla.org
For more information on helping us get a room ready for a new resident, please call 318-746-8181