Island Gardenia

Hands make heart shape

Abby lived alone and worked as a waitress when Randy, an old acquaintance walked into the restaurant for dinner. Abby had dated Randy where they were teenagers. The absence of a wedding band gave Abby hope the relationship could be renewed. Her hope dissolved into disappointment as she watched Randy leave the restaurant. She mumbled to a nearby co-worker, “All the crazy people ask me out and there goes a decent single man who didn’t even ask for my phone number.” Three months later, Randy returned to the restaurant for dinner and asked Abby for a date.

Two years later they married. After their marriage, Abby had two desires. She wanted to adopt a child and change her career. She longed to work four days a week, no weekends, in a job that did not keep her on her feet all day and did not require her to work with the public.

The day after she expressed those desire to Randy her pastor called.  He offered her a Monday through Thursday desk job doing bookkeeping. Abby decided to seek God’s will before she accepted the position. Instead of watching TV in her free time, she read the Bible and prayed for direction. She was drawn to the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17. God had sent Elijah to hide from King Ahab at the Cherith brook. The ravens brought Elijah food, and he drank from the brook until it dried up, but he didn’t leave until God spoke to him again.

One night, as Abby read about fasting in the book of Matthew, she heard God say, “Fast and pray for three days, and then I will talk to you again.” At the end of the fast, Abby heard God say, “I brought Elijah to the brook, and he didn’t leave until I told him to leave. The restaurant is your mission field, and I have not called you to leave.” Abby abandoned thoughts of leaving the restaurant but didn’t pursue adoption.

island-gardina-useTwo years later, walked by a co-worker that smelled heavenly. “It’s Island Gardenia Cologne, said the co-worker. Three months later, Abby spotted a bottle of the cologne while she shopped and tossed it in her basket. “When I got ready for work, I sprayed a lot of Island Gardenia on,” said Abby. “Randy told me I had used too much. The smell was overpowering. The minute I walked into the restaurant I asked my co-workers if I smelled overpowering. There was a new guy working at the salad bar named Travis. He said, ‘Yeah, you smell strong, I can smell you from here.’”

As Abby chatted with a co-worker about his son’s upcoming birthday, Travis joined the conversation.

“I have a little boy,” said Travis.

“Oh, you have a little boy too,” said Abby.

“Yeah, and I have a girlfriend who is six months pregnant.”

“Are you keeping the baby?” Abby was amazed that he she had asked such a personal question of someone she barely knew, but Travis didn’t hesitate to answer.

“No, we are putting the baby up for adoption.”

“I’ve always wanted to adopt,” said Abby.

She had the next two weeks off from work, but, Travis didn’t forget their conversation. When she returned to work, he asked her if she was serious about adopting a baby.

Travis and his girlfriend Clair had just moved to New Orleans from North Dakota. Before they left, Candice sought an abortion but was denied. She considered traveling to California for a late term abortion, but a Christian woman told them, “There is a family this child is meant to be with. If you keep the child God will lead you to that family.” Instead of going to California, they moved into an apartment complex hear the restaurant. Unable to find work he walked to the restaurant to apply for work and was hired on the spot. “I’ve worked for this company twenty-one years and no one was ever hired on the spot,” said Abby. “Even if they knew they were going to hire you, you were always called in for a second interview.”

Abby wanted to start the adoption procedure, but Randy had reservations. He was home alone watching a television preacher, but the enormous responsibility of adopting a child preoccupied his thoughts drowning out the preacher’s message. Suddenly, the volume on the TV increased and Randy heard the preacher say, “God has adopted us.” That simple phrase opened a floodgate of love in Randy’s heart for an unborn child who needed a family.

“Travis and Clair refused to take a penny for expenses,” said Abby. “They wanted the child to be a gift to a couple who could give him a better life than they were able to provide. But we still had to pay a lawyer to make the adoption legal. Every attorney I called quoted me a figure over $7,000. We couldn’t afford that, and I didn’t want to take out a loan.”

Abby was at the end of her rope when one of her regular customers offered to contact an attorney he knew. Hoping his friendship would elicit a cheaper price, she asked him to call. Much to Abby’s disappointment, the attorney quoted his friend $7,300. She was about to abandon the idea of adopting a child when she heard God say, “I’ll will make a way where there is no way.”

“You’re gonna have to,” Abby mumbled.

The next shift was short a waitress, so Abby worked late. While she was taking the order from her next customer, she commented, “It’s a shame that if you don’t have money, you can’t do anything. Even give love to a child in need.”

“Have you prayed about it?” asked the customer.

“Yes,” said Abby.

“God will make a way where there is no way,” the customer confidently affirmed.

“He’s gonna have to,” Abby mumbled.

That evening, Randy’s brother called. While Randy chatted with his brother, Abby felt a strong impression to ask her brother-in-law for the phone number of the attorney he had used when he adopted his daughter. Abby called the attorney and he quoted her $1,000. “That was the exact amount of money we had in our savings account,” said Abby.

Abby was at conference in Florida when she received a phone call that Clair was in labor. They immediately returned to New Orleans. “Bradley was born at 11:30 p.m. that night. Randy and I arrived at 1 a.m. We were present for all the firsts – first bath, first bottle, and first diaper. Clair didn’t want to see the baby. The nurses debated where I would feed Bradley until he was discharged. Finally, the head nurse looked up and said, ‘We’ll give you a room.’”

Abby and Randy followed the head nurse to room 413. “My birthday is April 13,” said Abby. As I sat in that room and fed my son, I heard God say, ‘This is a gift that I am giving to you.’”

Three months later, Travis called Abby with devastating news. Clair wanted her baby. They only had legal custody of Bradley, and Abby knew that Clair would win a court battle. “I can’t explain the emotions that raged within me,” said Abby. “I told Travis, she wasn’t getting her baby without a fight.” Abby was so distraught she starting cleaning and old refrigerator. While she cleaned and cried, she felt Clair’s pain and heard God say, “Give the baby back.”

“I called Randy. He told me if I was sure God had spoken to me, we have to obey him,” said Abby. “Then I called Clair and told her to come get her baby. Her reaction wasn’t what I expect. Clair said, ‘If out of love you are willing to give my son back to me, I know that I know his home is with you.’”

“Travis wrote in a letter to his baby, ‘If your mother hand not worn Island Gardenia Cologne, I never would have talked to her.’ Travis and Clair had bought the same cologne the night before and he recognized the smell when I walked in,” said Abby. “Every Mother’s Day, I buy another bottle of Island Gardenia to remember how God brought Bradley into my life.”


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A Prophet Among Us

Pastor Wanda Brown

Pastor Wanda Brown

I was surfing the internet in search of a church to visit for my First Time Guest series when I stumbled upon Flames of Fire Church, Pastor Wanda Brown. I first encountered her ministry in the early 1990’s. I never forgot Wanda because she spoke a prophecy to me that God fulfilled. At the conclusion of her message, she asked me and Rod, my husband, to come to the altar. God wanted us to know that changes were coming. We should not be worried or concerned because the changes were from him.

I don’t trust every “word from God” spoken to me, but neither do I take them lightly. On the way, out I purchased a copy of the service so could write down what she said and discuss it with my husband. We concluded God might move us to another church or Rod might be finished with Children’s ministry. Dramatic change came to our church. When our much loved pastor resigned, every ministry leader in the church left except Rod. Some people were shaken by the change. We were not. God already told us to expect change. Rod was not finished working with children, but I was. Our new pastor asked me to teach an adult class, which I agreed to do temporarily until they found a replacement teacher. I taught for seven years and wrote enough material for seven books.

I visited Flames of Fire thinking I would be a complete stranger. Instead, I encountered more than a few friends including the guest speaker, whose son had attended Rod’s children church. That kind of spoiled the first time guest experience. The article was abandoned to write a profile about Pastor Wanda.

Wanda Brown has vivid memories of an emotional experience at her Grandfather’s church. She joined others who flocked to the altar with tears pouring down their faces to cry out for forgiveness. God accepted her plea and baptized her in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. While her grandfather influenced her family in spiritual matters they failed to fully embrace their commitment to God. Her father ran from the call of God on his life.

Several years after Wanda’s salvation her family moved to Covington where she had another life changing experience with God. At twelve years of age he called Wanda to preach the gospel. She kept that experience in her heart. If she had any doubts, God dispelled them when the pastor confirmed what she already knew. One Sunday, he called her before the church and announced, “God has called Wanda and separated her to the ministry.” He then had the elders lay hands on her and pray.

About the time Wanda received her calling, her father hurt his back. After three surgeries that left them in a financial struggle the doctors delivered bad news. He would be paralyzed from the waist down. In desperation her father cried out to God promising to answer the call of God on his life if God would make him whole. God answered his prayer. Her father walked out of the hospital and pursued ministerial credentials. He worked as a pastor for several years before reneging on his promise.

Wanda’s experiences with God were rich but her father’s rebellion made life difficult for her family. Her church compounded the problem by failing to offer assistance in her family’s time of need. She often walked two miles to church alone. No one offered to give her a ride. She heard testimonies about the devil making life miserable as though God were not able to help. A pastor claimed God wanted him to drive an old unreliable car to keep him humble. Wanda concluded she was already living a hard life and did not want to serve a God who either would or could not help her.

At a young age Wanda married Leland, a man who loved pool halls with little interest in spiritual things. But she could not escape the memories of God’s presence. She had two small children when she returned to church without her husband. Fearful God would remind her of the calling to ministry, she chose a church that did not believe in the gifts of the Spirit.

Wanda could not hide from God’s Spirit. One evening, a friend Leland worked with came to their house to share the gospel. As he spoke to her husband about God, the Holy Spirit tugged at her heart. Shortly after that experience, a man distributed copies of The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson in her neighborhood. Reading about Wilkerson’s ministry reminded her of her calling to preach. When Leland’s friend invited them to a revival at his church, they accepted.  During the revival Wanda renewed her commitment to obey God. Leland also accepted Christ and never set foot in a pool hall again.

The revival birthed in Wanda a hunger to pray. Every afternoon she laid her young children down for a nap and went to another room to pray in the Spirit until they awoke.  She eventually made friends with a woman who called herself an intercessor. They held prayer meetings two, sometimes three, times a week. During the day they met at Wanda’s and on Friday nights at the intercessors house.

The prayer meetings had grown until her house could barely hold the attendees. Wanda felt the nudge of God’s Spirit to teach. With her pastor’s approval she started a Wednesday morning Bible study. Many people were saved and filled with God’s Spirit. Her church also benefited when some of the new converts joined her church.

During this season of her life Wanda became aware of a prophetic gift for which there was little teaching in her church. The misunderstood gift resulted in tremendous persecution as Wanda sought to obey God. When she entered full time ministry as an evangelist the prophetic anointing grew stronger. Wanda prayed God would keep her from error and sought him for answers about the misunderstood spiritual gift. She found answers to her questions and confirmation in He Gave Gifts Unto Men by Kenneth Hagin; a scriptural explanation of the apostle, prophet and pastor as God intended them to function in the church.

By the late 1980’s Wanda found herself in a dry place. National scandals in her fellowship had tragic effects on her family. The spiritual battles of full time ministry had taken a toll. She stepped back from ministry and for a season attended church sporadically until God led her to join a church in New Orleans.

The pastor asked her to conduct a Wednesday morning Bible study. God renewed her ministry and placed a new calling on her life – pastor. The calling came with a warning.  If she refused the call her ministry would be complete and he would bring her home. Wanda, now in her 50’s, wasn’t ready to die.

The summer of 2004, she reluctantly started a prayer meeting in the home of a friend with four people. Soon people flocked to the meetings. God had already given her the name of the Church, Flames of Fire, which they planted in January 2005.

Her small congregation rented a room in a hotel on Airline Highway for $700 a month. She was praying before a Sunday morning service when the Lord told her to run a thirty second commercial on Channel 20 telling people about the church. The commercial raised their monthly expenses to $1000. Miraculously she never missed a payment. August 2005, Hurricane Katrina scattered her congregation and FEMA took over the motel leaving them without a meeting place.

The members that returned after the hurricane resumed meeting in a home.  Within two weeks they received an offer to rent a suite in a strip mall. Her new monthly expenses with a smaller congregation rose to $1300.

While praying before a service God told her to produce a 30 minute program and air it on Channel 20 during prime time. This time she argued with God. “I don’t know anything about television.”

“I do,” he replied. “I am leading you. Listen to me and do exactly what I tell you to do.”

Wanda called the station for cost and available time slots. They had an opening on Sunday evening at 5 pm. They also had an opening at 6 am that would have been $200 cheaper. With the 30 minute program in prime time her expenses would be in excess of $2000 monthly. A Fact she pointed out to God, but could not change his mind.

To hold the prime spot the station gave them a deadline to be ready with the first program. Wanda needed a little over $10,000 to acquire the necessary equipment. Within days a member of her church received an extra unexpected bonus at her job. She wrote a check for $10,000 and handed it to Wanda.

Flames of Fire Church and its television ministry have been in operation for eleven years. Flames of Fire Broadcast recently expanded its viewership when Alpha and Omega broadcasting kazq32.1 Albuquerque invited Wanda to join its program schedule. “Not one time have I struggled to pay the rent, the expenses of the television ministry or fund anything in ministry. If God has told you to do something, he pays his bills. You’ve got to take a step of faith, and I took a big step of faith,” said Wanda.

The heartbeat of her ministry is found in a chorus an African missionary taught her early in her ministry.

O to be his hand extended

Reaching out to the oppressed

Let me touch him

Let me touch Jesus

So that others will know and be blessed

“I just to be his hand extended,” said Wanda. “Not trying to build my ministry, but build his ministry. I don’t care if anybody ever really knows who I am. I just want to be his hand extended so lives can be blessed, changed, delivered and set free by that precious wonderful name of Jesus.”


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