Kedrick Nettleton, Editor
The graduating class of 2020 experienced perhaps the strangest semester in the history of American higher education due to the COVID-19 pandemic—campus shutdowns, online learning, and socially-distanced graduation ceremonies. But Abby Powell overcame more than Zoom classes to reach graduation. In fact, she’s already overcome more adversity in her short life than most will ever endure.
Abby’s story is one of despair and hope, of families torn apart and then sewn back together again. It’s an inspiring journey of reconciliation and proof of the perseverance of hope. But more than anything, it’s a testament to the life-changing power that comes with salvation in Jesus Christ.
Born in 1997 in Oklahoma City, Powell and her twin sister, Alyssa, immediately knew chaos. Six months after their birth, Abby’s biological father left home. Her earliest living memory was watching her mother chase her stepdad out of the house, knife in hand.
In 6th grade, she learned that her mother had been addicted to methamphetamines since age 15 and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“It was really just like that growing up,” Abby said. “Things would be normal for a short time, everything would feel really joyful and happy, and then all of a sudden my mom would divorce someone or break up with somebody.”
Learning about her mother’s addiction—and meeting her biological father the same year—put Abby over the edge. She soon became addicted to various things herself—at only 11 years old—and started fighting in school. In the 7th grade, she got kicked out.
Despite this, Abby’s teachers didn’t regard her as a failure. In fact, many of them saw the spark of something great. “All of my teachers saw potential in me,” she said. “I hated that. Why are you guys seeing potential in me, but nobody that I want to see potential in me is seeing that?”
Made for This
It was in this constant cycle of fear, anger, and despair that Abby first attended a youth event at church—not so much because she was interested in the church part of it, but for the free pizza. She ended up leaving with something she’d never experienced before: security.
“It was the first time I just got to be a kid,” Abby said. “I didn’t have to worry about the adults in the building. I didn’t have to wonder if I was going to eat at the next meal.”
She was intrigued enough to keep attending Wednesday night services over the next few months. When a friend invited her to church camp, she took the leap and attended. On June 6, 2012, during an altar call at Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center, Abby gave her life to Christ.
“I just had the sense that this was what I was made for,” she said. “I felt so full, and I wasn’t afraid, and I was so ready to go back home and tell my mom and my sister what I had experienced.”
But sharing the gospel with her family wasn’t easy. Alyssa thought her sister’s transformation was strange. Her mother felt threatened. A few months later, Mom was arrested for methamphetamines, and because she’d used the family car and home as collateral, both were lost. Adrift again, Abby and Alyssa moved in with their older sister and her husband.
Things only got worse from there, and there’s no easy way to write what happened next. Abby’s brother-in-law began to take an unhealthy interest in her, and eventually sexually abused her. Rather than try to make the situation right, Abby’s sister blamed her, kicking her out of the house. In December of 2012, Abby had no place to turn.
She’s blunt about the effect this experience had on her life. “I became homeless,” she said. “I’ve never felt more defeated in my life.”
Light in the Darkest Place
From December to March—the coldest months of the year—she squatted in a home without water, heat, or food, surrounded by cockroaches and abandoned by her family. Abby felt let down. Wasn’t her life with Jesus supposed to be easier? “God, I gave my life to you. I thought that things were going to get better. And every time I think something can’t get worse, it just happens.”
During this time, she took comfort in Ephesians 6. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
“I felt like I was getting bullied and picked on,” she said. “I felt like all humans were against me… [that verse] gave me the reminder of the strength and the armor that I find in God, in His goodness, and in prayer. It reminded me that He had something better in store for me and for my family.”
“FOR OUR STRUGGLE IS NOT AGAINST FLESH AND BLOOD, BUT AGAINST THE RULERS, AGAINST THE AUTHORITIES, AGAINST THE POWERS OF THIS DARK WORLD AND AGAINST THE SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.” EPHESIANS 6
When the system became aware about Abby and Alyssa’s situation, they were moved to Bartlesville to be with their father—despite Abby’s unease about the situation. “I didn’t want to live with my dad, but I didn’t want to leave my twin,” she said.
Things became better for a while, and Abby and her sister even reconnected with their mother when she moved into The Lighthouse Mission in Bartlesville. Soon a dramatic transformation began to occur in their mother’s life, culminating when she gave her own life to the Lord in 2013. Abby was understandably skeptical at first.
“I didn’t want anything to do with my mom at that point. I felt so betrayed by her,” she said. “When [she] told me she had been saved, I didn’t believe her.”
It impacted Alyssa, though, and she moved into The Lighthouse. Soon, she found Jesus, too. They were both baptized in July. And when Abby’s father abruptly packed up and left, she moved in with her mom once again.
It’s here that things truly began to look up for the family. Both Abby’s mother and Alyssa grew in their faith, moving out of the mission and into a home together. Abby describes one vivid day when God tugged on her heart. She was in the kitchen, her sister praying on one side of the house and her mother singing worship songs on the other.
“I realized—this was the better that God was talking about,” she said. “This is what He’s been doing all along. This is what it was all for.”
A New Chapter
Abby began volunteering at On the Rock Ministries. The role soon progressed to a staff position, and Abby started meeting older believers. Two, in particular—young women from OKWU—made an impact.
“They both became my mentors and really challenged me in my faith. They brought me to this next level. And it was because of meeting them that
I decided I wanted to go to OKWU… I wanted to learn what they had been learning while they were here,” she said.
Abby absorbed her classes in the School of Ministry and Christian Thought well, representing the department as chapel speaker her senior year. During the virtual 2020 graduation ceremony, Abby delivered the class prayer, and she and her sister rang Sam’s Bell— an honor reserved for those who exemplify the university’s spirit.
“One of the best things about being a professor is to watch your students grow over time,” Dr. Josh McNall, professor of pastoral theology, said. “From her first year, Abby has always been humble, bright, and eager to learn. But in her last two years especially, she has stepped into her gifts and calling with the confidence that shows what God has done in her.”
There’s plenty of joy in Abby’s life now. Her sister is married, her relationship with her mother is good, and she recently got engaged. Now she’s hoping to pursue a graduate degree in marriage and family counseling to bring her own experience to bear on families like her own. She has no illusions about who is responsible for the drastic turnaround in her family.
“God took a woman who had been addicted to methamphetamines for 35 years,” Abby said. “She tried forever to get clean. And since she surrendered her life to Jesus, she’s been clean for seven years, and she has no intention of going back.”
And no matter what the future holds, Abby knows exactly what her life message is. “Life—and life in abundance—is truly found in Jesus. And I can’t wait to be a catalyst used by God to help other families find that too.”
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