Heading east on Interstate 4, thousands of motorists travel at warp speed during rush hour traffic. Some are bound for Eatonville, Florida, the nation's oldest black town. For two nights the town's modest population of 2,500 skyrockets as hundreds of fiery praisers flood the community. But it's not the legacy of former resident and famed African American poet Zora Neale Hurston that causes these worshipers to dash through traffic in hopes of getting a good seat at the Life Center Church. It's the powerhouse ministry of another black woman, whose preaching is stoking the flames of revival in this small town and cities across the country.
The atmosphere rings with worship as pastor Ronald Kimble mounts the pulpit. "God is raising an army of preachers who will speak His Word," the pastor says. "Stand and receive God's woman of the hour!" he shouts. Thunderous applause erupts as Juanita Bynum approaches the podium with godly confidence. It's a trait she depends on for preaching to jam-packed crowds everywhere.
"I don't care what you say with your lips, it's your obedience that pleases God," she tells some 2,000 churchgoers, some of whom arrived two hours early to avoid sitting in the church's overflow room. "He's looking for holy, God-fearing people." The audience frequently erupts into hand-clapping and rowdy praise as 40-year-old Bynum preaches a Pentecostal-style sermon. But Prophetess Bynum--as she is known in ministry circles--didn't come to this position quickly or easily. She rose to national status through the lessons of life's trials and disappointments.
Under the tutelage of her pastor, John Boyd Sr., Bynum has traveled the country preaching an in-your-face gospel that has become especially popular among black women, who relate to the difficulties she has faced in life. She often spends six to eight hours autographing Bibles, books, CDs, audiotapes and other products. Many say it's her bold preaching style that keeps huge crowds coming back for more.
"Preach, Prophetess!" shouts Leonie Chandersingh of Orlando, Florida, amid hundreds of other people who seem to be in harmony with a gospel instilled in Bynum as a child. "She is a great speaker, and she's not afraid to deal with hard, relevant issues," Chandersingh adds.
This flight-attendant-turned-zealous-preacher represents what many are calling the next generation of female preachers. Bold, black and born to preach, these women are determined to wreak havoc on the kingdom of darkness as the body of Christ enters the new millennium. Ministries Today talked with Juanita Bynum and three other female preachers on the hardships and triumphs they face as African American woman who minister the gospel.
A CALL TO PREACH
As a child growing up in Chicago, Bynum spent her early days jumping rope and playing hopscotch with other neighborhood children. Her daring confidence and charismatic personality landed her a starring role in Perry Middle School's annual play, My Fair Lady. She received rousing ovations and rave reviews for her performance while attracting attention from talent scouts. "The play became such a big deal that I was approached by talent agents to audition for television programs similar to the popular show Julia, starring Diahann Carrol," Bynum remembers.
But her mother, Katherine Bynum, had other plans for her daughter. "I said no to all of those offers," she says. Katherine opted instead to train her daughter for what she might become later in life. "I used to make her stop playing outside and come in the house and just sit still," she says. "I wanted my daughter to listen to the voice of God." Bynum says she too sensed God beckoning her to come.
"I was a peculiar child. Even then, I was aware of His call on my life," she says. But the prophetic anointing resting on her life wasn't enough to curtail her seemingly harmless childhood interest with an explicit magazine. This curiosity would later be the basis of her extremely popular book, No More Sheets, published by Pneuma Life.
It wasn't long before Bynum traded in her jump rope for more serious endeavors. Attending her denomination's high school, Saints Academy of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) in Lexington, Mississippi, Bynum began to experience character-building lessons that would one day contribute to the success of her ministry. Graduating second in her class, she says she learned the disciplines of hard work, dedication and commitment. And when her performance or behavior was less than acceptable, she faced the consequences from people who cared.
"Derrick Hutchins, who now pastors Orlando [Florida] Institutional COGIC was my campus pastor, and he had a way of rebuking me with kindness when I was wrong. In fact, he would rebuke me until it stung my ego, while at the same time it strengthened my spirit," she adds. Today, Bynum chuckles as she reminisces about her teen years at COGIC's Christian boarding school, but quickly adds that her experience left a lasting impression on her life.
Soon after graduation, she started preaching in nearby churches and at revivals. Gaining some notoriety, Bynum says she kept a little black book of the names of pastors who wanted her to speak at their churches. It was at this point in her life she experienced what she calls a "horrific" lesson in submission.
Bynum traveled to Port Huron, Michigan, to minister for pastor William T. Nichols and his wife. After she finished preaching, the pastor shocked her with a stern warning from God. She recalls Nichols looking at her and saying: "You're a very gifted young woman. But the Lord told me to tell you that five years from now you will be a 'has been' because you are relying on your gift, but your character has not been birthed yet." Startled by his comments, Bynum says Nichols gave her what he considered instructions from the Lord.
"God said if you will give me your black book and come off the evangelism field and be broken, He will anoint you to become a common household name," Nichols told her. "You will go down in history as a woman of God who helped shape the course of Christendom."
Hesitant to adhere to Nichols' stern advice, Bynum admits her reluctant act of submission introduced her to the real Juanita Bynum, who she says "wasn't pretty at all." At age 20, she never imagined her brokenness would be the result of a rough marriage ending in divorce, a short bout with anorexia nervosa, government assistance and other hardships. Bynum eventually wrote a book detailing her nine-year experience in Port Huron titled Don't Get Off the Train, also published by Pneuma Life.
BLAZING A TRAIL
A former flight attendant with Pan American Airlines, Bynum never dreamed her calling would allow her to crisscross the nation to preach the gospel, but it has. Jetting from New York to Atlanta to speak to some 52,000 people, mainly women, at T. D. Jakes' 1998 Woman, Thou Art Loosed! conference is evidence of her rise in ministry. As if to fulfill the prophetic words spoken by Nichols, Bynum is steadily becoming more popular, especially among Pentecostals and charismatics.
Some attribute her success to the 1997 release of her No More Sheets video and audiotape series. Bynum's willingness to share her story about sexual brokenness immediately catapulted her to national attention. A book version of the series takes readers through Bynum's story of sexual promiscuity and her victorious journey out of it.
But Bynum says she's not preaching to hype people. She says she has a mandate from God to help others with sound biblical teaching. To do that, she uses a burning-hot preaching style to challenge people to develop godly character and integrity.
"I've come to challenge people with the Word of God!" she blurted to the overflow crowd at the Life Center Church. "Dancing and shouting is fine, but we need His Word in us!"
"All churches, especially traditional churches, need to deal with the issues that Juanita Bynum addresses during her meetings," Chandersingh says. "God has deposited something into her spirit, and now she is impacting the body of Christ with it."
At her Pentecostal church, New Greater Bethel Ministries in Hempstead, New York, Bynum trains women for their God-given assignments in life through the church's Bethel Bible Institute. "The whole purpose of my class is to bring into balance the tongues they speak and the dance they dance with the life that they live," she told Ministries Today. Now she's influencing a virtual army of believers with her message.
Ironically, Bynum says it was the lack of female spiritual mentors in ministry that prompted her to teach other women the Word of God. "Many women have touched my life, but I have not had a woman for the sake of my ministry to train me," explains the Chicago native. To reach the masses, Bynum uses her ministry's TV program, Morning Glory. The show is seen on 15 TV stations throughout the country. Particularly interesting to viewers and conferencegoers alike is her special gift in the prophetic.
The full-time minister says this is a prophetic hour, and as a result society is more receptive to the prophetic. Yet with Y2K mania and end-time prophecy gaining momentum as the year 2000 approaches, many say the fulfillment of prophecy is critical. Bynum stresses the importance of being prepared for the onslaught of demonic forces as the return of Christ becomes more imminent.
"The enemy's attack will become so strong until we won't have the advantage of laying in churches for five days waiting to hear from God," Bynum says. "We're going to have to know what He's saying from one minute to the next."
She encourages women to be prepared for their areas of ministry. In the not-so-distant past, Bynum remembers the difficulty she faced saying yes to God's call into the prophetic ministry. "I remember the Lord dealing with me," she adds. "Every time I got on my knees I kept hearing Him say, 'Before I knew you I formed you in your mother's womb to be a prophet to the nations.'"
But it was a dream from God that seemed to solidify Bynum's decision to yield to His prompting. "The Lord began to show me bags and huge brown boxes falling from the sky," Bynum recalls. "He said to me, 'All of these will come to your address when you walk in the office of a prophet, because I've ordained these blessings for the prophetic side of you and not for the evangelist in you.'"
MINISTRY IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM
Mounting major platforms to reach the masses isn't what's most important to Bynum; it's the opportunity to touch the lives of individuals that affirms her call to ministry. The highly sought-after speaker models her ministry after the example Jesus left for the church to follow. "I really love people," she says. "My biggest joy is the individual contact I have with them. It's not about platforms; it's about people."
Many churchgoers say her straightforward message is bringing Christians and unbelievers alike to repentance. Bynum credits much of her success to biblical truths taught to her by her parents and to her pastor, John Boyd Sr. But her thirst for in-depth teaching came from another woman--Joyce Meyer.
"Joyce Meyer's ministry will always be dear to my heart because in 1988 the Lord used her to really minister to me when I was going through a tough time," she says. Bynum cautions women to be sensitive to God in order to assist hurting people and to serve as role models to other female preachers.
Following in Meyer's footsteps, Bynum hopes to launch a nationwide television ministry in an effort to impact the lives of people in a greater way.
She will speak to an estimated 80,000 women at T. D. Jakes' Woman, Thou Art Loosed! conference in Atlanta in July.
Bynum's summer is already packed full. She will preach at Rod Parsley's Dominion '99 Camp Meeting, which has an attendance of roughly 10,000, and at Essence magazine's art festival in New York. She wants her up-front message to transcend denominational, gender and especially racial barriers. Bynum's sermon to worshipers in the small town of Eatonville, Florida, was not about race or famous poets. It was about a Man who once walked the earth in humility and integrity. Her message is about Jesus, and that subject powerfully connects with people from every background. *
Valerie G. Lowe is associate editor for Ministries Today. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her 11-year-old daughter, Faith.