Therese Warrick has been on many roads in her life. Starting in Belize, she began a physical and spiritual journey that took her through abuse, injury and shame until she found personal renewal and a new home in Lexington.
Warrick has only recently begun telling her story, including sharing it with her 20-year-old daughter for the first time.
She tells of her conversion starting with the "road that I've been on, to the road to freedom." She has created a non-profit organization, Sisters Road to Freedom, which is dedicated to providing encouragement and inspiration for "sisters, through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, enabling sisters to become virtuous women of God."
Warrick's story began about 20 years ago, at age 18. She was in a relationship and had a child with a man who was abusive to her.
"One Sunday, we were arguing, all of a sudden, he threw rubbing alcohol on me and took a lighter and lit it," Warrick said. "I ran out of the house, and still have the physical scars of that burn. I was on fire. I did not tell my parents the truth, did not tell the doctors the truth. Usually no paramedics in Belize will come. You take yourself to the hospital."
She called a taxi, went to the hospital and told them she had been burned by accident. In Belize, "we don't talk about it until you're nearly beaten to death. I was so ashamed to tell my family and lived with the shame for years, until I finally followed and believed what God was telling me. He has redeemed me."
In 1997, after the abusive relationship had ended, Warrick left Belize City, the largest city in the Central American country. She came to the United States, got married, and she studied and graduated from Spalding University in Louisville and the University of Cincinnati, earning a master's degree in criminal justice. But married life was difficult. "I thought he was the love of my life, but the marriage ended the same way: with abuse," she said.
She returned to Belize. "Not only were my parents afraid for me, they were worried about my mental state at the time," she said. "I was living by myself, no family support."
Back in Belize, with help from her parents and sister, she "got back on the Christian road ... believing in myself again." Yet, Belize was not the place for her. She believed that "God wanted to use me back in Lexington, but I have no idea why Lexington."
She remembered seeing a Forbes magazine article that said Lexington was one of the best cities for young professionals to raise families. She decided: "I'm going back to Kentucky and moving to Lexington. I could have gone back to Louisville. I was loved at my law firm in Louisville (where she had previously worked) but felt God wanted me here in Lexington."
After moving to Lexington, she visited several churches, looking for a spiritual home, for about a year. While driving on New Circle Road, she saw a church van full of laughing people. "I said that's the church I want to go to. They had the phone number on the side of the van."
The next Sunday, she was excited to go to the church, but she had trouble finding it. She pulled into a different church parking lot, parked, but didn't go in. "I heard a clear, clear voice that said to me, 'Get back in that car, and go find Mount Calvary.' I went on down Todds Road and I've been here (Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church) ever since that day. ... That's my family."
At a 2010 women's conference at Mount Calvary, Warrick shared the story of her past for the first time. "I opened up about the abuse. I didn't want to tell about the abuse, but once I really started practicing Christianity and believing promises from the Bible, I don't have any shame.
"My testimony is to let women know that your past doesn't define who you are. Your slate is wiped clean. ... I cannot even explain to you the freedom I'm feeling. "
Warrick's daughter, Sheena Banner of Lexington, did not learn of her mother's abuse until Warrick spoke at that women's meeting.
"I'm surprised and proud of her that she can use it as a testimony to help others. She's a strong woman," Banner said.
Hazel White, a member of Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist and a friend of Warrick's, has enjoyed sharing a church home with her. "She brings a spirituality to the congregation. She comes to praise God in her way," White said.
For the women in her church, White said, Warrick has a special message: "Women believe they are alone, and in a group like that, there is a realization that 'I'm not the only one. I can get out of this situation with help from the church.'"
Another fellow church member, Bettye Simpson, describes herself as Warrick's "United States mother."
"We're a support group for each other," she said. "She's a friend and sister, she's a praying little sister. ... She has a light that truly shines."
Warrick stays busy with the women in her congregation and in the church's outreach ministry, and she writes inspirational messages on her blog, New Beginnings (Theresefrombelize.blogspot.com). She's leading a seminar at the Lexington Public Library's Northside Branch in July, "Who's That Staring Back at Me?"
Her minister at Mount Calvary, the Rev. Dr. Felix Williams, has seen Warrick's passion in action. "She has the love of Christ in her life. It's very obvious she lives for the Lord and loves people and has a bond to relate to other cultures and find fellowship. She's a great personality."