At 82, Sheila Slocum has led a long and varied life – and she’s nowhere near done living! A passionate believer in the power of God’s healing love, Sheila’s mission is to use the negatives that plagued her early life to help other women break free of their own pasts and find the freedom God gives.
Sheila’s life didn’t start out rough. She grew up in Wisconsin with loving parents and two older brothers, and says she has wonderful memories of swimming in streams, picking berries at neighboring farmers’ fields, and riding her bike from dawn till dark.
“Children then had so much more freedom to be kids, to not worry all the time,” she says. “I’m very thankful to have grown up in that period and to have wonderful memories. I was such a tomboy, with flame red hair and freckles. I was very athletic, the center of the football team. And my poor mother so wanted a little lady!”
Things began to change in Sheila’s early teens when she became the victim of long-term sexual abuse. After several years, she finally told her parents, but only because she feared she might be pregnant. She wasn’t, and her parents immediately took steps to stop the abuse, but it was never spoken of again.
“In those days, you just didn’t talk about things like rape and molestation,” she explains. “My parents were good people, wonderful people, but that’s just how it was. Once the abuse ended, it was considered over and done.”
As we recognize today, of course, it wasn’t over and the effects continued to plague Sheila for decades. The self-esteem issues so prevalent in abused children combined with Sheila’s budding feelings of being unattractive and made her desperate for romantic love and a relationship to define her. While in nursing school, she met a man who said all the things that she longed to hear.
“All of my girlfriends were prettier than me and had boys chasing them all the time,” she says. “I so wanted someone to love me.”
“I always wanted to be a medical missionary, so I attended two years of Bible school, but it was very conservative and I struggled a lot. Then I’d gone on to nursing school and, in my third year, I met George. He told me I was beautiful. He actually said that. Wow. Needless to say I was hooked. I compromised my principles, had to have an abortion, then I ended up having to drop out of school because they wouldn’t let pregnant women finish training in those days. My dream of being a medical missionary ended, we moved to Chicago, had two children and were married shortly after the second child was born.”
Fast-forward a few years and we find Sheila alone in Chicago with three children, one with severe special needs, and the youngest was about one year old. George had left her for another woman but did return after a period of time. When he returned he asked forgiveness, they moved to another city and resumed the marriage.
“I was blaming God for a special needs child, for allowing the sexual molestation and rape and for a husband who cheated,” Sheila says. “I was really messed up. I was not the mother I should have been either.”
“I began to have health issues and during this time my heart longed for a relationship with God but I felt that I had sinned too much. I was invited to a Christian Women’s Club where a speaker shared her story and at the end gave two bible verses that made all the difference. She said the Bible said that ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I knew I had sinned!”
“Then she shared the bible verse, ‘If we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us of all our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ I did just that and felt a load lift off my shoulders. I knew God’s unconditional love instead of the stern relenting God of my childhood.”
“My parents loved the Lord, but they never shared a God of love as I remember, he seemed harsh to me.” she explains, “so I felt that God would never forgive the mistakes I’d made and the sins I’d committed. Every time something went wrong, I was sure he was punishing me. The God I met at the luncheon that day was completely different. He was willing to love me and forgive me of all that I had done. I fell in love with my Lord that day and in the months that followed. George didn’t understand and it definitely caused a rift, though he had tried hard to change when he returned after he left me. But I had found the love I’d always wanted in the Lord. My children became my priority, not my burden, I was able to be the mother God intended me to be. We moved to another city and were blessed with two more children.”
In 1978, George died of an unexpected heart attack while on a business trip, leaving Sheila the sole support of children aged six through nineteen, including an 18-year-old living in a special needs facility. She took whatever jobs would pay the bills and still allow her time with her children, from driving a school bus to cleaning houses.
“When we needed money or things or food, God always provided,” Sheila says, “Whether it was giving me money, food, clothes, or moving someone to help us in other ways, he supplied every need. Once the children were all on their own, I returned to my original dream and became a missionary in his service. I was a cook for Operation Mobilization (OM) in Brussels for a summer. I hate to cook, but I was willing to cook for Jesus.”
Upon returning from Belgium in 1987, Sheila started the process of joining (OM), a faith-based organization devoted to sharing the gospel and serving others. In 1989 she moved to Peachtree City, where she spent almost three years doing computer work for the organization, then approached leadership about beginning a ministry of traveling to different countries and telling women of the freedom and healing in Christ. For the next 25 years, she traveled at home and abroad, telling her story to other women and inviting them to accept God’s forgiveness and allow Him to change their lives. All told, she visited 46 countries, many of them more than once, and found women who were touched by what she shared at every meeting, including many different cultures.
“I spent a lot of years trapped in the insidious bondage of bitterness, guilt, shame, and fear,” she says. “It’s a terrible place to be and it affects everyone around you. Before you can contribute to society and effectively start helping others instead of hurting them, you have to move past the sins that have been committed against you – and past your own sins. The only way to do that is forgiveness, and I could not have forgiven others or myself without God’s forgiveness, mercy and love. He freed me of all the garbage of my past, and once I invited him into my life, everything changed. I changed. And he gave me the ability to speak into others lives.”
“In the Bible, God promised the Israelites that he would restore the years locusts had eaten,” she says. “I realized that truth applied to my life. I then prayed that he would not only restore the years that I had wasted but redeem those years and use my experiences for His honor and glory. I have seen that over and over!”
Sheila doesn’t travel as much as she used to, but over the last few years, she’s become heavily involved in OM’s Freedom Challenge project, which leads teams of women to climb mountains to raise awareness and finances to fight sex trafficking across the world. She’s lead several teams herself, and is now the U.S. Prayer Coordinator for the project.
“I have such a heart for women,” she says. “Especially women who have had horrible experiences and women who are in bondage to their past. I feel so blessed to be forgiven and healed. Many women suffer from low self esteem and need to know their worth is in their heavenly Father. All I want to do is share that with other women.”