Holy Ghost Girl: A Memoir
Donna M. Johnson
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
A compassionate, humorous memoir of faith, betrayal, and coming of age on the evangelical sawdust trail.
Long before the Blues Brothers coined the term, Donna M. Johnson’s family was on a mission from God. She was just three years old when her mother signed on as the organist for tent revivalist David Terrell. Before long, Donna and her family were part of the hugely popular evangelical preacher’s inner circle. At seventeen, she left the ministry for good, with a trove of stranger-than-fiction memories. A homecoming like no other, Holy Ghost Girl brings to life miracles, exorcisms, and face-offs with the Ku Klux Klan. And that’s just what went on under the tent.
As Terrell became known worldwide during the 1960s and ’70s, he enthralled—and healed—thousands a night, andthe caravan of broken-down cars and trucks that made up his ministry evolved into fleets of Mercedes and private jets. The glories of the Word mixed with betrayals of the flesh, and Donna’s mother bore Terrell’s children in one of the secret households he maintained. Terrell’s followers, dubbed “Terrellites” by the press, descended on backwaters across the South to await the apocalypse in cult-like communities.
Johnson’s personal story takes us into the heart of a mystical and deeply flawed family where the norms are anything but normal and where love covers a multitude of sin. Recounted with the deadpan observations and surreal detail only a kid would notice, Holy Ghost Girl bypasses easy judgment to articulate a rich world in which the mystery of faith and human frailty share a surprising and humorous coexistence.
each other on the shoulder. Neither a hug nor a profession of love passed between them. Usually a good praying-through made everything better, but something had passed between Mama and Betty Ann and Brother Terrell on the road to Atlanta that could not be undone. It was neither named nor denied, but after that night in the car, it was always with us. I brushed past it when I ran by my mother and Brother Terrell in the hallway, his hand reaching out to steady her when she stumbled. It stood
the preacher. Later that afternoon, Brother Terrell went to the hospital alone. He stood over Randall’s bed and looked down at his sleeping boy. “Son, son, I need to talk to you.” Randall opened his eyes. “God told me he is going to give you a miracle, but you have to believe. Do you believe?” “Yes, Daddy. I believe.” “That’s what I wanted to hear, son. I’m taking you outta here.” He pulled the needles and tubes from Randall’s arms, scooped him up, and walked out of the hospital room. A nurse
of my chair with nothing to distract me, I counted seven new beads of sweat rolling down my body. I slumped in my seat, head lolling on my shoulder. My dress, petticoat, panties, and socks were soggy. I was indeed a poor little thing. My eyes rolled up to Laverne, Brother Cotton’s wife, searching for pity. She bent over her Bible, following Brother Terrell as he marched through scripture, hup, two, three, four, verily, verily. Gary and I sat through the services with Laverne now instead of Betty
piano in her daddy’s church one day, she was suddenly able to play a hymn straight through. From that moment she could play any song she wanted. When she was fifteen, she saw herself in a night vision playing a big pearly accordion. A night vision is a foretelling of the future, only the seer is asleep. People who have night visions often go on to full-fledged wide-awake visions. When Mama opened her eyes, she could still feel the heft of the instrument against her. She was meant to have an
purse and dropped them into the offering buckets surreptitiously. She took seriously the concept of proving God. She believed if she gave God everything she had, he would work things out so that she and Brother Terrell could be married properly and she could wear the wedding rings he gave her under the tent as well as out in the world. Brother Terrell fished the rings out of the offerings many times and gave them back to her. One night, someone got to the rings before Brother Terrell. He had to