After a difficult public divorce, Melva Lea--former wife of Larry Lea--is starting over with a fresh understanding of God's ability to restore.
Although she has experienced personal tragedy during the last decade, Melva Lea shows no visible signs of battle scars. Her countenance is free of bitterness and pain, and she walks with confidence and excitement.
"The devil won a battle--but he's not winning the war," says the vivacious 51-year-old, who recently released her first CD, Oh, How I Love Him.
Today, Melva is helping her son, John, plant Life Church in Rockwall, Texas--the Dallas suburb where she and her former husband, Larry Lea, began Church on the Rock in 1980.
For now, Life Church meets at a local middle school. Melva teaches an adult Sunday school class and is putting together the children's ministry. She hopes to minister also to people who are suffering, drawing on the lessons she says she has learned firsthand.
"I want people to know that the depths of grace that healed me and the depths of prayer it took to help break me through are available to them," she says.
Melva says she has never doubted God's ability to heal and that she has seen His love in action all her life. She grew up in a stable Baptist home in Jacksonville, Arkansas, a small town outside Little Rock. Her dad was a letter carrier, and her mom worked in the office at a local school. In the late 1960s Melva attended Dallas Baptist University, where she met Larry Lea.
After they married in May 1972 Larry became youth pastor at Beverly Hills Baptist in Dallas--one of the first Baptist churches involved in the charismatic movement. A year after his arrival the youth group had exploded from 40 to 1,000. Melva suddenly found herself ministering to young people who were involved in the drug culture and yet searching for spiritual answers.
In 1979 Larry and Melva moved with their three children to Kilgore, Texas, and Larry became an itinerant speaker for 18 months. While in Kilgore, Melva says, God gave Larry a special prayer message that, in time, would become widely circulated.
Melva says God spoke to Larry in 1980 about moving to Rockwall to establish Church on the Rock. He answered the call, and they began the church with about a dozen people.
During the height of their ministry in the mid-1980s, the home church had 5,000 in attendance, and thousands of people flocked to the three other churches Larry had planted in other parts of Dallas.
Larry wrote Could You Not Tarry One Hour? in 1986, and it quickly became a best seller. Within a few years, he had raised up and registered 370,000 prayer warriors who believed in his prayer message.
In November 1991--about a year after the Leas left Church on the Rock to focus on international ministry--Larry publicly came under fire. On ABC-TV's PrimeTime Live, co-host Diane Sawyer grilled Larry about his TV fund-raising appeals and the homes he owned, among other issues.
Although Larry attempted to make things right after the exposé, says Melva, the stressful events set in motion by the television interview led him into a deep depression that he couldn't seem to shake. Things went from bad to worse.
"In the beginning I naively thought life was all about trying to live right, and nothing bad would happen," she says. Instead, she discovered that life can take unexpected turns.
In the Q-and-A that follows, Melva talks candidly with Charisma about some of her trials and how the Lord has helped her heal and rebuild.
Charisma: What was your personal reaction to ABC's PrimeTime Live exposé involving your former husband, Larry Lea, in 1991?
Lea: I was devastated. Before Larry did the interview, ABC told him that many people considered him to be the next Billy Graham and that the interview was going to be about "the new generation of preachers." When he got to the studio, they completely changed the angle. From Diane Sawyer's first word, the air just went out of the room. It was horrific.
We later were contacted by a senator who told us that the program was an ambush for a political agenda--to take down a huge voting block of right-wing conservative voters.
Charisma: How did friends and church members respond?
Lea: We were living in Tulsa [Oklahoma] when the interview aired. Church members [from Church on the Rock] and friends were wonderful. What was devastating to me was that so many people in the body of Christ believed what they heard from a secular news reporter rather than believing someone who taught them how to pray and commune with God. For the most part everyone looked at us like we had leprosy.
After the interview we formed a committee of pastors to examine our practices. We invited EFICOM [Ethics and Financial Integrity Commission, a branch of the National Religious Broadcasters that certifies financial accountability] to come in and look at everything. One EFICOM member, who was a federal judge and clearly didn't like Larry, told him, "If I find anything wrong, you're in trouble."
Larry opened up everything to him. A few days later this man returned and said: "You have grounds to sue. There is absolutely nothing true about any of [ABC's] allegations."
Perception is everything, though. The damage had already been done. It destroyed our credibility.
Charisma: Were your children aware of the interview?
Lea: We knew it was going to air and it was going to be ugly. We were ministering in Florida and told the children not to watch it. Of course, they did. We were living in the compound at Oral Roberts University at the time.
As soon as the program was over, the phone rang. It was Richard Roberts. He told the kids, "You all come over right now."
They did, and he and his wife, Lindsay, loved on all three of our kids. [Richard] assured them: "You all will live through this. My father has been criticized for years and years, and my family has suffered through all of it. I'm still alive, and you'll be alive, too."
I've never been so grateful.
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