As latecomers scurry through the doors, greeters manning their posts rush to extend warm handshakes to the faithful worshipers who have decided to weather the nasty storm outside.
"Good evening and God bless you. Come on in," an usher says as she gestures with her hands. From all appearances this looks like a typical Tuesday night church service. You might think so until you reach the door leading to this unusual sanctuary, which is housed in a converted warehouse on Eleventh Street near downtown Atlanta.
A disclaimer posted at the entrance is proof that this is anything but your average church meeting. "WOGCL is not liable for bodily injury," the sign cautions. "Please understand that you are entering a healing and deliverance service." Attendees are also advised not to bring cameras or video recorders to meetings.
WOGCL stands for Women of God Changing Lives Through Christ. The name sounds quaint, but don't be fooled: This is not a quiet women's Bible study. These women have gathered for a spiritual battle.
"I declare war!" a feisty female preacher shouts from the front of the room. "We tear down the Jezebel spirit!"
The wind and rain pounding against the windows and doors are no match for the battle brewing inside these four walls. Intercessors invade the altar. They're walking in circles, praying, rebuking and setting the atmosphere for a confrontation.
The woman with the microphone, dressed in sleek black with stiletto heels, may look vaguely familiar to first-time visitors. That's because she was once one of the top R&B stars in the country. But Perri Reid, known as "Sister Perri" to the hundred or more followers who visit her service each week, is known today for her preaching, not her sultry dance tunes.
"God rescued me, and now I have a responsibility to bring others out," Reid says of her transformation--which began seven years ago when a personal crisis led to her conversion. "I didn't try to commit suicide, but I felt my soul dying. I felt empty," she told Charisma.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, Reid was known to the world as Pebbles, a stunningly attractive, award-winning songwriter who quickly claimed stardom. Her string of releases include "Love/Hate," "Love Makes Things Happen" (recorded with Babyface), "Girlfriend," and the co-written hit songs "Mercedes Boy" and "Whip Appeal," all released by MCA Records.
But her life took a disappointing turn in 1995 when her marriage to the former president of Arista Records, Antonio "L.A." Reid, began to crumble and later ended in divorce. In the same year she was embroiled in a very public contractual dispute with singers from TLC, the popular girl group she founded. During this time of what Reid calls "demonic oppression," she didn't understand that the devil was trying to destroy her, she says.
Out of desperation, she reached out for help from a psychic but received no benefit from the contact.
"I remember lying on my bed breathing my last breath," Reid recalls. "I tried to reach for the phone to ask for help but couldn't. That was the day the enemy tried to take my life, but that was also the night grace stepped in."
She found her answer in Jesus--and experienced supernatural deliverance from demonic power. From that point on, the singer went on the offensive against the devil.
In 1998, God prompted her to start WOGCL, a deliverance and healing ministry that aims to rescue both believers and unbelievers from spiritual bondage. Reid walked away from fame and money and now spends her energy helping others find the same answers she discovered.
Delivering the Captives
For first-time visitors to her Atlanta ministry, Reid's Barbie-doll veneer is an attention-grabber. But to this 5-foot-7-inch preacher, looks are deceiving.
"I've been a celebrity before--that's not why I'm here," Reid says. "I'm here for two reasons: obedience to God, and because I have a charge to see His people free."
Judging from her weekly deliverance and healing service, it takes more than a pretty face to draw sinners struggling with drugs, alcohol and witchcraft. It takes the Holy Spirit's power.
One woman who has never attended the services searched for Reid for one year after watching her on television. Geneviee Frampton of Tigard, Oregon, who once considered herself a "drug addict in terrible bondage," was in a crisis when she heard about Reid's ministry. Frampton had been in and out of rehabilitation programs, jail, and mental hospitals and had participated in Alcoholics Anonymous.
"I was watching a VH1 program about retired pop stars and what they are doing. It showed Perri doing deliverance right there on television," Frampton wrote in a testimony to WOGCL.
Realizing that freedom was possible, the mother of two begged the Lord to save her and "to give my children their mother back." With the help of two pastors the woman was freed from her addiction. Frampton told Charisma that today she is active in church and is training to become a Bible study leader.
Unbelievers aren't the only people who are seeking help from Sister Perri. Born-again, go-to-church-every-Sunday Christians also frequent her meetings. Some attend in hopes of having generational curses, fear and other problems removed from their lives.
Others come for Reid's insightful Bible teaching. She bluntly tells believers who attend: "You can get saved, say the words, go down in the water, but if you're not free from the ways of sin, you will continue in your sins."
Reid believes deliverance and healing require much more than a one-time church service where a preacher prays, lays hands on a person and commands evil spirits to leave. Based on her experience, Reid says deliverance is a process that produces sanctification and wholeness.
Chris Hayward, contributing editor of the book Ministering Freedom From Demonic Oppression, agrees. He advises ministries to treat deliverance as a lifestyle, not a program.
"To make deliverance effective within the local church, there needs to be certain measures in place," Haywood writes. Bible teaching, discipleship, accountability and the pastor's participation all are vital, he claims, for balanced deliverance ministry. Those are principles Reid has put in place since she began WOGCL.
"People don't need to be afraid. Deliverance and salvation go together," Reid says. Perhaps that is why she hammers away at the need for holiness in the body of Christ. She insists it is the power of the Holy Spirit and a willingness to die to oneself that open the pathway to lasting change.
Unlike some of her counterparts in deliverance work, Reid does not teach that Christians can be possessed by demons. She prefers to use the word oppressed.
"If you are walking within the realm of righteousness and you've been saved, you can't be possessed. Satan can't indwell you, but he can oppress you," she explains. She teaches that secret sins, wrong attitudes and sinful behaviors open doors for demonic spirits to erect strongholds in the lives of believers.
"Our part in the purifying process is learning how to die to our ways, which is from the world. That's walking out your salvation," she adds. Reid knows her message of holiness isn't popular--even in some churches--but she still is committed to preaching truth to those who will hear it.
Reid is not a Lone Ranger in the ministry. She recognizes the need for mentors and spiritual oversight. Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of the 25,000-member New Birth Cathedral in the Atlanta suburb of Lithonia, licensed her as a minister in 2001. And Bishop Paul Morton, leader of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship, a growing network of churches, serves as Reid's spiritual leader and covering.
Says Morton: "When [Reid] was in the world she made an impact, and now that she's in ministry, she's making an even greater difference in the body of Christ. Her impact on women is huge."
Crusaders for Christ
Although she seems quite comfortable with a microphone and has enough charisma to sway an audience, Reid says she is not a pastor--and her ministry is not a church. However, she believes that her role is to come alongside pastors to help get the job done.
"Pastors can't do it all," she insists, explaining why she wants to help undergird the church.
A study in Ministries Today magazine confirms Reid's statement. The study shows that pastors who bear the burden for their congregations without the help of a support system suffer from burnout, stress and spiritual exhaustion. Other findings suggest that some leaders are throwing in their clergy collars because the demands of ministry are destroying marriages, breaking up families and causing financial hardships.
That is why Reid considers WOGCL vital to the body of Christ. "I am not a pastor. I'm an aide to the church. I am a sent one commissioned to go forth to break the chains. I get the people out, break shackles and break down the enemy's kingdom," she says.
"Servants," as they are called at WOGCL, are trained and equipped to walk alongside leaders in the ministry of deliverance. With her teams of workers, Reid is prepared to preach, conduct revivals and crusades, and offer deliverance.
As a secular entertainer, Reid knew her ability to sing was a divine gift. Today, she uses her gifts to reel in souls for God. With spiritual tools such as worship, prayer, prophecy and healing, she is ready to assist. And, Reid adds, she is not interested in stealing sheep--or fleecing them.
Her message to pastors: "We're not coming to take nobody's members. We're concerned with souls making it into heaven."
A majority of the people who attend Reid's weekly meetings are, in fact, committed members of area churches. Beverly, who attends a church that considers itself "Bapticostal"--a Baptist congregation that operates in the gifts of the Holy Spirit--serves as a greeter at WOGCL. One of the ministry's security guards is a member of a United Methodist church, but he experiences tangible expressions of the Spirit's power in Reid's meetings.
Baptists, Methodists and Catholics all come. Reid isn't certain why such a variety of people frequent her meetings, but she is sure that the Word of God is the drawing card.
"We preach Jesus and His power," Reid says. "We don't want to be bothered with a bunch of foolishness."
For many, it is Reid's no-nonsense approach that keeps them coming back week after week for more truth. "I knew nothing about spiritual warfare, worship and praise," wrote one woman, who lives in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta. She admits that she didn't "know how to have a relationship with the Lord" until she visited the ministry.
A beautiful voice from Reid's past also found refuge at WOGCL. When singer and actress Whitney Houston told Reid she was "losing it" in 2002, Reid opened the doors of her home to Houston, husband Bobby Brown and the couple's daughter, Bobbi Kristina.
During an interview with Essence magazine, Houston discussed her friendship with her preacher friend. "She took me under her wing. I stayed in one room, and she took me through a transition of deliverance and prayer, constant in my case," Houston told the magazine.
Reid knows the apprehension some leaders face when considering the ministry of deliverance. She knows it will take proper training and working together to accomplish God's will for His people.
Says Reid: "God keeps saying: 'Perri, everybody needs to come out of their pockets of resistance. It's going outside the walls, and it's going to the highways and byways and raising up people. It's time now; I've pushed the button.'"
With orders from God, according to Reid, she is stepping up her efforts to reach the masses with a television and radio ministry. This month she is moving her ministry to a larger building to accommodate growing crowds. And in the near future, she will open a Women of God Changing Lives Deliverance Institute.
It has been nearly six years since the inception of WOGCL, perhaps one of Atlanta's best-kept secrets. But today, God is bringing this diva-turned-disciple to the forefront with one goal in mind: to set spiritual captives free. Not only is Reid obeying the call, she's also taking countless others with her.
Valerie G. Lowe is an associate editor with Charisma. She traveled to Atlanta in November to interview Perri Reid. To contact Women of God Changing Lives Through Christ, log on to the ministry's Web site at www.wogcl.org.