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How then did Sharon make peace with the fact that things turned out differently than she believed they would?
“There’s a Scripture in Deuteronomy that says the secret things belong to the Lord, but those things that are revealed belong to us,” she says. “Sometimes experiences happen, and we don’t understand why. Sometimes experiences happen, and God shows us why. Each of us faces things ahead that we don’t see. I don’t base my faith on experiences. I base it on the Word of God.”
Some people questioned Billy Joe’s personal integrity—whether he had an unresolved issue in his life. Sharon disputes it.
“I know Billy Joe had no unforgiveness,” she says. “He would not speak against people, even when people tried to get him to. They talked it out. Billy Joe fought the good fight as he finished his course, and he was prepared for eternity. I believe his glimpse of heaven drew him over.”
Since that morning in 2009 when Billy Joe finished his course, Sharon’s trust in God has been resolute, but her life hasn’t always been easy. “I’m not a spiritual giant,” she says. “I’m a regular person. I have my moments. I allow my emotions to be released, in those times, then to go forward.”
Victory Moves On
Today, with her faith strengthened and her hope renewed, Sharon is steadying the ship, keeping Victory on the course she believes the Holy Spirit has charted. Under her leadership, the church’s ministries are growing, the congregation is expanding with new people, and Victory as a whole is moving full-steam ahead to broaden its outreaches.
Now in her third year as senior pastor, she leads a staff of 288 full-time employees and more than 400 part-time employees. “I don’t feel like I’m by myself in this transition,” she says. “I’m so thankful for an understanding staff who have servant hearts. They are committed to the vision, and each one carries a major part in this.”
Ron McIntosh, who directs the church’s Bible-training school that operates a staggering 1,200 campuses in 101 countries, says it was easy for the staff to stand behind Sharon when she needed them most. “We stood amazed at the courage Sharon demonstrated in the midst of what was obviously the profound pain of her loss,” he says. “[It] rallied the troops and brought stability to the church.”
Membership stands at more than 17,000, making Victory one of the largest congregations in the U.S. The church currently has between 900 and 1,000 active “Connect” small groups, and 80 percent of the new people joining Victory are “unchurched,” according to church records.
For many, part of the draw is the church’s remarkable ethnic diversity. Victory represents an astonishing 120 nationalities, holds services in Spanish, Burmese and Iranian languages, and employs an international pastor who is Chinese. “We don’t look like what you’d think a church in the Heartland would look like,” Sharon says. “We’re very multiethnic.”
Whether to internationals or locals, outreach has always been a core part of Victory’s vision. An 11-acre tract of land given to the church in the 1970s is now the site of the Tulsa Dream Center—a citywide outreach to the poor with a free medical clinic, spiritual mentoring, a food distribution center, clothing and furniture outreach, child and adult education classes, jobs ministry, and spiritual and legal counsel.
Victory’s teen outreach, called “99,” is a dramatic presentation held in a huge traveling tent and reaches teenagers with a message focused on the dangers of alcohol, drugs, gangs, violence and suicide. To date, 99 has traveled to 27 cities and reached 360,073 people—of whom 104,811 have made decisions for Christ.
The church also supports at least 200 missionaries a month, operates the 1,300-student Victory Christian School and 100-acre Camp Victory campground and retreat center, and conducts ministry in prisons across the U.S. and world.
“We’re like a bumblebee,” Sharon says of the church. “It’s impossible for a bumblebee to fly because its wings are too short to hold it up. Yet it flies. At Victory, we’re doing so many things. We’re really spread out. We’re not streamlined like many churches. It looks like we shouldn’t be able to fly, but we do.”
Edwards says that as senior pastor, Sharon “has continued to provide the same Spirit-directed leadership as her husband and maintain the vision and stability of the church in this time of transition. She has continued to challenge us as a church to stretch our faith and expand our reach [for] the kingdom of God.”
Evidence of this is the church’s recent announcement of a three-pronged multimillion-dollar growth plan called “Momentum.” It calls for 18,000 square feet of new floor space for Victory Bible Institute and 20,000 for the Dream Center. Both projects are expected to significantly increase the number of people each ministry accommodates. A second 99 team launches in October and will likely double the number of teens reached in a year.
John Daugherty, who oversees Victory’s youth ministry, observes what his mother’s leadership has meant to the church: “[Victory’s] vision has not changed, but the methods have.”
As a result of Victory’s local impact on the city of Tulsa, especially through the Dream Center’s ministry, the Tulsa Press Club recognized Sharon this year at its 2012 Headliners dinner, honoring her for her “unselfish contribution to the growth, welfare and culture of Tulsa.”
Such recognition doesn’t surprise Tulsa-based Bible teacher Kenneth Copeland, who describes Sharon as a person of “character and quality.” During her husband’s memorial service in 2009, Copeland told her that her best years and those of her ministry were still to come. “You thought you’ve seen something in the past. You haven’t seen anything yet,” he said. “The greatest things are in your future.”
His words rang prophetically true for Sharon. She had seen a glimpse of that future in a vision, shortly before Billy Joe died, though at the time she didn’t fully understand what she was seeing. She had seen a hammer, raised and ready to strike a bubble. It appeared the bubble would be destroyed, but when the hammer fell the bubble burst and multiplied into many more bubbles.
She now believes she was seeing the devil’s foiled plan to destroy Victory after Billy Joe died. Thinking the church was fragile, he would strike it with force.“The devil thought he had knocked us out,” she says. “But it was actually a vision of how we were going to multiply.”
The vision foreshadowed the great change coming for Sharon after her painful morning in Houston in 2009, but it also signaled God’s commitment to Victory.
“I knew that God and Billy Joe would not want me, my family or our church to stop moving forward,” Sharon says. “It’s easy to lean on strong people. But when they’re gone, you must rise up.
“I miss Billy Joe. But I know we must keep moving on.”
Jimmy Stewart is a freelance editor and writer based in Orlando, Fla.
To hear Daugherty explain her church’s vision and history click here.
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