“I never danced on Bourbon Street, never worked as a prostitute, and I’ve never been jailed for illegal activity, but I know what it is to be hopeless,” said Donna Engvall. Donna is among the rare gems who sincerely love the people she ministers to making it hard to believe she had ever been hopeless. Her path to hopelessness began when she encounter the presence of God in a Charismatic Catholic Renewal meeting, and then rejected him. Her entire family had accepted Christ. Shortly afterward, her father was diagnosed with cancer. One year later, the death of Donna’s father destroyed her faith. She departed for college angry at God for taking her father, and quickly embraced the partying lifestyle prevalent on campus.
Experience taught Donna a truth written by the Apostle Peter. Those who escape the corruption in the world and then return to that corruption will find themselves in a worse state (2 Peter 2:20-22). For the next ten years, the partying, drugs and drinking grew increasingly worse until she found herself drowning in despair.
Donna checked herself into a secular drug rehab facility. The rehab directors had been honest about the dismal success rate of the program, but assured Donna she was the ideal patient. Encouraged by their assessment, she entered the thirty day in-house program. She credits her godly mother’s prayers for being assigned to Nancy, the only Christian counselor in the program. Donna was sure she had found the solution to her drug problem. Within days of her release, she was high again.
Donna instinctively knew she would die if she failed to change her lifestyle. She returned to her counselor at the rehab for help. Nancy gave her some books with instructions to read them and come back in a week. One of the books, Come Away My Beloved by Frances J Roberts, softened Donna’s hard heart. She had read the book when she attended the Catholic Charismatic Renewal meetings. She read Robert’s book again and began reading the Bible but continued to get high during the week.
She returned to Nancy with grim news, “It didn’t work. If I don’t get help, I am going to die.”
Nancy saw the despair in Donna’s eyes and made a risky offer. “I could lose my job for this, but do you want to come to church with me tonight?”
Donna wanted to say, “No.” Before she could form the word, she heard “Yes,” come out of her mouth. “I will meet you there,” said Donna, planning to go home instead.
“No, ride with me,” Nancy replied.
Again Donna planned to say “No” but heard herself say “Yes.”
The moment Donna stepped into the church; she felt the walls around her heart crumble. The pastor preached a message tailor made for Donna titled “I Can’t Do It By Myself.” At the conclusion of the message, she ran to the altar and into the arms of God. She had been angry with him for a long time but he still loved her.
Her renewed relationship with God accomplished what she could not do alone. Her life slowly changed until she became a new person free from the slavery of drug addiction. With her new life came a new purpose for living. Luke 4:18 beckoned her to a life of service:“The Spirit of the Lord is on me Because he has anointed me To proclaim good news to the poor He has sent me To proclaim freedom for the prisoners And recovery of sight for the blind, To set the oppressed free,”
Donna followed her calling to The Caring Place in the heart of the French quarter. Those who felt called to ministry met at the Caring Place to pray, be paired with a ministry partner and then walk the streets sharing God’s love. A former pimp became her first ministry partner and a foretaste of God’s plan for her life.
Donna used her vacation days to take short term mission trips. She loved sharing the gospel in foreign lands and often found herself talking to prostitutes. Sometimes her team members were afraid as they walked poverty ridden streets lined with seedy, filthy motels infested with crime and drugs. The atmosphere energized Donna. Like Jesus, she had food to eat they knew nothing about (John 4:31-34).
On Father’s Day 1995 a revival that lasted five years and affected thousands of lives started in a poverty stricken area of Pensacola, Florida that changed the direction of Donna’s life. When news of God’s visitation at an Assembly of God church reached New Orleans, Donna went to Pensacola to investigate. She returned to the church twenty-seven times. With each visit the call to full time ministry intensified until she could no longer resist. Donna quit her job and moved to Pensacola to attend Brownsville Revival School of Ministry.