Jessica Webster: An Inspirational Voice

Birmingham’s Jessica Webster never expected her music to be recorded and shared, but her talent and passion as a singer couldn’t be contained when God called her to share her story. Her first performances were in school and church where she thought her limits were reached. Mercy Me and Jamie Grace then became inspirations to Webster and she began to understand how she could more fully use her talents to God’s glory. After a stressful time in middle school and early high school when many classmates can be quite harsh, God gave her a wake up call.Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 10.37.17 AM

“I feel like God gave me a gift to share his Word,” Webster explained. “He led me to realize it’s not my music, but that it’s His music.” It wasn’t long before Webster began seeing the true potential of her talents as a contemporary Christian singer/songwriter. At the age of 16 she received the “Youth Artist of the Year” at the 2015 Artist Music Guild Heritage Awards.

This year she was also named “Country Gospel Youth Artist of the Year” at the 2016 Crimson Music Awards, and she has released her first single “Back to the Cross.” The song’s lyrics tell the story of a girl who needed the love of Christ just as much as He needed her. “Back to the Cross” is available on Apple iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube music among others. “It’s exciting to get my music out there to share my testimony,” Webster said. For Jessica this is just the beginning of a journey God has called her on to inspire others with her amazing talents blessed by God.


–Brian Hill

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Alabama’s Tiger: Dabo Swinney

College Football Coach of the Year — Faith Trumps Adversity 

“Adversity is either going to define you, destroy you or develop you,” says Dabo Swinney, entering his eighth full season as head football coach at Clemson University. “If you have the right mentality, you can take the adversity in your life and turn all those things into a positive.”

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-3-56-49-pmBorn in Pelham, Ala., in 1969, Swinney can remember a time when I-65 stopped in Hoover. His father, Ervil, owned an appliance repair shop in town, and he spent Sundays during football season watching “The Bear Bryant Show” with his three sons, including Dabo, the youngest. His mother, Carol, was a substitute teacher at area schools. Swinney was named center on his flag football team in the second grade and played three different sports for the Pelham Panthers in his youth.

By the mid-1980s, however, trouble hit the Swinney family in more than one way. At 16 years old, Swinney’s older brother Tripp was thrown through a car windshield in an accident, and his head injuries resulted in memory loss that took time to restore. The once fun-loving Ervil struggled with finances and alcohol abuse, which made him violent. “Life comes at you really fast sometimes, and sometimes young people deal with a lot of adversity,” Swinney says. “But we’re all going to deal with lots of adversity at some point. For me, I had some difficult experiences as a young person. I saw things that I probably shouldn’t have seen, but as I matured and grew into my life—or in particular as I became a Christian—God over time revealed His plan for me.”

Swinney sought guidance from Stewart Wiley, a youth football coach who started Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) at Pelham High School. At age 16, Swinney heard University of Alabama receiver Joey Jones speak at an FCA event and accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. “I nailed it down. Since that time, I have always had that peace,” he says. “It’s given me that compass for my life, an anchor for my life. As the storms of life came—and boy have they come strong—I had this conscience that I didn’t have prior to being saved…. I had this voice inside of me. It always kept me centered.”

Swinney’s parents divorced his senior year, and he and his mother became essentially homeless. They slept on friends’ couches, at grandma’s house, sometimes in the car. When he moved to Fontainbleau Apartments in Tuscaloosa in 1988 to attend college, Swinney took his mom with him. They shared a room and a bed. She drove to Birmingham during the day to work as a sales clerk at Parisian department store.

A wide receiver for Alabama, Swinney remembers Coach Gene Stallings as a leader who provided an atmosphere conducive to spiritual growth for players who were interested. He attended team small groups and worshipped at Tuscaloosa First Baptist Church. He also looked up to his peers on the field.  “I had teammates that were great examples to me as a young person that certainly were further along in their faith than I was—guys like Jay Barker and Mickey Conn. Guys that I thought were really living life the way we should all live.”

By the time he finished college, Swinney had reconciled with his father. He worked as a graduate assistant under Coach Stallings then as part of Alabama’s full time coaching staff. In 2003, he joined Clemson as a wide receiver coach. He was named Tommy Bowden’s replacement as head coach in 2008 and since then has coached Clemson to a 75-27 overall record, with top-15 final rankings in the polls in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Last year he took the Tigers to the brink of winning the program’s second National Championship-losing to his Alma Mater, the University of Alabama 45-40.

Swinney reflects on the lessons of his youth when facing new trials today. He says he and wife Kathleen lost two pregnancies to miscarriage—one at 14 weeks and one at 11 weeks—before having their three children. Kathleen’s sister died in 2014 at age 49 following her second bout with cancer. Sober, remarried and back to his gregarious self, Ervil worked at M&M Hardware in Alabaster until his death in 2015. “I’ve learned patience and appreciation and just lots of things through the lessons that Christ has taught me using life. Without that spiritual foundation, you miss that. That’s one of the problems of the world—people don’t have that anchor, so when those storms of life come, they turn to other things, and those other things never can bring the peace. Never. They just leave you empty and lead to more problems.”

Swinney hopes to teach his players that kind words from peers and a positive outlook can make a big difference when facingscreen-shot-2017-01-09-at-3-51-20-pm tough times. Reflecting on his upbringing in Alabama, he says God placed the right people in his life to give him the encouragement he needed to rise above hardships at home. “God kind of puts lighthouses along the way, along your journey, because sometimes we’re going to run ashore. Maybe it’s somebody at the grocery store, a teacher, a friend. Maybe it’s a teammate or a coach. A lot of people knew my circumstances and saw something good in me and knew that I was working hard, trying to become the best I could be. I always tell people it takes a village to raise a child, because that’s what it took to raise me.”

Peace for Swinney doesn’t come from a scoreboard, a bank account or any guarantee that all his hardships are behind him. Peace comes from knowing Christ. “You will never know the purpose of your life until you know the Creator of your life,” he says. “His plan is always bigger and better than what my plan is, and He has taught me that time and time again.”

– Camille Platt 

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Jews & Gentiles Worshipping God Together in Birmingham

Beth Hallel Congregation was founded in Birmingham in 2007 and in 2010 purchased its own campus in Hoover. The congregation has grown from a handful of people to several hundred members and visitors who join weekly in worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus). The leadership couple of Beth Hallel is Rabbi David and Rebbetzin Leslye Schneier.

jews/gentilesBeth Hallel’s members are Jews who have accepted Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah, along with Gentile believers in Yeshua, who desire to experience the Hebraic origin of their faith and to worship in the same manner and on the same appointed times as did Yeshua. Some of the married couples there represent the biblical “One New Man,” that is, one spouse is Jewish and the other is Gentile. At Beth Hallel, both are at home, growing in faith and fullness of the identity into which each was born. Their children also grow up grounded in the Word in a context that fully expresses unity in the Messiah.

In October, Beth Hallel will gather, as Yeshua did, for three of the Feasts of the Lord known as the High Holidays. Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year and Feast of Trumpets) will be celebrated on Sunday evening, October 2, at 6 p.m. and Monday morning, October 3, at 11 a.m. Yom Kippur services (the Day of Atonement) will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 11, and at 11 a.m. Wednesday, October 12th. Finally, Sukkot (the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles) will be celebrated by worship and fellowshipping in our Sukkah (booth) at 6 p.m. on October 16. We will have a congregational Sukkot service on Friday, October 21 at 7:00 p.m. All are welcome, Jew and Gentile, interfaith couples, kids and all the nations. Free child care is also provided at all services. Shabbat (Sabbath services) are on Fridays at 7p.m. and Saturdays at11a.m. Learn more at

-Rabbi David Schneier


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Going for GOLD AGAIN

Allyson Felix Preps for Rio with God-Given Speed

Allyson Felix has won more medals than any other track and field athlete in the last three Olympic Games. She has four golds and two silvers, plus six wins in the U.S. Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Her Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 1.18.26 PMbest event is the 200-meter sprint. Humble and soft-spoken, the runner is considered a favorite for the summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, this month and says her speed is a gift from God

While athletic in her youth—she always liked basketball and gymnastics—Felix did not start running until her freshman year at Los Angeles Baptist High School in California. “I was always super competitive, so the idea of getting to line up and right away know who’s the fastest was just super cool to me,” she says. “It hasn’t really stopped since then.”

She made history in Mexico City in 2003 when she ran the 200-meter in 22.11 seconds, the fastest ever by a woman under age 20. That year Track and Field News named her the female “High School Athlete of the Year.”

Felix landed a professional contract with Adidas and attended the University of Southern California. In 2007, she became the second woman in history to win three gold medals at a World Championship. She won her first Olympic gold medal as a part of the 4×400 meter relay in the 2008 Games in Beijing. Coming in second in the 200-meter to Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown, however, left her crying in the tunnel beneath the stadium. 22-year-old Felix was considered the favorite, and she didn’t anticipate second place. She maintains today that was one of her most difficult losses. “There were such high expectations, and when things didn’t work out the way I had hoped they would, I had to learn how to deal with that and learn how to see if this was still something I wanted to go after—if it was still important to me,” she says. “Looking back, some of my greatest lessons learned were in that moment. It really refueled me for the next four years to keep competing hard and keep going to reach my ultimate goal.” In 2012, Felix finally clinched gold in the 200-meter as well as the 4×100-meter relay and 4×400-meter relay, making her the first woman to win three gold medals at an Olympic Games since 1988.

Prepping for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio this month, Felix says her average day includes five hours of training—three on the track and two in the gym. Her afternoons include chiropractic massage work, and her meals are interspersed throughout the day with a large dinner. Sundays are for rest alone. When she has time to herself, Felix likes to go to the beach with friends, go to the movies, go bowling or simply stay at home.

Off the track, Felix is also a big fan of fashion and attended Fashion Week in London and New York in 2012. “I love Tom Ford and anything that’s unique or different, but I also like classic pieces as well,” she says. “I’m a laid back girl. On a typical basis I am wearing jeans and a t-shirt.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 1.17.55 PMWhen it comes to matters of faith, Felix is well known for her Christian upbringing. As a child, her father was a pastor, and she attended Christian schools. Both parents have been influential in her continued growth in the faith. “My mom—whenever I would travel or go anywhere or be on my own—would tell me ‘remember who you are.’ For me that really just meant remember the things that you believe, remember your faith, and carry those things along because people are always watching. They are always looking at you, and that’s the best way to share your testimony.”

Felix’s father teaches New Testament Greek at the Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, Calif., and has returned to a pastoring position where Felix attends worship. She finds it special to attend church with her family and see her father’s work firsthand.

Felix also has a close relationship with her brother, Wes, who was the USA Junior Champion in the 200-meters in 2002 and the Pac 10 champion in the 200-meters while running for USC in 2003 and 2004. Wes became her agent after health issues caused him to hang up his cleats for good, and he encouraged her after her unexpected silver standing in Beijing. He also carried her off the track when she injured her hamstring during the 200-meter final at the 2013 World Championship in Moscow.

Felix says watching Wes battle a liver virus and have to walk away from his dreams to support hers has been an inspiration. “I knew how passionate he was about the sport and that he hadn’t reached his potential. There was still so much left there,” she says. “Seeing him switch gears was inspiring to me…. It has been awesome to work together and be o
n this journey together. He sees me at all different moments and knows better than anyone what’s on my mind. He’s there to help pick things up when they are falling down and celebrate when they are going well.” Under Wes’ guidance, Felix secured a sponsorship with Nike. He handles all press and off-track responsibilities so she can focus on training.Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 1.17.00 PM

Felix is quick to call her speed a blessing from God and a talent that she can use to bring Him glory. “I feel like I have been blessed with this amazing gift…. And I am able to be on a platform, to show my lifestyle and show this gift that He has given me. It’s a really awesome opportunity.”

When she sees other athletes credit God for their talent—like the NBA’s Steph Curry, who led the Golden State Warriors to a record 73 wins in the last regular season—she is inspired to continue demonstrating her faith on and off the track. Curry is known for pointing a single index finger upward after making a jump shot, a subtle credit to God for his success. “Whenever I get to see an athlete in that moment, it’s completely inspiring,” she says.

Bobby Kersee—Felix’s coach and husband to retired track and field veteran Jackie Joyner-Kersee— calls Felix “the quiet storm” because she transitions so well from laid-back family girl to aggressive competitor. He has said he believes this will be Felix’s “signature year.” Her original goal for Rio was to win gold medals in both the 200- and 400-meter—something that hasn’t been done in 20 years. But an ankle injury that has plagued her since spring caused Felix to come up short in the 200-meter final qualifying race last month. So at the Games she will aim for a win in the 400-meter and any relays she is chosen to participate in. Trouble could come in the form of that bothersome ankle, but there is no doubt Felix will rely heavily on her God-given gift of speed to go for the gold.

– Camille Platt

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Mission Makers

Freedom Fighters: Birmingham’s Shepherd’s Fold Ministry
Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 10.52.29 AMCelebrating 30 years of ministry, Shepherd’s Fold, Inc. was founded in 1986 to help individuals released from prison find complete freedom. The Birmingham based ministry teaches men and women how to make positive life-choices, ultimately becoming a contributing member of our community. Each participant is provided room and board along with a Bible-based plan to achieve freedom through a six-month time frame. Along with required classes and church attendance, members are additionally assisted in finding a job and obtaining a driver’s license. The ministry currently has twenty-five residents in the program and with additional funding could serve more.

Mission Makers Bobby Humphrey close up

Former Tide and Denver Bronco football player Bobby Humphrey will be the featured speaker at the Shepherd’s Fold Banquet March 10.

Shepherd’s Fold Board of Directors President, Jack Hausen, speaks passionately about the ministry while expressing needs from the Birmingham community. “Readers can help this ministry by giving gently-used ladies and men clothing and personal hygiene items so that we may help those that are less fortunate,” said Hausen. Another way to give to Shepherd’s Fold ministry is by attending their 30th Annual Fundraising Banquet on Thursday, March 10, 2016 from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. at Briarwood Presbyterian Church. The event’s special guest is former Alabama and NFL football player Bobby Humphrey, who by the age of 22 was named NFL Rookie of the Year, played in a Super Bowl and made a Pro Bowl appearance. Humphrey will share with the audience his amazing story of overcoming harsh beginnings and long odds. Seating for the event is limited. Tickets are $75 per person or $500 per table. For more information about Shepherd’s Fold ministry or the banquet, visit or call 780-6211.

Kara Young

Twitter: @karaeyoung


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The Sixty Minute Sermon Called Hebrews

Before Hebrews was a letter it was a sermon.
These early believers, probably living in Rome, grasped this well-crafted sixty minute sermon. Now it’s our turn to get the message! The finality of Christ’s revelation, the efficacy of his atoning sacrifice, and the everlasting encouragement of his faithfulness, energizes the sermon’s spiraling intensity of exposition and exhortation.Spiral_clock_Sig_Dark.jpg6d2391da-0ad2-4d91-865c-1aecba541a32Original Hebrews weans us away from our preoccupation with the start of the Christian life and focuses our attention on the perseverance of faith. Life is not a sprint but a marathon. Faithfulness to the end affirms faith from the beginning.

Hebrews is a tour de force for the person and work of Christ and a manifesto against respectable, self-justifying religious habits. Hebrews is a tight weave of Old Testament texts and New Testament truths. The author of Hebrews preaches Christ from the Old Testament in order to make resilient disciples. If we let the word of God have its way in our lives, Hebrews will deepen our faith in Christ and strengthen our faithfulness. Dive in and see for yourself. As a part of its Lay Academy, Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School will host an in-depth study of Hebrews on six Tuesday evenings beginning February 23. We would love to have you join us!



-Douglas D. Webster 

Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching, Beeson Divinity School

Dr. Webster will be leading the Lay Academy study of Hebrews. Learn more about this class and others at or call 205-726-2731.


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Birmingham Based Foundation Leads Charge in Helping Syrian Refugees

“Because of the increase in the number of refugees from Syria [to Jordan], we are seeing many families who are not being taken care of and have nowhere to turn,” says Ruba Abbassi, founder and director of Arab Woman Today (AWT). “They need food, blankets and basic necessities.” Birmingham based Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) Foundation has a long history of working with AWT and has stepped into help. “AWT is a trusted ministry partner,” explains David George, president of the WMU Foundation. “They have been sharing Christ’s love in the Arab world for many years, and this is an incredible opportunity to help these vulnerable families. The news media has recently picked up on the Syrian refugee issue, but AWT has been addressing this in Jordan for well over a year.”

The Jordanian government reports there are 1.5 million Syrian refugees currently living in Jordan, but only a small percentage reside in official refugee camps. Those who live outside of the camps are not eligible to receive food or other assistance from the Jordanian government. The WMU Foundation is asking people to provide a blanket for $25, a heater for $50, or a month’s worth of food for a family for $100. Gifts can be directed to the WMU Foundation’s AW Fund, 100 Missionary Ridge, Birmingham, 35242 or online gifts can be made at


-Caitlin Lea 


Syrian RefugeesWMU Foundation and Arab Woman Today provide basic necessities to Syrian refugees in Jordan. Learn how you can help at




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Hotel Mission Field

HoneyWord BibleEvery 12 months more than one billion travelers stay in hotels throughout the U.S. and Canada, and studies indicate that more than 5% (50 million) will pick up and read whatever is in their nightstand drawer. For decades, adults have been blessed with finding the Word of God in hotel and motel room drawers. And for many, reading it has changed their lives forever. Although most hotels house a Gideon Bible, there’s little evidence that child-like travelers pick up and read the plain, one-color book. That’s why HoneyWord Kideons (for child-like “kids” of all ages) are placing the easy-to-read and easy-to-understand HoneyWord Bible in hotels throughout North America, starting in the Holiday Inn Birmingham Airport. HoneyWord, a nonprofit that creates and distributes easy to understand and remember devotionals, Bibles and online materials, is spearheading the project and seeking sponsors of “1 Bible in 1 room for 1 year.” To learn more visit or call Dr. Emmett Cooper, 352-457-4444.


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From Giving Up to Giving Back: James Poe

In Birmingham, The Jimmie Hale Mission is best known for feeding the hungry and homeless. Yet with housing, job readiness, and the teaching of the Gospel, the meals they serve are just the beginning of a changed life. James Poe is just one of the thousands who have returned to a life filled with hope. Here is his story:

God called my mother to support the Jimmie Hale Mission for over 40 years. I’m certain she never thought her own son would need it. For when I turned my back on God, things fell apart. I arrived at the Mission’s Shepura Men’s Center broken and needing help. My personal rebellion through drugs and alcohol resulted in my wife kicking me out. I went from a great family life with two beautiful children and a terrific job, to no family and no future.

God brought me to the Jimmie Hale Mission. There, I learned it’s not about me, but about what He has done James Poe - Jimmie Hale Missionand what He has planned for me. I also took classes through the Mission’s Stewart Learning Center to get my life and career back on track. I am now blessed and proud to work at New Faith Baptist Church as Minister of Music. Just as importantly, I reunited with my wife, Theresa, and my family. My wife and I renewed our vows on February 14, 2012. I also feel blessed to be on the Jimmie Hale Mission staff. I joined the staff in 2012 and now worked as Kitchen Supervisor. So today, I look at men on the other side of the serving line … men who are where I once was.

God used The Jimmie Hale Mission to restore my soul, even though I thought I was past the point of no return. With God’s direction, and with the help of the Mission, I am now the father, son, husband and employee that He always intended me to be. Through God’s saving strength, the Jimmie Hale Mission has helped make a difference for countless men and women. And it all began with a meal. To help nourish and sustain those who need it most, please visit

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