EveryOne:Reaching Farther Together
the junkie's daughter
by Jack Williams
Read More about Free Will Baptist Bible College at www.fwbbc.edu.
She stepped across a hot-top driveway in the rain through an open door into the Conference Room at Free Will Baptist Bible College, dark brown eyes riveted on a man dressed in black holding a yellow legal pad. They were alone.
“I don’t trust men,” she said, “and I don’t like being alone with a man I don’t know.”
Cassandra Thompson had arrived—one of life’s unedited dramas, a 4’-11” volcano married to a Free Will Baptist deacon’s son. The 35-year-old mother of three children was a hidden fire pushing for expression. This is her story.
New Jersey Drug Culture
“Mom was a drug addict and an alcoholic,” she said flatly. “She was a single mother with three daughters, all by different fathers. Things got so bad that while getting off the school bus I’d find myself saying, ‘Please let her be high on weed and not drunk,’ because my mom was a violent drunk.”
Life in Bridgeton, New Jersey, was full of uncertainty for 14-year-old Cassandra. She never knew who would be in the house at night. Her mother didn’t make it past the eighth grade, couldn’t read or write, and had learning disabilities. She would disappear for weeks at a time, leaving her three daughters alone in the apartment, frequently without food or electricity.
One of Cassandra’s teachers was a Christian and took a personal interest in the scared teen who showed up at school reeking of pot and stale cigarettes. Knowing the girl had not eaten breakfast, the faithful teacher would take her to the cafeteria, then sit and listen as she talked.
Cassandra’s grandfather was an unapologetic racist opposed to religion and hated Blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities. Her grandmother was a Christian who prayed for and with her.
“They were my rock until they died when I was 12,” she said. “Even though my grandfather was a racist and despised the fact that I was half-Puerto Rican, I knew I was his favorite grandchild.”
An uncle abused her during her pre-teen years. Others knew about it, but no one dared confront him. He later served time in a federal penitentiary.
“Now you know one of the reasons I don’t trust men,” she said quietly. “The men in my life took advantage of me.”
Daddy was a Drug Dealer
Cassandra was 15 the first time she met her father, a Puerto Rican drug dealer.
“I dreamed about him when I was younger,” she said. “I had big ideas about what kind of person he was…a good man who would show up one day and take me for long walks, take me to father/daughter events. But as soon as I met him, I knew different.”
Sixteen years earlier, her father had a one-night encounter with her mother; nine months later Cassandra was born. The day he drove his snow-white Cadillac to the far-from-upscale apartment where Cassandra lived with her mother and sisters, she went on full alert.
“He didn’t have to say a word,” she said. “When I saw him drive up, I already knew I couldn’t trust him. A little clue was the long pinky fingernail for snorting coke. That’s when I knew: Dad was the dealer—Mom was the user. He had all the material things we didn’t—a candy-apple red Corvette and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, plenty of cash, and a nice home where he lived.”
North Carolina Turnaround
During Cassandra’s 16th summer, her Aunt B and Uncle Herb invited her to attend camp with her cousins in North Carolina. While at camp, she had an encounter with God that turned her life around.
“The preacher spoke directly to my need from Psalm 139:5,” she said. “I learned that Jesus died for me and knew me in my mother’s womb. I discovered that while I did not have a great earthly father and mother who loved and cared for me, I did have a heavenly Father waiting for me with open arms, and He would never leave me.”
The day before her scheduled return to New Jersey, Cassandra received a frantic call from her mother who said, “Don’t come home! Me and your sisters are being evicted!”
Since her mother could not help and she dare not ask assistance from her drug-dealing father with police one step behind him, she swallowed her pride and asked her aunt and uncle if she could live with them. They said Yes.
“It was so good for me,” she said. “They sent me to a private Christian school. I met Pastor Gordon Sebastian at Peace Free Will Baptist Church in Wilson; he baptized me. My heart broke for my family, and I prayed every day for their salvation.”
Miracle on West End
Three years later during her sophomore year at Free Will Baptist Bible College, Cassandra received a call from her father. He had been caught in a police raid and sentenced to 15 years in prison. She continued praying that God would reach him behind bars.
“”My dad became a Christian in prison,” she said. “God didn’t just quit with that, because Dad began preaching to fellow inmates in prison. He changed so much that he got out seven years early on good behavior.”
Her father now preaches on Spanish radio in New Jersey and has started a Christian motorcycle club to reach others with the gospel.
Two years after her father’s prison conversion, a woman grabbed Cassandra’s mother by the arm as she was leaving an IGA grocery store, stared into her eyes, and told her that God was looking for her. The next day she went to church but was afraid to go forward during the invitation.
She returned home and called her daughter in Tennessee. That’s when an 800-mile miracle occurred—Cassandra led her mother to Jesus over the telephone. She became a new person, free of drugs and alcohol. Cassandra’s prayers had been answered.
FWBBC Student by Accident
“Free Will Baptist Bible College was one of the happiest accidents that ever happened to me,” Cassandra said. “I didn’t decide to attend FWBBC; my uncle and aunt decided for me. Both their children attended, and they thought I should too. They were right. My previous life had no structure, but FWBBC changed all that. The school gave me structure and purpose and new friends and taught me how to study and live for God.”
She paid her way through FWBBC by working afternoons at the YMCA and through careful use of student loans. Best of all, however, she met some men she could trust.
“The teachers were exactly what I needed in my life,” she said. “One of the first men I learned to trust was a counselor, Dr. Neil Gilliland. I named my son after another great teacher, Dr. LaVerne Miley. And Eddie Payne was such an encourager.”
Cassandra’s best moments at FWBBC came during daily Prayer Band, those times when she learned about God’s work around the world and her place in it. She looked forward to the annual Day of Prayer when students waited alone before God for guidance and direction.
At first, she was embarrassed to be on campus. “There I was, the daughter of a drug dealer and a junkie sitting in classes alongside all those nice PKs and Mks (Preachers’ Kids and Missionary Kids). I soon discovered, however, that I was the only one bothered by my background. Everybody else accepted me the way I was and made room for me in their hearts and lives. They made me feel welcome and wanted, and taught me how to become a woman for God. I was home!”
The Man She Trusts
Thirteen years ago, as a Missions major at FWBBC, Cassandra met another Missions major, a young man named Brent Thompson whose parents graduated from FWBBC in 1970.
She said, “Neil Gilliland had told me that because of all the baggage I was packing through life, it would take a very special man to marry me. I found that special man at FWBBC. We started out just friends. He never tried to crowd me. He was such a gentleman and a hard worker, and I learned to trust him. We married in 1996.”
Brent’s mother and father, Ernie and Lila Thompson (both employed at FWBBC), became the caring Christian parents Cassandra always wanted.
Cassandra and Brent have been foster parents for 10 children over a five-year period. “I’ve been where they are,” she said, “and I want to do what I can to help them.”
The Thompsons are members of Cross Timbers Free Will Baptist Church in Nashville where they have worked in children’s church and the nursery, and rotate other church responsibilities as needed. Brent, a supervisor at a local HVAC company, also does volunteer ministry with the Gideons.
Cassandra’s mother died September 9, 2008, at age 57. She practiced writing every day until her death in an effort to overcome her learning disabilities. During the funeral, Cassandra returned to New Jersey and faced the old nightmares from her youth—including the uncle who molested her and is now on parole.
Cassandra’s health has been a matter of great concern for the past seven years after she was diagnosed with arthritis of the spine. Every month or so, she must spend hours in a doctor’s office with an IV dripping into her arm to regulate the pain. Otherwise, she would be unable to walk.
“I’m willing to go anywhere and do anything God wants,” she said. “I feel like I’m on the mission field right here in Middle Tennessee. A few months ago, I sensed that something big was about to happen, that God wanted to do something different through me. I now know what the big thing is—God wants me to tell His story in my life. He wants me to write a book.”
Cassandra paused, then smiled and said, “The project scares me. Who would read something written by a junkie’s daughter? On the other hand, maybe it’s time for me to take the same advice I give to parents and children—don’t be afraid. If God can change a junkie’s daughter, He can guide me through this book project. I know I can trust Him.”
About the Writer: Jack Williams is director of communications at Free Will Baptist Bible College.