FEATURED ARTICLE IN K.I.S.H. MAGAZINE
PASTOR MARY COOPER
FROM TRAGEDY TO TRIUMPH: A Real Love Story
by Javon George
At some point in our lives we all have faced trials and tribulations, family issues, loss of loved ones, or heartbreak. But it’s not the circumstances that ultimately alters your life, it’s how you respond. Here’s the story of one woman who experienced pain and hurt that only uninhibited love could heal. K.I.S.H. Magazine’s Javon George talks with Pastor Mary Cooper on going from tragedy to triumph.
Pastor Cooper meets weekly with women through her ministry, Daughters of Esther, to help women overcome obstacles, develop their leadership abilities and equip them to accomplish all that God has called them do to. “I minister to women to bring empowerment into their lives to move forward to what God has purposed and planned for their lives, because I find many women need to be guided or mentored, they don’t have direction, they don’t have insight; or sometimes they are broken; they’re bound; they need to be delivered and empowered. They need to be able to be free and move forward into the plan and purpose of God in their lives.” Pastor Mary Cooper is the model woman of the community; a woman of God. But Pastor Cooper understands all too well, the needs of the women she now ministers to because she has been in their shoes. Even though she doesn’t see her experience as a “badge of honor” her response to such events is certainly bringing glory to God.
Mary was placed in foster care as a baby by her birth mother, a Caucasian woman, after being raped by an African American man. Mary went through the early part of her childhood and early adult life feeling unloved, unvalued, inadequate, and unwanted. She was sexually assaulted three times, the first being at the age of eight at knife-point by a girlfriend’s brother. After getting into trouble at the age of ten Mary was sent to Catholic school and she really enjoyed it. It was there that the critical foundation for her eventual freedom from bondage and pain was laid. Mary finished junior high in Catholic School and graduated valedictorian from the eighth grade, and returned to her foster home when she was fifteen. After returning home to a relationship with her foster mother that wasn’t the best, Mary struggled. At times out of frustration, her foster mother would say to Mary, “If your mother didn’t want you, what do you think I’m going to do with you?” According to Mary, her foster mother wasn’t a bad foster mother. She took care of them physically; providing food, shelter and clothing. She just couldn’t provide the love and nurturing that Mary so desperately needed. She even instilled in all of them, including Mary, that no matter what they did, finishing high school was a must, Mary recalls.
After trying to cope for the next year, in an atmosphere very different from what she had learned to love in Catholic School, Mary decided to leave her foster mother’s home and so at the age of seventeen, she went to stay with the aunt of a friend. It was at that point that according to Mary, her life seemed to begin spiraling down. Having not sought any help for her rape at the young age of eight, and dealing with feelings of displacement from not just her birth mother, but from the woman who stepped in to take her place, the feelings of rejection, feeling unwanted, and a lot of things caused her to start drinking. Mary says, “I was functional though. I was like one of those functional drinkers–you know you drink but you go to work and you do well, you hide your pain, you hide your shame, you hide your guilt, you hide your fear; you hide a lot of things because you’re feeling so bad inside. I would just drown myself in drinking and just feeling bad.” Despite drinking and partying, Mary graduated high school, went to work in New York City and worked in the insurance and banking industries for the next two and a half years. One night when returning home from a double date, Mary was attacked and sexually assaulted by the driver, while her date was passed out in the back seat. After dropping off the driver’s date, Mary reluctantly joined the driver in the front seat after he asked repeatedly, stating he was uncomfortable driving with two people in his back seat. She was beaten in the face and choked, causing a dislocated jaw, a black eye, and a disfigured face which returned to normal after two years.
Mary decided there was more for her and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force when she was twenty and served for eight years. The Air Force seemed to offer the change of a
lifetime to Mary, a change she needed; traveling around the world. But the chains of sorrow and depression that bound Mary were still there, she was walking in fear, shame and guilt. She continued drinking and partying. Thinking all the more about her past, and trying to wipe it out of her mind, she started drinking more heavily. To compound her fear, Mary experienced a third sexual assault at the age of 25 when returning home for a 30-day leave from the military. A man who Mary assumes must have been watching her, posed as a police officer on the search for a rapist who had just attacked and raped a mother and daughter. Still doubtful, Mary further questioned his claim of being a police officer until he pulled out a gun and commanded her to open the door. Once in her room he conducted a bogus search for the alleged rapist. When he found that there was no one in the room, he told Mary that he was exhausted from his “search” of the rapist and said he needed to ‘rest for a while’. He confided in Mary about his family issues, and in order to preserve her safety, she made small talk with him, encouraging him that things would get better. The next morning, still not convinced that this man in her room was a police officer, she informed him that she needed to leave. Suspecting that Mary did not believe who he was, he told her to turn on the TV, and when she did, he pulled his gun on her. He robbed and raped Mary before tying her up and placing her in the bathroom. Because of her generosity the night before in allowing him to express his concerns about his sister being a lesbian, he said to Mary, “I really like you, you’re a nice person, I won’t hurt you.” After raping and robbing her, he took the cab she had prearranged for herself and left. She reported the rape to the military after being asked why she needed to replace her ID and how she lost it. Mary was driven home by a security police officer who was a trusted friend of another base officer. Still in fear and in the presence of yet another male stranger posed internal danger for Mary and so she warned him that if he tried anything she was going to kill him. Instead, he was able to reassure Mary that he was not there to hurt her and was able to gain her trust. He returned Mary to her home safely.
After the military, Mary was hired on with the Department of Corrections and eventually promoted to the rank of lieutenant. Though it seemed that Mary was well on her way; good career, successful, the bondage of pain was still present. She suffered from failed relationships; she would date but end the relationship before he got too close. “It was just difficult, because I just had this emotional trauma within me and I didn’t know how to handle it; I didn’t know how to get help for it; or what was wrong with me,” said Mary. Then one day, the foundation that was laid in Catholic School began to become evident. In taking a test from a magazine, answering ‘yes’ to mostly all of the questions, she realized she had an addiction to alcohol. Mary began to search for something deeper. Using what she learned about God in Catholic School, she knew there was a hope greater than her, but she just didn’t know how to tap into it. Catechism that is taught in the Catholic religion doesn’t get into “how to walk into the Word or how the Word works," says Mary.
Mary began to give more time to the Lord and walk in the things of the Lord. But her life altering moment came when she officially gave her life to Christ. After a correctional officer extended many, many…many invitations to visit his church, Mary thought she would do him a favor, and go. They gave the altar call and asked if anyone wanted to be saved. Mary wanted more of the Lord, but given the Catholic practice of confession, there was just no way she would air her dirty laundry in front of all of these strangers! So like many of us do when we’re contemplating this eternal decision, she didn’t go up and the service ended. Little did Mary know, God is a gentleman, but He’s not a quitter. As Mary went on her way she heard something say ‘yes, you want to be saved’. In utter shock she told her friend that invited her and he immediately called everyone back into the church, saying, ‘Mary wants to get saved! Mary wants to get saved!’ Not really knowing what she got herself into–again thinking back on confessing her sin to what felt like the world that day–she wondered what she would say. She mentally threw out details that she did not want to disclose. As she arrived to the front…moment of truth…she was asked only to receive Jesus into her heart and confess Him as Lord and Savior. “Yes, it really is that simple and the same can happen for you. My life just totally started changing from that point on; I began to hear the call of God upon my life,” Mary tells Javon.
Mary graduated from the School of Biblical Studies in 1988; went on missions trips to Africa, Trinidad; Barbados; with the Gary Whetstone Worldwide Ministries, and married. She went on to graduate from ministerial training from Victory Christian Fellowship in 1995; and remained an active part of the Body of Christ. Together with her husband, she began an Overcomers Ministry which brought deliverance to people who were addicted or held in bondage of any kind. After 21 years with the Department of Corrections, Mary turned in her badge and became a pastor at the very church where she now attends.
One final issue that Mary had to tackle was still feeling the rejection from her birth mother, Rita. Mary met Rita for the first time at the age of sixteen. It was a cordial meeting, but one that Mary vowed she would not do again–Mary was told that she would need to leave before Rita’s brother got home because he was unaware of Mary or the situation. When Mary got older she decided to visit Rita again. This time, things went better, and Mary visited Rita frequently. Over the years though, the fact that Rita always referred to Mary as her friend, brought back old feelings of shame, inadequacy and rejection so the visits slowed down. The Lord–through Mary’s husband– put Rita back on Mary’s heart when her husband mentioned that they hadn’t been to see Rita lately. Understanding that to be from the Lord, Mary knew it was time to get free. After all, says Mary, “I was helping people get set free and delivered from bondages, addictive behaviors, and emotional drama and trauma. And here I have a mother who, never got married, never had children; still in bondage to whatever took place in her life years ago.” So Mary went to visit Rita, not trying to be her daughter, but to be a woman of God that’s going to bring Jesus to her. She would visit Rita frequently, praying with her before she ended every visit. It came to the point where Rita wouldn’t let Mary leave without a prayer! During a visit with Rita, something astounding happened. As a group of people started down the hallway and into Rita’s room she invited them in to meet her daughter, Mary! Mary couldn’t believe it! After ten years of being Rita’s friend, this day, Rita introduced her as ‘my daughter Mary’. About a week later Rita passed away. But before she left this earth she got to see her daughter and she was set free.
Mary got to a place where God showed her that it was Him alone guiding her into the plan and purpose for her life. There are a lot of people going through a lot of stuff, that all they have to do is receive the power of God into their lives to get set free and delivered. Many people are saved but they’re not delivered, they’re not free, from bondage and past situations that have occurred in their lives, words spoken over their lives, generational curses, all kinds of drama and trauma.
Mary now says, “I walk in the liberty of the Lord Jesus Christ; in the place of worry I have peace. Where I was walking in foolishness, I now walk in the wisdom of God, and in God’s righteousness, not self-righteousness, I no longer walk in deception; I am wise and discerning, I’m not in fear because perfect love casts out all fear. So I’m no longer in doubt because I live in a hope that fades not away, and I am stress free because I do rest in Jesus and He is the answer.