Holy Ghost Girl by Donna Johnson
A compassionate, humorous story of faith, betrayal, and coming of age on the evangelical sawdust trail. She was just three years old when her mother signed on as the organist of tent revivalist David Terrell, and before long, Donna Johnson was part of the hugely popular evangelical preacher's inner circle. At seventeen, she left the ministry for good, with a trove of stranger-than-fiction memories. A homecoming like no other, Holy Ghost Girl brings to life miracles, exorcisms, and faceoffs with the Ku Klux Klan. And that's just what went on under the tent. As Terrell became known worldwide during the 1960s and '70s, the caravan of broken-down cars and trucks that made up his ministry evolved into fleets of Mercedes and airplanes. The glories of the Word mixed with betrayals of the flesh and Donna's mother bore Terrell's children in one of the several secret households he maintained. Thousands of followers, dubbed "Terrellites" by the press, left their homes to await the end of the world in cultlike communities. Jesus didn't show, but the IRS did, and the prophet/healer went to prison. Recounted with deadpan observations and surreal detail, Holy Ghost Girl bypasses easy judgment to articulate a rich world in which the mystery of faith and human frailty share a surprising and humorous coexistence. We have all seen those revivals on TV. You see the passionate preacher and see the fanatics that come to the tent in the hopes that Jesus will touch them and they will receive a miracle. Some just come to see if a miracle happens to someone else. Irregardless, it's hard not to get wrapped up into this when you have an enigmatic person basically screaming at you to confess your sins and get yourself right with God. Even the harshest critic wouldn't leave such a thing without feeling something.
This book is a really incredible memoir into the life of a traveling tent revival told through the eyes of a young child. The things she sees, her experiences growing up, and the abandonment she experiences when her mother is basically the preacher's piece on the side. I really enjoyed this book because not only could I believe that this is what it's really like for these people, but specifically in these times. It begins in 1960 and continues over two decades and to be quite honest- for me it read as a first hand witnesses account into the decent of a mad man. I have always viewed this preachers as crazy people who just believe so much into what they are preaching because they have no other option. You know when a person lies over and over again, they begin to believe it? That's basically how I viewed Brother Terrell, a crazy, selfish, narcissistic conman. I was so intrigued after finishing this book that I obviously had to Google search him and wow. He's still at it. Even after prison, he is still out there collecting money from people who think Jesus is going to bless them.
So really hearing how people are so willing to give up what very little they have to hopefully get a miracle or spread the word of Jesus is kind of sad to me. But maybe that's because I don't really understand any of it myself. But the other sad tale is that Donna and her brother Gary really had a tough childhood. They were essentially shuffled around to different homes and sustained quite a bit of child abuse and neglect at the hands of these caretakers. And as a parent... I can't imagine just leaving my kids with strangers really and just hoping for the best. So it's kind of a tragic story to me but the most astounding part?
Is the end. I really did not expect the author's reaction years later when she comes face to face with Brother Terrell. I wonder (and hope) she has had some kind of closure in her own life because I didn't feel like the book really expressed that. As a reader, I ended the book feeling angry and sad for her and her brother because they are just innocent victims caught in a man's whirlwind.
So overall- GREAT book. It was so fascinating even for a person like me who doesn't really read anything religion based because I don't understand it. I would highly recommend this for anyone because if nothing else, it provides a really interesting insight into tent revivals, the human spirit, and American history too. Of course you can check out other reviews of this book HERE too.
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