Donna Johnson's remarkable story of being raised under the biggest gospel tent in the world, by David Terrell, one of the most famous evangelical ministers of the 1960s and 70s. Holy Ghost Girl is a compassionate, humorous exploration of faith, betrayal, and coming of age on the 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.
Johnson spent her childhood in the 1960s and 1970s traveling the America's South with revivalist preacher Brother David Terrell, a hugely popular Holy Roller who brought thousands to his raucous tent sermons. But life under the tent and under Terrell's control was far from easy, and Johnson eloquently recounts this uncommon upbringing shaped by constant upheaval and her increasingly fraught conception of faith. Johnson's mother, Carolyn, the daughter of a pastor, joined Brother Terrell's circuit as an organist after a failed marriage, when Johnson was three. Brother Terrell, a Pentecostal "sawdust-trail preacher" in the tradition of Oral Roberts, struggled to find his footing on the evangelical circuit until an instance of alleged faith healing made him an overnight sensation; his tent crowds soon numbered in the thousands. Yet despite his success among those speaking in tongues during his sermons, day-to-day life for the Terrell family including his wife, Betty Ann; son Randall; and daughter Pam and those in the inner circle remained difficult, as bills went unpaid and food was scarce. As she gets older, Johnson realizes that Brother Terrell's life is anything but sinless: he fathers numerous children with other women (including three with Johnson's mother) and is later arrested for tax evasion. Leaving the tent circuit for good at 16 gave Johnson the perspective she needed for this fascinating tale of life with a "con man, a prophet, a performer."
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Holy Ghost Girl
A wonderful story of youth, beautifully written.
stellar writing. great story. wonderful prose.
Holy Ghost Girl
Great writing, reading and educating on a life of unknowns. What great strength and personal empowerment can do when one chooses their own path.