Upon meeting Debbie Briscoe Smith, one’s first thought might be, “There’s no way she’s HIV-positive.” Her radiant smile and healthy glow are a stark contrast to the stereotypical view of someone fighting the disease. After learning she had been infected by a former partner, the Lake Lure resident sought a way to help others who find themselves in the situation she was once in. The culmination of her efforts, Sisters In Christ Restoration & Recovery Ministry, will celebrate its first year of operation in July.
Debbie says that she learned of her HIV-positive status thirteen years ago. After ending a long-term relationship, she discovered that she was pregnant, but there was more to come. A week after learning about her pregnancy, her doctor summoned her to his office. “I went into Dr. Godfrey’s office, and he came over and sat beside me,” Debbie says. “He said, ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever had to tell anybody.’ The first thing I thought was that my baby had died, but he said, ‘Your HIV test came back positive.’”
Debbie went into a panic. She begged Dr. Godfrey to show her a woman who had been through what she was about to go through. “I didn’t believe in abortion,” she says, “and I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring. Unfortunately, there was no one I could turn to who could say ‘I’ve been through this, and you can do it too.’ I made a promise to God that day. If he would lift me up and help me have a normal, healthy baby, I would never let another woman go through what I went through alone that day.”
With the help of Dr. Godfrey and the staff at Rutherford Hospital, Debbie’s son was born HIV-free. “That’s why I have to be a voice for others,” Debbie says. “A lot of the friends I work with are where I once was. Hiding in their home. Embarrassed. Afraid of who might know. They aren’t where I am now. I have be a voice for them so that, one day, they can reach the point where I am now.”
According to Debbie, Sisters In Christ Restoration & Recovery Ministry is available to anyone needing help. The ministry’s focus is helping women infected with or affected by HIV or AIDS. “Not only am I there so I can say ‘I did it, and you can too,’ I let them know that God is still there for them.” Debbie says that after her diagnosis, people she thought were friends disappeared from her life. “Loneliness is a sad thing when you feel like you’re all alone in this world and there’s nobody there,” she says.
Debbie’s ministry helps with providing basics, such as food, shelter, and clothing, as well as helping those affected by HIV with day-to-day living, such as getting a ride to the doctor. “Many people suffering from AIDS have nothing,” she says. “Some feel that their life is over. Others are stronger and able to keep working, but they’re depressed and fighting the demons in their head.” While Debbie receives some support for her efforts, most of the ministry is driven by her time, efforts, and expense. “Miss Pat at the Storehouse Pantry in Forest City has been great about helping out whenever one of my friends (I don’t call them clients) needs food, but everything I do is a volunteer effort. It’s all my time, my gas money, but I get blessed every time I see a smile on someone’s face.”
Today, Debbie is happily married. Her husband and two children are all HIV-free, and are very supportive of her ministry. To learn more about her work with Sisters In Christ Restoration & Recovery Ministry, visit the ministry’s page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SistersInChristRestorationRecoveryMinistry. Debbie can be reached by phone at 828-395-0705, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.