Gospel Change Agent: Benita Villa's Story of Transformation

Benita Villa Taking in West Dallas History
Credit: Steven Koye Photography
"You are inviting me to church?  And to think I saw you at the club just a few months ago, bailando- dancing."  There was a question in the woman's statement.  You might even imagine a certain wistfulness in her tone of voice, as though she were thinking,  "What a pity.  She's become an alleluia- a protestant- now.  And she used to be such a good dancer."  What had happened to Benita Villa?
Benita smiled and responded to her acquaintance, "Well, things change you know.  I have been born again."
That low-key statement says so much about the woman I have come to respect and love as the soul of our church, the matriarch of Iglesia Bill Harrod. 
Benita Villa is not the kind of person to brag on herself, and when she talked to me about the change that God made in her life, it took me a little while to appreciate just how dramatically her life was transformed.
"We had a routine back then.  There was a group of us who would go out to the clubs together to go dancing.  I was the driver because I didn't drink.  I didn't smoke for that matter, I just loved to dance. We would dance until the club closed, then we would come back to the house and dance some more.  On Sunday mornings everyone would come back over and they were bien crudos- hung over- and I would make menudo."  
Menudo is a stew made with beef tripe, the lining of a cow's stomach.  Among its many excellent qualities, it is renowned as a hangover cure.
"When Ms. Bailey first came around I was very skeptical.  I wondered, 'What is that Anglo woman doing?  She must not have anything better to do with her time.  I kind of felt sorry for her.  She would come to the neighborhood and pick the kids up in the station wagon and take them to the church.  It was located over there on the west side of Loop 12 at the time."
"One Sunday my three children kind of misbehaved and Mrs. Bailey came back here without them.  She was very upset.  She told me they left church and did not come back. What happened was, they skipped out to go down to the grocery store. The children eventually came home and I punished them.  The next Sunday I went with them to be sure they behaved.  That was in 1960, and I have been going to the same church for more than fifty years now."
But what caused her to decide to make a decision to follow Christ?  
"There were two women who sat by me in church.  They were both named Maria and they gave me a Bible the very first Sunday."
"I was surprised to see that what they were singing,  preaching and teaching was actually in the Bible. You see, brother, up to that point I thought I was going to hell and that was that.  When I went to Ms. Bailey's church I began to see that there was a way for me to go to heaven."
"One time before all this I attended another Protestant church.  I asked a teacher there how a person gets to heaven.  She told me, 'Well, the good people go to heaven and the bad people go to hell.'"
'O.K.,' I thought, 'That's it.  I know where I am going.'"
"But then I started attending the church where Ms. Bailey went and I realized that I could change.  
"I remember hearing the hymn Have Thine Own Way and learning the scripture verse, John 14:6, where Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.'"

"When the hymn Have Thine Own Way was played I remember hearing the words, 'He is the potter and I am the clay,' and I thought,  'God can mold me into what I need to be.'"
"When I decided to go to the altar and make my decision public, I remember a voice whispering to me.  It said, 'If you get baptized your husband will go to the dances without you and eventually he will leave you.' I was very afraid and I almost didn't go."
"That was the devil trying to talk me out of making my decision.  I finally decided that whatever happened, I was going to give my life to Christ.  And Jose didn't leave me.  He quit going to the dances.  He said he didn't want to go without me.'"
And the woman who was so surprised that Benita quit going to dances and was visiting on behalf of a Baptist church?
"After our visit she and her whole family became Christians."
"Now I am in my eighties and I am still there (at Iglesia Bill Harrod)."
That last statement is pure Benita, because if you think she is just hanging around waiting on things to happen, you don't know the woman who continues to inspire and instruct so many of us.  Come back tomorrow to read more of Benita's remarkable story.

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