My Experience with Inner Healing Prayer

Reasons I Write

Greetings, gentle readers. I have a story to tell, and I would never normally tell something like this publicly, but the level of bullshit I’ve been made to endure throughout the unfolding of this whole entire situation has made me decide to go against my natural tendency to be extremely private.

The Setup

So here’s the deal: I used to have a very strong Christian belief system. I was raised in a typical conservative, evangelical Christian church, and I carried a lot of those doctrines into my adult life. Only in the last few years have I started to realize how patriarchal, misogynistic, dysfunctional, and utterly toxic a lot of those concepts and communities really are — which is another topic for another day. But I’m saying that so you know where I’m coming from.

Inner Healing Prayer Ministry

If you are unfamiliar with the idea of inner healing prayer, there are various methods (theophostic, Sozo, Immanuel moment, HeartSync, etc) and you can Google them if you want to learn more. The overarching theme in all of them is that you — and a facilitator (or two or three) — are attempting to communicate with God and/or Jesus to ask them to heal you from specific traumas. Also contained in all of this is the idea that God/Jesus can supernaturally change your perspective about what happened to you so that you can reframe the resultant thoughts and emotions that sprang from it.

How It Began For Me

What happened to me is this: I started meeting with Denise Hughes of Transformation Ministries in 2013. I actually knew her casually for about 6–7 years before that. I met her in 2006 when she was working for Grace Ministries Tennessee, and since then she’d started her own 501(c)3 called Transformation Ministries. In between 2006 and 2013 I’d been in infrequent communication with her. We emailed occasionally, talked on the phone every now and then, and met at a coffee shop once or twice to chat. I stayed overnight at her house once when on my way home from a long road trip. My oldest child took their first few steps at Denise’s house. She made me breakfast that next day; we went to a park and walked the trails together while chatting and let my child play on the playground, before I had to leave for home.

Confusion of Boundaries

From the very beginning, my relationship with Denise was that of a spiritual mother-spiritual daughter. She is old enough to be my mother and is known for having a very maternal vibe. She called me her spiritual daughter more than once, to multiple people. By coincidence I stumbled into the church she attended one Sunday morning after I’d moved to Nashville and she invited me to sit with her. It became a regular thing. Every now and again if someone asked us if I was her daughter she would just smile and say “Spiritual, but not natural.”

The Chaotic Healing “Work”

There’s no particularly adequate segue, so I’ll just move on…

The Revolving Door of Assistants

For the first six months or so, Denise had an assistant facilitator attend my sessions, Ginger Ludlow. Ginger is her ministry partner. Ginger is the yin to Denise’s yang; she is a rather opposite personality to Denise, and often has insights that Denise misses. I appreciated having her be part of the journey, and formed a deep attachment to her. She is younger than Denise so I saw her sort of as a loving older sister, the kind anyone would have wanted to have. Six months in, Ginger had to drop out of my sessions when she and Jon adopted their daughter. I understood this, but she was sorely missed and it was still hard to avoid the feeling that I had been pseudo-abandoned by her. I saw her infrequently after that, so the attachment to her died a slow but inevitable death. She remained a ministry partner to Denise, however, and remained on staff in the ministry. Because of her status as the “partner” to Denise, she was gradually allowed to become privy to everything that happened in my sessions, as well as emails and whatever outside communication occurred. This was confusing, as the confidentiality (or lack thereof) was never made particularly clear. What was being shared, when, why… none of this was communicated clearly. I didn’t really understand why Ginger needed to know everything that was going on if she was no longer personally involved in any of my sessions, but at the time I was too afraid to ask questions or rock the boat. The only reason I bring up the presence of Ginger on the scene is because it matters later.

Broken Promises

To recap so far… I cannot overemphasize the impact of the mother-daughter dynamic with Denise on me. By putting herself in the position to play the role of the mother I’d always wanted, I was so enamored with her that I would have done anything for her. And I cared about her opinion on every conceivable topic. I don’t really know how I didn’t drive her nuts purely by the frequency that I was in contact, looking back on it (or maybe I did, and she was just too nice to admit it to my face). But I was in contact with her nearly every day. She never gave any indication that this was too much or that it wasn’t okay. When I saw her at church or even at other church events in other locations, I always sat with her and if I arrived first, she would find me and sit with me. What was I going to do, say no? She was my mom. Not my real, narcissistic, toxic mom…she was my good mom, the mom I’d always wanted, the mom I wished I’d had. I have emails and text messages that prove that I didn’t just fabricate this perspective. 75% of our communication was in writing (email or text message) and I have gone through many of those recently (but not all…that could take days). I have found a half dozen or so emails signed “Mama Denise” and text messages in which she called me “baby” and multiple types of communications in which she expressed a longterm commitment to me. (I also have a journal that she bought for me as a gift with a note in the front — signed “Mama Dee”.) She told me I would always be in her life, even if we should decide to stop praying together. She said I would always be in her heart. She said she wasn’t going anywhere, ever.

Inadequate Resources, Inappropriate Support

For the first few years of doing inner healing prayer with Denise, I had a horrific time outside our sessions. I was often suicidal or prone to self-harming, and the magnitude of what I was trying to overcome caused constant distress and chaos. I could only see Denise once every 3 weeks and it seemed like so little progress was made in sessions that it was all undone — along with taking a few steps backward — in between. But I’d already tried to find someone else who was willing to work with me in addition to Denise, and I just couldn’t find anyone. They were either too expensive, too far away, retiring, or flat-out unwilling (they did not feel qualified). So since I didn’t really see any other options, and since no one else seemed willing to take me, I kept plugging away with Denise.

Ignoring Red Flags

I was able to ignore the things that seemed off at the time, because — outside those things — Denise was one of the most loving, joyful people I’d ever met. For those reading this who know her, I’m sure this is going to be hard to believe. That something that started so lovingly and beautifully could end so badly… that something that had so much potential for such powerful healing could take such a devastating turn… It’s heartbreaking.

Finding Out It Gets Worse

About a year into my 4-year ministerial relationship with Denise, it became more and more clear that my dissociative disorder was causing me to black out regularly at night. Ultimately, the truth is: I was being trafficked while in an altered state of consciousness. Yes. You read it right. I was being trafficked. I am a trafficking survivor.

Trapped in Silence

It would have been nice if I’d been able to go to Denise and Ginger for help. But because I was so scared, instead, I first casually asked in an email what, theoretically, could be done if that were happening. I was told — again, in writing (I still have the email) — that I could not tell them about it unless I wanted them to call DHS, because if that were happening then my oldest child was not safe with me and they were obligated to report that a minor was living in an unsafe situation. Apparently it didn’t matter that I was being hurt. It only mattered that my child could potentially be hurt. (They weren’t, by a miracle of the cosmos. They were referred to by some of the men, as leverage, but no one ever harmed them. They never even knew what was going on.)

Others are Worth it, But I’m Not

One of the people who ended up attending some of my prayer sessions when Ginger stopped was a lady named Laura Connor. She was learning to work with people in a similar manner as Denise and Ginger, but due to scheduling conflicts she was only present in my sessions a handful of times.

Freeing Myself On My Own

Fast forward to 2016. I’d had 3 years of utter hell on earth in my private life. (I ended up having a nervous breakdown of sorts in August 2016…this was a major component of why that happened.) I was working full-time in the workforce, and in my own time I was also working my ass off trying to heal old AND new emotional AND physical wounds without anyone’s direct support. It was grueling, exhausting, and terrifying. I couldn’t rush anything. Most of the time it felt impossible, until it was over.

The Beginning of the End

In October-November of 2016, as I was coming to terms with a traumatic pregnancy, Denise stopped communicating with me outside sessions. Maybe the timing was coincidental, as she says. But even so, the timing was bad. Pregnancy in the best of situations can be an emotional rollercoaster. And losing the support of someone so significant in my life was utterly devastating.

Maybe It’s Not Me?

Finally I got wind of the fact that she was having some painful events going on in her personal life. Which I can understand. But it didn’t — in my opinion — absolve her of the responsibility of someone in her position as a minister to deeply wounded people. That was a role she’d taken on willingly. No one forced her to do that. No one made her start a ministry. No one made her stay in one. I, of all people, know that shit happens. I know that. But if shit is happening, take a break, maybe? Just admit you need to tap out for awhile? If you can’t minister to people because things in your personal life are interfering with your capacity to finish what you started, no one is forcing you to. That was a choice she made. The tendency for abused people (and just people, in general) to misinterpret and misunderstand someone’s actions — in the absence of actual communication — is immense.

Power Flex

After 4 months of radio silence, and me trying desperately to figure out and correct whatever I’d done wrong, a confrontation about something unrelated brought it all to the surface. Denise and Ginger unfairly reversed a decision they’d made regarding me being a student in their yearly “ministry school” and it pissed me off. They’d approved my participation in the school with the promise that I could wait to receive ministry (as part of the training) until one of them rotated into my small group for that particular week (they rotated amongst the groups for the 14 weeks of the school). So that I could pray with them rather than a random stranger I didn’t know and who didn’t know my extensive history. Then when it came time to follow through on this promise, they reversed their decision and said that I couldn’t pray with EITHER of them during the whole school (14 weeks), since I had the privilege of praying with them privately outside the school. I could pray with a stranger in class, or not pray at all. Besides the fact that they broke their promise, this was hardly fair at all. I’d paid the money to be there just like everyone else. And on top of it, I’d have to watch them pray with everyone else and leave me out of it, being reminded of that broken promise, for the length of the school. (I don’t know what to tell you other than, at that time, I was obvs a glutton for punishment.)

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Denise never directly responded to the email. Ginger responded on Denise’s behalf. She offered to let us drop out of the ministry school if we just couldn’t be at peace with the last-minute decision reversal. They would release me from the financial obligation and I could just drop out. (So I’d only be out a couple hundred bucks instead of $350, or whatever it was that I still owed.)

All the Right Words

It’s notable at this point to make it known that Denise and Ginger will invite questioning from behind the podium. They will say “You get to be powerful and disagree with us; you are allowed to question us.” But when one of my friends first told me that they’d said that, I responded with “But has anyone ever actually done that? To see how they react?” And she got very quiet. Actually doing it — despite their insistence that they welcome it — makes a very different story unfold.

Revealing of a Pattern

It took another year after that to start questioning those thoughts. And honestly, I don’t know that I ever would have if I hadn’t started dating my husband-to-be. As I began telling him the story in bits and pieces, he was outraged. Not anticipating that reaction, I slowly began to relate the story to a couple other close, trusted friends. They reacted the same way.

Attempting to Find Closure

Back in July 2018, I reached out to Denise via email.

Blocked and Deleted

Ginger did not respond. I requested that she respond before I would be compelled to go to their board of directors, but she refused. It would not surprise me if they both blocked my emails after that.

Going to the Board

In light of this development, I contacted Kevin Hyer (yes I am naming names now, because NOT naming names hasn’t resulted in any sort of tangible change) who is on the board of directors for their ministry and asked to file a complaint. They are formally a nonprofit organization and I donated a substantial amount of money to them in the course of those 4 years (and even before then), so I am considered a stakeholder. Even if I wasn’t, it’s not okay to treat people this way.

A Diplomatic Response

I was informed that the board “agreed to review these items with TM within the next 60 days” (the 60 days was over on September 28) “and make any necessary adjustments and/or training.”

They Don’t Even Follow Their Own Codes of Conduct

In their own Bible Christians read in James (2:15–16, NIV) “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if not accompanied by action, is dead.”

An Invitation to Meet

I emailed Kevin again on September 28 and asked to follow up on these issues. I noted that — even though I’d made the suggestion — there was still no Code of Ethics posted anywhere on the ministry’s website (best practice for nonprofits strongly suggests developing a Code of Ethics, sharing it, and…you know…abiding by it). I requested the IRS Form 990 which all 501(c)3 nonprofits are required to make publicly available for inspection and copying if someone requests it. I also requested contact info for the ministry’s lawyer.

Protecting Their Own

All I have to say about that is that either he doesn’t know the law in Tennessee, or he’s bluffing because he thinks I don’t. Their “policy” is illegal. Nonprofits are required to provide Form 990 within 30 days of the first request, either on paper or electronically, unless the nonprofit applies for an exemption due to the request being made as part of a harassment campaign, indicated by being flooded with so many requests for the form that it would use up all of their time trying to fulfill them. They have 10 days from the first request to apply for this exemption. In my case, their time was up days ago. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter why someone is asking for it. The nonprofit is required by law to provide it within 30 days, and they are subject to a financial penalty per day for every day that they fail to do so. My first request was made on Sept 28. (I have the nonprofit complaint form, addressed to the IRS, ready to send. Their 30 days is up on October 28.)

No Place to Go Except Forward

I have a lot of healing to do — emotionally AND physically — and not a whole lot of resources with which to do it. I do want to make it very clear that I am safe now. But I have a lot of needs that I am trying to meet now, in order to gain back some semblance of health. And reaching out to Transformation Ministries about what happened has only created a new layer of wounds.

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Survivor, bestselling author, peer worker. I help people who experience life as more than one person sharing the same body.

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