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First Lady Tribute: Nona Jones

Many people have been blessed and encouraged through her ministry. But when did she realize it was time to walk in her calling?

Who is Nona Jones? She is a mighty woman of God a wife, mother, author, entreprenuer, internationally renowned speaker, and pastor who overcame the trauma of childhood sexual abuse to achieve immense career success. Her testimony has given Nona one of the most recognized voices of hope, healing, and inspiration. Nona’s passion and purpose in life are to demonstrate God’s power to turn pain into purpose by equipping women and girls around the world to rise from their past pain into a fulfilling future through faith. She has been able to fulfill this calling in her career as well as alongside her husband as co-leader of Open Door Ministries in Gainesville, Florida. She was licensed into the Gospel ministry at the age of 17 in Jacksonville, FL.

Two passages of Scripture that embody the heart of the following powerful conversation happen to be two of Nona’s favorites: 

1) “This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to meditate on it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do” ‭‭(Joshua 1:8).

2) “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

As you enter this conversation, keep these verses in mind. It’s evident that Nona knows God, knows the Word, and knows that God is using her voice as a catalyst for change and light in this dark world. And this all the more proves His power that works in and through her to show us that one can THRIVE after trauma.

MB Mag: Many people have been blessed and encouraged through your ministry. When did you realize it was time to walk in your calling?

NJ: Good question. For what I experienced as a child, I talk about extensively in my book. I think when you’re a victim of trauma, you try to keep it to yourself. You don’t really tell people. But when in college, I had a situation that arose where a roommate of mine ended up getting raped. As part of that process, I saw her going through a lot of pain. I was just trying to be there for her, and I said to her, “Listen I know how you feel, and I promise you that it gets better.” I remembered my friend saying to me, “How could you possibly understand how I feel? You don’t know how I feel.” And that was the first time I told somebody my story. Her entire countenance changed. Everything changed. The atmosphere of the room changed. She began to see, through me, that it was possible to thrive after trauma. That’s when I recognized the power of giving voice to the thing we would prefer to hide. I really think that is my ministry: To try to help people discover the freedom to speak their truth and to allow the power of God to operate in their life.

MB Mag: How did you and your husband meet? 

NJ: In college. My husband and I went to the same college. We didn’t meet on campus though. At the time I was on an earlier social media platform called BlackPlanet. I used this platform to keep in contact with my friends. One time on this platform I had a message that said, “Hi, how are you?” But their username was a weird name, so I closed the chat window. I didn’t know who it was. This happened for probably three to four days. Until eventually I was, like, maybe I do know this person. I responded with an email and a note that said “Hey! If I know you, feel free to email me. I’m not really on here when you’re messaging me.” It turned out to be someone named Tim Jones who had been messaging me.

He told me he connected with me because I went to the University of Florida, and he had just graduated. He said his father‘s church was in Gainesville. He had moved away at that point for work. We started emailing back and forth, and eventually he was, like, “Hey, I’m coming into town [to help my father with the church], I would love to take you out to dinner.” I was, like, “Okay,” but I thought I was going to be really smart because I was going to have him pick me up from my friend’s house. I didn’t want him to know where I lived just in case he was an ax murderer. Well, now I realized that if he was really an ax murderer, he would’ve known where my friend lived. I was thinking I was so smart. Thank God he wasn’t an ax murderer. 

We went on the date, and I thought he was just so cool and so sweet. We started courting, because his family didn’t believe in dating. They believed that when you meet somebody and you’re serious about them, you need to introduce them to your parents pretty quickly so that your parents can provide an objective view. 

We went on our first date and that was fine. The very next date I met his parents, and we went to dinner. Interestingly enough, his father said when he first met me he heard the Lord say, “Father to the fatherless.” And he didn’t know what that meant, but later found out that I had lost my father right before my second birthday. But he knew when he first met me that I was going to be his daughter.

Fast forward eight months into our relationship, and my now husband decided to dump me because he said I was argumentative. Now the real issue [which Nona is glad to share her side about] is that my husband at that point of his life wanted a woman who was compliant. Someone who just went along with whatever he said. But I was the kind of person that if you said foolishness, I would tell you that it was foolishness. Ya know? No hard feelings, but that’s not true. We would have heated debates, which he wasn’t used to, so he broke up with me because of that.

He calls his father the day he breaks up with me. He tells his father that he broke it off; it wasn’t working out because she was argumentative. His father, who never got involved in his relationships before, listened to what he said. He didn’t interrupt him, just let him talk, talk,  talk. My husband gets finished and his father said, “Whelp, you made a mistake. You need to go back and apologize to her.” Then proceeded to hang up the phone in his face. Rocked to his core because his father never did that. And Tim listened to what he said and apologized.

Of course, I was like, “You don’t just walk back into my life!” Over time we worked it out and my husband eventually proposed. We got married and will be married for 17 years this year. We got married when I was 21, a month after I graduated college.

MB Mag: You have two beautiful boys. What are their ages?

NJ: Yes! I have a soon-to-be 11-year-old and a just-turned 8-year-old. My 11-year-old is truly a miracle. He was born at 26 weeks of pregnancy, and he was 2 lbs 9 oz. He was not supposed to make it. A 50/50 chance. But God had kept him! He is healthy! He is happy! He is brilliant! Yes, God is good!!

I was actually diagnosed with infertility. I was told that I would never be able to have children without the help of medication, but the Lord allowed for me to get pregnant spontaneously, miraculously. I think it’s important to share for transparency that, between my oldest son and my youngest son, we had a miscarriage at about five months of pregnancy. We named our son Daniel. So typically when people ask about my children, I always hesitate. I have two on earth and Daniel in heaven. We also had a miscarriage of twins right before I had my oldest son. It was very early at about eight weeks, but it just goes to show just how grateful I am with what God has blessed us with. We have had loss, we have had pain, and yet God has provided. I’m grateful!

MB Mag: We can only imagine the level of responsibility required with being a pastor’s wife. What words of encouragement could you give for other First Ladies?

NJ: I think you have to know that God didn’t just call your husband; He called you. I believe that sometimes in the church, people get so fixated on the pastor that wives of pastors feel like, “Oh, God called him.” No, no, no! God called him because He called you, too.

I think that’s important to know because, as a First Lady, you can’t allow other people to diminish you. All the gifts that you have, all the experiences that you have, even the fears that you have and the concerns that you have, those are all purposeful. I would encourage all First Ladies to know that you are called just as much as your husband. And if you were not called, he would not be either. God does not call one without the other.

The strength in which a First Lady can stand, while the demands are on her husband, is truly related to her husband and his ability to set boundaries. This is really important in our marriage. My husband has done a great job of being responsive to me. There was a period when our sons were playing sports on a Saturday, and my husband would have to be at a funeral or a meeting. It got to the point that I told my husband, “Honey, I can guarantee you that in 20 years, these people probably won’t remember whether or not you were at their cousin’s funeral. But your sons will remember that you weren’t at their baseball games. So, we started to put guard rails into place. For our family, and also for our leaders. To the point that we don’t expect our deacons and deaconesses to come to the church if their kids have something going on. Go be with your child because we want your family to be strong. Your first ministry is your family.

My husband has done a really good job of that and being an advocate for me. Being a supporter for me. Yes, I have a very big global role as a job, and that’s in addition to ministry. There have been many times that people have not appreciated that. “We don’t see the First Lady much, and it seems like she’s not here much.” My husband had to be like, “Yeah, that’s because she has a job!” The boundaries have to be set by the husband so that people understand that he may be in full-time ministry, but as his wife, I’m supporting him and I have a full-time job that has me traveling around the world.

MB Mag: How did the lessons in the past regarding forgiveness help aid your role as a First Lady?

NJ: One of the misconceptions of First Ladies is that we’re perfect. We’re not. We are human. We are human beings that God decided were part of His plan for our local church. What that means is, every frailty that our members have, we have to. The difference is we don’t get to say, “Oh, I messed up. It is what is.” We have a level of expectation of ourselves that we are trying to please God every day. What that means is, when people do things to hurt us, we don’t get to lash out. We don’t get to, as they say, go low. But if we do lash out and if we do go low because we’re human, what that means is, we have to be the first to forgive and seek forgiveness. We have to be the first.

I’ve done this myself. Situations happen, people come at you. Listen, I love Jesus. There was a T-shirt that said, “Holy and Hood. Pray for me, Don’t play with me.” I’ve had moments when people have come for me and I had to take off the First Lady to have a conversation. But I love the Lord, so what that means is, when I’m wrong I will be the first one to be like, “Tthat wasn’t cool; that wasn’t right.” I want to be the first one to model that behavior.

Similarly, when other people hurt me or offend me, I will be the first to be like, “You know what? Maybe they just had a bad day, maybe there’s something going on in their life” so I can forgive them. What we cannot do as leaders, as First Ladies, is be bitter. We cannot walk around holding grudges against people who hurt us. Then we carry those grudges into new relationships. What happens is we then become standoffish. 

I have many sister First Ladies who do not fellowship with members at all because they have been hurt so many times. They’re trying to guard their heart, but in trying to guard your heart you actually end up diminishing your ministry. We are called to the people, but you cannot serve the people if you will not go to the people. I really try to guard against bitterness, unforgiveness, resentment, and grudges. I just let it go and go before God myself. Everyday and every morning to just pray, repent, and figure out who I need to forgive. Who do I need to seek forgiveness from so that I can try to reflect God in all situations?

I learned a long time ago that hurt people, hurt people. When someone is hurtful or resentful, it’s because they have been hurt. I don’t walk around all day trying to figure out how to hurt people, or walk around all day talking about people. That’s just not how I’m wired because I walk in forgiveness and I walk in repentance. What that means is my heart is free and open, but many people’s are not because they’re walking around holding onto hurt. Pray for them. Pray that God will give them grace to understand that one, they need to heal and two, that they would be able to walk in forgiveness for others who offend them.

MB Mag: You are a wife, a mother, an author, a pastor, and the list goes on and on. What keeps you going, and how are you able to balance it all?

NJ: I am rooted in the Lord. God has graced me for everything that I’m doing. I regularly ask God, “Lord, what do I have on my plate that You have no longer graced me to do?” When you’re operating outside of God’s grace, there’s stress. When you feel stressed, frustrated, and overwhelmed, that means you have more on your plate than God has graced you to handle. It may be in that season or maybe it’s in general; you may be doing things that God never called you to or intended for you to do that you’re doing just because you want to. I try to be conscientious of “what, Lord, have You called me to?”

Even in this year, there were several things I was doing last year that God told me to stop doing because He’s calling me to a different direction in 2021. I had to make room within my calendar to be able to do it. I try to keep first-things first. If you look at my calendar, every minute of my calendar has a name. My day is scheduled out, and I try to make sure that whenever I’m in the time that is scheduled for that “thing,” then that’s the thing I focus on. That’s the priority at that moment. If I’m with my family, then the priority is my family. I’m not going to be on my phone. I’m not going to be setting up meetings during that time. I just try to keep first-things first to the best of my ability.

MB Mag: In this issue of MB Mag we are discussing mental health and purpose. What can you tell our readers who are struggling with depression and the feeling of purposelessness?

NJ: I will answer those separately. I will first say that if you were struggling with depression, you are not crazy because it is real. I feel like I need to say that because when you get into church circles, a lot of times people say, “Girl, you just need to pray through it! Girl, stop speaking death. Don’t claim that!”

Sometimes we have to name what is happening within us in order to activate the power of God. For example, if we act like we don’t struggle with lust or that we don’t struggle with greed, you’ll never get freed. We have to name what it is because that’s what invites the power of God into our situation.

If you are challenged with depression and you feel within yourself that a) there’s not much worth living for or b) things just aren’t going the right way, I will tell you that there could very well be a chemical imbalance and it would be great to see a therapist. Someone that could help you correct the chemical imbalances.

A tactic that the enemy uses all the time is that he tries to isolate us. If he can isolate us, he can make us think that we’re the only one. That we’re defective, damaged goods. That’s a trick of the enemy. You are not defective; you are not damaged goods. You simply need to have someone who can support you through this. Also prayer is an absolute, important key. We have to pray and maintain communication with God because that invites God into our situation.

Again, I would encourage you to 1) talk to someone, a medical professional, to get an assessment to see if there are potential medical interventions that could help address those chemical imbalances, 2) talk with a therapist, and 3) pray, pray, pray because you invite the Spirit of God into it. 

I think the other side, for someone dealing with hopelessness, we have to remember that regardless of what a situation looks like, we always have hope. We have hope because we have a relationship with  the One who is Hope. We are not without resources; we are not without possibility. The God of the Universe is our Father. Remember that! Internalize that. 

We have children right? If our child came to us and asked us for something, we would move Heaven and Earth to try and meet that need because we love them. You’re the child, not of the God who can move Heaven and Earth but the child of the One who created Heaven and Earth. Therefore, Heaven and Earth respond to His voice, so you are not without hope. I just want to encourage you that, if you feel hopelessness, those thoughts are not of God.

The enemy is trying to convince you to believe a lie that you are not connected to the One that has all power. You should always have hope because you are a child of the Most High God. You have access to every good and perfect thing in the will of God. We have to have an active prayer life and an active study life. I take my hope from the Word of God, from my daily prayer time with God. I think that it’s important to have that as a practice, not when things are going wrong. Don’t go to God and look in the Bible when things are going wrong. Develop a practice of studying, prayer, repentance, and forgiveness daily. That’s how we maintain our connection to the power of God. 

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