If you think you’ve made bad decisions in life, Mary Kay Beard says, “Come and hear a bank robber tell her story.”
Beard will be the guest speaker at First Baptist Church, Alcoa, on Tuesday, Sept. 21, at the annual Ladies Night Out.
Beard will share her story, which began as a child in an abusive home. “I allowed bitterness to control my life,” she says, “which led to a criminal lifestyle.”
In 1972, Beard was fleeing from the law in four states as one of the FBI’s Most Wanted and was the target of a mafia contract, learning that, “It’s a whole lot easier to get into trouble than to get out of trouble,” she says.
A few days before Christmas in 1972, Beard was sentenced to 21 years, and would serve almost six years in the Alabama State prison for Women for armed robbery and grand larceny.
In prison, Mary Kay began to take stock of her life and started reading the Bible. What she learned eventually transformed her from a bitter criminal into a woman of faith.
Watching her fellow inmates wrap toiletries for their children at Christmas would later prompt to her to create the Angel Tree ministry. The program has provided gifts for millions of children whose parents have been incarcerated, as well as other underprivileged families.
Beard began working for Prison Fellowship in 1982, the ministry founded by Charles Colson. She continues the Angel Tree ministry she began as well, with trees placed in malls throughout the U.S. and in more than 90 countries worldwide.
“I didn’t do it. God did it. I had no idea God could use me after the mess I had made of my life. God is not limited by us in any way,” she says.
Along with creating the Angel Tree ministry, Beard continued her education and completed a Master’s degree in counseling. She married Don Beard, also a convicted felon, in 1984. The couple founded the Shepherd’s Fold, a Christian residential facility.
Don passed away after a lengthy illness in 2006, but Mary Kay continues her work in Birmingham, Ala., where she works with women in a work release center. She is also active in her local church as a teacher and is still working as a counselor.
“I want to teach people to trust God because He has a plan for their lives.”
Beard travels the country telling her story and encouraging others to overcome their past mistakes.
She hasn’t been to East Tennessee in years and encourages the community to come hear her story at First Baptist in Alcoa.
“If you haven’t found the peace, joy and love that you want to have in this life, come and hear me share how you can have all that you ever wanted in life,” she says.
One of the organizer’s of the event, Jackie Evans, said she heard about Beard from her former church in Mobile, Ala., where her daughter still attends. She said Beard’s testimony resonated with her for two reasons - the story of her past and the ministry she continues today.
“In the beginning when she was involved in the bank robberies, her mother was continually praying for her. She realized that God could change her. Second, in her ministry, she is so selfless. It’s about what she can do for other people, not what she can do for herself.”
Evans has also read her story in the book “Rogue Angel,” which is Beard’s official biography written by Jodi Werhanowicz.
Beard said she enjoys traveling around the country sharing her story and does so about twice a month. “I travel just enough so I don’t get tired of it.”
Along with conferences and church gigs, she is also a regular speaker for the Gideon’s Ministry, which is known mostly for placing Bibles in hotel rooms. According to their website, the Gideons have distributed 1.5 billion Bibles in various locations since 1908.
The Gideons also have a place in Beard’s past. One of the Gideon Bibles reached Beard in the Jefferson County jail before her transfer to the state prison 38 years ago.
“I picked it up, and I read it. God began that process. I continued to grow and to study His word,” says Beard.
The first Scripture verse she read in her jail cell was from Ezekiel 36:26-27 which says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
Ladies Night Out is open to all women in the community, Evans says, and she welcomes all women to hear about Beard’s changed heart at the Sept. 21 program at First Baptist Church, Alcoa.
“We try not to target a special age group. We are looking to be an encouragement to everyone who is there,” Evans says. “God’s grace and forgiveness is the main message.”
Tickets for the event are $10, which includes dinner. The catered meal will be served by the men of the church. Dinner begins promptly at 6:30 p.m. but doors open an hour early for socializing.
Evans says seats are limited and tickets are selling fast. Anyone interested can purchase tickets at the First Baptist Church, Alcoa, office Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or by calling 865-982-2661.