Life has been a memorable journey for the Rev. Dr. Helen Easterling Williams. From picking cotton in South Carolina and attending revivals at Morning Star Baptist Church, she’s now an associate minister at AME Church in Los Angeles and dean of the Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University.
While some may be surprised by her trajectory, Williams is not in that number. In her opinion, understanding her past has served as a springboard to her future and she credits “humble beginnings as a major factor in my development of strong and positive character traits and of a Philippians 4:13 ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ work ethic.”
This scripture has inspired Williams from a young child and motivated her as she earned her Bachelor and Master of Science degrees and continued to affirm her when she received her Doctor of Education degree. Prior to assuming her current position at Pepperdine, where she is the only person-of-color on university’s senior leadership team, Williams served as a senior assistant dean at the University of Delaware and as dean of the School of Education at Azusa Pacific University.
Over the years, Williams has been the recipient of countless awards and honors. In 2019, the Los Angeles Business Journal Women’s Council recognized her as Executive of the Year. She was also named as an American Council on Education Fellow and a John A. Widtsoe Foundation Fellow.
But, it was in the midst of pursuing her education that Williams answered her call to the ministry and she responded with enthusiastic action. As a member of the ministerial staff at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware, she worked with the Bible Study, Women’s Ministry and Prayer Ministry. Williams went on to perform in similar capacities at FAME-L.A. and at St. Mark A.M.E. Church in Orlando, Florida.
“There was a time when I thought women’s ministry was my specialty, but God has made it clear that He has called me to all segments of the kingdom,” said Williams. “Although I do focus on girls and women’s ministry, I also tend to have a ministry for boys and men. Also, I have strong focus on prayer.”
Explaining how she, as a woman, can connect with men, Williams said she seeks to appeal to the basic needs of all human beings – to be loved, valued and appreciated. Her philosophy is that people will give you their time and attention when you recognize the value of their life.
“Some men have a preconceived notion that I don’t know what it’s like to be a man. In some regards that is true, but we are all human beings. We all want the same thing. How we get it is different and the experiences we have in life shape us differently,” she noted.
“Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, I am able to see men as God created them. When I am able to establish for men that God created man first, it causes to them to let down their guard and to listen. Once I get them to listen, it’s all over but the shouting,” she said with a smile.
“Then I go on to share how they are important to our community and how our men of color are demonized and demoralized and how I intend to stand in the gap for them. With that, I’ve got their attention and blessing.”
Williams applies a comparable approach with people participating in her Women’s and Prayer Ministries as well as with her students at Pepperdine. In both settings, her goal is to help others develop and be restored.
“I really enjoy seeing people grow who come broken into the church or an academic setting. They’re in trauma and seeing them grow to a point where they can manage that trauma and manage that pain and stand against it and speak to it so that it doesn’t ruin their lives gives me great pleasure,” Williams said.
“God wants us to be healed and seeing people transition from weakness to strength is the greatest reward that you can have. I tell people all the time that ‘I don’t want to make you dependent upon me. I want you to put me out of business. You don’t have to call me to get a prayer through. I’ll teach you to pray so that wherever you are, you can handle it.’”
Williams’ message about healing is quite appropriate, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which appears to be causing anxiety and stress among believers and non-believers alike. To those who may be experiencing such feelings, she advised those people to turn their attention to God and spend time establishing a closer relationship with Him.
“I don’t think God sent the virus, but He allowed it to happen and is using it for our good. He is teaching us to get back to Him. The pandemic is allowing us to see where we have gone away from God,” said Williams. “My advice is to go back to the basics of getting close to God. Designate an altar in your home. Have a conversation with God, turn our eyes to Christ and we’ll turn out better than we were.”
Also, Williams shared three scriptures that guide her in her daily living, no matter what events may occur. The verses are Acts 17:28 – “For in Him we live and move and have our being,” Matthew 6:33 – “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” and Matthew 22:37 and 39 – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…soul and mind. Love you neighbor as yourself.”
‘I live, move and have my being in Christ Jesus. I am nothing without Him, so I must seek Him first, – the kingdom of God and His righteous and all these things shall be added unto you.” Williams said. “My third scripture is to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and spirit and love your neighbor as thyself. These are basic and if we stay there, we can’t go wrong.”