By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
A convicted killer introduced him to God.
'She radiated the presence of God,' said Terry Strom, 46, of Temple about Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman in Texas to be executed.
'Meeting her was a life-changing experience. That was the first time I knew there was a God.' Ms. Tucker was incarcerated at the Mountain View Unit of the Gatesville prison until her execution at Huntsville in 1998. In 1984, a jury convicted Ms. Tucker of murdering a Houston man and woman with a pickax in 1983.
Strom said his discussion with Ms. Tucker about her faith in Jesus Christ led him to an epiphany: 'I have to change the way I live my life.'
At that time, drugs and partying were key components of the musician's life.
'For 15 years, I struggled with drugs,' Strom said. 'I never went to jail, but I very easily could have.'
His encounter with Ms. Tucker took place soon after the death of his best friend.
'He was in my band - the other guitar player,' Strom said. 'He died from a drug overdose.'
With the death of his best friend and his talk with Ms. Tucker, Strom said he knew with certainty that God was working to save him from a fate similar to his friend.
Strom said he had to clean up his act. And he did.
Today, Strom is a worship leader and evangelistic speaker for Discipleship Unlimited, a nonprofit ministry that reaches out to prisoners, their families and others in need of healing. Established in 1974, the organization relies on volunteers to carry out its mission.
Geared with his trusty guitar, Strom brings worship music and the sounds of Bible hymns to men and women behind bars. He also leads small group meetings for the prisoners.
'Volunteers come in to counsel the inmates. It's a chance for relationships to be formed,' Strom said. 'For the inmates, they learn they are not forgotten. And for the volunteers, it's eye-opening because they see how easy it could have been them. They start to remember that one time they had too much to drink.'
The inmates' participation in the program is entirely voluntary.
'On the day we're in the prison, there's an open call,' Strom said, explaining the inmates are invited for worship and fellowship.
For security reasons, Discipleship Unlimited volunteers are not allowed to socialize with inmates once they're released from prison.
'Our job is to connect them with an outlet on the outside where they can continue to get counseling and continue their spiritual journeys,' Strom said. 'We can lead them to groups like Celebrate Recovery.'
Celebrate Recovery, a faith-based support group for people struggling with pain from addiction or other behavioral problems, starts meeting Tuesday at Temple Bible Church.
'Temple Bible Church is welcoming inmates,' Strom said. 'It's been my experience that churches turn inmates away when they write to churches asking for help.'
Strom looks forward to working with Celebrate Recovery's support group in Temple. He'll be serving as a group leader for small discussions.
The 2006 release of his CD, 'Let Him Set You Free,' is another project Strom is excited about.
'The CD tells the story of my spiritual journey,' Strom said. 'My goal is for it to be inspirational.'
Copies of the CD are available from Discipleship Unlimited at www.liferow.org.
'It's completely free,' Strom said. 'We'll send it to anyone who asks for it. I want to get it into the hands of those who need it.'
Any money the CD earns from sales at other venues benefits Discipleship Unlimited.
The ministry work that consumes Strom's life nowadays wasn't completely foreign to Strom in his youth.
He is the son of the couple who founded Discipleship Unlimited. His parents, Linda and Dallas Strom, reside in Temple.
'Growing up, I never thought I'd be ministering to inmates,' Strom said. 'But after my friend died, someone asked me to. I did. And then everything was different.'
His mother, coincidentally, was Ms. Tucker's spiritual adviser at the Gatesville prison.
Terry Strom penned one of the songs on his CD, 'I See Jesus In You,' in Carla Faye Tucker's honor.