Debra Peek-Haynes got a spiritual revelation about natural living after doctors told her she’d never have children.
For Debra Peek-Haynes, First Lady and wife of Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, senior pastor of Dallas megachurch Friendship West Baptist, ministry is a journey that started in her mother’s womb. She was born into a pastor’s home in New Jersey. While her father led the church, her mother was both first lady and a social worker. “I grew up in a home that was about ministry and aspiring to do the things you felt led to do,” she explains. At 12 years old, she accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior and was baptized. Her father passed away when she was 15, and she moved with her mother to be with family members in Detroit, Michigan.
Peek-Haynes, an independent thinker from day one, planned to study fine arts at Eastern Michigan University because she wanted to be an illustrator and graphic designer. Fortunately, her mother suggested that she minor in something else, and she chose marketing. Her decision to take business classes led her to a Bachelor of Arts degree in fine arts with a minor in marketing and cemented the foundation of her successful career in sales and marketing. Peek-Haynes has been a licensed commercial real estate broker since 1992.
After college she relocated to Los Angeles, living with her best friend. What she imagined would become a career in art in California was not so. Her turning point came when her best friend committed suicide. Peek-Haynes knew it was time to face reality, and she moved back home to her family in Detroit. In a candid interview with MannaEXPRESS, Peek-Haynes talked about growing up, her role in ministry, her testimony, and her healthy-living message birthed from hard personal experience.
Did you ever imagine you would end up marrying a pastor?
I never imagined, never thought about it. It was not anything I ever dreamed of. My mother always had the disposition and wanted me to be married to a minister. I think she prayed me into this role. Being the daughter of a pastor in a small town, I was harassed as a child.
How did you meet your husband?
On March 8, 1986, a month after I moved back from Los Angeles to Detroit, I attended the funeral of my best friend’s mother in Dallas. It was during the funeral that my friend Jackie introduced me to my husband, Dr. Frederick Haynes. We were supposed to meet two years prior, but it never worked out. She told me about him and told him about me, but we never met because of his traveling schedule.
How does it feel to be married to a civil rights leader?
I always pray for his safety and appreciate him for being willing to take a stand too many people are afraid to take. Our ministry in our church deals with the total person. People forget that politics affects everything we do. Where we can live, how much taxes we pay, and so on. So why don’t we deal with infrastructures and systems that bind people? We are agents of change; we have the power and the authority. In the church, my husband helps us understand how we need to change and deal with the times we live in.
God showed up and showed out for Debra Peek-Haynes
Tell us about your testimony of hoping for a child and how your desire came to pass.
About three years after we got married, we were ready to start a family. I stopped taking birth control pills, and a few months later my cycle just stopped. I had never had any major female body problems and was wondering what was going on. I went to my gynecologist, who told me I was going through pre-menopause. It was very devastating, and she said I will probably not have children. Her response was insensitive and like a knife in my heart. I left her office crying. Although I was devastated, I went to five different top physicians in the Dallas area, and they all told me horrible things except one. One added I might get Lupus in the process. They put me on hormones, but I knew in my heart there was an answer somewhere and did not take what they said as the final word. I was really determined to find an answer–that is one of the greatest gifts my mother gave me. She was an extremely determined person. I can name numerous instances when someone told her she couldn’t do something, and she always found a way of getting it done. Two years later, I went to spend Thanksgiving with my family in Detroit, and my brother told me about a holistic doctor who was good at looking at one’s face and determining what is wrong. Since I was leaving back to Dallas the next day, I said I will see the doctor on my next visit. On the plane back to Dallas, I got into a conversation with a lady and was surprised to find out that her clients came from the same doctor I planned to see on my next trip. That was a clear message from the Lord for me.
That December, my husband and I went home for Christmas and saw the doctor. She took me through two hours of examinations and asked questions about my situation, my diet, and my purpose in life. Her approach was like none other. Before I left her office, she gave me a list of books to read on health and emotions, lists of things to do, massages, cleansing, and a macrobiotic diet to follow. At this point, it occurred to me I needed to learn more about my body, fats, and the overall influence of food. A lot of Scriptures came to my mind and made sense about the human body being the temple of God and how we need to take care of it. That was the beginning of my journey of how to help people get better health.
Then what happened?
I read a lot of books myself, and this is how I started my path to taking care of my body and the health of my family and others. “You need to stop taking those hormone pills, because you will never get pregnant. Your body should respond to this new diet within a few months,” she told me. I started eating healthy and in the first month lost 19 pounds. My cycle resumed within two months on its own, and I became pregnant within a year. I had a healthy pregnancy and had our daughter Abeni one day after her due date with no stretch marks and a weight gain of 24 pounds, which I lost in three weeks.
You talked about changing your thought processes also. How did you do this?
By being appreciative and falling into the pattern of believing that things don’t have to be the way they are. What do you believe? Do you accept what people tell you or believe that your faith can change what you believe? In my case I believed it was meant for me to be a mother, God had a blessing for me, and I was going to do what I had to do to make it happen. We have to do our own responsibility and let God take care of the rest. God led me to the right person at the right time, but I had to take responsibility when He did. You can’t only say I have faith; your prayers have to have feet and you have to look outside your stubborn ways and ways of disbelief.
It is no secret that behind every successful man there is a woman. How are you able to pull your family and the church together in your role as a wife and as First Lady?
My biggest role has been to keep my husband healthy and make sure he can function in a healthy physical way so he can help everyone. I see myself as being one that undergirds and builds a healthy infrastructure. As far as the church is concerned, I encourage members, especially women, to have their own interests and paths–that ministry doesn’t have to be only in the confines of the walls of the church but should be a lifestyle. I encourage people by sharing my story of God working through my circumstances. I also do a lot of individual counseling about relationships, health, family, and so forth.
How do you balance your presence in your business and your presence in church?
Sometimes I don’t know, because it is totally out of whack. I have to ask God for wisdom all the time. Sometimes I withdraw to regroup, because it is not an easy role. Whatever I learn in my career, I always try to parlay it into ministry and vice versa. I do not have any protocol; anyone can call me on my cell phone and walk up to me in church if they want to see me. I am very simple and open-minded. It depends on what the need is–sometimes I can help people, and sometimes I just can’t. What hurts me the most is when you know the person can be helped and they refuse to take good, sound advice. That is extremely draining, and I know my husband has to deal with it a lot. There are some people I can help and some I can’t, but I do try to lend myself as much as possible. When it is beyond me, I send them to those I think can help them.
I like your statement, “Sometimes I can help people, and sometimes I just can’t.” What shaped your approach to matters like this?
My mother was a huge influence. Her approach, experience, and good friends around me contributed a great deal. In my marriage, my husband told me not to be pressured to join any particular ministry or take up roles I was not comfortable with. He never put any pressure on me. That helped my sense of freedom. He told the church, “Don’t ask her–let her do what she wants to do.” He encouraged me to do what I feel led to do. My mother never let anyone think for her. She was extremely wise and kind but had boundaries. I am also blessed with a great godmother who, at 93, still advises me. One thing my mother did for me was make sure I was always around a lot of wise, secure women.
Is the congregation OK with your stand?
Those who know me know my heart is in the right place and that I do not do what I do according to tradition. Although it took me some time to embrace being a “first lady,” I came to know that it comes with a platform and the authority to help others, especially women.
When did you decide to take this health message to the community?
Within three months after my child was born, I organized the first health seminar to educate people on the importance of keeping a healthy body. I wanted more people to catch the revelation that changed my life. Ever since, I have been doing healthy cooking shows and seminars. In recent times, I feel a sense of urgency, especially in the lives of African-Americans, because we are having strokes at very young ages, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a lot more.
What do you see yourself doing in the next five years?
I plan to expand my health outreach through a cooking show and some other projects. My niche is helping people get started, because if you don’t start, you will never get anywhere. I cook my food without the bad stuff. I am working on my health initiative really blowing up. Learn more at www.debrapeek-haynes.com.
What is your advice to pastor’s wives?
A pastor’s wife should have a relationship with the Lord, be a real person and not a cookie cutter, and should not separate herself in the sense of “I am up here, and you are down there.” She should make sure that there is an understanding between her and her husband–they need to find out what are the personal and church expectations, because if I knew what I know now, I would have done that initially. Also, I think it is important for any woman to have her own likes, desires, and passions and not think that her only identity is her husband, because God gave each of us life for His purpose. Lastly, be kind and loving.
By May E. Olusola – Publisher of MannaEXPRESS.