The Story of Jesus Said Love and an invitation to carry fire

By Emily Mills

Have you ever watched a fire burn, mesmerized by the flames, rightfully fearful of its power? Have you seen a small flame light up the night, or the tiniest spark begin a raging forest fire? Fire can bring both massive destruction as well as health and life to a community. Fire is primal and ancient, a symbol of the Divine, Holy Spirit…life to humanity. Fire molds, transforms, destroys, and heals.

And such has been the journey of Jesus Said Love, carrying and holding a hot and holy vision that has burned us through and through, leaving us with a blessing. My husband, Brett, and I began reaching women within the commercial sex industry about 15 years ago after our first daughter was born. We had no clue we would be consumed with a love like we had never known. Before hitting the clubs we were singing contemporary Christian/worship music to an audience that largely spoke our same language. It became familiar, lackluster, and cliché.

After our first outreach to strip clubs in Waco, Texas, we began to hold stories of women whose lives were impacted by severe forms of abandonment, neglect, and loss. Then, a spark was lit that would soon burn our “ordinary” lives to dust. The outreaches took on the name Jesus Said Love and a movement across Texas to “awaken hope and empower change” began.

We launched teams in Dallas, Bryan/College Station, Killeen, San Antonio, Houston, and eventually Tyler. We held the love of Christ out like a hot meal to be consumed right then and there, and it was gobbled up. We began advocating for women whose lives were wrecked and hope waned.

Homelessness, addiction, mental illness, attempted suicide, financial instability, transportation issues, single motherhood, dental problems, health issues, lack of education, legal problems, and even human trafficking were all now landing in our laps. These issues were wicked problems and how do you fix problems, but not people?  We couldn’t twist love into control and domination, we couldn’t manipulate and call it empowerment. We had to trust in the truth of Love at all costs. We are still learning.

Today, Jesus Said Love has grown deeper with its headquarters at 1500 Columbus Avenue in Waco. We have current outreach teams in Waco, Dallas, Houston, Tyler, and Killeen….these outreaches are the deep roots that ground our fruitful tree. Programs at JSL HQ include:

  • ACCESS: an 8 week holistic paid internship program for women leaving the sex industry including job training, leadership, parenting, mental health, nutrition, financial literacy, and Bible classes.
  • Counseling via The Advocacy Center Crimes Against Women and Children on location.
  • Fight Club: an all female AA Recovery group open to the Waco Community.
  • Stop Demand School: a sex buyers intervention course for those arrested for buying sex (not located at our building).
  • Prayer and Worship on Outreach nights.
  • Lovely Enterprises: a social enterprise of JSL aimed at reducing recidivism into the sex trade by providing living wage jobs and launching micro businesses.

There’s a lot of sense in discerning the times we are living in, not merely plugging through life unaware of what is stirring, transforming, and shifting in our culture. We are living in a time where the light is shining on the issue of exploitation and objectification of women and we are learning how this affects our communities. This year at Wild Torch, our annual gala experience, we will voice a clarion call for hope and change and share the beautiful stories of transformation in our midst! Wild Torch uses the visual and performing arts to share these stories at the Waco Hippodrome!

Incredible food pairings by Chef Jason Rolf (of the Grape) and Chef Corey McEntyre (of Milo Provisions) will light up your taste buds, your eyes will feast on visuals from the collaborative effort of Sidekick Agency and Matt Davidson Creative and the live fine art auction will include the talented Ty Clark of Waco and a custom oil painting by Samuel Shelton among others! Brett and Emily Mills along with their band including The Union Revival will take the stage and debut their new song, “Gold”. It’s an event like none other and one that is sure to leave you fired up!

Come “carry fire” with us. April 23. Waco Hippodrome.

Emily Mills is the Chief Ideation Officer at Jesus Said Love.  In 2004 Emily began reaching women in the commercial sex industry and laid the foundation for what would become Jesus Said Love in 2007. Emily loves leading worship alongside her husband Brett and is a hesitant public speaker. She loves writing music, is drawn to almost any body of water, and adores learning new things. Emily has three incredibly gracious children: Hattie, Lucy and Gus.



Mental health: We can all do our part to eliminate stigma

By Cynthia Cunningham

Stig·ma:  /ˈstiɡmə/  noun
A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
Synonyms: shame, disgrace, dishonor, ignominy, opprobrium, humiliation, (bad) reputation

Can you imagine a world where you were shamed for having a diabetes?  Ostracized for having cancer? Can’t imagine this ever happening? Is this because you know that people would speak up and demand to be treated with compassion?  So why do we not treat mental illnesses the same? Michelle Obama said “At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country.  Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction.”

Well, we have an estimated 26,884 people in Waco who are living with a mental health condition. Who is speaking up for them?  Hear any demands for compassion for them? No?  And why not?

The answer is Stigma.  That one thing that prevents people from taking control of these illnesses.  Stigma causes people to hide their illness and families to hide what is happening within their homes.

Those living with symptoms mental illness do not feel that they can safely speak openly about what is going on with their health.  They fear being judged.  Even shunned. So this leads them to do nothing about it.  They don’t seek treatment and suffer in silence.

Sometimes when things get out of control, they try to make things feel better by self-medicating with drugs and/or alcohol.  They just want to feel better.  And for short amount of time, they feel better.  However that high never lasts.  They must take more and more of the substance to reach that euphoric feeling.  Before they realize it, they are addicted to this vicious cycle.

Why would a person feel that their only choice to address their mental health condition is in this manner?  Stigma.  That fear of being treated poorly by those around them.  These are the lengths that some take to avoid being labeled.  They feel that there is something about them that is shameful.  No other health condition has this stigma attached to it.

Families experience this implied shame because of their loved ones health condition. They feel that they cannot talk about what is happening within their family.  They deal with this in silence.

How can they tell anyone what they are going through? Speaking up would allow everyone to know what is happening within the family.  Again, that feeling that something they are going through is disgraceful takes over. Even though they know they did nothing wrong and this is an illness.

But they are not alone.  The community does nothing to help eliminate this stigma.  In fact, they continue to fuel this humiliation by using mental health conditions as something to joke about.

For example, as I write this, our weather went from warm and sunny to cold and grey.  As a result, social media is filled with memes of “mother nature is bipolar” and the like.  When you actually think of this, it doesn’t even make sense.  Bipolar is a condition that is characterized by both manic and depressive episodes.  How can weather be depressed? Makes no sense.  It means that we are not using the correct words.  And by using the incorrect words we further that stigma of mental illness.

So what can you do to do your part to stop stigma?

See the person and not the illness!  Never identify a person by their illness.  Recognize the correct way to identify someone: “Suzie is my daughter” instead of “Suzie is my bipolar daughter.”  See the difference?  “Suzie” is a person, who does not deserve to be labeled by a health condition.  This is called person-first language.

Don’t be afraid of people with mental illness!  Yes, sometimes their behavior can be unusual but regardless what the media tells you, most people with mental health conditions are NOT violent.  In fact, they are often the victim of violent acts.

Don’t blame someone for their mental illness!  Just like no one would choose to have cancer, no one would choose to have a mental illness. Stop saying things like “snap out of it” or “you just need to get over it.”  Would you tell this to someone with a broken leg?  You cannot just turn an illness off!

Don’t use disrespectful language! “She is so bi-polar” Speaking like this, you are using negative language and offending people.  This is part of the problem and not a solution!

Be a Role Model!  You can show others how to stop this stigma by modeling proper language and behaviors associated with mental illness.  Teach them what you have learned.

We can all learn from former President Bill Clinton when he said “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shames all.”

So I’ll leave you with this: Speak a little kinder. Support those around you who are dealing with mental health conditions. Educate yourself about mental illnesses. Share your knowledge with others. We can all do our part to eliminate stigma in our community.

Cynthia Cunningham, a Wacoan since age 2, is the Executive Director for NAMI Waco.  She lives with her husband of 28 years, Bobby, and two spoiled dogs and one royal cat!  Her passion is educating others about mental health.  She can be contacted at:

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.


Low-to-no fee bank accounts help build financial Security

By Christina Helmick

April is National Financial Literacy Month! An important aspect of financial literacy is understanding the importance of avoiding high-cost financial services like check cashing or payday loans. Did you know that people who don’t have bank accounts are about six times more likely to use check cashing services than those that do? That is why banks and nonprofits in our community have come together to increase access to banking services by offering Bank On Waco accounts!

The Bank On Waco coalition is a partnership of multiple banks and nonprofit organizations dedicated to increasing access to the mainstream financial system. The Bank On Waco initiative is a national project of the Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Fund with the support of some of the country’s biggest banks. Efforts of the Bank On Waco coalition address the Prosper Waco initiative’s wealth goals, which are to reduce the percentage of households living without three months’ worth of savings and have more than 50% of households with a net worth above $15,000.

The bank accounts offered in connection to the Bank On initiative are designed to benefit the underbanked community members. Someone who is underbanked is an individual who sometimes or frequently utilizes high-cost financial services like check cashing or payday loans rather than the services of a traditional bank.

Anyone can qualify for a Bank On Waco account, and individuals who choose to open an account have access to a range of low-cost financial services! Bank On Waco accounts do not have an income threshold a person must meet, which means the accounts are set up to help ALL residents avoid high-cost financial services and keep more money in their pockets!

Benefits of opening a Bank On Waco account include:

  • Low-to-no fee accounts
  • No overdraft fees
  • Free online bill-pay
  • Matricula card accepted
  • Free financial literacy
  • Free customer service
  • Free online banking
  • Free paper statements

Banks that offer Bank On account benefits include BBVA Compass, Extraco Banks, Independent Bank and Wells Fargo. Other banks involved in the coalition that offer low-fee accounts include American Bank, Central National Bank, Community Bank & Trust and First National Bank of Central Texas.

Take a step toward financial health and learn more about Bank On Waco by visiting .

To learn more about initiatives to improve education, health and financial security outcomes in the Waco area, visit or call 254-741-0081.

Christina Helmick is the director of communication at Prosper Waco. She is a recent graduate of Baylor University with a BA in Journalism, Public Relations & New Media. Originally she is from Washington, D.C., but has stayed in Waco post-graduation.  She is an active mentor at J.H. Hines Elementary School, enjoys spending time with her family and watching Baylor football. Sic ’em Bears!

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.




Art Advice for the Faint of Heart – Dive in!

By Gracie Arias

“This isn’t for the faint of heart” have you ever heard that before?

That’s what I feel like sometimes in this journey of supporting an artist. I have seen Carlos, my husband, also known professionally as “The Masterpiece,” grow in his artistic abilities in the 10 years I have known him. I feel blessed by that and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

When I first met him, I saw a pair of shoes he was wearing that he had painted…the first pair, and now he’s done over 100! So then, The Masterpiece was created! That hasn’t always come easy. Sometimes it means staying up until the early morning hours completing an order, and waking up early for a full- time job. But, as they also say, “hard work pays off”! Since April 2017, The Masterpiece hasn’t had a break once, and that’s something we are more than ok with! That means people are seeing his talents and wanting a part of it. And not just shoes either, so many different things. Such as, murals and windows at Enve beauty bar on Austin Avenue, or a more recent one at The Chatterbox in downtown. Also, weddings and parties, baby showers, and signs. So much going on! It’s a very exciting time to be an artist in Waco, so much brewing and changing, art is in the air here.

One thing that Carlos has definitely shown me, is that when you have a dream, do your best and make it reality. Because of his encouragement, I participated in the first ever Central Texas Artist Collective (CTAC) exhibit “Ekphrasis: Art & Words,” and it reminded me why I love writing. So, that’s when Gracefulmess blog was born.

I wanted a safe place to put my thoughts, goals, and hurts down on. It’s opened a new door to healing for me, and others! I’ve received so many messages and comments explaining how it has helped them. Now I have so many goals to the direction that it’s heading and I’m so excited.

I say all this in hope that it will encourage someone. We are parents, we are young, and we are introverts. The opportunities that we have now did not come easy. We had to leave our little bubble of familiarity and comfort, and reach for it. Really jump into it, ok more like dive. There are so many opportunities here in Waco that will give you a chance for growth.  If you have a talent, no matter what it is, don’t let it go to waste. Plug in somewhere and flourish! Don’t wait for someone to give you that push but instead push yourself! Go and create!

Gracie Arias, wife and mom. Blogger. Future massage therapist. The feeling of accomplishment is one of the best feelings to feel. I’m working hard to reach my goals and to support those I love to reach theirs too. Life should be watched on the sidelines, but lived with all your heart and strength. 


“What is Wrong with this kid?” — Creating Healing Connections with Kids who have Experienced Trauma

By Brooke Davilla

“What is wrong with this kid?” as a caregiver, teacher, tutor, pastor, have you ever found yourself thinking that? Maybe you are working with a child and you just can’t seem to get through…their behavior is baffling to you…you’ve tried everything you know how to do, but you just can’t seem to figure out how to connect with them.  Maybe it’s time for a new question.  Specialists in child development are starting to learn that Instead of asking “What is wrong with this kid?,” sometimes it’s more helpful to ask ourselves, “What has happened to this person?”

We are created for connection, every single one of us, young and old. Connection is crucial for having quality relationships throughout our life span. However, due to the effects of trauma, such as difficult pregnancy or birth, early medical interventions, as well as abuse and neglect, children who come from a hard place often have a hard time connecting. They have a different brain, beliefs, behaviors, body and biology which may contribute to the display of negatives behaviors such as outbursts, irritability and dysregulation. Many times as caregivers we focus on behavior management techniques that don’t always work, leaving both the caregiver and child further disconnected. Trust Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®) offers practical strategies for caregivers to see the core needs behind the behaviors. Research indicates that when caregivers attend to the mind, body and spiritual needs of a child, connection increases and negative behaviors decrease. With a focus on cultivating trust between the caregiver and child, TBRI® methods increase the overall felt-safety, connection and capacity for self-regulation which are the pillars of trauma informed care.

If you have found yourself asking, “What’s wrong with this kid?,” we invite you to join us for the Empowered to Connect Conference Simulcast presented by Show Hope and the Karyn Purvis Child Institute on April 13-14th. Come experience practical teaching in a safe and supportive community as we work to equip families, churches, and professionals to better serve children impacted by adoption, foster care or trauma. Featuring Trust-Based Relational Intervention® methods, this conference will strengthen attachment and connection in families.

Date: April 13th and 14th

Time: 9AM- 5PM

Cost: Free

Location: Methodist Children’s Home, Mulkey Building | 201 Faith Way | Waco, TX 76708


MCH Family Outreach Waco utilizes TBRI® along with other trauma informed curricula to offer support to families and community partners through in-home case management services, parent education classes and community-based trainings. If you are interested in learning how we can offer support to your family, agency, school or congregation please contact Brooke Davilla at or 254-750-1263.

Brooke Davilla is the Director of MCH Family Outreach Waco for Methodist Children’s Home. She graduated from Baylor University with a MSW in Social Work, concentration in Community Practice, where she now teaches part-time. Brooke is passionate about cultivating a trauma informed community and is a TBRI® Practitioner. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two sons traveling, being in nature and often at the baseball fields. You can reach Brooke at

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.