2/1/2010 - "Angel Tree" founder tells students about life "from crime to Christ"
By Michael J. Brooks
She's been described as looking like a sweet grandmother, so it's shocking to hear Mary Kay Beard talk about having been on the FBI's most wanted list.
Beard made her fifth visit to Judson College on Feb. 2 to speak to students, faculty and staff in weekly chapel.
"My life story is a good example of how not to do it," she said with a smile.
Raised in Missouri, Beard never missed church as a child and teenager.
"I guess I never questioned this," she said. "I hear parents talking about giving their children options as far as church attendance, but I never thought to ask if we had an option. Mama told us we would go every time the doors were open."
Beard memorized scripture and taught Sunday School as a young adult.
But her life took a new turn when she agreed to a blind date. She married less than two weeks later not knowing her new husband, an entertainment promoter, was an ex-con and a gambler. Soon they began a life of crime.
"I had nice things and plenty of money," Beard said.
"But as the Bible says, 'we deceive ourselves.' I knew what I was doing was wrong."
Later her husband abandoned her and Beard continued her life of lawlessness.
"I saw so much graft in my life," she said. "There were governors and mayors and others who took bribes, so I reasoned stealing from others was OK since so many others were corrupt."
After her arrest, Beard faced the possibility of spending the rest of her life in jail.
"I was wanted in four states and had 35 warrants," she said.
Through the influence of a group of Christians who taught Sunday School in the Jefferson County jail in Birmingham, Beard gave her life to Christ.
She was sentenced in 1972 to 21 years at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka. There she took courses at Auburn University and was paroled after serving five and one-half years.
Beard went to work for Prison Fellowship in 1982 and founded the Angel Tree program the same year. Angel Tree provides gifts for the children of inmates at Christmas and is now active in all 50 states and 90 nations around the globe.
Beard published her autobiography, "Rogue Angel," in 2005.
"I knew all the answers, but didn't really know the way to God until I was in jail," she said. "Now I have the privilege of traveling the nation and talking about how God changes our hearts."
Beard is the founder of Encourager Ministries in Birmingham. The website is www.marykaybeard.com.
* Article courtesy of the Judson College Public Relations Department.