“I feel like Glenn chose me.”
Sonia Tyler’s story is one of courage, hope, and strength. Despite her faith and love of God, she did not grow up in a church nor was she looking for one. Born in Paris, France, raised in Saudi Arabia, and identifies as a Congolese American, Sonia had been disappointed with churches in America because she couldn’t find one to satisfy her free spirit and acknowledge her international background. She never expected in the darkest moment of her life that “Glenn would show up.”
Sonia was pregnant with her first child, Alaric, when her fourteen-year-old brother, Jason, suffered a spontaneous brain hemorrhage that left him in a coma for 65 days. Even though Sonia was a popular Atlanta personality prior to this incident, she felt abandoned by many of her friends and colleagues when seeking support. But a young middle schooler with a big heart began visiting Jason regularly in the hospital and lifted their spirits. Spencer Wilson, a classmate of Jason’s, read to him and told him about what was happening at school. Spencer and his parents, Amy and Mark Wilson, were members of Glenn. It was through the Wilson family that the Glenn community found out about Jason’s condition and wanted to help. Carole Adams, aunt of Amy Wilson, began visiting the family; Carolyn Gilbert took Jason a prayer shawl from the knitters circle. When Jason finally recovered, he was left physically handicapped and, as a result, the family was in need of a van for his transportation. Spencer mobilized his friends from school and fundraised to help the family buy a van. A true friendship between Jason and Spencer brought their two families together. Sonia describes the people who were there for her and Jason as “angels.” She says “God always had a plan and brought these angels in our life that showed us much more than support, but a model of how I wanted to be: kind, mindful, gracious, open-minded, intelligent, and fighters for social justice and love. Little did I know their whole church family practiced these principles and mirrored their ability to love and embrace strangers.” As a result of the kindness and compassion that Sonia received from members of the Glenn community, she began driving twenty minutes on Sunday mornings to attend Glenn regularly.
But Sonia’s story does not end there. It was not always easy to attend. At first, she attended sporadically, and every time tried to soak up as much as possible from Pastor Alice’s words. She slowly got engaged with the community by joining different activities, but it was hard to keep up with her responsibilities as a mother and caretaker of her brother. Then, Glenn gave her a unique opportunity: to attend the Women’s Retreat. And it was a transformative experience: “I felt like I had a true support system.” Sonia shortly thereafter moved from being part of the Glenn community to also working for the Glenn community on the childcare staff. This helped her financially but also spiritually. She felt more connected to God: “Although I missed going to church and listening to Alice’s sermons, being around Rev. Susan and Glenn’s wonderful childcare staff truly opened me up to a world I didn’t know. I was learning the Bible through Sunday school lessons and my values as a mother were sharpening and I felt a support that I needed raising these kids by myself with a family in survival mode each day. I discovered that I love it and am not so bad at it.” By working at Glenn, Sonia has learned kindness and open-mindedness. “We all are here to make a better world and that is as simple as easing a baby’s cry, allowing a tired mommy to have much needed ‘me’ time, or helping a volunteer Sunday school teacher create magic for the kids.”
Sonia considers the people at Glenn to be activists fighting for social justice, the environment, and a better world to live in. “These are the people I want to be around and for my children to mirror,” she says. Sonia calls Carole Adams her auntie and considers Amy Wilson a role model. She sees fellow childcare staff Adrielle Gray and Kadesta Malcom as her teachers in childcare and all the Glenn moms as people who help raise her children. Some special memories that reinforce this include Rev. Susan holding her children, Alaric and Asilia, in the hospital when they were born; Sonia, Jason, and Alaric being shepherds in the Christmas Nativity pageant; and singing “We Shall Overcome” with her church family on the recent Civil Rights Heritage tour. These experiences have not only touched Sonia but her kids as well; they have become more rooted and grounded. At Glenn, they have found their friends and family.
Most importantly, Sonia is excited to develop one of her biggest passions: “to initiate change through the racial reconciliation discussions at Glenn. As a biracial child and 3rd culture kid, I feel that it is my duty to fight for us all to have better communication and understanding with one another.” She hopes to offer her own experiences to the dialogue and contribute in creating a more diverse community.
For Sonia, the people of Glenn were a miracle: they gave the Tyler family hope for Jason’s recovery and, in the process, gave Sonia and her children hope for a brighter future.