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The magazine of Alliance Defending Freedom

Jean Marie Davis

The Overcomer

Saved From A Horrific Past, She Lives To Help Others Find Life


ike most of us, Jean Marie Davis knows enough not to pick up hitchhikers. Unlike some of us, she knows a nudge from the Lord when she feels one. A few months ago, she felt one. 

She was headed to work when she felt like grabbing something to eat. The warm smell of a breakfast sandwich and fries filled the car. She glanced over to see a young woman walking along the roadside — and the Holy Spirit, Jean Marie says, told her to pull over.

The young woman had a cigarette in her mouth. “You’ve got to get rid of the cigarette,” Jean Marie told her. “You can’t smoke in my car.” The woman threw away the cigarette and climbed in. She got a good whiff of the food, looking longingly at the bag. Jean Marie offered her some of the fries. 

“I’m eating all the time,” the woman said, helping herself to a handful.

“Oh, yeah,” Jean Marie said. “I remember. Doing drugs and stuff, I used to eat all the time.”

If the young woman was startled at her driver’s deduction, at least she didn’t deny it. “I smoke crack,” she confessed.

“I used to do crystal meth,” Jean Marie said.

“Man, that’s a hard drug,” the woman said — impressed, in a backward kind of way. 

Jean Marie shrugged. “I used to be a prostitute,” she said, by way of explanation.

The young woman absorbed that. “I’m a prostitute, too,” she said.

“Are you tired of living that life?” Jean Marie asked. “Cuz I know I was.”

The young woman was trying to decide who exactly her chauffeur could be. Jean Marie fished out a business card. “I’m the director of Branches,” she said, naming a pregnancy care center that, under her leadership, has quickly become known to virtually everyone in the community.

The young woman mused on the information. “I’ve had four abortions,” she said, finally. “I want to keep this one.”

“Well, I’m here for you,” Jean Marie said. “Whenever you need me.”

“I don’t want an expiration date,” the woman said. “I want to do my own expiration date. I don’t want people to do their expiration date on me.” She paused. “They cut my brake cords.”

Jean Marie nodded.

“Yep,” she said. “I remember people wanting to kill me. I remember wanting to kill myself.”

“How’d you get out?” the woman asked.

“Because of Jesus,” Jean Marie said. She looked directly at the young woman. “I love you,” she said, pulling the car to a stop. “Can I pray with you?”

The young woman looked at her.

“I know you love me,” she said. “You gave me food.” A pause. “Yeah,” she said. “You can pray with me.”

Street at Night
Alliance Defending Freedom
Alliance Defending Freedom

“You have to learn how to love. How to receive love — because ... out on the street ... you can't trust anybody.”


ean Marie Davis was just 2 years old when she tasted her first beer. She was 6 when a family member first put a cigarette in her mouth. She grew up in a house where the parties never stopped, the alcohol overflowed, the sex was everywhere, and drugs of every kind were close at hand.

“I was always by myself,” she remembers. From her earliest memories, she made all her own meals and walked the four blocks to school alone. Her father beat her; family and friends molested her. She and the children across the street — facing the same brutalities — took turns hiding in each other’s homes.

“Love,” she says, “was people buying stuff for me. That’s what my family said. ‘I love you, because I bought this for you.’”

She was told, constantly, that she was ugly. Fat. Stupid. That no boy would ever find a girl like her attractive. One relative told her the only way she’d ever be married would be in a “pimp-and-ho” relationship.

She was being groomed to be trafficked. The trafficking began when she turned 12. By the time she reached high school, she was fair prey for any boy who complimented her. Sleeping with one invited gang rape from his friends. A raped girl was considered a “slut.” That made it easy — once she was 18 and kicked out of the house — to start sleeping with men for money and with dealers for their drugs. It was the world she had lived in all her life. 

Every day her life hung by a thread, held in the hand of whatever arrogant pimp she worked for at the moment. Many abused her, most threatened her, and some tried hard to make good on their threats. Fo almost 10 years, in 33 states, she earned her traffickers tens of thousands of dollars, dodged cops and criminals and hails of bullets, suffered countless rapes, and did enough drugs to kill herself a dozen times over. 

Nearing 30, she learned she was pregnant. She was into drugs more heavily than ever. Five different pimps laid claim to her body and her money. “That life is a chaos life,” she says. “They keep you in this state where … you’re mentally unstable. I was losing myself.”

One pimp, learning of her pregnancy, called in a fit of jealousy: “Get out of the state, or I’m going to kill you.” Pimps say things like that all the time. This one meant it. She caught the first bus out. 

Jean Walking
Alliance Defending Freedom
Alliance Defending Freedom
Jean Marie Davis (left) enjoys a chat with longtime friend and mentor Phyllis Phelps in downtown Brattleboro, Vermont.


he found a women’s domestic violence shelter in New Hampshire whose director, on hearing her story, was willing to pay for her airfare to get there. Jean Marie came off the plane four months pregnant, with $1.38 to her name. She stayed in the shelter, started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and pondered what to do next. Soon enough, men started hitting on her. Drugs became available.

“But it didn’t feel right,” she says. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this.’” 

She was thinking of aborting the baby. People at the shelter suggested she meet with someone at a nearby pregnancy care center. 

“She came with all that she owned in one bag,” remembers Phyllis Phelps, then a counselor at the center, now executive director of House of Hope New Hampshire women’s program. Phyllis still recalls how busy she was that day — too busy for one more appointment. Then she saw Jean Marie. 

“She was so hurting. Just … lost. I said, ‘Jean, how can I help you?’”

“I'm so tired,” Jean Marie told her. “I'm so tired.” 

They talked. Jean Marie shared her story. “There's a better way,” Phyllis finally told her gently, remembering days when she herself had found that hard to believe. “I can’t heal all those things that you're going through. But I know a Man named Jesus who can help you.” She began to share some Scriptures. She hadn’t read but one or two before Jean Marie interrupted.

“I don’t trust any man,” she said. “But I’ll give this one a try. I want Jesus. I want to pray with you.”

“So, we prayed,” Phyllis says. “She asked the Lord into her heart. And, boy, did He come in! You could feel His presence in the room. We were holding hands, and tears were falling. Hers was real repentance. ‘I’m done with this life,’ she said. ‘I want to live for Jesus now.’”

“And God just … swooped in.” Phyllis smiles. “He was waiting to run to her when she called upon Him. He’s good at that.” The smile grows bigger. “It was a beautiful day.”

Jean with Child
Alliance Defending Freedom
Alliance Defending Freedom
Jean Marie and her son, Jonah, take a break after sorting through donated clothing at Branches Pregnancy Resource Center. Jonah, 9, often lends a hand at the center.


ean Marie’s newfound faith transformed her soul … but didn’t immediately change certain cold, hard facts about her life. She was broke, homeless, addicted, and pregnant. With no prospects whatsoever.

“It’s such a culture shock,” says Phyllis, who’d walked her own harrowing road to faith and a new life. “Such a different life. You have to learn how to love. How to receive love — because when you’re out on the street, you’re always watching your back. You can’t trust anybody.”

Phyllis encouraged her new friend to enroll in the same program that had helped her so much, years before. Over the next 27 months, Jean Marie says, she learned “how to be a woman.” 

Coming into the program, “I mentally shut down,” she says. She had to relearn how to cook and clean, wash and iron, present herself as a lady — even how to read and write. “Normalcy,” she calls it. “Normal people,” she learned, “get up at 6 o’clock in the morning, not 2 o’clock in the afternoon.”

She immersed herself in the Bible. “I read it cover to cover in eight months,” she says. “The Scripture says, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ Well, I needed to know who this Man was that I was trying out.” What she read sank so deep and rang so true that she committed herself to full-time ministry, earning her degree from a Bible college after finishing the women’s program.

She also gave birth to a son, Jonah, now 9 years old. He’s living a childhood as different as it can possibly be from his mother’s, and he already knows things she was a long time learning: the kindness of friends, the wisdom of the Bible, and how much his mother and his God love him.

Jean Marie found work in the human resources department of a local hospital, pouring her free time into Jonah, church, and volunteer work alongside Phyllis at House of Hope. But the call to ministry — especially women’s ministry — wouldn’t go away. One day Phyllis handed her an application. Nearby, in Vermont, Branches Pregnancy Resource Center was looking for a new director.

“Her personality, her way of doing things, her way of looking at things are very different, because of her experiences. … she's very positive and visionary.”

Jean Talking
Alliance Defending Freedom
Alliance Defending Freedom
Jean Marie talks with Michael Gantt, a Branches board member who oversees the Mercy Ministries Food Pantry as senior pastor of Agape Christian Fellowship in Brattleboro. Jean Marie volunteers at the food pantry as part of her community outreach efforts.


can’t do this,” Jean Marie told her. “I’m not qualified.” 

“What are they going to do?” Phyllis replied. “Say no?”

“I just felt like that place needed some life,” she says now, looking back. “And Jean is full of life. I knew she would reach out to the community. She has a heartbeat for the lost. She has a prayer life and three years of Bible college behind her. And she has a heart to help other women. I knew God would equip her with what she needed.” Apparently, the Branches board agreed.

“I was quite impressed that the board hired her, because she had so much to offer,” says Lynn Kuralt, who helped found Branches almost 40 years ago. Now a board member herself, she and Jean Marie have become close friends. She sees in Jean Marie a big change from those who’ve led Branches before. 

“Her personality, her way of doing things, her way of looking at things are very different because of her experiences and what she’s been through and how she’s fought through things. She’s very positive and visionary. I think the board picked up on that. They were right. She’s been a very effective leader.”

“Most women who have been trafficked still have a ‘survivor’ mindset,” Jean Marie says. “I don't call myself a survivor. I call myself an overcomer. My mindset has changed. I don't think like I used to think. I have overcome, and now I help others get out.” 

“We’re sharing the Gospel in so many different ways now … but at the same time, we’re saving babies’ lives.”

That changed mindset has also changed the whole nature of Branches’ ministry. A pregnancy center that once drew mostly high school girls and college coeds now draws walk-ins of every kind: prostitutes, drug dealers, and trafficked women like Jean Marie herself. 

“If you’re an addict, you get pregnant,” Jean Marie says. “You’re homeless, you get pregnant. You’re a prostitute, you get pregnant. Our focus is still on babies, but some of the people we help have changed. It’s now people who are under the wire, that people don’t pay attention to. We’re sharing the Gospel in so many different ways now … but at the same time, we’re saving babies’ lives.”

“She’s doing amazing,” Phyllis says. “She’s a servant. She leads by serving, by encouraging. She’s not afraid to receive correction. And she’s a go-getter.”

It’s that last quality that has had the most impact, not only on Branches and its low-income neighborhood but on the larger community of Brattleboro, Vermont.

“We were very hidden,” Jean Marie says. “Not a lot of people knew about Branches. So I decided to go out on the streets, where the homeless people are. The pimps. The addicts. I said, ‘Hey, if you need help, we’re here. Come check us out.’” 

She’s done the same with city leaders — dropping in on the police chief, the fire chief, the principal of the high school, the head of the local hospital. She introduces herself and asks, “How can we help?” Her sincerity, her spunk, and her testimony quickly get their attention. 

“Jean Marie’s reached out into the community, and she’s brought a lot of people together,” Phyllis says. “She’s gained support, and she’s gained clients. She’s brought a lot of life.”

“We are known in the community now in a positive way,” Lynn says. “They know who she is, and she’s very clear who we are. She doesn't pull any punches. She’s here to help, and they know that. They can see it and hear it. They know her face … and they trust her.”

“Jean Marie’s reached out into the community, and she’s brought a lot of people together. … She’s brought a lot of life.”

Clothing Rack
Alliance Defending Freedom
Alliance Defending Freedom
New and gently used clothing is available to new moms in Branches’ boutique room.


hat trust is increasingly important in a state whose leading officials have largely declared war on pregnancy care centers. 

About the time Jean Marie became director of Branches, Vermont passed a law that threatens to put centers like hers out of business. It’s a law that explicitly targets the free speech of pro-life pregnancy centers like Branches, and it’s unconstitutionally vague — so the centers can’t be sure exactly what speech is prohibited. If a pregnancy center advertises in a way that Vermont’s fiercely pro-abortion attorney general deems misleading, the law provides that the center can be fined up to $10,000.

A fine that hefty, Jean Marie says, would cripple Branches. 

What’s more, the new law requires that any “health care counseling” at pregnancy centers be conducted by licensed medical professionals, not volunteer peer counselors offering pregnancy options. It is unclear whether nonmedical pregnancy centers, like Branches, can continue providing peer counseling or over-the-counter pregnancy tests — without hiring licensed medical staff. Interestingly, no such limitation applies to the staff of abortion facilities. 

Branches is one of three clients Alliance Defending Freedom is representing in a lawsuit challenging the Vermont law. The case is currently pending in a federal district court. 

“This is part of a concerted attack against pregnancy centers across the country in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe,” says Julia Payne, legal counsel with ADF’s Center for Life. “Lawmakers often accuse pregnancy centers of ‘misleading’ women to believe that they are an abortion clinic, even if those centers affirmatively disclose to potential clients that they do not provide or refer for abortions.”

“We don’t force anything on women,” Jean Marie says. “I don’t care what you believe in. If you need help, we’re here to help you. Our focus is resources.” 

“If the attorney general and her allies were truly pro-choice, they would want to give women as many options as possible.”

Branches specializes in locating and providing any resource or support that hurting people might need — physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Food, clothing, diapers, baby toys, high chairs, and parent training classes, along with support groups for addicts, victims of domestic violence, and survivors of trafficking. If the Branches staff cannot fulfill a need themselves, they connect women and families with other services and programs that can. 

“Branches offers free services to women,” Payne says, “and it should be free to serve women and offer them the support they need without fear of undue government punishment. 

“If the attorney general and her allies were truly pro-choice,” she adds, “they would want to give women as many options as possible. Pregnancy centers like Branches empower women to choose life by providing the support that they need to carry a pregnancy to term.” Ultimately, she says, that allows them to decide whether to raise the child or to give their baby up for adoption.

“Working with ADF has challenged me to see how much God can move,” Jean Marie says. “This is a case that can go either way. We have to trust in Jesus. And for me, this is personal. If it wasn’t for Phyllis and the pregnancy center, I’d be dead. And if it wasn’t for ADF, I wouldn’t have this chance to tell my story.” 

She pauses. “Actually, it’s not my story,” she says. “It’s God’s story.”

Branches Office Team
Alliance Defending Freedom
Alliance Defending Freedom
Branches staff members (from left) Jennelle Harvey, Jean Marie Davis, and Caroline Gold in the Branches lobby, where the center’s motto is displayed.


ou know that Scripture that says, ‘He that is forgiven much, loves much’”? Lynn asks. “Boy, is Jean Marie a testimony of that. She’s been snatched out of the pit, to have purpose and hope — and she’s running with it. She makes a point of bringing the name of Jesus into everything she does. She never hides the fact that she’s serving Him first.”

“With Jean, it’s ‘I want to share Jesus,’” Phyllis says. “He just bubbles out of her. Like the ‘woman at the well,’ she wants to go back and say, ‘Come meet a Man who told me everything about me.’ She wants to let the world know that there is hope and there is a way, and that’s through Jesus Christ. Coming from someone who didn’t even know the name of Jesus. …” Her eyes grow wet. 

“Wow. I’ve had a front-row seat … to see what God can do with a life that was totally ashes.

“Thank You, Lord.”

“I don't call myself a survivor. I call myself an overcomer.”


ean Marie saw her again, the other day. The hitchhiker, out walking her dog. She waved as Jean Marie drove by. She looked healthier, a little more weight. But, despite their prayer together, the woman still works the streets. 

Jean Marie waved back. 

“I know how quick I could go back into that lifestyle,” she says. “I think that’s what scares me the most. It’s why I hunger after Jesus. I fight for what I believe in — and I fight for who I am. Because my identity is in Christ. I know who I am now. I know what I’m worth.

“Lord, use me … however. Help me to help the next person. I’m here.”