When broadcast journalist Deanna Dewberry gave her testimony to a Bible study class at Houston’s South Main Baptist Church, it was the continuation of an ongoing story of friendship and faith that spans the years and the miles.
Dewberry, a 12-time Emmy Award-winning news anchor and investigative reporter at WHEC-TV News10NBC in Rochester, N.Y., spoke to South Main’s Power and Light adult class by Zoom in late August. If anyone in the class didn’t know Dewberry, she definitely knew them and their pastor, Steve Wells. She and Wells became close friends as classmates at Smylie Wilson Middle School and Coronado High School in Lubbock, Texas, where they shared a love of music through choir and a strong Christian faith.
While her body was being treated, she found her soul being ministered to by South Main’s InSpirit Patient Housing ministry.
The journalist and pastor have remained close friends through the years, getting together when possible such as for a small “class reunion” among a half-dozen friends to share memories and catch up on their personal stories. Then in 2018, Wells and Dewberry were chatting on Facebook one night when she told him about her cancer diagnosis. He suggested she come to Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center for treatment.
Dewberry did exactly that, and while her body was being treated, she found her soul being ministered to by South Main’s InSpirit Patient Housing ministry, which for 40 years has provided affordable furnished apartments to medical patients coming to Houston from around the world for extended treatments at the various hospitals of the Texas Medical Center. Many of the volunteers who support the apartment ministry are members of South Main’s Power and Light Class, and they supported Dewberry with prayers, fellowship and open arms.
“Deanna just became beloved in our church and in that Power and Light Sunday school class,” Wells said. “She was there on Sundays and on Wednesdays too.”
Dewberry returned to the class via Zoom in August to share her journey and her testimony. Using 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 as her text, Dewberry spoke about “God’s gift in grave situations.” She told how her time at MD Anderson was her fourth bout with cancer, having first been diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a 21-year-old student at the University of Texas. With a survival chance of 10%, “I was literally facing a grave situation,” she said.
She survived, only to be challenged with leukemia, two bouts of viral meningitis, epilepsy and Graves’ disease all before her 30th birthday, and still she found God’s grace to be sufficient. Then at 42, a diagnosis of breast cancer led to her decision to have a double mastectomy. She was cancer free for eight years until she found a lump below where her breast had been. This time, the cancer had spread, and it was attacked aggressively with chemo, surgery, radiation and more chemo.
“South Main was my home away from home during the six weeks I was at M.D. Anderson getting radiation treatment,” Dewberry told the class. “And you all provided so much friendship and such spiritual support while I was there that it was a gift.”
In the months following her time in Houston, Dewberry has faced another major challenge: the sudden death of her mother from pancreatic cancer. Again, she said, it was the grace of God expressed in Thessalonians that got her through.
“For the last year and a half that verse has really sat at the seat of my soul,” she said. “It guides me, it soothes me, it comforts me, it consoles me, it reminds me that God is.”
Dewberry said it has been difficult negotiating life without her mother.
“My mother’s love defined me,” she said, explaining that she assessed her value, talent and ability to achieve by the depth of her mother’s love. And while that may be true for any adult child with a close relationship with a parent, “it takes on a new dimension for a Black child in a white world,” she said. “If I valued my smart Black mother, then I had value too.”
Dewberry told the class that Lubbock was “painfully segregated” during her childhood. Zoning and land use plans didn’t allow Blacks to live anywhere other than the east side of the city while at the same time permitting industrial plants to operate next to minority neighborhoods. In 1975, her single, school-teacher mother set her sights on a small house on the west side of town, and she fought hard for the right to move. As a result, Dewberry was the only Black child in her elementary school for two years. When she got to Coronado High School, she was one of only five Blacks in her class of almost 600.
“If I valued my smart Black mother, then I had value too.”
“But where I found home was in choir with Steve,” she said.
Wells said he had other classes with Dewberry, including English, where her natural eloquence shined, “but our big experience together was in choir.”
During the Zoom visit, Dewberry brought the Power and Light Class up to date on her medical journey since leaving Houston and returning to work in Rochester. Most recently, she completed a year-long clinical trial for an immunotherapy.
“And two weeks ago, I rang the bell,” she said. “I’m done. I’m cancer free. I’m healthy and I’m here. Why? Because God’s grace is sufficient. (That is) God’s gift in grave situations.”
Speaking from Rochester a few weeks later, Dewberry said it was a joy to be back with the class.
“I got to know and love a husband and wife who are active in the housing ministry,” she said. “They invited me to their Sunday School class, and what a gift. The members of the class are really close, and that gives them the freedom to be open and honest, without the pretense you find in a room full of strangers. In that environment we shared weaknesses and vulnerabilities in our ongoing effort to become more like Christ.”
Being back with the class on Zoom “was like coming home,” Dewberry said. “My only regret is that we all couldn’t meet in person. But I have full faith I’ll see them again and be able to thank them in person for allowing me to share my heart with them and they with me.”
Wells said the last time he saw Dewberry in person was at the funeral service for her mother, where he was asked to speak. Several of their close school friends also were there.
“You just show up for people when you’re friends like that,” he said. “Jesus has made us family, and that’s what binds us.”