The Reverend Dr. Joy Davis regularly advertises each food distribution event across Orlando that her ministry hosts. Since October 2020, her drive-through events have been well-attended and a blessing to others.

Encouraged By Joy


Maneuvering between 40-foot-high shelves at Orlando’s Second Harvest Food Bank, Joy Davis piles her flatbed cart high with frozen meat, canned goods and fresh produce. Her non-profit organization, Spirit of Joy Ministries Dream Center, is preparing to host another drive-through food distribution in late February 2021.

Joy selects one of many chilled pre-packaged salads for her upcoming food drive-by.

Joy chooses frozen beef, chicken and pork for needy families.

Guiding one cart after the other onto a huge scale, she pays 18 cents per pound and then picks up six racks of free fresh bread donated by a local supermarket. After filling her red pickup truck, she unloads the food at her rented office at New Life Community Church in preparation for Saturday’s event.

Joy gratefully accepts free donated bread from Publix supermarkets.

Joy and a volunteer fill her pickup to the brim with food.

Joy’s compassion for others springs from her hardships. Because of how God has helped, healed and encouraged her through her own trials, she has spent the past 30 years offering that same comfort, help and healing to others in need.

A challenging childhood

Born Brenda Joyce Driskill, called Joy from birth, she grew up in Detroit with a single mother and four older sisters. Many nights, her mother would go hungry herself to make sure her girls had enough food. Joy says she and her sisters were teased at school for always wearing the same few outfits and clunky black-and-white Oxford shoes.

“Mama was scraping and scraping to make ends meet,” Joy says. “We didn’t have the things other people had, but we had a roof over our head. I went to three different high schools. If Mama didn't like the area, or didn’t think it was safe for her girls, we moved, so I didn’t have a lot of friends. But the friends that I did make, I kept for life.”

School was hard for Joy. After failing the eighth grade, Joy wanted to quit school, but by 10th grade, she had mustered the determination and confidence to finally graduate from high school in 1972.

“On my way to find a job, I saw a uniformed woman in the window of a U.S. Army recruiting station, and the rest is history — I joined the Army.”

Joy Davis

Joy joined the Army after graduating from high school. “Although the Army was prejudiced, it produced things in me I didn’t have, like obedience,” she recalls. “It was very, very hard, but the Army will shape you up, teaching you discipline, a good work ethic, and also diligence and perseverance.”

During basic training, Joy says her kind Christian female drill sergeant made their whole platoon pray and sing “Amazing Grace” every night before “lights out.” Although Joy had grown up going to church, this influenced her.

“That song helped me to become saved. I sang the words and I didn’t understand them at first. But the more I sang, the more I understood the amazing grace of God.”

Joy Davis, about the song “Amazing Grace”

Two chapters end; a new one begins

At her first and final duty station in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, she met Donald Davis, another soldier. They married, left the Army, and moved to New York, where Joy worked for the Veterans Administration. She and Donald later moved back to Detroit, where she worked for the postal service, eventually retiring. Sadly, her relationship with Donald deteriorated due to his infidelity and the couple divorced.

Using the G.I. Bill, which pays for college and graduate programs for military veterans, Joy attended Wayne State University after her service in the Army, majoring in journalism and communications. Joy was told if she ever wanted to work in her dream job in TV news, she had to fix her nose and the big gap in her teeth and lighten her skin. The criticism was so hurtful that it killed her dreams.

Broken-hearted, she couldn’t have imagined the new dreams God would give her that ultimately led her to start Spirit of Joy, first in Detroit, and then in Orlando.

An emerging faith and ministry

Growing up going to church, Joy knew about Christianity, but at Detroit’s Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in 1984, she began a relationship with Jesus. At one Sunday service, she went forward weeping and asking for forgiveness.

“I’d always walked bent over, with the weight of sin on my back. When I understood He was delivering me from it, it felt like everything fell off me.”

After teaching Sunday School over the next few years, Joy wanted to become a better teacher. God opened a door for her to attend Ashland Theological Seminary, where she earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education.

Introduced to Cru® through Bill Bright’s Fasting and Prayer conferences, Joy helped launch Cru’s inner-city Detroit ministry in 1998 alongside director Terry Robinson and his wife, Janice.

“Joy was not only a pioneer in helping get Cru Inner City started, she was like an obstetrician helping us get it birthed,” Terry says. “She was also a pediatrician in that she really helped us to nurture the ministry from a baby stage to a young adult stage.”

Joy started three after-school S.A.Y. YES! Centers for Youth Development® programs in Detroit and the Metro area, serving as their youth development coordinator for 13 years. This led to annual mission and seminary teaching trips to Africa, which have continued, even during the pandemic through the use of Zoom video meetings.

In 2004, she founded Spirit of Joy Ministries to host annual weekend Women in Ministry retreats, providing prayer, classes, healing and encouragement to counteract the rejection or disapproval the attendees experienced.

After moving to Orlando in 2013, and taking a wrong turn off the freeway, she came across a tent city populated by people experiencing homelessness under an overpass. “I was shocked because I had never seen that part of Orlando before,” Joy says. “I always stayed in the best parts, in the hotels and resorts. I could not believe it. And then I heard about people living in the woods and all that, and my heart was like, ‘Dream Center! We’ve got to be able to feed and help these people!’”

Teaming up with Cru, she changed Spirit of Joy’s focus to help meet the needs of the urban poor. She rented a small office and set up a food and clothing pantry, and God provided several donated computers so she could offer a GED program and job searches to people who needed the resources. Later, she moved her office to New Life Community Church.

Joy and her volunteers bag canned goods for the next day’s food distribution.

Joy and dedicated volunteers Sarah Steele, Velma Clark and Jean Vacha assemble food bags for hungry families.

Her first year in Orlando, Joy discovered that her former husband, Donald, not in good health, was living nearby, and they reconnected as friends. On his deathbed after a long illness, she led him to Christ in 2016.

Helping people through a pandemic

The day before Joy’s February food giveaway, a few dedicated volunteers arrive to help pack the food, purchased with donated funds, for the drive-by distribution. They fill enough bags to feed 100 families and after a few hours, all the food is ready.

Joy rewards Sarah’s granddaughter Jatalaya for being so patient during the food-packing.

Joy takes a much-needed break between packing food and returning phone calls from those in need.

Joy returns each call with encouragement and an invitation to the next day’s food drive-by.

Joy then retrieves several phone messages in her office from people asking for help. She calls each person back, both to encourage them and invite them to the drive-by event. One man has just tested positive for COVID-19 but wants to get food, so she asks him to wear a red bandana so her volunteers can serve him safely.

Another man, recently released from prison, saw Spirit of Joy on a resource list and called about getting food. After meeting Joy, he was so impressed that he said, “Anytime I can do anything for you, just let me know.” He shared that he looks forward to helping pick up and unload food for her monthly drive-bys. “A lot of Christians talk a good game, but Joy really lives it,” he says. “You can sense the Spirit of God working through her.”

Her volunteers arrive an hour early on Saturday to help set up. Handing out clipboards, Joy reminds them to welcome each carload and ask for contact information so she can invite people to future food giveaways.

Joy orients volunteers on the feeding event schedule.

Volunteer Robbie Fitz prays over the food before it’s given out. Packages of frozen meat are ready to be pulled from the freezer while snack items, such as tortilla chips and Cheetos, have been set aside for families with children.

Joy assigns volunteers to various positions for the food drive-by.

“Don’t forget to ask for prayer requests, and offer to pray for them right there.”

Joy Davis

She posts a sign out front of the church and cars begin to arrive: a single mother just finishing a 12-hour nursing shift drives up, then an elderly couple, followed by a young widow with six children. Each carload expresses their appreciation as volunteers load bags of food into their back seats and trunks. Joy and her team offer to pray for each family.

Joy and her volunteers give out food to their first client of the day.

Sarah Steele one of Joy’s most faithful volunteers, exhorts clients with, “Do you know the Lord? Make sure you’re goin’ to church!”

Joy gets contact information to notify this new client about future events.

Joy prays with a woman about COVID-19 related challenges.

A young man living out of his car while trying to provide for five children who live with family members breaks down sobbing as Joy prays with him.

After almost an hour, the flow of cars slows down, so Joy asks volunteer Judy Gerrard to go out front and wave a sign saying “Free Food!” and traffic begins to pick up again. “People just drive up, and you don't always think about what they’re going through,” Judy says. “It would be easy just to load up the bags and let them go, but taking the time and expressing that care — I think people really appreciate it.”

Volunteer Judy Gerrard, who’s helped pack and distribute at Joy’s prior events, invites people to the back of the building to get free food.

After two hours, the event comes to a close, and there is still enough food to feed 30 more families. Joy decides to advertise food distribution every other Wednesday until her next monthly event. “The need is great, and the lines are long,” she says, sighing. “If I could be there more, I would. Jobs are gone and people need help and rental assistance.”

Joy and volunteers recover from the heat after the food distribution event ends.

Joy meets with a potential volunteer who needs community service hours.

Joy’s greatest needs are volunteers and finances. “She has a huge need for people to join in,” Judy says. “She’s not a young person, and it takes a lot of energy to do what she does. She’s trying to care for her elderly mom, and she’s just got so much on her plate, but she has such a heart for this.”

In addition to her ministry, Joy has the privilege of caring for her 95-year-old mother several months during the year.

Her dream is to help people in a similar way to Los Angeles’ Dream Center, which she visited back in the 1990s. “They turned an old hotel into a church, a homeless shelter and a hospital,” she recalls. “They provided clothing, food and education all in one place. They took in prisoners and prostitutes and changed people’s lives. And I knew that that’s what the Lord wanted me to do.”

After a call from shut-ins who can’t wait for Meals on Wheels’ long waiting list, Joy packs boxes of food to mail to them, including encouraging Christian materials.

Joy takes a food box to her truck to mail at the post office.

She’s wanted to quit many times, especially when it felt like God wasn’t providing. “Every time I reason that maybe I’m not supposed to be doing this, God’ll give me the assurance that I am,” she says brightly. “Whether He gives me a building, or takes away a component of the Dream Center vision, I can still do some portion of it until He establishes it the way that He wants to, helping people transform their lives.”

Reach out

How have you seen God raise up leaders who joyfully serve their communities, especially during the pandemic?

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Michael Chapman
Words by

Michael Chapman

Born in Colorado, Mike majored in acting/radio, TV and film at Kansas University. Since 1983, he’s served with the campus, Hollywood and military ministries of Cru® and now works at Cru’s World Headquarters at Lake Hart in Orlando, Florida. He and his wife, Michelle, have two children, Angel and Eric.

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Guy Gerrard
Photos by

Guy Gerrard

Guy isn’t much of a city person. Paddling down the Wda river in northern Poland with participants of a Cru® summer mission project describes a great place for him to photograph. He likes being outside, doing anything with water, and he enjoys making things with his hands. Guy serves as a photographer for Cru.

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