For more than 50 years, Estelle Herndon kept a secret.
It took her 25 years to tell her husband, and now she is sharing her personal story with the world.
“A friend of mine in a Sunday school class, Karen Allen, just said everybody has a story, and they need to tell it,” said Herndon, 78. At one of the group meetings, Allen told everyone to write down their stories.
Herndon’s story was that her father sexually abused her for 10 years, from age 5 to 15 when she got married, Herndon said. In January 2017, she released a book called “Finding His Strength,” which details her personal journey toward God and her healing process .
“I had no idea that Essie would — it was for her that day. I think that’s the coolest thing. When the Lord prompted me to say that, I had no idea who it was for, but it was for her. And the beautiful part about it is that she stepped out, and she did it,” Allen said.
Once Herndon went public with her story, she shared it with counselors and psychiatrists.
“They asked me to come and speak to show a different way of helping people rather than medication necessarily. So I gave my story, and I got a standing ovation,” she said.
Following the death of her mother, Herndon, who was just 2 at the time, was placed in an orphanage for four years. Herndon said her father married five times, and she has 21 half step-brothers and sisters.
Herndon never reported the abuse to the police or told any of her family members about it.
“People wear masks all the time, and I wore that mask and facade for so long,” she said.
Proceeds from the book, which can be purchased on amazon.com, go toward the Crisis Line and Safe House of Central Georgia, a center that provides housing, food and clothing to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
“The donations that Essie has made, we use to provide direct client assistance. Oftentimes when people come into our programs, they might be unable to come up with security deposits or one month’s rent or utility deposits; any of those things,” said Dee Simms, executive director of the Safe House.
Simms said the center also provides the books for residents to read.
Before helping anyone else, Herndon said she had to find out how to free herself from hate and bitterness. She also learned to forgive her father.
Herndon often hears from women that can relate to her struggles.
“One lady just stopped me on the road and said, ‘I am just like you, and thank you for your book.’ I’ve had more people say, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you, because you have opened up my heart and given me some hope,’ ” she said.