Hostage inspires women at church's Christmas Tea

LAWRENCEVILLE - Ashley Smith is not a doctor, but she does consider herself in the business of saving lives.

Smith, the Augusta woman held hostage last March by Brian Nichols, the man accused of the Fulton courthouse shootings, shared her life story and her startling encounter with Nichols at a Lawrenceville church Thursday night.

Twenty-nine-year-old Smith spoke at Oak Hill Baptist Church, a plus to the church's first annual Christmas Tea.

After years of battling an addiction to drugs, the loss of her husband and a struggle to regain custody of her now 7-year-old daughter, Smith said she's on the road to recovery, her faith having grown and getting her through each day.

She told her story to a crowd of nearly 300 women gathered for fellowship, inspiration and a celebratory start to the holidays.

Smith said her purpose of her talk was to inspire women.

"My goal for the night has been to let these ladies know that it's never too late to turn your life around," Smith said. "Everyone always thought I was too far gone. God helped me prove them wrong."

Volunteers set 32 tables, serving a three-course meal, each table with a flickering candle to light the dark room for dinner.

The event, a dream of women's ministry director Bobbie Kern for over three years, is hoped to be one of many Christmas Teas.

"It's just an opportunity to reach so many people," Kern said. "It's an opportunity for women to come out, dress up and have fellowship with others."

Church members said they decided on Smith for the night's speaker because of her courage and faith.

"She just has such a unique story to tell," Linda Bowers, a local church member, said of how Smith was asked to speak at the event.

Charlotte Ford, the pastor's wife, said she jumped at the opportunity to have the event.

"We wanted to reach out to community members, to reach out and serve them," said Charlotte Ford.

As for the women who attended, they said they were intrigued by Smith's story.

"It was a great opportunity to be with friends and to see what Ashley had to say," said Jennifer Fell, attendee of the tea and teacher at Grayson High School.