Keep on believing: Dawn Smith Jordan on hope after tragedy

By Jacque Godwin

LEXINGTON—Despite the cold and rain, approximately 100 people came to hear Dawn Smith Jordan’s testimony at Mount Horeb United Methodist Church Feb. 19.

It was only 10 miles away and 34 years earlier that Larry Gene Bell kidnapped Jordan’s younger sister, Sharon “Shari” Faye Smith, prompting South Carolina’s largest manhunt. Bell led police to her body June 5, 1985, five days after her kidnapping; he was captured June 27 and given the death penalty.

While still mourning her sister’s untimely death, Jordan pursued the dream Shari had encouraged her to follow. Jordan’s poise and talent led her to become Miss South Carolina in 1986 and second runner-up to Miss America in 1987. She married Will Jordan in 1988 and had two children, Hannah and Ross.

Under circumstances not of her choosing, she became a single mother in 1997. In 2003, after battling ovarian cancer, her mother, Hilda, died. Throughout each trial of her life, however, Jordan remained firm in her Christian faith.

“One of the great lessons I’ve learned from the loss in my life is that we have the choice to either focus on what we’ve lost, or focus on what we have left to live for,” Jordan said. “I just focus on what I still have left to live for and what my purpose is with the days that I’ve been given.”

For Jordan, that purpose is Dawn Smith Jordan Ministries, which began during her reign as Miss South Carolina.

“Churches knew my story because we’d been on the front page of the paper and on the news, so they just started asking me, ‘We know she’s a Christian, will she come sing in our church? Will she come share her story?’ My purpose statement from Day 1 has always been that God would take the broken pieces of my life and put them together to be used for something good, not only in my life, but in the lives of others.’ As long as people ask me to come share my story and sing, I will.”

With five or six events a month, Jordan spends most weekends speaking and singing to audiences, but it was not the future she imagined for herself.

“I’m just a girl who grew up in Lexington, South Carolina,” Jordan said. “Who am I to have this platform? But it’s what God’s done in my life. I went to college to study vocal performance to be a professional singer. Never in a million years did I think I would end up being a speaker, as well.”

During the hour of prayer and worship at Mount Horeb, Jordan told of the tragic loss of her sister, along with her own personal successes and hardships afterward, punctuating each memory with a song and Scripture verse.

She also read a photocopy of the last will and testament Bell allowed her sister to write. In it, Shari asked her family not to let her death destroy their lives. She also promised that some good would come from her death.

Jordan remarked that in Shari’s final letter, she “do(es) not hear fear. I hear faith.”

She said Shari’s death “had the potential of ruining my family’s life. It did. It could have, but by the grace of God we chose not to let to allow it to. It’s only by the grace of God that helps us—any of us—to be able to say this will not define me. This will not destroy me. This is going to make me a stronger person and still be used for good. We all have that tendency to go, ‘Woe is me. This happened to me.’ That’s not all it did. That’s not all we are. Those are chapters in the stories of our lives, but if we are alive, our story is still being written, so we can’t just throw in the towel.”

With that purpose, Jordan focuses her energy on encouraging audiences through faith. Citing Philippines 3:13-14, Jordan explained to the Mount Horeb audience that all have to “press on toward the goal.”

She concluded her hour with “Keep Believing” by Tim Pedigo, which she re-recorded in 1990 because it was her mother’s favorite song, “except she always said ‘Keep On Believing.’”

“It’s been the favorite song all these years … because it’s my story, but it’s such a word of encouragement and hope to every single person who hears it that ‘keep believing. You know the Lord will see you through. You know what the Bible says. Take hold of it now and put feet to what you know,’” Jordan said. “And so it really is a challenge even to me every single time I sing it, to go, you know, ‘Dawn, you gotta live out what you’re telling people to live out.’”

Jordan’s music is available on iTunes and Amazon. For more about Jordan and her speaking schedule, visit

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