Chonda Pierce - Compassion International


By Willow Welter
Photos by Noah Carlson   |   Posted: September 30, 2014

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Chonda Pierce and her son, Zach, visited their sponsored child, Arley, in Colombia.

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  |   Posted: September 30, 2014

Chonda Pierce says she saw herself in the face of every child she met when she traveled to Colombia last year to visit 13-year-old Arley, her sponsored child.

“My poverty was not economic … I had poverty of the soul,” Chonda says. “My poverty was from abuse and being victimized.”

Not words you might expect from a woman who earns her living making people laugh. But the sassy Southern comedian has always incorporated her sometimes heartbreaking testimony into her shows as she tours the U.S. “Our lives are filled with the good, bad and ugly,” she says. “I just happen to share it all.”

Because of that, no one is safe from Chonda’s blunt humor — even her fellow Christians. But between wisecracks about hot flashes and Facebook, she always includes moments of reflection. Often that means sharing details of her past and also encouraging audience members to sponsor a child living in poverty.

Pain of the Past

Like Arley, the situations in Chonda’s childhood in South Carolina also threatened to rob her of hope. She says her father, a pastor, would swing wildly between nurturing his children and hurting them emotionally, physically and sexually.

“I heard the words ‘manic depressive’ when I was about 14,” Chonda says, “and that kind of helped explain it to me that he’d be friendly one week and terrible the next.”

In her book Laughing in the Dark: A Comedian’s Journey Through Depression, Chonda describes her father lining her up next to her two sisters and brother for group whippings — sometimes drawing blood with his leather belt — when any one of them made him angry. Life got even harder when tragedy and change reduced 16-year-old Chonda’s household of six to a household of two. Within a 22-month period, her older sister died in a car wreck, her younger sister died of leukemia, and her father left the family on the day Chonda’s brother got married and moved out.

“I had my mama, and all we had was each other,” Chonda says. “We were dead broke.”

Learning to Laugh

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Visiting your sponsored child can transform your life. See a video of Chonda’s emotional visit to Colombia, pictured here, to meet Arley.

Chonda’s mother, Virginia, provided a steady source of encouragement, someone to remind her daughter that her heavenly Father offered what her earthly father hadn’t. That encouragement stuck with Chonda while she pursued her talents as a performing artist, cutting her teeth as a Minnie Pearl impersonator at Opryland theme park in Nashville. Her sense of humor stuck with her, too, and last year she became the Recording Industry Association of America’s best-selling female comedian. Through her comedy shows, Chonda hopes to offer audiences respite from any challenges they may be going through. “If we can spend 2 1/2 hours laughing and reminding each other that we’re not alone,” Chonda says, “I’m so honored to be part of that.”

It’s a reminder Chonda needs, too, as she deals with new pain. Her husband, David, died unexpectedly of pulmonary embolism in July — two years after her mom died. But even as she grieves, Chonda continues to remind Arley that he’s not alone. Through letters, she’s able to pass along the type of encouragement her mother always offered to her.

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Chonda also visited the family of a child who’s new to the Child Sponsorship Program in Colombia. The home “was a piece of tin leaned against a mountain,” Chonda says. The kids’ mom told Chonda that she often doesn’t eat because there’s only enough food for her children.

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