Bishop Adrian & Pastor Tonya Ware: Built on a solid foundation
Bishop Adrian Ware had been praying for at least 10 years for God to send him the right wife.
Adrian: My friends were actually marrying, and people were like when are you going to get married? I wasn’t even dating. But I knew that I had to really hear God.
Ware was no stranger to encountering the Spirit of God as he had heard the call to become a pastor at the tender age of 12 years old. But one day, he would have an experience similar to Samuel when God sent him to Jesse’s house to anoint the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16). Ware was introduced to the Hairston family through a colleague who was the life insurance agent for the patriarch of the family.
Adrian: He actually called me and said would you like to drive up to Lewisville to meet the Hairstons? I’d never met them before. We got there, stopped the car, parked, and everything. When I went to get out, I heard this voice. It said your wife will come from this house.
And the voice was so strong that I thought that my friend was playing with me. I looked around because it was audible. I thought, oh my God, he’s not playing with me. This is God.
In the Bible, when Samuel looked upon Jesse’s eldest son Eliab, he exclaimed, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” God answered Samuel, saying, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Adrian looked upon two of the six Hairston daughters and heard God say, “Not them.” A year and a half later, God revealed Adrian’s wife.
Adrian: A mutual friend was getting married, and we both got invited to the wedding. I was standing there, and Tonya was standing [a little ways away]. She had never met me, and the Spirit of God said, ‘That’s her.’
Meanwhile, Tonya had also been praying to God about who He may send her to marry.
Tonya: I had only prayed one prayer. I said, ‘Lord, I don’t want to get married, but if that’s what you have for me, just don’t let him be a preacher.’
But God had other plans. At the time of her meeting, Adrian’s wisdom withheld the information that he was a preacher and that God had told him that Tonya was his wife. They exchanged numbers and soon they would spend hours and hours on the phone talking about the Bible. This continued for about a year’s time as Tonya finished her senior year at Mississippi State University.
Adrian: We would just talk about the Word of God. That was our strength. When we would talk about the scripture, we would get so excited. And, you know, I’d never met anybody who was this spiritual but smart and outgoing, kind, balanced, and all of those things. That was so important.
They both recalled a night when they just so happened to watch the same sermon on TBN at the same time.
Adrian: I called her and she said, ‘Are you watching this?’ I said, ‘Yes, this Word of God is so powerful.’ We just got into that Word and it was like we were joined.
Tonya: That’s been our strength. When we go through the lows in life and when something traumatic happens, or we suffer a loss, we seem to find each other in the Word. That’s always been like our safe place.
Adrian: That’s the foundation. When the winds and the rains come, [that foundation ensures] you have a house that’s still standing.
Built on Solid Ground
At this time, only Adrian was aware that this foundation was on its way to fortification. Tonya had signed up to join the PeaceCorps. Her dream was to teach in Africa after she graduated college, and she had already received her assignment to travel to Sierra Leone. When Adrian heard about her plans, he told her that he sensed that the Spirit of God was going to interrupt that entire plan. And as she was preparing to leave, a political uprising happened in the area and her assignment was postponed. Though she had never been to Jackson before, she felt a calling to move to the capital city of Mississippi, find a job, and work there until her assignment was to resume.
Tonya: I came here and saw [Adrian] at a church service. He saw me and said, ‘Hey, you drove all the way here for this event?’ Because we had been talking about the Word and generally keeping in touch. I said no, I live here.
Since, unbeknownst to Tonya, he had been courting her for a year, Adrian was taken aback that she had made such a big life decision and he didn’t know about it.
Tonya: [Jokingly]He didn’t tell me that the Lord said I was his wife. So I was like why are you in my business?
Being in the same city helped the two continue to build on their connection and two years later, on December 9, 1995, they were married at Galloway Memorial.
A Foundation of Love
Both Adrian and Tonya grew up with a foundation of love and devotion to God through their parents, both of whom were pastors in their respective communities. Tonya was born the third of ten children, six girls and four boys, to Robert J. and Susan A. Hairston in Key West, Florida.
Tonya: My dad was a church planter, and he was planting a church there at the time. So I was born there while he was planting that church. And then he moved the family from Key West to Marion, West Virginia, which is where my mom was from. And he pastored her church there. After that, he got a call one day from his best friend who was living in Philadelphia, Mississippi. And he said, ‘Bob, would you come to Mississippi so we can be close together again? And would you come and pastor this church in Louisville?’
So my dad agreed to it, and his friend, Bishop Clifton Jones, sent an 18-year-old young man with a moving truck to move us from Marion, West Virginia to Mississippi. That was James Young, and he grew up to become the first Black mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi. And I performed at his inauguration.
Tonya is a world-renowned Gospel singer who has been featured on BET, TBN, FOX, Music Choice, GMC, etc. She is a three-time “Jackie” Award winner by the Mississippi Gospel Music Association and a 2009 Stellar Award Nominee for Contemporary Female Artist of the Year.
Tonya’s parents were married fifty-six years before her mother passed away in 2020.
Tonya: I saw them model sticking together. They were really for each other. My mom was strong, but we would cut up and show out on her when my dad was traveling and preaching. And he would come home and say, ‘You’re not doing that to your mama. That’s my wife.’ He was always for her. She was always for him.
They were very different individuals, but they had a lot of the basic foundational beliefs in common. They had a deep abiding love for the Lord and a lot of passion for people and the community and service. They modeled what it meant to be committed to the relationship, loyal to the family, and to love through whatever happens.
Adrian grew up in the Delta. He is the oldest of five children, four boys and one girl, born to John and Sarah Ware who celebrated 60 years of marriage this year.
Adrian: My parents were third generation Church of Christ Holiness who started their church in our living room, right next to my bedroom. So we stressed God, church, family, and school. They are really dedicated to each other and love each other and have a passion for God, for family, and for the community. Everybody knows my parents. If you tell my mother that you are having pain, she will grab you right in the store. Right in Walmart or Dollar General. And she will bind that sickness up in the name of Jesus.
Both of my grandparents had strong marriages. My mother’s parents were married for 70-something years. They had total dedication to each other. The same with my dad’s parents. They had a strong marriage with great respect. It wasn’t that I’m treating you a certain way, but I’m treating God’s daughter like this or God’s son. When you see it like that, it’s not about you anymore.
Tonya also saw deep love from her grandparents on her mother’s side but also learned valuable lessons about life and love from her father’s parents.
Tonya: What I really love about my upbringing is that my mom’s mother and father were married 60-something years until he passed away. But on my dad’s side, his mom and dad separated at some point during their marriage because of substance abuse.
What my father really taught us through that process was that you don’t have to let someone else’s baggage be yours. He didn’t let that break in their marriage be what his story had to be. That’s an important thing to model in marriage too. Maybe there’s been brokenness, but it doesn’t have to be your continual story. You can stop and break and destroy the cycle when you’re ready to really be committed.
And he was committed to my mom for 56 years until she passed. I remember him sitting at the graveside right before we were giving our final goodbyes. And he said the sweetest thing. He said, ‘Baby, I’ll see you on the other side.’
When it comes to modeling marriage for their two girls, Tonya says that she tries to model the values that she learned from her parents’ marriage for them. When looking back over their twenty seven years together, the Wares realize that there have been phases along the way. They had their honeymoon phase when “breathing on the phone and just being happy together” was enough. This period lasted about 2 years. Then, they had what they called the “shock and denial” stage, which encompassed years three through five of their marriage.
Tonya: We used to argue and fuss. But five years into our marriage, we were sitting outside of our house, and it was a beautiful day. We looked at each other and realized it had been a month since we last had an argument. I thought this is great. So this is what it’s like on the other side.
The Wares know from experience that it takes a while to get to the place of contentment. It’s a lifelong journey, but for them, they made it to the commitment stage.
Tonya: We really dug in deep and said we’re gonna make this work. We started having what we called ‘Issue Day.’ It was on a Wednesday. It was either in public or when our schedules cleared at home. And we spent that time talking about how we could improve the marriage. And we had ground rules for our heated discussions.
It takes time to merge two ideologies. It really takes time to merge. How do you want to run the house? How do you want to operate? Money. When do you want to have children? How are you going to raise the children? Family, holidays, travel, hobbies, life. All of that takes time.
Two Halves Make a Whole
Tonya: Bishop and I are so different. We’re night and day.
Tonya is the chill, laidback one while Adrian is the inquisitive deep thinker. Tonya likes to get straight to the point to solve and work through any kind of problem at the drop of a hat while Adrian weaves a story with great detail and over analyzes each part of a problem. She’s also a big people-person while he enjoys being at home. But they fit together perfectly despite their differences.
Tonya: We really fit, and we love modeling for other couples the power of being different but loving.
Knowing your spouse’s strengths and weaknesses can also aid in realizing and supporting their individual gifting.
Tonya: I do think that storytelling is his gift. Seeing differences in your spouse, that’s okay. But I think it’s really critical to recognize the gift.
Adrian has a gift of storytelling for his purpose on earth so he needs to be extremely detailed; he needs to pay attention to detail. He’s extremely thorough. He’s going to paint a picture for you. I love that aspect of him when we’re sitting in this congregation and a person walks in who’s suicidal and he shares his story and it saves their life. But it’s that same thing that kind of drives me nuts about his process of telling me for an hour about how he’s cooking some greens.
A big part of having a healthy marriage is letting people be who they are but also letting them grow and evolve. I have the same foundations. I still have the same good bones. You look at a house and it may change over time; it may shift the clay, but it’s a good solid house. I’ve been given the freedom in this beautiful marriage to grow, to expand, and to become. And I think that that’s really so special, especially for women.
Adrian: One thing that we actually agreed to when we were first married was that I saw her gifts. I told her that I was not going to hold her to just housework, but I was here to actually cultivate and support her gifts.
Tonya: In most marriages, one spouse can see the potential in the other spouse even when they can’t see it. Adrian’s definitely been my biggest cheerleader and my biggest pusher. Time and trust are two big things in a marriage. It takes time to build a relationship with that person that is trustworthy. You know, where they recognize that you’re not really preaching to them as much as you are looking out for them. ‘I see this in you. How can I help you cultivate that?’
I do also think that there are times in marriage where you need to see it and pray for the person, but not necessarily speak about it. Everybody’s in a different place within their own life. As you go through the times together and build that trust, you also have to give people their space. Some things they don’t want your help with, and you need to be okay with however they move. My flow is quick and Adrian is methodical. I have to be okay with that. He has to be okay with me being quick. And it takes time to learn that.
A Fruitful Love
In the midst of their commitment years, they had their first child – Wisdom – in 2002.
Tonya: Adrian’s father was really instrumental in his advice for us to live on one salary and save the other one. They were really focused on us bettering ourselves because once children start coming, everything shifts. We were also told to try not to plan, because when it’s time, it’s time. And then we just kind of looked at each other one day and we were ready. We both felt it at the same time. We both knew it was time. And the Lord brought us our beautiful Wisdom and then Wealth.
Adrian: When we were pregnant with Wisdom, we went to Macaroni Grill off County Line Road. The server said, ‘Hello, my name is Wisdom, I’ll serve you today.’
Tonya: And we looked at each other, understanding what Biblical wisdom means. Wisdom does serve you. Wisdom cries in the street, asking you to go the right way.
Adrian: When she said that, we looked at each other like, that’s her name. That’s her name.
Tonya: We asked the young lady could we use her name for our baby, and she told us it was her grandmother’s middle name, or something to that effect, and it was passed down to her. Everything that we call Wisdom is cool, like Wiz kid and Wiz.
Bishop has always had this tradition that right before we have a baby, he takes me on a trip of rest. He was planning a trip for us, and the travel agent’s name was Noelle. We heard that and we thought Wisdom Noelle. Noel means gift and wisdom is a gift.
In 2010, the Wares were on vacation before they had their second daughter – Wealth Joy.
Adrian: I had a dream. I saw her and I called her Wealthy. I said honey, I think I’ve got the baby’s name. And Tonya said Wealth.
Tonya: But we call her Wealthy. That’s her nickname. They love their names too!
We thought about it and we said the two key components you really need for life are wisdom and wealth. If you have wisdom, then you know how to apply knowledge accurately. The poor man’s wisdom saved the city, but he was still poor. So how do we build schools? How can we be repairers of the breach? How do we build up the old waste places? How do we really fix our city if we don’t have wealth? If we don’t have money? So you need them both.
Abiding Love in the Midst of Storms
In between the birth of their first and second children, the Wares’ lives changed in the blink of an eye.
Tonya: In December 2006, I was walking into my master bathroom getting dressed to go record what became my hit record, “Put My Hand in Yours”, and collapsed of cardiac arrest and died. Adrian prayed for me, and my eyes opened. But of course, I lost that time.
I did my first exams at the Madison Heart Clinic, and the doctor said my heart was like a 62 year olds. I was in my thirties at the time. I just worked myself to death nearly. I was working 70-80 hours a week and not saying no. I was taking every client that called me. I was working a full-time job and doing music in the evenings and weekends. I was not getting proper rest and my body broke down. I was having chest pains. I learned that most people walk around two days with a heart attack. That’s the statistics. Most people have a heart attack and for two days they just think they’re too tired.
I went from being a top producer to being permanently disabled at home for almost nine years. I was really, really sick. Our roles changed, and Adrian had to do everything. He took care of Wisdom because she was young at the time. Our love became less superficial and more deep and abiding.
Adrian was a super strong support. He was my caregiver. Because he understood depression and how it can cause premature death through suicidal thoughts, he really prayed very diligently for me. Every day I was standing in the shower and crying and asking the Lord to let me die because I was in so much pain. But Adrian just moved his office home, and he watched me like a hawk. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and he’d be sitting there beside the bed watching and praying because I was having unexplained blackouts and about three seizures a day.
Getting through that period of time was a daily battle for the Wares.
The first way I got through it was realizing that Adrian actually really meant I do. He meant, for however long the Lord has us on this earth, I do you and you do me. He leaned into his vows. The second thing was a strong community. Our church rallied around us; they were really there for us. That’s the power of couples being a part of a local church. You will go through difficult challenges in life. And sometimes your church family better understands you than your natural family. And we found that to be. So during that time our church was there for us.
The third thing that really helped me through was a book that Adrian gave me. It was called “The Success Principles” by Jack Canfield. I started reading that book and my entire perspective on life changed. And I remember saying if I live five minutes or five years, they’re gonna be the best years – the best time – I have in my life and I started to meditate. I started to journal, which became a book. I started to confess certain things over my body and my health. I put the best picture I could find of myself, at my healthiest days, on my mirror so I could look at it every day. I changed what I was meditating and focusing on. And when I got my clean bill of health from my cardiologist, I cried. And it was because I had that marital commitment. I had a good community. And I changed my meditation. That really empowered me to move to the next level.
As a husband, Bishop Ware had to find his own footing while he supported his wife.
Adrian: I was really trying to hold everything together. I was lead pastoring at the time with three to four services a week. Wisdom was little so I was being a dad to her and taking care of my wife. I was cooking and everything. The whole mental fight was difficult. There were times when I would leave her in the bedroom. I’d have to go some place, and I’d come back and she’d be on the floor. So it was constant trauma.
Tonya: And I had to realize that. After I got better, I was ready to move on with my life. I felt like that’s a chapter not my book. But one of the things I realized in my process of moving along was that Adrian had been greatly traumatized by the whole event. And so just like I needed to heal, he needed to heal.
I literally wake up every day and don’t think about it. It never even enters my mind. But, of course, I pray that my soul only holds what it needs. I pray that prayer over myself all the time. I understand I only have so many attention units and so I need to clear my brain, my soul, my spirit so I can do the work ahead of me. But at the same time, I do have to have empathy and compassion for how the trauma fell on the person closest to me and how it impacted other people.
Tonya: We have to create brave spaces. Openness is probably the most genuine way to healing. Once we can kind of create this narrative within our communities, that it’s okay to say this is what happened. And it’s okay to say this is how you came through it. It’s a testimony. It’s sharing your testimony. You can’t have a testimony without the test. You can’t have the message without the mess. Pastors, especially, need to lead the way with being transparent, being open, and being generous with what they’ve been through. We’re in that position where people can get a lot of help if we will just be open to it.
To get them through their “trauma and discovery” phase, the Wares went back to their foundation, finding comfort in Jesus and in His Word. And they found themselves in a place of renewed bliss.
Tonya: It was like we were just married again. We found this beautiful rhythm after overcoming some major challenges. We stuck through the pain, and we had come through it. And we began to look at each other more along the lines of what kind of legacy do we want to leave? We focused on what people will say about us when we’re gone. We focus on how people will remember us, how we treat people, how we walk in the world, and what kind of lessons we’re teaching our girls.
The impact the Wares have on the city of Jackson is felt in every facet of community life from their church – The Church Triumphant – located in North Jackson to their children’s education to community organizations like Women For Progress and Leadership Jackson and more. For three decades, the Wares have committed themselves to building and fortifying a strong foundation and building upon that foundation to effectuate change wherever they can.