Local businesswoman Maria Proctor found herself in Statesboro in a rather roundabout way, but anyone who's shopped in her store, Madame Couture's Formals, right in the heart of downtown, knows they've been assisted by a salesclerk angel.
In fact, when asked by customers, "Are you the owner?" Proctor says she responds with a smile: "I'm the vessel that God's using. This is God's business."
Proctor gets to the store early on a lot of days to pray over her consignment inventory.
"I want these dresses to be blessed, and I want the girls that will wear them to be blessed," she said. "I want to know that this dress is preordained for them. My shop is covered in prayer."
Each time the door swings open, Proctor says this thought comes to mind: "I have prayed for these customers to come in, and God has sent you, whether it's for me to serve you or you to bless me."
Proctor truly believes her business belongs to God and proves it when she says with a laugh, "At the end of the month, sometimes I say, 'OK, God - you got a light bill that's due.'
"A faith walker - that's me. There are so many blessings that God's got for me; I just have to be obedient."
Madame Couture's Formals is a product of Proctor's obedience.
Though she'd been a seamstress since learning to sew in third grade, Proctor had no experience in the retail clothing field. With a business management degree from the University of Tennessee, Proctor had previously worked in the medical business management and funeral home fields.
Before moving to Statesboro, Proctor worked at a funeral home in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and her husband, Reggie, worked as a cardiac nurse. Struggling at the time with marital issues, the Proctors were separated when Reggie was offered a job at East Georgia Regional Medical Center.
In hopes of saving their marriage, Maria Proctor drove back and forth to Statesboro for the two to attend counseling.
"I had really started tuning in to what God was telling me," Proctor said. "God has a way of, when he tells you to do something, if you don't listen, he shuts doors."
Proctor said shortly after Reggie moved to Statesboro, not only did the lease on her apartment end in October, but she was laid off due to cutbacks in September.
"OK, God, I hear you," Proctor said, and packed her bags for Statesboro.
But the move wasn't easy, and she found herself asking, "God, what do I do here?"
"I realized I was depressed; I didn't have a purpose here," she said.
She made plans to attend a silent retreat back in Atlanta, something she'd done to grow her spiritual life previously.
"Just before the retreat," Proctor said, "I was standing in the Statesboro post office, crying, and a woman I didn't know started talking to me."
Proctor said the woman quickly corrected her when Proctor told her that she didn't want to question God about being in Statesboro.
She said to me, "No, you ask God, 'Now what?' He brought you here, ask, 'Now what?'"
Then she said, "Straighten your face up; it's going to be OK."
"I truly felt like she was a guardian angel," Proctor said.
She carried that attitude to the retreat with her and asked, "Now what?"
It was during a journaling exercise at the retreat that Proctor wrote the words "thrift shop" and "January 2012" in her notebook.
"I don't know why I wrote that. When I was in Atlanta, I always shopped at consignment shops. I had this '$20 challenge' that all my friends knew about - I challenged myself to spend no more than $20 on my outfit, from head to toe. But when I came to Statesboro, I couldn't find a consignment shop."
With an idea in her head and a new purpose, Proctor said she told her husband, "I think I'm getting ready to open a consignment shop."
Met with reluctance, Proctor said she added, "That's what God told me, and you can't stop what God's doing." But admittedly, she silently prayed, "Oh, God, how will I do this?"
With determination, however, Proctor set about seeking a place for the store. One of the available stores she looked at was her current location, 5 North Main St.
"I sat on the bench that used to be (outside the store), looking at the Confederate statue, and I felt myself crying," she said. "But then I felt a peace and God said, 'This is home.'"
Proctor opened the doors of her business in February 2012, one month after the date she'd scribbled in her journal.
Shortly after opening, Chris Yaughn with Fostering Bulloch came in her store and gave her some of the clothes that he was unable to use for his fostering needs. A year later, Yaughn showed up with a request for Proctor to serve with him on the TRAC Camps board, a national organization that sponsors camps for foster boys and girls during the summer.
"I hadn't done any outreach here because I'd been so consumed with my business," Proctor said. "I'd worked some with Habitat but didn't feel like I was making a big difference anywhere.
"I can't even begin to describe or explain the difference TRAC has made in my life. Sometimes we're the only stability those kids ever have."
Proctor serves as the director of the Princess Program, the girls' foster camp weekend. In January each year, Proctor, through her business, sponsors a fundraising fashion show, in which most of the models are in the foster care system. This year's show is set for Saturday, Jan. 6.
"My business has always been about service, to have affordable clothes for families - not outrageous prices, especially at prom time for those girls who might can't afford a dress," she said.
Whether it's affordable clothes for families on a tight budget, a camp full of foster girls or boys, or struggling marriages - Maria and Reggie Proctor, celebrating 30 years of marriage, offer a "Married for Real" ministry - Maria Proctor is an angel to many in the community.
"We were all placed here for a reason, and it's up to us to find out what it is, and once you find out what you can do to make a difference, to make an impact, then go for it," she said.