Singing Praise

updated 12/08/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/08/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

THE SKIMPY OUTFITS ARE GONE, and so are the sequins that picked up the bright lights of Las Vegas. Now the only important jewelry to Lola Falana is a simple crucifix hanging from a long black cord around her neck.

For most of her 33 years as a singer and dancer, Falana made her living opening shows for the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. and headlining in cabarets around the country. Though she earned up to $90,000 a week, health problems forced her from the stage. Now 55, the former entertainer still spends time on the road, but these days it's as a Christian evangelist.

Divorced during her 1970s heyday from her singer-husband of three years, Feliciano Tavares (after which, she says, "I was called to celibacy"), Falana hit bottom in 1987, when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. By 1991 she had moved back to Philadelphia, where she now shares a modest, two-story brick home with her mother and stepfather. With the collapse of her career, however, came a spiritual rebirth. One day in either 1989 or '90, "I was out driving," says Falana, a longtime casual Episcopalian. "My car just pulled into the parking lot of a Catholic church...I went in and something inside of me said, 'Welcome home.' "

With her disease stabilized, Falana now spends several days each month speaking to church groups around the country and says she misses neither the bright lights nor big paychecks of old. Proclaims Falana firmly: "There is nothing in the nightclub world that includes God."

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