Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography
I grew up in a home that wasn’t Christian. We did go to church a couple of times, but my mom was on drugs and was an alcoholic. We didn’t have nice clothes and the church asked us not to come if we couldn’t dress appropriately.
My limited experience in church was the only place that was a contrast to the life we were living. My dad was never in my life. I never met him. The man that I was closest to as a dad died in a car accident when I was a child. Father figures weren’t really a part of my life. The narrative that I learned growing up was that I would always have to take care of myself, and that I wasn’t really important. Other things were more important than me, like drugs. I was sexually abused and this also negatively affected my identity. In every facet of my life there were negative things being spoken into my identity.
We lived in California and my mom relapsed and picked us up and moved us to Las Vegas my senior year of high school. Life got worse with the move. My mom couldn’t find work, so I started working. Things deteriorated so my brother and sister moved back to California, then it was just me and my mom. My mom ended up moving back to California while I was a work one day. She didn’t tell me she was going to leave. I came back from work and all her stuff was gone. I called her and she told me she was moving back to California. I started working multiple jobs.
After graduation, I started working with a woman named Molly. She was the most persistent Christian that I have ever met. She wanted to talk about God and invited me to church. I tried to shut down the conversation. I didn’t want to talk about God. One night I was going to take a public bus to get home from work, but the bus was broken down and they weren’t taking passengers. I called Molly and she didn’t answer. I started walking home. I started thinking about God. I said, “God if you are real, send someone to pick me up.” Not five seconds later a woman stopped and asked, “Do you need a ride?” I got in and noticed she had her 2-year-old daughter in the back seat. She was a young Caucasian woman. So I asked, “I know that I’m not going to hurt you, but you don’t know that. I’m a 6-foot-4-inches tall African American male. Why did you pick me up?” She said, “I’m not too sure. I just felt like God just told me to pick you up.” When I got home, I paced the floor. I was really confused about what just happened.
At work the next day Molly asked me about missing the call. I told her what happened and she said, “God is pursuing you.” She wanted me to come to church and I said, “If I come one time will you stop bothering me?” She agreed and I went. It was unlike any church I had ever seen. The people were in shorts, drinking coffee. After church, I sat around with Molly as they talked with a group of college kids about a mission trip to Peru. The more I heard the more I had a desire to go, a desire that I couldn’t explain. At the end of the meeting I told the leader I kind of wanted to go on the trip. She said the trip was full but they had a waiting list. She called me a week later and said someone had dropped out and everyone else on the waiting list said no. I said I would love to go, but the money was a problem. I didn’t have time to fundraise the $500 deposit, so I dropped the idea of going on the trip. She called me a week later and said she felt like provision was coming that week. I was skeptical. When we got off the phone, I checked the mail. There was a check from a company I worked for when I first moved to Las Vegas. It was for $500 — exactly the amount of the deposit. I thought I was being pranked. Over the summer we fundraised for the rest of the trip money. Crazy things happened and God brought all the money needed for me to go.
Here I am, a young man who isn’t even a Christian going with a church to third world country to bring the Gospel to their people. I still was super confused about why I was there. I just knew I wanted to go. The poverty was like nothing I had ever seen, especially in the barrios where there was just one water tank and homes were made out of mud bricks — sometimes with tarps, sometimes not. The Peruvian families would make us food, but it didn’t feel right to take anything from people who had so little. The Peruvian people just kept talking about Jesus. The older generation in the barrios knew of the faithfulness of Jesus, but the kids not so much.
We had a “camp” for the kids. I asked a lot of questions of the Peruvian people and the people I went with about Jesus. They discipled me about who Jesus is. On the last day of the camp we had a bonfire. One of the Peruvian leaders was sharing his testimony. He had a translator. Then he started praying in English. I had tried to talk to him multiple times in English while were there and he couldn’t speak English, so I said to someone on our team, “I didn’t know that he spoke English.” They said, “He doesn’t.” But I understood what he was saying in his prayer even though it was in Spanish and I didn’t speak Spanish. Here is what he said in his prayer: “I just feel like the Lord is saying that He has been pursuing some of you for a while, and now would be the moment to come and surrender.”
At that point I stood up and started walking. The next thing I know, I am at the front surrounded by my team. We are all crying. The leader started to explain to me about the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I had a freeze frame moment about the woman that had picked me up, and everything that had happened that summer. It was like the narrative I had told myself all my life was being broken. This God that I didn’t know and couldn’t see went out of His way to pursue me and tell me that I am important.
Having that realization, I decided to give my life to Christ. I got saved that night and got baptized in the Pacific Ocean the next day. The rest is a journey of obedience and the places that the Lord led me to. The Lord has allowed me to travel the world and work in different churches and organizations. I have learned to understand His heart for people and His heart for me. And now, He has me in a place to speak to young people who, just like me, only understood one narrative, one version of their story that seems hard to get out of. The reality is that God’s love transcends it all, and that brings hope. God has a plan for their lives beyond what the world would tell them. I can be an example with my life and my words — because I was that kid.
God pulled me out of the lifestyle I was accustomed to, the lifestyle that would set a person up for failure. God pulled me out of that and put me in communities with people who loved the Lord and who were patient with me as I grew in my faith. I hope to be a person like that to someone else. I want to use my story to bring God glory and bring His children back into the kingdom. That’s what my yes is now.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. — Colossians 1:19-22 (ESV)