Straying and Returning to the True Jesus Church
A. Boivin—Vancouver, Canada
I am often asked, “Did you grow up in the church?” And I never really know how to answer that question. Like every testimony, there are many versions of the story. It continues to build over time, piece by piece, grace by grace. But in every version, the constant thread that binds them all is the life-altering grace and redemptive love that God poured into my life when I least deserved it.
THE EARLY YEARS
I was baptized into the True Jesus Church (TJC) as a baby. From an early age, my mother read the Bible to me every night and we prayed together as a family before we went to sleep. From the stories my mother told me and what I learned at church, the foundation of my childhood faith was built on the simple fact that God loved me. That the very same God who protected Daniel from the lions and parted the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites, was high up in the sky, loving me. That very thought was enough to convince me that I was very blessed.
However, as I grew up and life became complicated, the greatest thing that fuelled my simple faith, God’s love, became the most challenging part for me to understand. On the pulpit, pastors would tell stories about God’s power flowing into people’s lives, drastically changing their circumstances and filling their lives with meaning. I heard testimonies of incomplete hearts that had been transformed and healed by a loving God. I would peek during prayers and watch others praying so earnestly, tears running down their cheeks as they poured out their deepest hurts to the Lord. And looking back, I remember no longer being able to recognize that God in my life—the God they talked about in those stories, the God whom those heartfelt prayers around me seemed to be reaching out to. Somewhere along the way, I had decided that I could not possibly be worthy of that kind of love—not from God, or from anyone. And slowly, the foundation of my faith began to fall apart. The God in my life began to seem so silent and so small—merely the sum of powerless rituals and rules. Eventually, this turned into a total rejection of Christianity, of church, and of God.
I began to rebel around the age of fourteen. The nagging emptiness in my heart became my evidence that the God in my life was not good. I decided that there was more to life than going through all the motions, praying for happiness, and waiting for God to come through. I decided to stop waiting and set out to find that missing piece on my own.
I travelled everywhere and anywhere I could, attending camps and programs promising “the time of your life!” on their promotional websites filled with images of smiling children. Eventually, I even left my home in Vancouver for two years to attend boarding school in California during my sophomore and junior years of high school. I was desperately chasing after feelings of fulfillment and belonging, convinced I was always just one more plane ride away from finding what I was looking for.
After those years of traveling, I eventually returned home at seventeen years of age, with incredible experiences and great stories to tell. Those years had been full of friendship, affection, and every other good thing this world had to offer that was supposed to heal a broken spirit. But at home, when the quiet routines of normal life resumed, I still felt the weight of brokenness in my life. I had tried to escape, but my adventures had only been a distraction from the intense sadness that had taken root in my heart.
I decided that perhaps the key to bringing meaning into my life was to stop thinking about myself and to start serving others. So I changed course and for the next two years, I dedicated my life to working with a non-profit organization aiding orphaned children affected by HIV and AIDS in Harare, Zimbabwe. I spent two winters sitting in a run-down orphanage in Harare, cradling little ones in my arms, some disfigured by abuse and illness, holding back tears and praying to my silent God that He would send someone to love them. Surrounded by these children, my heart had no choice but to ache, to love and to change— for the first time in a very long time, I found myself wondering about God.
THE TURNING POINT
During my last trip to Harare, the winter after I graduated from high school, I heard a story about the faithfulness of an ancient Christian martyr. While travelling to an orphanage, a youth pastor from another Christian denomination told me about a Christian man taken hostage by men who were torturing him to make him deny Christ. The torturers gouged out his eyes, and after they did, the man responded, “My eyes have no meaning to me, for I have already seen the glory of my God.” The torturers cut off his hands, and he responded, “I have no need for my hands, for I have already felt the love of God.” And with each part of him that they took away, this man responded that each piece had already fulfilled its purpose by knowing the Lord. There was nothing they could take away from him.
I remember my eyes filling with tears as I stood in that driveway listening to this story. I felt like the man in the story—as though I had been giving myself away to the world, piece by piece. Except I did not have what this man had, which was the peace and assurance that persisted in the midst of his pain. Although I had not yet begun to allow my faithless heart to open itself up to the possibility of God, I felt that the God who had seemed so silent in my life had begun to whisper to me.
For many years my mother had been asking me to consider joining a TJC seminar. A year after I returned home from Zimbabwe, I finally agreed. At that time, the only seminar open was the 2011 College Youth Spiritual Convocation (CYSC) in Cerritos, California. It was at a place I had never been to, and in a region where I did not know a single person. However, despite my doubts, a few months later, I found myself on a plane to southern California for this event. During the days leading up to my trip, I had told God, “Okay, listen, God. I’m going to do this one last thing. I’m going to attend this seminar, and if I don’t find you there, then that’s it. I will come to peace with my decision to walk away.” I was twenty years old, and I had spent the past six years running away from God. One way or another, this was going to be my last adventure.
I will never forget walking into the chapel at Cerritos for the first time. When the congregation sang the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” it was the most beautiful hymn I had ever heard. Every single note was in perfect harmony, and I remember looking around me and being so distracted by the beauty of the hymn that I forgot to sing. I remember that the voices of doubt in my mind quieted, and my heart began to open.
Throughout the seminar, the words shared by the pastors and speakers rooted themselves deeply into my heart and I was cut to the core. I felt as though God was speaking directly to me. I had long prided myself on being quite cool and collected, however, I found myself overcome with emotions. Try as I might, I could not stop the tears. I felt as though God was shattering all my misconceptions and finally standing before me as who He was―so mighty, so powerful, and so good. For the first time, I began to feel the weight of sins I had committed in the years I had spent away from Him.
Because this was a seminar for college youths, many of the messages and teachings were rightfully geared towards a more advanced group with a strong foundation of Biblical knowledge. However, I was coming from years of absence and was nowhere near on the same level as my peers—and all I wanted to know was whether God still loved me. The topics and format of our lessons meant that the preachers never directly addressed the love of God, because it was likely that everyone sitting around me already knew quite well that God loved them. However, as I carried the burden of my conviction, the only thing I wanted to know was whether or not it was too late for me to be loved.
Finally, during one prayer, I surrendered everything to God. I summoned up courage to push away my fear of being rejected by God, and I laid my sins and my burdens at His feet. I brought all these years of defeat, sorrow and brokenness to Him, and I told Him I was so sorry for hurting Him. I told Him that I knew there was not one person on this earth who was less worthy than me, but if He wanted me back, I was His.
Within moments of praying those words, I felt enveloped by comfort, as though arms were pulling me into an embrace. I was filled with the Holy Spirit, and I felt a still small voice repeating over and over again as I prayed, telling me “I love you, I love you, I love you ….” This prayer and this voice have been the beginning of a lifelong love story that God has been writing, and continues to write, in my life.
Knowing and experiencing God’s love have been the greatest catalyst in my life thus far. It has truly been my saving grace. Although I have faced hardships, hurts, and challenges since I returned to God, these years have been the most joyful of my life. The long journey to that little chapel was, indeed, my last adventure. I finally met my loving and faithful Savior, and when He asked me to give Him my heart, I said yes. Every other thing in my life pales in comparison.
Even though I believe in God’s redeeming grace and forgiveness in my life, threaded throughout my journey of faith are still inklings of the broken road that led me here. I have prayed many prayers wishing I could have all those years I lost to give them back to God. But I know that without walking through the broken parts of my journey, I would never have been able to experience the restoration and redemption that come from a complete surrender to the grace of God. I would have never known what it really felt like to need a Savior. This journey has been as much about loss as it has been about hope.
If there is anything that God has taught me, it is that it is never too late to turn around and take that first step towards home. It is so easy for us to feel as though we are too far and too long gone. So often, we minimize the power of the cross. We buy into the lie that the blood that was shed for us is not enough to redeem the most broken parts of our lives. What a tragedy it would be if we missed out on the gift of grace because we forgot the price He paid, if we missed out on the gift of love because we forgot why He paid it.
We serve a God who sees us, even from a long way off. A God who is filled with compassion, who runs to us and celebrates when we have been found. Just as I believed when I was a child, the very same God who protected Daniel from the lions and parted the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites, is high up in the sky, loving me and loving you. Amazing grace!
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38–39)
May all the glory, honor and praise be unto His holy name.