I love Deedee's idea to have a "Stand Up And Testify" Carnival! I'm excited to hear what God has done in the lives of my bloggy friends and to share what He has done in mine.
We moved a lot. My first memories are from a house on Hawthorne Street in Detroit. It was a street of immigrants. There were some literally straight off the boat from places like Ireland and Brazil, plus second generations of Polish and German families. A few native Detroiters sprinkled in along with those who had moved from other parts of Michigan. And us? We were the resident hillbillies. We were all there because this was the 1960s and business was booming in the Motor City!
There was a teenager down the block who invited all the kids to go to Vacation Bible School at her church. I was the only one who took her up on it (probably because it was a predominantly Catholic neighborhood). After VBS was over Vicki invited me to go to Sunday school each week and for the next several years I attended that Baptist church faithfully. I loved the Bible stories and songs but didn’t really comprehend what it was all about. Vicki also helped lead an after school Bible club that I attended (back when Bible clubs were allowed in the building after school was over). She gave me my first Bible for memorizing some verses. I don’t remember Vicki’s last name or have any idea what she went on to do, but I’d love to tell her THANK YOU for the part she played in the early years of my spiritual journey, of making me tender toward the Word of God.
[Even though we lived in Detroit when I was a kid, we often went back to Kentucky to visit family. Here I am with my little sister on the road to Aunt Lizzie's house. We were stylin' in our little dresses with matching floppy hats and purses.]
We moved three times the year I was in 4th grade and I got out of the habit of going to church. For a brief period in 6th grade I went to a Baptist church within walking distance but because of negative peer pressure I quit going. And that was it for a few years.
Just as I was about to start high school we made yet another move, this time back to Kentucky. In retrospect I think it was because my mom thought she was dying and she wanted to be back by family who would take care of us if that happened. But at the time I wondered if it was her punishing me for getting in with a not-so-nice crowd back in Michigan. And that may have played a part in it but mostly I think she was just scared. Sick, unable to work, trying to raise two girls on her own. I’d go “home” too!
Over the next few years I found my way in with another not-so-nice crowd but my sister was blessed to find herself in a little Presbyterian church where the Word of God was preached and people loved on her. Before long she was saved but I was too busy self-destructing to pay any attention to how my little sister was changing. It just irritated me that she kept pestering me to go to church with her. And the aggravation got worse when she became good friends with a new girl at school, a preacher’s daughter.
One Sunday morning she started in and I just snapped. I said I couldn’t go because I didn’t have new shoes (she’d gotten new shoes the day before). But she stopped me in my tracks when she quietly said, “You can wear my new shoes.” Whoa! Sorta feeling like a rat trapped in a maze, I realized there was no way out of that one! So, wearing her new shoes, I went to church with her. She was now attending her friend’s church which was 11 miles downriver. A lady in town always picked my sister up and she was very gracious when I joined them.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d heard some funny things about churches in the mountains, about snake handling and shouting and stuff. But my sister assured me this wasn’t that kind of church. And it wasn’t. It reminded me a lot of the Baptist churches I’d attended years before.
As soon as I walked in several people greeted me and a girl I’d never seen before came over and introduced herself and sat with me, just chatting up a storm and being friendly. I’m ashamed to admit my attitude was pretty cynical; more like “What’s her angle? What does she want?” It turned out this girl had spent the summer in Kentucky helping at this “home missions” church, whatever that meant, and she’d come back to visit that particular weekend. I don’t remember what the pastor preached about. I just remember thinking this was the nicest bunch of people I’d ever met and WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THEM?
On the way out the door the pastor started shaking my hand and saying how happy he was I’d come. I tried to pull my hand away but he just kept pumping away and talking, and I realized he was inviting me to join the senior high kids who were going to visit a college the next week. Just wanting to get out of there I flippantly said, “Yeah, sure, if I’m not busy.”
Oh my, I had no idea what I was saying. I had no inkling that God would make sure I had ABSOLUTELY nothing else to do and would be compelled to go on that trip. Which would change my life. Forever.
Put a preacher in a van with a bunch of high schoolers for 8 hours each way. He doesn’t need a Bible (he’s got a lot of it memorized) and he doesn’t need a pulpit (that steering wheel will do just fine, thankyouma’am). To say I clearly heard the Gospel that trip would be a vast understatement. I had the Gospel preached to me for 8 hours there and 8 hours back. Oh, and did I mention that it was a Christian college we visited? So of course we went to chapel where we heard…yes, the Gospel! And all those nice people, everywhere we went. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THEM?
I’m not an easy sell. I didn’t break down on the trip and do anything rash. But it did start me to thinkin’ and readin’ my Bible. And the more I read the more I realized that preacher was absolutely right and I had a choice to make. Continue on my merry way and end up spending eternity in hell. Or turn my life over to Jesus and receive eternal life with Him. There is no other way. John 14:16 is pretty clear on this point: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” As this truth overwhelmed me, I simply got down on my knees right there in my bedroom and prayed. I’m pretty sure it was an almost incoherent prayer but God knew what was in my heart and He answered that prayer and saved me!
The next step was a public testimony. This at a time in my life when I was so shy I blushed if anyone spoke to me, boy or girl. But again, scripture was clear: “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” [Romans 10:9-10] But I will not lie to you, that was one of the scariest experiences of my life, to stand in front of all the people in that church and share what God had done in my life. I’m pretty sure my knees were literally knocking and I turned beet red and stammered through the shortest testimony ever. I think I just used words and phrases instead of whole sentences. But when it was over and the folks smiled and clapped and welcomed me into the family of God, well that’s a feeling of coming home! I do remember one dear grandmotherly type coming up to me afterward and giving me a big hug and telling me, “Why honey I’m so surprised! I had more hope for Annie than I did for you!” Well that took me aback a bit because Annie had just run off with a married truck driver the week before.
I was a young and mighty ignorant Christian. I remember one Wednesday night in that little mountain church, raising my hand and asking in all innocence “What is circumcision?” It got real quiet and the pastor had a little smile tug at the corners of his mouth as he said, “Kim, I’ll answer that for you later, okay?” I knew I’d stepped in it but had no clue how deeply. Boy was I embarrassed afterward when he explained it!
That little group of believers just took me in and loved on me and helped me grow. They were such an encouraging group and I will be forever grateful for their investment of time into my life. When they sent me off to college about 18 months later (that same college I’d visited with the pastor and senior high kids), I went with their blessing and prayers.
And so began my walk with the Jesus who saved me. It's been a wild and crazy 31 years as He has taken me from the hills of Kentucky to places I never dreamed I'd go, done things I would have scoffed at doing, and met the most incredible people along the way. Because it doesn't matter where you go, the family of God is the same the world over. And that feeling of coming home?! I've experienced it all over the U.S., in Africa, South America, Europe, and right here on the internet. When you're with God's people, you're home! Amen and hallelujah!