At the age of 16 I found Jesus, and my life has never been the same. My first 16 years of my life brought me to the point to where I was ready to except the One who died for me. Those years were filled with a plethora of hurt, confusion, and just plain being lost. Now that’s not to say that I have no good memories, because I do but it was all these things combined that led me to find Jesus.
Most people don’t know that I was growing up in a migrant family, there were seven of kids and my mom and dad. I don’t remember much of those days but I know that we traveled to different states working in the fields. I remember that both of my parents were very hard working people and did their best to provide for us kids.
When I was three years old my dad died leaving my mother to raise seven children on her own. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like for my mom. To have lost the love of her life (they had been together since they were both very young) and to be left with seven kids. I’m sure she went through a myriad emotions mourning the loss of my father and wondering how she would be able to provide for seven children. It must have been difficult but none the less she managed.
A short time after my father passed away we moved to Marion. I remember living at 10th and Branson for a short time and then moving to a house at 30th and Branson then eventually moving to 2708 S. Gallatin, were I lived for most of my childhood.
Of course a single mom with seven kids, life was difficult for us. We weren’t rich and didn’t have an abundance of money but mom worked hard and provided the necessities of life. We always had a roof over our head, food on the table and cloths to wear.
Growing up without a father was difficult, but I had older brothers to look up to and that is what I did. I always struggled with my identity, who was I, why was I here and what is my life all about were often times questions that filtered through my mind.
While growing up, I was often times confused, lonely and never felt excepted. Now don’t take me wrong, I knew my mother loved me and I always felt excepted by my family, but it was the issue that many kids go through. Being excepted by your peers. I often times didn’t feel good enough, or rich enough to be excepted. I will always remember the times that I would be made fun of because maybe I didn’t have the popular shoes, the popular clothing or the popular games. So I tried to forge my own image and my own way.
Now there are things that I did that I am not proud of and to some it may not seem that bad, but the road it was leading me down was nothing but trouble. I remember starting off stealing cigarettes from my parents and smoking them at a very young age. You see I wanted to be cool so this is what I did. I remember the first time I ever smoked a joint (marijuana) I was in the sixth grade. It was at that time that I felt as if I was cool because other kids my age were not doing that.
A significant thing that happened to me was something that I will never forget. I was walking home from school, I was in 6th grade, and as me and my friends walked through this field, the owner of the field began yelling at us to get off his property. Of course, trying to be cool I began to yell back at him and started cussing at him. I’ll never forget what happened next, he grabbed me by my shoulders and looked me dead in the eyes and he told me that I would never amount to anything, that I was nothing but a piece of “shit” and I would be in jail by the time I was eighteen.
These words he said penetrated my most inner being, and I believed every word he said about me. From that day forward I felt as if my path had been set and I would never amount to much. There was no hope for me so I started living my life the way it had been described to me.
I was confused, not knowing where to go in my life, so I looked at my brothers and although they were much older, I began to pattern my life after them. By the time I was in eighth grade I was already doing things that the kids in high school or college were doing. I was drinking, smoking and using marijuana. There were even times when I would go to school drinking. My life was going downhill just as that man had predicted.
In order to make some money I began to steal candy from the store and selling it at school. I remember some kids bragging about doing drugs so I remember stealing cold medicine and selling to kids as if the cold medicine was “speed”. I also remember breaking open packages of Lipton Tea, rolling it up like a joint and selling to some of the kids at school. I couldn’t fit in so I tried to be the bad kid, the tough kid, and the kid who would prove that man right.
My heart was hardening, even at that young age. Fighting was no big deal to me, you see my brothers were tough, they were drinking smoking, doing drugs and I wanted to be just like them. So I started to go down that road. I don’t blame my brothers for my choices, because they were my choices, I chose to do what I did.
By the time I reached 9th grade I had a little bit of reputation. My best friend’s mother hated the fact that he hung around me. I was a “bad influence” on him. But still, we were best friends and we did everything together. He was the money man (he had a paper route) and I had the connections so we made a good team.
During this whole time however there was always a war waging within me. I was confused, not knowing where my life was going or were I wanted it to go. I felt that I was destined for failure because of what I was told in that field, but I was always hoping for something better.
While I was growing up we were Catholic and would go to church every once in a while. I did my communion in the Catholic church and was at one time an alter boy. Also, while growing up we were often times visited by a Mennonite pastor and we would sometime go to his church.
However, church was never a big part of my life, until the day I found Jesus. So here I was, a young, confused, lonely boy searching to be accepted, and loved. Being told that my life was worthless and believing it. My life was headed down the wrong road and unless something happened I would end up in jail.
However, God has a plan. He used my best friend’s mother to reach me, and she probably doesn’t even know it. You see she was a Christ follower and she would make her kids go to church. One Saturday she made my best friend go to church so he asked me to go with him. Of course I said no until he bribed me. I owed him some money for some weed so he told me that if I went with him I wouldn’t have to pay him the money back. I thought well that is a good way to get out of paying a debt. So I told him I would go.
It was a youth service and the youth group was a decent size group with plenty of girls. I had remembered being told that if you wanted an easy girl, to hook up with a church girl because some of them can be pretty wild. So I made a bet with my friend, that I would be able to “hook” up with one of these church girls.
So that is why I started to go to church, because of the girls. It started with going to youth service on Saturday and then I started going on Sunday morning, Sunday Night and Wednesday night. I was determined to win my bet with my friend.
One Wednesday, my friend and I talked about going to church, and at the last minute we decided to go, hoping that we could talk to some of the girls there. God had a different plan, the girls we were trying to talk to were not there and we had taken the bus to church so we stayed for the service.
I will never forget that service. Pastor Jerrell Gallaway was preaching and he preached about the end times and the rapture of the church. During his sermon he yells that rapture can happen this quick and he smacked the podium and the lights went on and off. I looked at my friend, and he looked at me. I can honestly say that I was scared, I did not want to miss the rapture, I did not want to spend eternity in hell, I did not want to be unprepared for the judgement. Pastor Gallaway gave the alter call and asked if we were ready. I knew I wasn’t, I knew my life was a mess and I had never accepted Christ. I knew that if I was to die that day that I would spend eternity in hell or if the rapture was to take place, I would be left behind.
I raised my hand, and then he asked those that raised their hands to come forward. I sat there, my heart was beating fast, my hands were wet with sweat, and I felt this tugging. I went forward that night and prayed the sinner’s prayer. I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins and to come into my heart.
As I knelt there, Jesus took this lost, confused and hurting boy and he rescued me. He rescued me from the path that I was going. He gave my life purpose, He gave me hope, and he transformed my life.
At the age of 16 I found Jesus and my life has never been the same.