Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way [Jesus] he found there. He wanted to bring them–both men and women–back to Jerusalem in chains.
As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down on him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you?” Saul asked.
And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” Acts 9:1-6 (NLT).
My name is Jena. I am only one year old in Christ. I am a very different person than I was a year ago. I can truly relate to Paul in the above passage, because I was Saul. Here is my journey of how I came to know Jesus Christ.
I was born on Easter Sunday in Port Washington, Wisconsin. I lived in the middle of nowhere in a small farm neighborhood called Holy Cross. I didn’t have the best of childhoods. I am a survivor of child abuse; my father was an alcoholic and a very bad man. He hated my existence. He would openly physically, mentally, verbally abuse my mother, right in front of me. Then he would sometimes turn that rage on me. When I was four years old, my little brother was born. I vowed to protect him at all costs; even if that meant sacrificing myself, I would do it.
Other relationships provided little solace. I lost my best friend, my grandfather, who became sick with a brain tumor and “forgot” who I was. He died when I was five. At seven, I was sexually molested by another friend, Jacob, who was two years older than me. He died of cystic fibrosis a year later. Shortly after that, I was kicked out of a Christian church for being a nuisance and questioning authority. So that started the rage against all Christians. I passionately hated all Christians. Abused at home, I went to school every day only to get bullied and picked on. At thirteen years of age, I plotted to kill myself. I couldn’t handle the pain from these people. But then I realized that Beverly Hills 90210 was a new episode that night, I so didn’t do it.
One year later, I would be faced with death again. My parents went through a very ugly divorce. Before they split up, one weekend right after my birthday, they were fighting (as usual) while my father got ready to go to work as a sheriff’s deputy. I was in the living room with my brother and cat. My father came stomping down the stairs and put his jacket, hat, and gun on the couch next to us. They continued to argue in the kitchen. When they came back into the living room, my father picked up his loaded, safety-off gun and put it to my head. He was shouting to my mom about how he hated all of us. She and my brother were in complete hysterics. But I was deathly calm. My fourteen years of life flashed before my eyes. All I could do was stare down the barrel of his gun into his cold eyes. I knew I was about to die. I was so scared. I was supposed to be the first to die. But he never pulled that trigger.
That night, I was consumed with rage and hate. I made a deal with the devil. I promised to follow him if only he would take away my father. A few weeks later, my parents got divorced.
My father didn’t take it well. He stalked us, bugged our phones, and made a plot to kidnap my brother and me. That fall, he let out two prisoners from jail early, a Wisconsin state prisoner and a Federal prisoner. (Side note: a few years later this story was featured on America’s Most Wanted, 1996. The Wisconsin State prisoner was killed in Texas by the Federal prisoner. The Federal prison was later caught on the San Diego/Tijuana border.) When they court-martialed my father, they found an unregistered gun and a suicide/murder confession note. He was only three days away from successfully killing us and himself.
We went into hiding, and my mom got a job offer that lead us to Los Angeles. Moving from farmland in Wisconsin to the immense, never-ending city of L.A, I went into culture shock. I fell into a deep depression and started to make really bad choices for my life.
But only slowly did I sink into the depths of darkness. It started out with me skipping classes to go to the beach and not doing my homework. Then things got a lot worse. I kept my promise to the devil and studied witchcraft for almost 10 years.
I barely managed to graduate high school. Although I started to go to community colleges, I dropped out of several schools. I hung around with the wrong crowd, had a very promiscuous dating live, and started to get deeply involved with all sorts of drugs. In 2002, I went to Japan; it was a last effort by my family to motivate me to clean up my act. I began to reject my previous beliefs and started studying Buddhism.
After many failed jobs, many terrible boyfriends, and many various mistakes, one dramatic consequence was about to hit. I got pregnant—twice. When I was twenty-three years old, I had two very gut-wrenching decisions to make. I chose to abort both pregnancies. Shortly after, I went into a more dramatic depression. I wanted to slowly kill myself via drugs, food, alcohol, and more careless choices. I was kicked out of my mom’s house for staying with my abusive ex-boyfriend. I struggled daily to pay the bills and feed my unemployed ex-boyfriend.
By 2006, I needed to change. My family’s relationships were breaking apart. My own spirit was dying. I started to reconnect with old friends. By chance, I met a Sensei (teacher) of free martial arts. I started to attend his classes. Slowly, my self confidence began returning. I was able to free myself from that bad relationship. My teacher suggested that I read the Bible and visit the church he attended.
On November 17, 2007, I stumbled into the church and was baptized a Christian. God spoke very clearly to me a few nights later. He introduced himself as Jesus Christ. He politely asked me to marry him and follow him. It has not been a smooth road. But at each crossroad I face, I am continuing to follow him.
God has healed me of my past wounds, even though I am still very much a work in progress. He is sharpening my gifts in Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11, NIV) God has blessed me with the gifts of prophecy [insight to interpret God’s will and purpose], encouragement, and [the power to express] words of knowledge [understanding], and I’ve found that I love to pray for people. He has allowed me to exercise my talents in foreign languages, too. I speak, read, write, and understand German, French, and Japanese. I still struggle with being single, but I am enjoying the intimate time with the Lord. My family and I are now closer than we have ever been. God has also provided a stable job and an opportunity to finish my education at university.
I am a survivor because the Lord Jesus Christ is so good. Instead of fighting against him and all Christians, I am fighting for Him. Please have hope and never give up. Only the Lord in his perfect timing can show the way to a brighter future and a new identity in Christ.