I was raised in the church. My father is a minister and preached at various churches all of my life. Of course living with a preacher as a father had its ups and downs, but I knew that he loved me and wanted the best. He made sure to equip me by making me remember many verses of the bible, full chapters even (I still have Psalm 51 ingrained in my head, 19 verses). I would go from banquet to banquet at age 6, 7 and 8, reciting these passages at various events my dad attended. I didn’t quite know why he was insisting on verse memorization so much, so for a long time, I held knowledge but did not see the reason to apply any it. Matter of fact, I wasn’t even sure where God actually fit into my life at all-I just knew that I believed in him because I was told to. I didn’t question it.
Fast forward to my last year in high school, the year 2013. I found an age appropriate bible study group through a friend (several friends) who I ran track and cross country with, and grew to quickly love it as well as the people who attended. Within months, there started to be talk of a mission trip coming up. I was determined to go, and so I started to sell items on Ebay in order to go on this trip. It was something new, something that I knew was “good” so to speak- but never would I guess the true impact it would cause on my life. Ever.
I reached my monetary goal and was able to go on this week-long mission trip to Tennessee. This trip consisted of being split into groups, with each group at a different site, where we either painted, rebuilt roofs, etc. Each afternoon following the work portion, there would be a service with music and a message. I was on a roof crew. We worked hard for 4 or 5 days straight and by the end of it, the roof was finished. We prayed with the owner of the house afterward and then it was time for celebration! Everyone decided to take a dip in the Tennessee River to cool off and just relax.
Something you should know right about now; I couldn’t swim. The most I had ever “swam” so to speak was in a kiddie pool or in water where I could touch the bottom. However, I considered this “swimming” and dared to try and navigate this river. I casually joked around with one of the leaders, Charlie, and said “If I start to drown, are you sure you’ll save me”? getting more and more confident that surely I would be fine (I swear I had the complex of being invincible back then…). He said that he would, and then stayed somewhat close to me as we headed over to the rock that people were jumping off of into the river. However, as we started to go, I realized that I could not touch the bottom of the river. I had just reached a bald spot, and I lost complete footing. I started to panic (Rule number one while almost drowning; DON’T panic. Whoops.). Not only that, but I started to go straight to the bottom, where I started ferociously kicking. I was able to get back up to the surface briefly, and Marcie, another leader who was still on the bank, started to see that I was truly in trouble. I mustered out “help” before I went back under (yeah; that “invincible” complex went away shortly after this episode). I heard Marcie jump in, and Charlie was quickly heading back in my direction as well. After what felt like forever, I was lifted out of the water with Marcie on one arm and Charlie on the other. I was alright. Physically, I was alright.
We got back to the church for the afternoon worship service, and I was badly shaken. When arriving to get seated, I had several hugs and a few “I’m glad you didn’t die” comments from some of my fellow mission trip friends. However, in the midst of all the halfhearted jest, one of the leaders there hugged me and asked “If you had died today, where would you have gone?”. Now, people, up until this point, I don’t think I took death too seriously. Until my lungs were flooded with water, and I had that brief fear that I was going to die, it was just a process that at some point, we would all experience. But the truth was, if I would have died that day, I could have guessed where I would have gone.
To say all of this is to just emphasize how much that mission trip saved my life. Years and years of attending church means nothing if you don’t have true reason as to why you go. I realized that I was truly filthy and that I didn’t deserve to live, but that Jesus allowed me to. He had allowed me to take breath, but for a long time, I completely took it for granted. God sent his son that we may have ETERNAL life as well, for those who believe and follow him. I had never cried so much in my life before that day in service. Shameless, thankful tears cascaded down my face as I truly praised God, thanking him for giving me another chance. For sending his son to die for us, promising us the joy of getting to live with Him forever.
It won’t always be a near-death experience that wakes you up, but in my case it was, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Reality hits as soon as we realize that we deserve nothing; not this life or the next; but God loves us so much that He was willing to give his children all that they could not possibly deserve. So there is my testimony. Thanks for reading!