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Finding Hope in Every Circumstance
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Finding Hope in Every Circumstance

Growing Up as a Remote Area True Jesus Church Member

Christine Lin—Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

When you first step into the chapel on Sabbath morning, what crosses your mind? For many of us, it is simply another Saturday at church. But what if you didn’t have a local True Jesus Church to go to each week? What if you couldn’t attend Bible studies or youth fellowships with your brothers and sisters and could only see them a few times a year?

As a remote area True Jesus Church member, I have learned to treasure activities that seem normal or routine to others.

Before I was born, my parents moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, almost 400 miles away from the nearest church. I was baptized when I was two, and my family and my mother’s family were all believers.

In Raleigh, there were three or four families that would join us for service. However, my mother’s family later moved to California and the others left church. Even though joining a non-True Jesus Church church in the area would have made our worship lives easier, we stayed in True Jesus Church because we sincerely believed that this was the true church.

Ever since I was a child, our Sabbath family service has been the same—one hour of watching a sermon tape in our own home. Because I didn’t have a religious education class, my dad taught me everything I knew. I didn’t have religious education teachers to look up to or brothers and sisters my age to support me.

At first, I complained about my circumstances, and I considered leaving church many times. After all, I didn’t have a physical church to go to.

But I learned that as long as we have faith in God’s plan, He will reveal His purpose for us. And in the meantime, He provides us with everything we need to overcome our struggles, which I have personally experienced. 

ASKING QUESTIONS

When I was about ten years old, my parents felt it was time for me to start attending church events, so I went to my first Student Spiritual Convocation (SSC) at Elizabeth Church in New Jersey. It was a new experience for me because it was my first time in a church since my baptism.

To actually step into a chapel, hear sermons in person, and sing hymns with a crowd of people was amazing for me. I felt that I had found my true home, filled with family and friends. It was there that I learned about the importance of the Holy Spirit and how He could help me. 

I went to SSC every chance that I had, but year after year, I went home without the Holy Spirit. I was very frustrated with God and felt it was unfair that He put me in a place without a church. Everyone else had a church to go to, and they had the Holy Spirit. Why was it that I had neither?

By the time I started my first year of high school, I had been attending SSC for several years. I made a lot of friends at school, but because my closest friends were from church, I still felt very lonely.

I had dealt with depression throughout my life, and I reached my lowest point during my last semester of high school. I was still praying for the Holy Spirit, but I began to think that perhaps God had forgotten or didn’t care about me.

During those six months, I learned that depression was not simply a mental condition. It had everything to do with my low spirituality, and it also affected my health. I sought comfort from my church friends, but they could only pray for me and talk to me over the phone or Internet. I knew that the majority of them couldn’t empathize with what I was going through.             

I began to think about what I had to do to get out of this endless cycle. My high school years were almost over, and I would soon begin a new chapter of my life. Perhaps this would be my chance to make a fresh start.

I only applied to two schools: Rutgers University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Although UNC was much closer to home (only thirty minutes away), I had every intention of going to Rutgers in New Jersey if I was accepted.

At Rutgers, not only was there a church nearby but also a campus fellowship with most of my closest church friends. I felt I needed to surround myself with people who could help me keep up my faith. I didn’t want to feel lonely anymore.

When the winter SSC came that year, I prayed for the Holy Spirit and told God I wanted to go to Rutgers because it would help my faith. Rutgers seemed like the obvious choice, and my parents supported my decision.

However, when I arrived home after the convocation, my mother simply told me, “You’re going to UNC.” It wasn’t His will for me to go to Rutgers, and it wasn’t time for me to receive His Holy Spirit yet. But I couldn’t understand why God wanted me to stay in North Carolina.    

After moving to college my first year, I was not only away from my church peers but my family as well. Because of my busy school schedule, I didn’t see my parents for weeks or months at a time.

The hardest part about college was facing the loneliness. I cried myself to sleep most nights. I kept asking God, “Why am I here? Why didn’t you let me go to Rutgers? How can I possibly keep up my faith if no one is here with me?” 

FINDING ANSWERS

The first lesson I learned on my own, without friends or family around, was to find motivation through God. I thank God that, at some point, I realized I had to pray harder and longer every day in order to survive spiritually. This isn’t to say that I had stronger faith or that I was better than others. This was just something I had to do.

After finding sermon recordings on the True Jesus Church e-Library website, I put together a schedule for myself on weekdays and Sabbaths. On weekday nights, I sang a hymn, prayed for thirty minutes, and read three chapters of the Bible. Sabbath day was more flexible, but I usually listened to a sermon in the morning and afternoon and wrote reflections on the week.

I spent my first year of college adjusting to this schedule. I often fell asleep listening to sermons or reading the Bible, or I didn’t have the motivation to pray. Other times, I became so busy with schoolwork that I forgot to make God my first priority.

Nonetheless, after many months, I gradually grew so accustomed to spending time with God every day that it felt wrong if I didn’t. Through little things every day, He reminded me that He was watching over me. He guided me through my schoolwork and gave me a reason to wake up each morning and start again.

I began to understand God’s will for me when He gave me the opportunity to attend the National Youth Theological Seminar (NYTS) for three consecutive summers. The second time I attended, like the first, I spent most of my prayers asking God, “Why?”

Only this time, rather than complaining about my situation, I wanted to know His will for me. After many prayers, a verse came to me:

            “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8, 9)

With this one verse, God answered all of my questions.

In the journal I kept during the seminar, I wrote down these realizations:

1.      I am in North Carolina for a reason. I am physically away from brothers and sisters so that my faith will grow—my own faith, and not that of my parents or my church friends.

2.      I am in North Carolina because God wants to train me. Ever since my first NYTS, God has been training me to serve Him.

3.      I have not received the Holy Spirit yet so that I will first learn a few things and strengthen my faith. God wants me to stay strong and set an example for others—that through Him, they may see that my life is a miracle. It is a miracle that I can stand here today.

4.      God has a special purpose for me. He wants my life, my background, and my circumstances to strengthen and encourage the people around me.

All this time, I had done nothing but complain to God. I couldn’t see past the things I didn’t have in order to see that God had a bigger plan for me all along. 

A PRECIOUS GIFT

My third NYTS in 2008 was the most memorable because God gave me what I needed to overcome my struggles. During those two weeks, I felt as though each day was a spiritual battle.

In some prayers, I felt I had reached a spiritual high, but at the same time I knew Satan was doing all he could to pull me back. But, thank God, I had many brothers and sisters praying for me each day, and it was enough to encourage me. 

After praying for over ten years, I received the Holy Spirit at the age of twenty. God had given me something so precious and fragile, and I felt it was my responsibility to cultivate it and make it grow.

In the following months, the Holy Spirit helped me to change into a different person. I began to take on a more optimistic approach to life and was gradually able to overcome depression.

Now, as I apply for graduate school, whether God wants me to stay in North Carolina or go to a school near a church, I have no doubt that He will continue to guide me in the right direction and give me the strength to overcome future trials.

One thing is for sure—living in a remote area means experiencing various trials that are different from what most brothers and sisters face. We may feel that no one understands what we’re going through or that we don’t know if we can overcome our struggles. Or perhaps, we don’t know if God is listening to our prayers.

Though we may not understand God’s will at first, within every circumstance is the hope of God’s promises and His guidance. What seems to be a discouraging situation at first can turn out to be full of hope.

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Author: Christine Lin
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