Worldwide Sites
Contact
Find A Church
LogoHome   Daily Walk    e-Library   Order  中文 
e-Library Home |  Browse By Category |  Study the Bible |  Read the Bible    
 (Manna 86: Go and Make Disciples of All Nations)
God Loves Sinners
TOC | Previous | Next

Carlos Juan—Tampa, Florida, USA

LIFE BEFORE KNOWING GOD

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I bear testimony.

I moved from Puerto Rico to Florida, USA, when I was five years old. My family is middle class and I received a good education. My parents are still married today, and I grew up with a lot of love and support. But despite these things, I went down the wrong path. I cannot point to a specific moment where everything went wrong; it was more like a series of events, where things gradually went from bad to worse.

When I was eight or nine years old, I was molested by a family friend who was babysitting us. I knew intuitively that this was a shameful and disgusting act, but as a child I could not process that what had just occurred was wrong. The perpetrator made it seem as if it was normal. Perhaps, if I had told my parents, I would have received the support that I needed to overcome this trauma. Maybe all I needed was a loving embrace and some encouraging words from my mother to tell me that everything would be alright. But I did not know any better and I dared not tell a soul. From that point on, I became numb to the world, and I navigated through life with a broken moral compass. Everything bad did not seem as such, and consequences did not have the same impact on me as it did on others.

Descending into Darkness

In my early teens, I was blessed to go to a private school, where I was actively involved in sports. But I was lost. I led multiple lives: one at home, one at school, and one on the streets with the neighborhood kids. I tried hard to fit in. At thirteen, I picked up a cigarette, and quickly moved on to marijuana. By my late teens, I would buy a box of fifty cigars, split them open and replace the tobacco with marijuana. I would be high all day. I experimented with everything: ecstasy, LSD, Xanax, cocaine and alcohol. Ecstasy will destroy you mentally: it plays with the brain’s melatonin and serotonin levels; I have trouble sleeping to this day. Xanax is a muscle relaxant that slows your heart rate and can be fatal if abused. I have had several friends die in their sleep from mixing Xanax and alcohol. I have blacked out and woken up in strange places—on the floor in a random house, in my front yard, in a car with the engine running in an empty parking lot—with no idea how I got there.

By age twenty-five, I was a mess, with no clue as to how I came to be like this. By this time, I already had a child, but was completely out of control. My parents had lost all hope. My friends and I put poison on the streets, selling large amounts of marijuana and cocaine. We got into fights and drank till we passed out. I can look back now and see how stupid it was; there were many times I acted recklessly and put my life at risk, narrowly avoiding death. It is only by God’s mercy that I am still here today.

Turning Points

My friend Americo once said to me, “If you look back and replay different moments in your life, you can see that Jesus was with you all along.”

One day, I prayed to God to deliver me from my dependency on drugs. I was basically high all the time, and I no longer wanted to live like this. I was not sure who I was praying to, but I prayed in faith. Amazingly, after that prayer, every time I smoked marijuana I began to experience panic attacks. So I stopped taking drugs altogether. However, my addiction moved to alcohol, to the extent that I would drink an entire bottle of tequila in one go. Once again, I reached another breaking point, so I prayed to God again, since it had worked the first time. Sure enough, I started to become sick whenever I drank alcohol, so I gave that up. It is unusual to quit alcohol and drugs so easily. I still did not believe in God, but, looking back, I can see that He saved me from the worst physical and emotional effects of long-term drug and alcohol addiction. Now, there are times I am forgetful and distracted—but at least I can pray, read and remember the word of God.

When I initially got into selling drugs, I set the goal of making five thousand dollars, and then I would quit. But then five thousand turned to ten thousand, and ten turned to twenty. You become accustomed to making easy money, and working a regular job becomes challenging. Eventually, I got involved in music production, nightclub promotions and concerts. Seeing this as my way out, I partnered with someone in the industry and we set up a legitimate marketing company, where we expanded into graphics, printing and sign-making for small businesses. I felt like I was finally getting my life back on track.

SEARCHING FOR GOD

Around this time, I had an encounter with a fortune-teller, who shared things about my personal life that no one else knew. I know now that fortune-tellers play for the wrong team—they are not from God—but this incident started me on my journey in search for the truth.

I was very serious about searching for God, but I am a skeptical person. I went about it logically, visiting Buddhist temples, Catholic churches (my family are devout Catholics), and reading up on all the different world religions. I practiced Santeria (a Cuban religion, mixing African voodoo with Catholicism), New Age and different types of meditation. But after all my searching and praying, Jesus would dominate my thoughts.

As I was looking for work one day, I stumbled across a daycare where I could give a quote for a sign replacement. This was when I met Brother Randy, Deacon Solgot’s son. When I told him that I could return on Saturday to replace the sign, he said that he would be at church that day. I was intrigued by a church that worshiped on Saturdays, so I told him that I would like to go with him.

To Randy’s surprise, I turned up at the True Jesus Church in Tampa that Saturday with my younger son, who was three years old. I remember feeling so welcomed. I grew up with a Catholic background, where the atmosphere of worship was very reserved. So when I experienced the loud praying in tongues of the True Jesus Church, I was not sure how I felt. I had previously attended a Pentecostal church close to my home, but their tongue-speaking was not the same. In fact, my son had been afraid at that experience. On the surface, they were worshipping God with the right intentions, but now I can see clearly that the spirit was wrong. In contrast, when my son and I witnessed the prayers of the True Jesus Church members, we were not afraid, and everyone seemed normal when they got up afterwards. My son knew before I did that this was the right church, which is something I hold dear to this day. It took longer for me to be convinced. For a period of six months, I would come and go and ask many questions. Even after receiving the Holy Spirit, like doubting Thomas, I continued to look elsewhere for the truth. Yet, the Holy Spirit always led me back to the True Jesus Church.

Receiving the Holy Spirit

About three months in, I received the Holy Spirit while praying at church. Suddenly, my tongue started to roll and I knew I had received the Holy Spirit. Even though I am an anxious person, in that moment, I felt no fear. It was as if there was no one else around me—it was just me and God.

However, even after this experience, I had my doubts. As with many people in my situation, I could not shake off my skepticism. We humans are constrained by the laws of nature, but when God gets involved, He bends those laws. Our brains do not have the capacity to process this kind of information. I began to question God and the Holy Spirit in prayer. I fasted and meditated for four days to gain clarity, but would refuse to pray, believing that the movement of my tongue was something I was controlling. I was testing God. For those four days, I felt empty and was a complete mess. By the fourth day, I had had enough, but when I wanted to pray, I could not. I called Brother Randy, who suggested that I put a prayer request to our prayer group, which we facilitate through Google Hangout. When it was time to pray, I started to roll my tongue with my own effort. But I knew this was futile, so I gave up. But as I stood, I felt someone gently pushing me to kneel down and pray. There was a fire in the pit of my stomach that wanted to burst out. I started to pray, and it was one of the most powerful prayers I have ever experienced. After a long prayer, I got up and felt full again—full of joy and full of life. It was an experience I could never forget; God had answered my doubts. Since that day, I have never doubted God again.

Finding Home

One time, I had a moment of crisis: I started to feel out of place; as I looked around the church, I felt I could not relate to most of the other members. We were just too different. I felt the need to connect with someone who looked, talked, and thought like me. That week, I received a phone call from an old friend who had given her life to the Lord. I accepted her invitation to attend her church, and was pleased to see a couple of people there from my time in the streets. One of them used to be a Santeria priest. He had even performed some animal sacrifices and rituals for me when I was trying to avoid being arrested. I was so glad to see that these old friends were alive and well, and had completely turned their lives around to follow God. I remember standing around in a circle with my old friends; we all had these big goofy smiles on our faces. I really felt at home with them. But when the service began, just as quickly as I had sat down, I got up and left. Although I was grateful to see people who were just like me, who had a heart to seek after God, I felt as if something was missing. It felt incomplete. The Holy Spirit helped me to discern between true and false, and led me back home to the True Jesus Church.

There are around forty thousand different Christian denominations. Having attended a number of different churches, I have a good understanding of how they have deviated from the early church of Acts. They may appear to be joyful, loving Christians, who pray and serve God, but there is always something missing. The word of God says that the Spirit will lead us into all truth, and without the Holy Spirit, we will not be able to recognize truth from heresy.

SPIRITUAL BATTLES BEFORE BAPTISM

In 2012, I decided to be baptized. My older son chose not to join me (he would later be baptized in 2016), and I was not sure if it was the right thing to baptize my younger son. Before my own baptism, it seemed as though the universe was trying to stop me. I had several nightmares and visions. Things were tense at home and I was struggling to transition spiritually from the world to the church. My younger son was supposed to be baptized on the same day as me, in June 2012, but he got sick. Although I was baptized, my son’s baptism had to be rescheduled. I continued to have nightmares. I had a dream that a black panther was stalking my son, carefully circling him. On another occasion, I was asleep and I could feel a snake crawling on me. I can remember the thickness of the snake and the feeling of it covering my neck. I could feel its scales pinching my skin as it slithered across it. I jumped up quickly and saw it on my bed. After turning on the light, I watched it crawl under my bed, and then it disappeared. I was terrified. These events continued happening until both of my boys were baptized.

Although I was a skeptic, the presence of evil cannot be denied. Paul writes that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities (Eph 6:12). Even though I had experienced all kinds of evil, fortune-tellers and voodoo priests, I still wanted to deny these things and just live a normal life. But my life—our lives as True Jesus Church members—is anything but normal.

Early on the morning of my younger son’s rescheduled baptism, he had one of the worst asthma attacks he has ever had. He had to go to hospital, and the baptism was again cancelled. But after all I had experienced, I was certain he should be baptized. At the third attempt, in October 2013, my parents had planned a vacation for us, but I was not going to miss this baptism for the world. We woke up at 5 a.m. to drive one and a half hours to get there on time. During the baptism, Brother Randy received a vision of the water and the sky turning red. He started to cry. Two families were baptized that day, and I was encouraged by the accompanying signs. 

THE CHALLENGE OF TRANSFORMATION

Of course, baptism is not the end of the journey, it is only the beginning. Titus 3:5 mentions “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” I had to be continually renewed, but I took it one day at a time. For a while, I would curse by mistake. But thank God for His conviction and for the gift of reflection. Through my prayers, I was able to see clearly God’s will for my life, which was for me to start afresh with new friends, new ways of thinking and behaving. I still live in my old neighborhood, where I caused a lot of trouble for other people. But miraculously, it is as if God has made me invisible to them, so I never see anyone who may have a problem with me.

When you make yourself available for God’s will, He will lead you on a different path, even when you remain in the same location. I have had the honor of reaching out to several of my friends. Some are happy for me, others think I am crazy. But one of them has started coming to church, and another is baptized. Thank God that He was willing to use me in this small way.

Learning to Let Go and Find Peace

Today, six years after my baptism, I am still single. This was extremely difficult at first, after living the way I used to live. But I wanted to do things the right way, and wait for the woman God would choose for me.

Less than two years into my Christian walk, I met a beautiful woman with whom I had an amazing connection. She was also a survivor of childhood abuse, so we felt we could heal together. But the more emotionally involved we got, the less clearly I could hear God. I could not focus in church services. Eventually, Brother Randy pulled me aside and expressed his concern. I thank God for his support and encouragement, because in that moment I realized that I had to make a choice.

I thought it would be easy to end the relationship. But feelings are funny, and can rise up when least expected. One day, I was at home, having a shower and speaking to God in my heart. I began to question why He would allow this to happen to me. After surviving abuse and depression, and going through all kinds of terrible experiences, it felt like meeting this woman was the one good thing to happen to me. So for God to say that she does not belong to me felt so unfair. The realization hit me that I was a victim of abuse and that I could be alone forever. I was on my knees, crying in the shower—I was falling into a dark place, spiritually and emotionally, and I needed to be lifted up. Then, a piece of Scripture came to my mind:

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Lk 11: 9–10)

This strengthened me to say to God, “This is what you have promised, Lord. I am asking for nothing but some encouragement.” In that moment, I felt a complete peace; I knew that God was going to answer my prayer. I was even excited to see how He would do it. After this, I went to the mall, but everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Someone took the parking space I was going to take; the person in front of me at the tea shop dropped his change on the floor, holding up the queue. As I walked out toward the food court, three church members crossed my path. They were new to my local church, and lived nowhere near the mall—in fact, in a different city. But their reservation at a restaurant was cancelled, so they decided to get ice cream at the mall. These unlikely events meant that I was entering the food court just as they were leaving—God’s arrangement. Indeed, when we sat down to talk, they gave me the words of encouragement that I needed to hear.

A few months later, I was still speaking to my female companion, but I knew I had to choose between my faith and my friendship with her. For a few days, I had strange dreams about seeing her car, but the car was always empty. A couple days later, she told me she had similar dreams too: she would keep seeing my car on the road, but it would also be empty. She asked me, “What do you think it means?” But I knew what it meant—I told her we could not talk any more. By then, I was pretty rooted in the truth and could see where God was leading me. Unfortunately, she had come to church a few times, but still had her doubts. She was headed in a different direction, so we had to go our separate ways.

Without the Holy Spirit, we are like a leaf blown by the wind. We will try to use our own logic to figure out where God is. I feel privileged to have received the Holy Spirit, because I have never been so rooted in the word of God as I am now.

REFLECTIONS ON GOD’S CALLING

There were many moments in my life when I could have gone to prison or been killed. I have suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. There have even been times on my Christian walk that I wanted to give up. But it is only by God’s mercy that I am still here.

My sons are now aged ten and twenty. They have both seen the change in me. The elder one has been with me throughout this journey of soul-searching and seeking God. He came with me to Buddhist temples, fortune-tellers, and so on. He was old enough to understand what was going on and decide what he believed. I did not have to force anything. He wrote me a touching Father’s Day card one year, saying that even though I had not been a father to him for much of his life, I was there for the best part—when I introduced him to God.

Both my sons know about my past and all the negativity that came with it. I think it is right for them to know, because the lifestyle of the streets holds a certain mystique for young people. But I want to teach my sons that Jesus Christ is cool, and that He is the true revolutionary.

In prayer, God has impressed these Scriptures on my heart:

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

Whom shall I send,

And who will go for Us?”

Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”(Isa 6:8)

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Mk 16:15–16)

If Brother Randy had not invited me to church, there is a possibility I could be dead or in jail. So these two verses affirm my calling to me, and I take my calling very seriously.

The calling of God seems so clear to some people, but not so much for others. I believe the call is equally clear to all, but only some are open to listening. There is a clear divide between good and evil, and the existence of the one true God only becomes clearer as you read the word, pray and attend church services regularly.

I am too scared to preach on the pulpit, but I love to invite people to church and reach out to those who are lost, and share my testimony. This is our true purpose: to use the gifts God has given us to glorify Him. If cleaning is how you glorify God, then do it to the best of your ability. I do what I can for the Lord, whenever I can. I fall often along my journey, but get right back up. For me, the evidence of God's existence lies in the change that takes place in all of our hearts, and this motivates me every day to keep fighting the good fight.

PDF Download

Author: Carlos Juan
Publisher: True Jesus Church
Date: 09/28/2018
Print
Email
Feedback