I never gave up hope. In fact I had a vision that one day Steven* would be leading a children's story for church and telling his testimony about how God changed him. In the vision no one believed that he used to be violent, damaged property, shoved women to the ground (including me) and had a variety of addictions that ruled his behavior. Listening to his testimony and not knowing the "former Steven", they would stare with their mouths open and say, "Steven? Really? No! He was like that? ...but he's such a strong Christian and such a gentle man."
That was the dream I had for this 22 year old man who attends our Deaf Church. But I never imagined that it would happen this soon. I assumed it would take a lifetime for him to choose to follow Jesus and give up his need to control everyone.
Last Sunday the sermon was about the Rich Young Ruler from Mark 10. The story is a sad one. Jesus gives the young man a choice: Go home and live like you always have, or sell all you have, give it to the poor, and follow me. He was too rich, or too attached to the responsibility of maintaining his wealth, or just liked his life the way it was. For whatever reason, the man looked at Jesus, shook his head sadly, and went home.
We talked about making the choice of following Jesus or doing things the way we have always liked to do them. "Our way".
A few of the children acted out a "happier" ending to the story: sharing with the poor, giving up addictions, leaving their "nets" behind and following Jesus. When the sermon was over I asked if there was anyone in our group who wanted to make the choice to follow Jesus. Steven and another boy, Adam* came forward. Steven said "Oh, yes, yes," and tossed his hands up in submission.
I asked Steven to share why he came forward. He said, You know for a long time I have held my life, drinking, sex, weed, in my right hand in front of me like this, and church and faith in my left hand. I've always tried to have them both, right here, together. But I realized, I can't have both. They can't survive together. So I am tossing this out and making a choice to follow Jesus. Then he tossed the imaginary contents of his right hand over his shoulder. We kneeled and prayed.
I told the rest of the church to embrace him and pray that Steven can keep his commitment.
Today, Tuesday, the girls (Sulmi and Kristel) and I took Steven and Adam out to eat to celebrate their new life and to give them prayer support. It was a wonderful evening. Steven said that he had seen how Jesus had changed Manuel and made him "improved". He's impressed with how Manuel has become a new person...that God is obviously leading him on Sundays when he teaches. Steven said he wants that too. He wants to learn about God, study the Bible, and learn the stories so he can teach, too. He said "I just really want to learn."
When a deaf man who walks around Orange Walk begging for money for beer approached our table to talk and beg, Steven encouraged the man to come to church. When the begger walked away, Steven said that the beggar is making bad choices. He realizes that now. Steven said he has "stopped" drinking. He said getting drunk is just a temporary high...followed by a hangover. He said he is going to stay away from the women (the streetwalkers who are deaf and approach him and vice versa.) He said that, too, leads to a headache. But following Jesus leads to peace, heaven, and joy. He asked to be baptized and wants his parents to come and watch, if he can get them to come. (He thinks they don't care about him. They do, but he's been terrible to them....I am praying that there can be some reconcilliation and he can apologize to many of the people he has hurt.)
So, whew! It's been a long hard 5 year journey.... with lots of resistance and even threats. But nothing is impossible with God. Pretty amazing, huh?
I'll keep you updated. In the meantime, please pray for Steven.
The Adam story is just as amazing. I can't tell you how much this guy has stolen from me and others. After stealing 4 times from his boss at SP (a department store), they caught him with his pockets full and fired him. He spent a night in jail, but was released the next day. He asked me to help him find another job. I didn't want to find a quick fix to this issue. I was hoping he would suffer a little bit and realize the consequences of his actions...which I had warned him about many times. ("If you keep stealing you will be fired!"). So I was not very keen on helping him. Daily he came to my classroom after school and asked me to go to another store with him looking for work. We walked all over Orange Walk and probably talked with 15 different businesses, including Landy's, Coca-Cola, People's, M and A, and the bakery looking for an opening for Adam. Adam was discouraged. I told him that I don't think that God will reward him with another job until he turns his life around and truly says to God that he will stop stealing. When we obey God's commands, God gives us favor and answers our prayers. He replied by coming back the next day with another idea of a place to apply and ......stealing $50 from me. I told him I was done looking for him.
His mother took over the challenge and tried again at the bakery. She has a relative who is the manager there.
They told her they did not have an opening.
A month passed.
Last Sunday Adam came to the front of the church and said he wanted to follow Jesus. He said he would not steal anymore. He said he wanted to choose the right path, the straight path and be baptized. He kneeled and prayed.
The next day, Monday, the bakery called and said they needed him if he still wanted work.
Amazing, huh? Pray for Adam. Pray that he makes good choices, that he keeps his commitment to follow Jesus. Pray that he can resist the temptation to steal.
Dear friends, please also pray for Manuel that he remains faithful to his calling.