85% of people who come to Christ do so before the age of 18. That’s what the surveys say. Behind these figures are some amazing testimonies.
I asked a couple of members of the youth group in my church about how they came to Christ. Our church is a Filipino church in Gothenburg, Sweden. Most of the youth group were born in the Philippines and moved to Sweden as teenagers.
Ara’s journey from a broken home to revival in Christ
Ara knew Christ from childhood. Her mother is a pastora (a pastor) and Ara attended Sunday school. But life changed when she was six years old. Her mother left and moved to Sweden. She stayed with her father, who was a gambler and an alcoholic.
At this point Ara had many questions. “Why is God doing this? Why am I in a broken family?” She made an effort in school to make her Dad proud, but her faith faded away.
Jesus was like a dream, someone she used to know. She wanted to see her mother again, who only visited every other year, on holiday. She felt abandoned and lonely. She wasn’t close to her brothers and felt like an only child.
Ara had a place on the roof and when she was 12 she began to pray there. Praying changed her life. When her mother next visited they went to her mother’s relatives for a holiday. But it turned out that this was a way to get her away from her father.
“I started to pray and that changed my life.”
Ara’s mother brought her back to Christ. She went to a Barangay church (a Barangay is a village or district of a city), she had food every day, she learned about the Bible and began memorising verses. This helped her to understand the Word of God and get to know Jesus.
During this time she went to a youth camp. That’s where she experienced revival and was transformed; anyone in Christ is a new creation. Ara had been through trials, but she had learned from them.
Two years later, when she was 14, Ara came to Sweden. Everything was new again – a new country, a new culture and a new climate. She had letters from her Christian friends, but while she adjusted to Sweden she looked for the way and the truth.
Ara met the youth group in our church and was impressed how they served God. She wanted to serve as well. Initially she was asked to take photos and video. Today she’s a worship leader, singing and playing the guitar.
“You learn how to serve God, by serving others.”
It can be challenging to be a Christian in Sweden. In the Philippines there is Scripture on cars and trucks everywhere, asking for God’s protection while driving. The national news program finishes the end credits with To God be all the glory. She was taught how to pray in school.
In Sweden there’s nothing like this. Ara was bullied in school because of her faith. But she can see a lot of curiosity. She plays Christian songs at her work, and her colleagues are curious about her faith. She can also notice how her faith affects people around her.
Ara is very expressive when she talks about the Bible. She says it’s her vitamins, nourishment, oxygen, guidance, strength, wisdom, advisor and weapon in trial. It’s God’s story, but also her story. The Bible prepares us for eternity.
Rod: A mess into a message, test into a testimony
There are many times Rod’s life could have gone very wrong. His life is a testimony how God has a plan and can change a life, and save a family.
Rod was kidnapped when he was seven months old. The man was his mother’s suitor. He was taken from Zamboanga in the south of the Philippines to Bicol in the north.
When Rod was only three to four years old he was put to work, carrying sugar cane. He was beaten if he didn’t work well enough. He was also molested.
When Rod was six, his kidnapper’s sister arranged for him to be reunited with his mother, who lived in Manila. He can still remember the first time he saw her. Somehow, even among all the people, he immediately knew it was his mother. Rod also meet his stepfather, stepbrother and stepsister.
It was a huge change for Rod. He spoke Bicolano (which his family doesn’t know), while Chavacano is the language in Zamboanga and Tagalog is spoken in Manila. He had lived in poverty, and now he lived in a family with two maids. His stepfather was a Catholic, while he’d never heard of God. And his mother worked abroad.
Two years later life changed again for Rod, when his mother and stepfather broke up. Rod moved to live with the family maid while his mother supported him by working abroad. He began blaming God.
Rod did very well in school and won an award. It should have been a moment of triumph but Rod felt embarrassed because everyone else who won an award had their families there. He had the family maid. He didn’t blame his mother, because he understood she had to work abroad, so he kept blaming God.
When Rod was about 10 his mother met a Swedish man. Rod hated him at first and burnt the photos of him that his mother gave him. Eventually his hatred softened to tolerance when he saw that this man was taking good care of his mother. He gave Rod presents, too, and provided security and stability for the family. Rod could also play games at the internet café this man was running.
Just before Rod turned 12, the family moved to Sweden, to a town just outside Gothenburg. Rod didn’t have a good relationship with his mother or stepfather. Or with God, for that matter.
He began hanging out with people in school that he thought made him “cool”. He started drinking at 13 and life was about parties, girls and fights. He lived a double life, keeping a good face at home, despite the rocky relation he had with his mother and stepfather.
Then the family moved into Gothenburg, which gave Rod a much needed fresh start. He made friends and became the goalkeeper in the school football team. He was popular.
However, family relations were about to be strained. His mother and stepfather had one baby, and then another one that wasn’t planned. It put pressure on the marriage and things looked dark. But then a friend invited Rod’s mother to church. She accepted Christ and everything turned around for the family. His mother’s marriage was saved and she had the baby.
Rod’s mother showed her new faith in the way she behaved rather than simply asking other family members to go to church with her. Rod clearly saw the change in her. Even though things were looking up for the family, 16-year-old Rod hit his own rock bottom. His girlfriend (of two days) had broken up with him at a party. He had been drinking and smoking, and he asked himself: “Is this all there is?” He felt empty. The following weekend his mother asked him to go to church. The timing was right and Rod agreed.
“They had smiles like I had never seen, a happiness I had never encountered. They laughed from the heart. No alcohol and no partying. How could they be so happy?”
Rod sat in the very back, hood up, observing, without being seen. The service didn’t touch him, but the program after did. He met the youth group and found them so geeky. But they had smiles like he had never seen, a happiness he had never encountered. They laughed from the heart. No alcohol and no partying. How could they be so happy?
Rod introduced himself and was welcomed in the group. Six months passed and Rod was torn between his old lifestyle and the new one that had begun to sprout. He felt a bit ashamed to be with these geeks in the youth group. He didn’t think they did anything old Rod considered socially cool.
The youth group were preparing for a church celebration, and would rehearse their dance in a public park in the city centre. Rod was struggling at the prospect of being seen in public, dancing to Christian music. He made his way to the park reluctantly.
He then decided to play the odds with God. He would go to the closest tram stop, where trams arrive every seven minutes, and if a tram came within the next five minutes he’d get on it and return home. When he reached the tram stop he looked up at the billboard and saw: Cancelled.
Somewhat defeated Rod headed for the public park and joined the rehearsal. The song was “My savior lives”. Rod experienced happiness and belonging. He didn’t care if others saw him, if others thought they were geeks.
Later that year the youth group went on a Christmas camp in Norway. Rod was inspired and learned more about having faith. He was handed a bass guitar and given 10 minutes of instruction. When he began playing, it was like his hands moved on their own.
Rod still wasn’t committed, but in February 2013 he was at an encounter event and learned about calling and grace. People were invited to share their life stories. Rod jumped at the opportunity. He told his story, the story you have read here. He felt free, the burdens he carried were lifted, the grudges he held were gone. He was anointed with oil, and he literally fell to the floor and had a vision. He was giving bread to people. Rod now knows it’s a vision of giving the bread of life – a pastoral calling.
“The Bible is a manual, so you can be successfully used for God’s glory.”
Today Rod is a youth ministry leader. He preaches in church and plays both the guitar and piano. The youth group he initially thought of as geeky he now considers the coolest people in the world. Coming to Christ changed Rod’s life and saved his family.
It was a social event at first for Emerald and Barbara
Emerald wasn’t a Christian from childhood, even though there are several Christians in her family. It wasn’t until a local ministry in her home city in the Philippines visited her school that her faith began to grow. But it wasn’t about faith initially. Several of her friends went to the youth group, so it was a social thing. It was fun to hang out with her friends, and they taught music in the church.
But something had begun to grow, and after three years, aged 15, Emerald went to a youth camp on the neighbouring island of Cebu. There she had an encounter with Jesus that made all the difference. Emerald had begun playing the guitar and bass, but wasn’t comfortable with standing in the front. The encounter with Jesus took her out of the comfort zone.
Today Emerald is in the music ministry and plays the bass. She also shares the Word of God in church gatherings.
“When I read the Bible it’s refreshing. I’m renewed.”
Through the Bible Emerald gets to know God deeper. The Bible is fuel for her faith. She sometimes struggles with tiredness and laziness, but finds that reading the Bible refreshes her.
Barbara’s journey to Christ is similar. She knew God from childhood. Her family prayed the rosary. She came to Sweden when she was 15 and was invited to church by friends.
The change for Barbara would during a five-day encounter camp. She didn’t know what an encounter camp was, but she came because her friends were coming. And there was free food!
“I go to church because I love to go to church.”
Barbara used to believe in God because her grandmother had taught her she would go to heaven if she believed. During the encounter camp she saw who God really is. Now Barbara goes to church because she loves to go. She’s part of both the music and dancing ministries.
For Barbara something is missing if she doesn’t read the Bible. She reads it every morning and every evening. She finds the reading plans in her Bible app to be a great help. If she neglects her reading for a few days her friends notice that something is missing.
“If you’re lost, what are you going to do? Go back to the Word of God.”