Jesus will leave a herd of ninety-nine sheep to find the one that is lost (Matt. 18:12-14). Jesus will stay when the whole world walks away (John 14:18). Right before the weight of the world consumed me with its condemnation, Jesus found me and saved me. I would like to share my story of being found by the One who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14.6).
My story begins before me. On September 13, 2002, my mother got a message from her partner at the time that he would like to take her home from work. As they drove down the streets of St. Louis, he disclosed that he had a surprise. Brimming with curiosity, my mother showered him with questions about what the surprise was until they made a stop at an empty parking lot. He instructed her to put on a blindfold to ensure that she was unknowing of what lay ahead.
Once she securely tied the cloth around her eyes, he continued back on the road till he reached an open space in the woods. He led her to the back of the car and asked if she was ready. While filled with excitement, she instead got filled with a hot, searing bullet through her back, sending a wave of shock through her body. Once she collapsed onto the gravel, he picked her up, tossed her lifeless body in a trunk full of plastic wrap, and with a cold, piercing stare he said, “I hate you.” Then, he slammed the trunk door shut and got inside the car to start the engine. The darkness of the trunk engulfed my mother along with the darkness of eminent death.
As her life spilled out, pooling around her body, she heard a voice. Reach down a little further. With what strength she had left, she reached her hand out to feel a tiny handle. After her partner filled up on gas and made his way toward the highway, my mother pulled on the handle and the trunk popped open. She tumbled out of the car into oncoming traffic, and unaware of her escape, he sped onto the highway. Hand in the air and blood on the ground, she cried out for anyone willing enough to help a dying black woman.
“As her life spilled out, pooling around her body, she heard a voice.”
Twenty years later with remnants of the bullet still in her chest, my mother lives not with bitterness and regret, but with forgiveness and praise. Praise to the One who whispered into the ear of his beloved child and told her to reach a little bit further. To the One who showed her that she is not forsaken but loved. This redemption story is the reason I am here today. What was meant to harm my mother, God used for good, as she has gone on to help many women fighting against domestic violence. As I’ve matured, I see God’s hand all over this story which has become the beginning of my own story.
I grew up in a Christian home going from church to church, but I myself was never very interested in learning who God was. My name Azariah means “Lord has helped” and comes up in eight out of the sixty-six books in the Bible, including the books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and the prophet Daniel. And even though I grew up uninterested in God, I look back and see that my name rings true: God has helped me and used me as a vessel to help others more times than I can count.
From high school, I have numerous memories of testing God and how he answered. Like the time I was competing in the triple jump and failed my first two jumps. My godfather was in attendance and asked if I had prayed. Still fuming in frustration, I said no, so he began praying with me and my mother. After that prayer, I set a personal record in the triple jump and snatched 2nd place with my more experienced teammate earning 1st.
“From high school, I have numerous memories of testing God and how he answered.”
Another time was when I was on a trip to Las Vegas with my mother and we were late heading to a shuttle taking us around the city. I doubted God a lot at the time, and I also doubted we were going to make it. So, I said under my breath that I would believe in God if the shuttle was still there when we arrived. To my surprise, the shuttle was parked where it was supposed to be, and I was bewildered. Coincidence? Possibly. But those and other memories stuck with me through the years, and I believe they were God’s gentle ways of helping to bolster a shaky faith that would later grow into an unshakeable faith in God.
But what truly solidified my faith in God (and Jesus Christ in particular) was connecting to a solid church. This process began two and a half years ago when I got out of a toxic seven-month relationship. The first week-long Covid quarantine was issued, and not learning my lesson, I asked my social media community who wanted to be “friends” (that was the code name for who wanted to be my next boyfriend). Guys swarmed my inbox, and I was filled with a false sense of security.
One guy piqued my interest and I continued deeper into a conversation with him. We ended up liking each other and getting into a relationship a week later. At this point, I had an idea that God was real, but no idea what that meant for how I lived my life. Nonetheless, I told the guy that I wanted to try to incorporate God in whatever way that looked like. In our understanding, we tried through the course of a year and a half to figure out how to build a godly relationship but we were missing a vital component.
“At this point, I had an idea that God was real, but no idea what that meant for how I lived my life.”
Then, last summer, he was a lifeguard at a community center pool, and I came to visit. His manager invited him to his church, and I was reluctant. Nonetheless, my boyfriend accepted the invitation, and we attended a church service the following week.
The church was amazingly welcoming and helpful. Who knew the decision to attend a good church consistently would initiate an extensive quest for answers, healing, and truth? Soon after coming to the services every week, we both sat down with people we grew to love and trust and studied the Bible with them to find out more about Jesus.
The church introduced me to the One who had been so gently communicating his kindness to me and my mother all those years. It was because of the church that I fell in love with Jesus. This was the vital component missing in my relationship with my boyfriend. As I’ve been surrounded by this community of disciples of Jesus, his periodic whispers have grown into a daily experience of Jesus’ truth and grace in my life.
“It was because of the church that I fell in love with Jesus.”
Can I wrap up this short testimony with a quick description of Jesus and why he means so much to me?
Everything Jesus did was countercultural in his time and even today’s time. To see a human claiming to be God and performing miracles no eyes had seen before was beyond what humans could comprehend. He was offensive, especially to the teachers of the law and the keepers of the temple. People were angry at Jesus and wanted this man dead, not knowing that Jesus’ sacrificial death was actually God’s plan the entire time. In his death, Jesus would bear the world’s sins and shame—including my own. To transform us flawed beings into beloved children of God the Father, holy and blameless in his sight. To defeat the strongest weapon in the devil’s arsenal: death.
Jesus didn’t remain in his tomb. As the risen King, Jesus is coming again one day, and his coming is getting closer and closer with each passing day. I know that it feels like people have been saying that for centuries, but the time will come when we stand before him and give an account of everything we have done. On that day, we become either with him eternally or separated from him eternally. If I’m wrong about God, then perhaps I’ve wasted my life, but if the unbeliever is wrong about him, then they have wasted their eternity. So, I encourage you to pray that God would reveal himself to you, to plug into a Spirit-filled church, to read the Scriptures to seek God’s truth, and to be open to letting Jesus do a work in you.