From a young age, “church” was a big part of my life. I accepted Jesus as my savior at the age of 3. My mom says I boldly came to her one afternoon and told her it was something I wanted. She had also accepted Jesus herself just a short time before my request. After a bit of searching, our home church became In The Light Ministries (ITLM), where some of my earliest memories took place. Up until age 13, I was consistently attending services and participating in events. I even participated in a homeschool group for 6th grade held at ITLM. For one reason or another, I had decided to return to public school by the end of the year.
As time passed, I slowly stopped attending church and started spending a lot of my free time with friends. In my freshman year of high school, I started seeking validation in worldly things such as drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity. I soon fell into many temptations, and after a few years of living this life, I began to acquire many difficulties. I had developed depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, self-harm, as well as a few addictions. I became angry, selfish, deceitful, and suicidal. I had also begun to keep my family at a distance in fear that they would find out the many secrets that I had been working so hard to hide.
After high school and into my 20s, my disorder and addictions got progressively worse. For the next few years, my health was at an all-time low, and I was struggling deeply with feeling inadequate. My skin had taken on a grayish tint from the pack-a-day smoker I had become, life had left my eyes, and the days blurred together. Most days consisted of numbing myself as much as possible between work shifts and then partying with friends until the early hours of the next day. Being with friends was where I felt most happy and understood, but just like the alcohol and the drugs, that happiness and sense of fulfillment was temporary.
I had become not only physically drained but mentally as well from all the long workdays, drinking, drugs, starving myself, and lack of sleep that my mind started to think of suicide once more. It became such a frequent thought that I started crying out to God in my heart. These words did not leave my lips, and not one person learned of the things I felt inside. These silent prayers, as I now see them, were the ones that God paid close attention to. I remember one of them very specifically. In my mind, I said to Him, “If You are still there. If You still love me. If You have not removed Your hand from me, please, make a way for me to get out of this life. I don’t want it anymore. I’m so sorry.”
Little did I know God heard me and was making a way for me. A few months later, I got pulled over for a headlight being out and got cited for being in possession of an illegal substance. At first, I was angry. I told myself I wasn’t ready to let go of this crutch that I had been leaning on for many years. I needed it to make it through each day. I started justifying my addiction and made many excuses as to why I couldn’t live without it. As my court date drew closer, it became clearer. God had heard me. He had given me exactly what I asked for. I remembered that silent prayer as if I had just prayed it. I knew right then that this was my opportunity to leave that old lifestyle for good and not return to it.
Over the next week or so, I became very sick where I couldn’t stomach anything substantial, and I was drinking smoothies and soup. My heart would race so fast I thought it was suddenly going to stop at any moment. I felt that soon my life would be over because of all the damage that I had done. During those few months before getting pulled over, I had silently begun to give my iniquities over to God. This was the last thing for me to surrender to Him. Near the end of the week, I realized that I couldn’t do this alone, and something prompted me to seek outside help.
That night, some new friends that I had just met introduced me to a married couple strong in their faith and prayer life. We talked for hours as I poured out my heart, and then we all entered prayer together. This wonderful couple offered to baptize me in their bathtub with their seven kids surrounding me. After my baptism as a new creation, I stood in front of their bathroom mirror. I could never recognize the person staring back at me, but that night, I saw myself. I recognized myself as a child of God. The King of Kings had rescued me. He plucked me up and out, and gave me a new name. His daughter.
After about a month of walking in my new identity, I searched for a non-profit organization. I was required to complete volunteer hours for the drug and alcohol program offered to me by the judge that handled my case. I happened upon Eastern Mennonite Missions. They were seeking volunteers to clean up their building on North Prince Street in Lancaster, Pa.
Nearing the end of the day, I became curious about what exactly EMM did, so I asked one of the staff members if he could explain more to me about the organization. He offered to take me on a tour of the rest of the building. As he showed me the offices on the second floor, he explained the different departments that consisted of EMM. When he mentioned the Mission Team, something prompted me to ask more questions. He told me about the various programs that they offered, and to my surprise, he said something along the lines of, “Actually, we just came up with the idea of a discipleship training program for young adults around your age called Advance. Just about two weeks ago.”
At this moment, I was completely shocked. Before learning that my drug and alcohol program would keep me in Pennsylvania, I had applied to Youth With A Mission in Montana and had been accepted. I planned to attend, but because of my case, I was required to stay in Pennsylvania to complete the requirements of the program. Now, I am part of EMM’s Advance program.
Going back through the past eight months of my life, I see God’s hand in every moment and experience brought to me. I didn’t have to search, leave my home town, or do anything but surrender completely to God. Through surrendering, I’ve learned to trust Him. Trust takes time, as I’m still learning and continuing to surrender more and more of myself each day. This life is nowhere near easy, but His love makes it worth every moment of hardship and suffering.
Karina Martin is a participant in EMM’s new Advance discipleship training program.