…And that is the story of how I became a Christian.
Hello, I’m Monique and today, 11th October 2018, makes me twenty-nine years old. I added an About My Faith page to this blog at the start of this year as I felt I could do more to share my faith. Recently, after being touched by the testimonies of undergrads shared at the church I’m presently attending and I decided to make an attempt at sharing my salvation story via video. I soon concluded that writing would enable me to be more concise.
So with this piece, I share how it all began, or a testimony of how I came to commit to the Christian Journey. I hope my experience with God’s love inspires you on your journey and relationship with God too.
To begin, I must acknowledge that by some measures, or common (mis)conceptions of what being a Christian is in our society- speaking from a Cameroonian perspective here- one could claim I have always been a Christian. Being born into a family which identifies as Christian, being baptized before I could talk, and being confirmed/taking my first communion by the age of 15 even though I can’t say what that really meant despite the required doctrinal lessons. In fact, I clearly recall that I begged to have my confirmation in school so I could belong, could join the line for communion when others went up and could have my ‘first communion party’ in school which would be a sort of visiting Sunday – cherished by boarding students. So, by the average demographic measure, I was a Christian from age 2, and a fully practicing one by age 15 with my baptismal and communion cards to prove it.
Of course, the average view is often wrong. My not being a Christian was obvious in the fact that going to church was an event, not an act of worship nor fellowship. It was something to dress up for once a week. Morning devotions were routines, the songs were the only entertainment we young people were permitted to dance to and the prayers before meals were customary. Something done mindlessly, or out of fear of food-poisoning as seen on Nollywood films.
Knowing this, I can say my Christian journey actually began in April of 2007. With neither, a baptism nor a ‘confirmation’. Rather, like most things in Christianity, it began with my pain and death, or my attempted death.
At the time, I was 17 years old and alone in my cousin’s apartment in Yaoundé after dropping out of school. I had been effectively disowned by most of the family because I decided leave boarding school and was ready to return to the US where my mom and brother were, my cousin who had the apartment likewise left me without a word when he had an opportunity to leave the country. There’s a lot of background to this, but suffice it to say, you should picture a 17-year-old with loads of anger, self-esteem, and belonging issues. One who can’t quite put a finger on the intensity of the emotional pains she feels, knows little about the world, less about her family and no French at all but is now stranded in a francophone city. I was literally at my end. With no adult supervision, after I found out through a friend of my cousins that he had left the country, I began selling stuff to passersby outside the apartment so I could buy food to eat. I did that with some success considering my horrible French LOL!
I soon got tired though, soon got fed up and the vacuum I had always filled with food just kept growing. So when I came across a bottle of Advil with expired Ibuprofen tablets already molding to dust form, I thought I’d found the perfect escape route. I was obviously unwanted, unloved and not understood- even by myself. I couldn’t see any reason to keep going, it all seemed like vanity. Wake, eat, perhaps study to impress some people you don’t even like, sleep and repeat. That was life as I knew it.
I took a handful of those pills, dressed up and climbed into bed fully intending to die like ‘sleeping beauty’ I still had my vanity. And I recall thinking as I fell asleep crying in bed that I was going to have some very harsh words for God when I met him upon death. But I didn’t die. I slept deep, perhaps from the pills, perhaps from the tears. But I know it was longer than usual for me. Still, I woke up, by myself, feeling nauseous and running to the bathroom to throw up. I spewed out everything I’d consumed and could taste the bitter ibuprofen in my bile. As I was washing up and struggling to get my mouth to taste normal again, I thought of how unfair it was that I couldn’t even die in peace.
I was interrupted by a knock on the door and when I went to answer it, the young girl who served my Anglophone neighbors as a house-help was there. She seemed a bit shy but had worked up the courage to come to ask me to teach her how to make pancakes. I had given her some pancakes before, out of guilt. She often cleaned my end of the corridor when she did her chores so I gave her pancakes once as compensation. This girl, who was at least 13 and at most 15 in age had never had that simple pleasure before and had seemingly waited till her bosses had left so she could ask me for how to do it. It was the small thing really but after feeling so useless that you would try to take your own life, being asked to teach someone how to make pancakes has some significance.
As I taught her that day, I learned more about her. How she could only complete Primary school in the village and then her mother asked that she follow the lady she was serving as a maid to Yaoundé. She told me of the abuses she endured with this family, and even if she didn’t tell me, I had heard her being screamed at, insulted and hit often enough. What was new to me was how hopeful this girl, in obviously worse circumstances was. She had it all figured out. She would work for a number of years and the family then had to fulfill their promise to her mother to teach her a skill- tailoring. And she would then be independent. Her optimism humbled me.
That night as I considered it all, myself in comparison to her a TV show- caught my attention. The TV evangelist was saying something funny about the creative ways the devil distracts you, like the phone ringing when you’re about to pray or a knock at the door as you attempt bible study. I laughed at how humorously the evangelist made it sound but thought perhaps God uses the same methods. That knock on the door sure did lead to something that shook me. So when the evangelist on TV ended her sermon with “If you haven’t given your life to Christ yet and would like some peace please join me in prayer now…” I bowed my head and prayed. Not the words we were asked to recite, but my own.
I remember exactly what I prayed that night: “Dear God, I tried to kill myself and you wouldn’t let me. Since you have kept me here though I have tried to stop this, you had better be willing to make this right. I’m giving you control and if this life gets messed up it is all your fault, not mine!”
You could say my ‘Salvation Prayer’ was a threat, but it was undoubtedly the most sincere prayer I had prayed at that age. It is with that threat and surrender that I began my Christian Journey.
So did that prayer alone change my life? Did I become a new being overnight with things in check and so on? NOPE! I was still a 17 year old alone with serious issues the next day. The prayer did three things (which I consider the answer to the question ‘why do you pray’):
First, it helped me express my frustration. Like therapy, one part of solving the problem is acknowledging it and verbalizing it. Second, the prayer directed to God whom I believe to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and the epitome of all that is good relieved me. I had surrendered to someone who was obviously powerful enough to stop my own attempt at dying. Someone who was obviously in control whether I acknowledged Him or not. Thirdly, that prayer and all Christian prayer was akin to submitting an application for an opportunity in that it built a small flame of expectant hope in me. Now, I’ve come to learn that hope could be a difficult thing carry but it keeps one going, looking, expecting and more open-minded to see signs, answers often in the least expected ways.
That salvation prayer that time marked my becoming a Christian, a believer in God and his love for me best exemplified through Christ’s sacrifice and fight for my soul. In the years that would follow, many other prayers would grow me, many other prayers would mold me and give me a reason to affirm my faith as well as question religion. Yet, when I say I am a Christian, it is no longer because I was born and raised into people who ‘identify’ as Christian as a demographic group, nor because of religious ceremonies I had been led to fulfill. Rather, it is because I can personally recount being found by God in a dark time, forced to live and have experienced his ‘moulding me’ from that year till now.
That is the story of how I became a Christian, and in MANY ways I am still becoming.
I’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment!