I am not proud of my past. And there are moments when I am not fond of who I am now. I am, however, grateful for the grace and love that God has shown me time and time again. When I run away from Him, He lovingly welcomes me back, and I know I am safe in His arms once again. He loved me before I accepted Him as my personal Savior; He loves me despite my many mistakes; and He will always love me wherever I go and whatever I do.
Growing up, I didn’t understand who this “Jesus Christ” adults were always speaking of. I learned and familiarized myself with the Bible and its stories, but I didn’t understand what it meant for Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. I never fully understood God’s love for us until I was eighteen, and it is a continuous process. I am still re-learning what it means to be His beloved princess.
Junior and senior years of high school left me angry with God. I was depressed and felt as though all my social circles were rejecting me. I was trying to figure out who I was and where I belonged. Teenage angst mixed with intersectionality of race, ethnicity, nationality, and faith. I told myself that I didn’t need anyone because no matter what, I would get hurt. In my anger, I rejected God, the only one who could ever love me unconditionally. I closed my heart and put up a wall. But it didn’t take long for God to undo all that. He found me at my worst and loved me anyway. He answered my deepest desire to be accepted and my cry for help. He continued to pursue me during this time, using people in my life to convey His message of love and acceptance. He sent a brother in Christ, Barnabas, to encourage me when I was disheartened and to talk to me during those late nights when sleep eluded us. He sent two sisters to pray over, intercede for, and prophesize over me during a night of praise and prayer. “God says to put down your shield. You don’t need to protect yourself; He will protect you for you.” And when I listened and let go, peace fell over me, and my body was wrapped in numbing warmth. I knew He was hugging me. “You are not a mistake. You were planned in advance by Me. I love you.” That night, my doubts about whether God was real and if He is really with me evaporated. He is real and alive in His creation and in me.
Soon after, I started college, away from home. I left my family, friends, and home church behind to start a new life. I could have easily stayed and continue to serve at church, but I was born with the desire to explore and travel. And that was exactly what I did. I would be lying if I said that God was a central part of my life in college, but He wasn’t absent either. I tested God during that time. Like a child with a parent, I tried His patience and His love; and the more I tested Him, the more I got away with, and the guiltier I felt. Before I knew it, I was off the path God has so lovingly placed me on only months before and felt like I couldn’t return. How could He take me back after I had deliberately disobeyed Him? I decided not to ask for His forgiveness because I couldn’t forgive myself.
I became convinced that God had abandoned me when in fact I had turned my back and refused His love. But I desperately wanted to be loved. I wanted someone to hold me when I was upset; I wanted someone to comfort me when the world seemed too much to bear; I wanted to be accepted for me – the good and the bad. I searched for this love in all the wrong places. Friends, accomplishments, and boys couldn’t fulfill this desire. No matter what I did or who I dated, it was never enough. Deep down, I knew that nothing on this earth would ever fill that void, but I was afraid. I was afraid of what God would do. Or would not do. I was afraid that if I chose to truly pick up the cross and follow Jesus, He would deny me what I really wanted – a partner, someone to spend the rest of my life with. I never thought to stop and ask myself, “Why would He deny you this? Is this not the God who created Eve out of Adam’s rib because ‘it’s not suitable for the man to be alone’? He didn’t create us to be alone.” I realized that I am not alone and never will be. NYCUP confirmed it.
I spent my first summer as a college graduate worshipping, fellowshipping, and serving with twenty-seven beautiful brothers and sisters at InterVarsity’s New York City Urban Project (NYCUP). Together, we explored what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ through Bible studies, documentaries, prayer, discussions, fellowship, and action; we struggled with our pasts and footholds; we celebrated victories and prayed through difficulties; we questioned and doubted; we served the homeless and fought for justice; we cried and laughed; we were family.
That summer, I experienced true community, love, and acceptance because God was present in our everyday lives and in my newfound brothers and sisters. The past I was so ashamed of and afraid to share finally surfaced. I had never told any Christians before, and I thought, “Would they judge me? Would they see me as impure? Would they reject me?” Not the least bit. In fact, I was not the only one. It was their testimonies and prayers that I confronted my past. God has already forgiven our sins on the cross before we were born. We are the ones who don’t forgive. Who am I to say whom He forgives? Are we saying we are God because we cannot forgive others or even ourselves? “I have already forgiven you,” He said. It is not what we do but who He is. And He is a forgiving God.
As I accepted that He had forgiven me of my sins, I wrestled with this concept of the Father as all forgiving and loving. Does this mean He forgives all the pimps, johns, and traffickers? Yes. I was baffled. How can He forgive people who abuse, buy, and sell people, children even, for sex? I absolutely could not fathom it, but I accepted it. With a lot of difficulty. I came to peace that injustice would continue to exist in the world because I know that God has control even when everything is in chaos. He knows exactly what He’s doing, and all I had to do was trust Him. I trust that He created us all with an individual, special purpose to bring His Kingdom to earth wherever we are, like Mary Poplin in her book, Finding Calcutta. We don’t need to travel halfway around the world to the most desolate places to find our callings; our own Calcutta is where God has placed us. And at that moment, Calcutta was New York City and, later, Saratoga Springs. International ministry wasn’t my calling then or even in the next few years. God is still shaping me to be who He needs me to be, and He is calling me to serve locally. So, I happily returned to Skidmore for a year to work on campus and to volunteer with InterVarsity because this is my Calcutta, a place God has prepared for me until He calls me elsewhere.
God made His purpose for me known when I was young. And little by little, His plans began to unfold. I have been piecing together a puzzle that He slowly handed me, piece by piece, over the years. My desire to help people began as a child and deepened by the end of high school. During my first semester of college, after reading Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution: The Living Life as an Ordinary Radical, I struggled with what it means to be a follower of Christ. I wanted to change the world and love like Jesus did. I wanted people to stop putting Christians in a box, and most of all, I wanted Christians to be Christians. I questioned what the purpose of pursuing a higher education if I wasn’t going to use the degree. I wanted to drop out and do what Shane and my best friend, Iris, did and minister to the poor and broken. I didn’t need a college degree for that, but Iris convinced me to finish college. The next semester, I “randomly” took a social work course and fell in love with the field. I thought this was the way I was going to make a difference, but I was only halfway there.
While interning at local non-profits that worked with the underprivileged and studying abroad, I witnessed so much brokenness and apathy. Hopelessness and helplessness overwhelmed me. “I can’t change the world. I should give up.” But I didn’t give up; I held on. I don’t exactly know what I held onto. It may have been hope or stubbornness or pride or a combination of all three. I wanted to prove to people that the impossible can be achieved. However, one component was missing in my pursuit for social justice. God. How can we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, shelter the homeless, and protect the orphans and widows without the Man who showed us how first? Social justice and Christianity aren’t separate entities; they’re intertwined. We cannot share the Gospel without talking about Jesus’ ministry on earth. We cannot act justly without God’s redeeming love and power.
As senior year started and we scrambled to figure out what to do with our lives, I stumbled upon the issue of human trafficking. Within weeks, it became my passion, and I was going to do something about it. I applied for the NYCUP internship to fight trafficking, organized an event with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and facilitated a discussion about the issue. Then, I read David Batstone’s Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Sex Trade—And How We Can Fight It. It was the most emotionally driven book I have read. Anger, sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness surfaced as I followed the struggles of bonded laborers in South Asia, child soldiers in Uganda, lost children in Peru, and sex trafficked women and children around the world. I cried from frustration, but I also cried with joy. There is definitely evil in the world, but there is also good. Sometimes it seems like evil won the battle, but God already won the war; He just asks us to join Him.
The biggest lesson I have learned in my young adult life is that we can’t do this on our own. We ourselves cannot bear the burdens of the world because we’re human. I admit; my friends were right when they told me I can’t change the world. But I’m not alone. With God, the impossible is possible. I, myself, am not going to change the world; we, as God’s hands and feet, are. And I strive to be His hands and feet on earth. I want to use my hands to do what He has called me to, and I want to carry the Good News wherever I go.