THE STORY OF STEPHEN
All my life I have been brought up with Christianity. My parents always told me about God and Jesus. My parents were missionaries and from childhood, I saw how they lived in full trust in God, even in times of poverty. We lived in the Philippines and had a ministry among the street children there. In times when we had nothing, no food either, my parents would pray and fast and just in time, we would get enough food to feed all those mouths or we would get what was needed. I always had a firm faith in God who cares, who leads and who gives. One evening when I was six years old and my mother put me to bed, we were reading from a little book called the Treasure Hunters. In it was the question whether you want to give your heart to Jesus. I remember that I very consciously wanted to. So actually, I had a very stable upbringing in faith. It was always very beautiful. When I was about 13 years of age, my parents let me choose whether I wanted to go to church with them or not. I think I missed going twice, sitting at home on Sunday morning did not really have any value anymore so I just went. I thought it was special that my parents gave me that choice.
When I was about 14 years old, I started smoking weed occasionally and going to many parties. I did not see any harm in that and I saw that many people of my age did the same. When I was 16, I met my wife and went to the church she attended. I noticed that she was a perfect person, she never did anything wrong, she was faithful and very kind. She had many good friends. I started studying and when I was about 18 years old, I left home to live in the city where I was studying. That was easier for me because I did not have to travel anymore and I danced in a hip-hop crew in that city. Then I actually noticed a split in myself. When I was with my girlfriend, I was the sweet, spiritual, Christian boy who stood with his hands up in church and wrote along with the sermons. Partly I wanted that very much and I believed it all, but partly I thought that my girlfriend and the people from the church expected that of me. I was very much looking for my identity. When I was 19, I took my girlfriend to Paris and asked her to marry me. We got engaged and started saving for our wedding but I was not good at saving. Then a friend of mine mentioned that there was a squat behind his house. You paid a one-time fee for maintenance and then you could live there for free. I only paid the energy costs. When I came to look at the squat, it was a cool place with a lot of space but at the same time, I saw a lot of brokenness. Twenty people lived in the old building and everyone was an addict. Everyone was on drugs or drinking. Many people did not get out of bed until 3 o'clock in the afternoon. They would start using and then go back to bed and this would repeat itself every day. I had the feeling that I should not go in there, this is not good for you, I thought. It was not the life I wanted, but it attracted me very much and the people were completely free. At least it seemed that way. A little voice in the back of my head said that these people do not believe here and that is why I can let a light shine here. I went to live there and started to build a relationship with them. I started playing poker with them because that is what the people there did every night. Every night, a lot of weed went through their pockets and they drank a lot. The next morning I had to go to school and I was one of the few who studied. I went along with that. Then I went to sleep at two o'clock in the night and went out again at six. When I went to sleep, I still prayed for a while, because then I could still make sense of it all. I became more and more unhappy and things went fast. I think I lived there for almost a year. My room was a mess and things were starting to slip out of my hands. My girlfriend had been with me maybe twice in that year. I always went to see her because she would start to see things here, that things were not right in this house. This is a part of me that she is not allowed to see from me. When I was with her, I was showered and smelled nice, we went to a Bible group and it was all neat and tidy. At some point, I woke up in the morning and I had an appointment that I had again forgotten about. I was way too late. I looked around and thought to myself what had happened. Then I wanted to read the Bible because it might help me but I could not find it. Finally, I found it under a pile of dirty laundry and realised that I had let it all go and felt guilty about it. Then things started to come into the light. My girlfriend and I looked at my account and she wondered why I had so little money in my account when we were supposed to be saving. When we looked closer she saw transactions from places where I bought cigarettes, but she did not know I smoked. There were also coffee shop transactions on my account. I was getting weed for the group. Then came my first lie, I said I was just having a party. It became more and more clear to me that I could not marry my girlfriend when she did not know who I really was. The fear was getting very high because if she knew whom I really was then she would probably not wanted to marry me. Then I told God that I was losing her, that I had messed up all towards her. I saw our whole future in front of me, and I told God that I had ruined up everything towards Him. All the grace that I had received from Him. I had chosen to go down this path when I could have skipped it all. I regretted it. Immediately I had the feeling of the story of the prodigal son. It was then as if God was saying to me that He did not care. I am glad you are coming back and it will be all right. With us, it is already good and with your girlfriend, it will be good. Just tell the truth, tell everything. I past all the guilt and shame and started telling her everything that I thought which was bad. In the beginning, my girlfriend did not understand me and was angry. At one point, I saw that her arms were the arms of Jesus. I know how I was crying out loud while lying in her arms. I felt how her heart was pounding. It was very hard for her to hear but at the same time, she was holding me the whole time. She told me to tell her and that it was okay. Now we are married. It was scary for her, were the things that I did one time only or would they be forever? However, she felt like God was saying to her, "this is your husband". She said, "I also just want it to be true what God is saying so we are getting married.” We later said to each other that it was not human for her to have made the choice to marry me after everything I had done to her. I lied for four years about who I was and now she wanted to marry me. She made the choice based on what God said to her, "this is your husband, trust that it is going to be all right because I am going to change him and I am going to change you together". She made that decision very courageously. She actually married someone she had yet to get to know. This is grace. She always stood behind me 100% during that period. I started studying theology because I wanted to change my life 180 degrees, I wanted to invest in God and she was standing behind my decisions. Now I see how our life is, how our family is. We have two beautiful sons. The life we have now is exactly the dream I had, the vision I had. I could not come here as a person, it was the opposite of how I felt back then in the squat. Just before the moment when I chose to go back to God, there was a little voice in me: "Look what you have done now, look who you are fooling. You are fooling your girlfriend, you are fooling your parents, and you are fooling her parents. You are fooling the whole church. You are fooling God. You do not deserve this and you cannot do this. I am so glad that at that moment I still made the choice and told God that I indeed did not deserve it. I made the decision to say, "I'm sorry, I don't know. I have done things, said things, held back things, I do not deserve that love. How are we ever going to make this right?” I believe that if you give that to God it is already good. You cannot make it right, but Jesus made it right for you. Jesus made it right in your place. In about a week, my complete life turned 180 degrees. It took a lot of pain and tears. It was piece by piece. That is also what an addict does, tell a piece of the truth each time and see how it lands. When you see that someone is startled, you leave the rest behind. At one point there was so much gone and so much freedom. I think that is because of God, that He prepared her for that. She could just stand there, every now and then she had to go away, cry and drink some water. Then she came back, opened her arms and said that I could continue. Within a week, everything was out, and since then we have only grown closer. It was too much for her to handle and she suggested that we ask grown-ups to help us. She came up with the idea of asking my parents. I called my mother and asked her if we could come by that day to have a chat and a meal. My mother was happy to do so; she said that she had dreamt about me in the past week and that she was curious about what I wanted to tell her. We arrived at my parents' house and I postponed the conversation. When I wanted to start, my mother asked if she could share her dream with us first. She dreamt that our family was having a family weekend. We were all outside and the weather was nice. Every time I looked at you in my dream, I saw that you were the only one in the shade. Even though the sun was shining everywhere, I had a dark cloud above me. Everyone was playing and happy, only you were caught in a kind of darkness. Then my mother said that she did not know what I was going to tell her but she knew that God had been preparing her for our conversation for a week. My mother said they were going to listen with the idea that I would step out of that shadow. "We are prepared for this," my mother said. That was bizarre. When I told them, God said different things to my parents. Things I struggled with, things I grieved over. These were things like pornography, spinning glasses, conjuring up ghosts, the ghosts when I was about 10 years old at a sleepover. I had no idea that there was anything behind these things. These things my parents asked me without judgement or opinion. All these things were brought into the light and broken down. The reason why I kept all these things hidden was that I was afraid that if they knew, they would not love me anymore. The moment you break open, you see that God brings people on your path who give you the love you need at that moment. That was very powerful. I expected that I would feel guilty at every family dinner but that is not the case. Nothing stands between us anymore.
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