Christianity is arguably one of the largest religions in the world. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different religions. Because of this, many hold the cultural relativistic view that all religions are right. All that matters is what’s right for you, whether that be Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, or atheism. Religious people of all religions are often asked, “How do you know your religion is the right one?” I’m not sure how people of other religions answer this question, besides the common cultural relativistic explanation that all religions are right depending on who it’s for, but for Christians the answer is easy. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Here, Jesus boldly claims He is the only way to salvation. Out of all the religions in the world, Jesus is the only man to make this bold claim. Christians believe this, and thus we believe Christianity—Jesus Christ—is the only way to salvation.
When someone asks me, “Why did you decide to become a Christian,” it’s not an answer that can be unpacked so easily. In fact, I find it difficult to answer this question without getting theological about it—that it’s not “my” decision because God is the only one who decides (see John 6:44; 1 Corinthians 12:3), then I have to debunk decision theology for them, then I have to briefly explain the doctrine of predestination in the simplest way I can. I’m not going to do that today; I’ll leave that to my other blog, Sheep of Christ. Instead, I’m going to talk a little bit about my story. The short answer for why I’m Christian is that God chose me—He elected me (see Ephesians 1:3-5). So, instead of giving a lengthy expository as to why Christianity is the only right religion, and since God chose me and I did not choose Him, I’m going to give a lengthy expository of my story instead.
I didn’t grow up in the Church. I can say I grew up in a Christian home because my parents are Christian, but I wouldn’t say I grew up in the Church. “What’s the difference,” you might ask? The difference is that when a child grows up in the Church, he or she knows what it means to be Christian. They know Jesus Christ is their Lord and Saviour and the price He paid for our sins, and why this is significant. This child grows up around other Christians who regularly attend church—that is, children who regularly fellowship with one another by growing together in Christ and learning what it means to have a relationship with Him. A child who grows up in a Christian home and not the Church, however, may not understand the significance of Christ’s ransom on the cross. Belief in Christ as their Saviour might not come as easily. At least it didn’t for me. Most significant of all, they don’t grow up around other Christians and learn what it means to have a developing relationship with Christ. I didn’t have this, and I didn’t fully understand who Jesus was and why His death on the cross was important, because I didn’t grow up in the Church.
Sure, there were periods when I went to church with my parents every Sunday, but there were longer periods when we never went to church. The only talk of God there was in the home was prayer before dinner every night. This doesn’t mean I had terrible parents; my parents are wonderful people and they sacrificed a lot for their children. So I don’t have any sad, sobbing stories to tell of physical or emotional abuse or neglect. Sorry to disappoint, but my life isn’t that tragic.
I did, however, come head to toe with extreme racism at an early age. My mother is half Puerto Rican and half African American, and my father is Caucasian. Believe it or not, this was a problem for some people in Detroit of 1995. There are still people today, in 2016, who despise interracial marriage and have hate for those who are biracial. To them, the circumstances of my birth is forbidden; my very existence is a byproduct of sin. When I was in kindergarten, there was a white 5th grader who saw this little, dark-skinned biracial boy and took it upon himself to bully me. He would call me “nigger” and beat me up every day after school. Eventually, my parents had enough and talked to the principal to resolve the issue. After that, I never saw the kid again. However, we still had our problems in the family. We didn’t live in a particularly good neighbourhood in Detroit either. In fact, our neighbour who lived behind us was a drug dealer and ended up shooting our dog one night while my older brother was out with him. Fortunately, my brother didn’t get hurt. Needless to say, my parents had enough, and the Lord blessed my father with a new job opportunity in Pennsylvania. So, on roughly April 25, 1996—my sister’s first birthday—we moved to Pennsylvania, lived there for about a year and a half, and moved back to Michigan in the suburbs of Canton.
That was 20 years ago, and that was not the end of my experience with bullying. I was bullied all throughout elementary school, middle school, and my freshman and sophomore years of high school. Eventually, I started to become extremely depressed. The bullying wasn’t the only cause of depression. I have a learning disability that doesn’t have a name. I never understood what it was until about two years ago when my father finally told me about it. He said I had “problems with sequenced instructions.” If you gave me tasks A, B, and C to do, I would get half way through A and forget what tasks B and C were and then I would give up because I was frustrated that I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to do. Of course, this was a huge problem in the academic setting. I never knew why I was struggling; I literally thought I was stupid. I didn’t know I had a learning disability and no efforts were made for me to overcome it; I thought I was actually incapable of being smart. So, convinced that I was stupid, I never tried my best in school. It’s a miracle I even graduated all levels of schooling. I still have these problems, but in the Army I somehow learnt to overcome it, still without even knowing what it was. Whenever I’m given multiple tasks, I either repeat them to the instructor or write them down. Learning to do this has aided a lot in college, and now I’m a straight A student.
But I digress. From the excessive bullying to this anonymous learning disability I was unaware of, my depression developed rather quickly. When my parents divorced in 2006, it didn’t make it any better. I didn’t blame myself for the divorce like a lot of kids do because my mother made it clear to me they just didn’t love each other and we (their children) had nothing to do with it. However, I was still heartbroken that essentially, we weren’t going to be a family anymore. Although I’ve moved on since then, I’m still sad about it, in a sense. I miss our Christmas traditions and we never pray before our dinners anymore—two traditions I desire to continue when I start my own family. My parents are both happier now, however, so I’ve been fine with it for a long time. At the time, however, when I was 16, it deeply troubled me. My depression progressed so badly that I began to have suicidal thoughts. One particular day, I was actually considering suicide. I don’t know what brought me to it, but for some reason I decided to call my mother while I was at school and I told her I wanted to kill myself. She immediately picked me up from school and took me to a therapist.
Guess what? That didn’t make anything better either. Therapy was ineffective because for me, talking about my feelings didn’t make them go away. With this lack of improvement, my therapist decided to send me to a psychiatrist and she prescribed me Prozac medication, assuming I had a chemical imbalance of serotonin in my brain. According to WebMD, the link between serotonin and depression include problems of “low brain cell production of serotonin, a lack of receptor sites able to receive the serotonin that is made, inability of serotonin to reach the receptor sites, or a shortage in tryptophan, the chemical from which serotonin is made. If any of these biochemical glitches occur, researchers believe it can lead to depression,” as well as several other mood disorders. So, in short, the psychiatrist made an educated guess that my brain was having trouble producing serotonin effectively.
You might have guessed my problems didn’t end there either. I don’t know what the statistics are these days, but at the time I was taking these meds, 2% of the population who take Prozac experienced worsened conditions in their depression. I fell under that 2%, my sorrow and self-loathing worsening and having more suicidal thoughts.
So, what stopped it? How is it that I’m no longer depressed? If you’ve guessed it was Jesus Christ, you have guessed correctly. As I look back on it, my depression began to stop when I started going to church. After the divorce, my parents had shared custody of all of us until we turned eighteen. When I was an infant, my dad used to play piano during the worship service at Woodlawn Church in Royal Oak, Michigan. After the divorce, he started playing there again and when he had custody of me, he would take me to church. I started to make friends there, and wanting to hang out with them more, I started to go to the youth ministry gatherings on Wednesday nights. This was serendipitous because the church band had practise on Wednesday nights, so every Wednesday my dad would take me. I didn’t make my confession of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour until a particular night during an event called Acquire the Fire. It’s a large Christian conference held in multiple cities across the country for Christian youth to worship Jesus and to learn more about Him. As a Lutheran, a lot of us are skeptical about altar calls because those who make them during Sunday worship tell you to “accept Jesus into your heart” and “make a decision,” although it’s not up to you; it’s up to God. However, sometimes they work, and not every altar call tells you to “make a decision.” If it were not for this altar call, I wouldn’t be a Christian. I went up to the front of the stage where there was a large cross, prostrated myself before it, and prayed that Jesus be the Lord and Saviour of my life and change me completely. That was my confession. I didn’t “make a decision” in this confession; the Lord called me down there by the Holy Spirit, and because I already had faith at this point, He enabled me to confess Jesus as my Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3).
Where Am I Now?
My depression was not immediately cured at that moment, but the progress bar certainly loaded a lot faster. It was soon after my confession that the Lord began to work dramatically in my life and my depression totally dissipated. I still had some insecurity issues and personal sins to deal with throughout the years, but by the grace of Christ I overcame them. After I graduated high school in 2009, I enlisted into the Army Bands as a professional saxophonist, where I learnt to overcome my learning disability. I was honourably discharged in 2013 and today, I’m in my senior year at Concordia University-Ann Arbor in the Pre-Seminary program with a major in Christian Thought and a minor in Theological Languages to be a Lutheran pastor. I’ve recently been accepted into the LCMS Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and next Fall (2017) I leave for seminary.
So, now that I’m Christian, what do I do now? Besides waiting for the Day of the Lord to return, whatever I do, I do to glorify God, hence this website to utilise the writing skills God has gifted me. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). I can honestly say I try to do that every day. I try to do that with my poetry, my photography by capturing His beautiful creation in nature and people, my passion for ministry, and now this theology and book review website. For 12 long years I was filled with the insidious demon of the mind known as depression. I never loved myself and I never knew joy. Now, with Christ, who has transformed my mind and renewed my heart, I am filled with joy. Even when I am facing stress or tribulation or even persecution, I have His joy.
Where the things of this world fail us, Jesus Christ always prevails.