The story of how I came to know Jesus starts when I was a teenager in South Africa. I was the kind of child that was always questioning and by the time I was in my teens, I had a prominent question in my mind that kept me awake at night. Is there a God?

I come from a Greek family, and my upbringing was traditional. As a young person, I had a weight-problem and I was teased at school. I had heard all the fat jokes and I learned to laugh at myself but inside I was crying. I was really lonely and wished things were different.

My father was a real people-person who was loved by everyone in the community. He seemed to have it all together. I asked my father one evening, is there a God. He looked doubtful, but he said, “yes, of course there is. We are Christians and the Greek Orthodox faith is the true religion”. I was not really satisfied with this answer.

We would regularly go to the Greek Orthodox Church with my family, especially when my gran was alive. These churches are magnificently decorated, and the frescos of the biblical stories on the dome ceilings and walls fascinated me. When you walk in to one of these churches, you have to kiss all the icons then ‘donate’ money to get a candle. I loved lighting the candles and thinking of a loved one. Sadly, on a busy day, the candles would be snuffed out and resold. I didn’t like that. The kissing of the icons part I always found uncomfortable, but I pushed this feeling aside. What I enjoyed most was the tradition and symbolism of Greek Easter, which is a truly special time with processions, candles and festive food. However, something was lacking. I could not sense God. Is God real? And if so, where is He? My question remained unanswered.

One year while on a family holiday, I was hanging out with a family friend of mine who was into mysticism and new age philosophy. I didn’t know the terminology then, I just thought she was cool. I was fifteen at the time and she was about eighteen. We were having several talks, and in the end, my big question came up. She said to me “you don’t have to look for God, he is already inside you”. Well, I felt like I had been given the goose that laid the golden egg. Of course! I thought that was perfectly reasonable and something tingled as I imagined this god who ‘was already inside me’. I didn’t need to look anymore.

The true God was gracious to me. Jesus promises ‘seek, and you will find’ (Luke 11:9). Back in school, a few classmates were having a discussion about whether God existed. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I was heartily in support of a God existing. A classmate pulled me aside and asked me if I was a Christian. My mind immediately went to what my father said about us being Christians. “Yes, I’m a Christian” I replied very enthusiastically. She was delighted and asked me if I wanted to help her lead a children’s bible camp. Well, I thought. Why not? I like kids. I had no idea what that meant. I didn’t even own a bible.

The bible camp was at the local Baptist Church. Before the camp started, the Pastor told us about Jesus, how we were sinners and needed God, how God made a way for us by sending his only Son Jesus to die on the cross, and how he was raised from the dead and now we are able to have a relationship with God and eternal life with Him. They explained that if we accept Jesus, God cleanses us from all sin and makes us new. Like a new spiritual birth. This was the first time I heard John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He asked if anyone wanted to give their life to Jesus. I wanted to, but I was too embarrassed to put up my hand. Later, while we were singing some praise songs, I prayed “I want to know you Jesus!”

My faith was real and I experienced a genuine conversion. God came into my life that day! In that bible camp I was teaching a group of four and five year olds, but it was I who was learning. That was a beautiful and a wonderful start of my journey.

Our journey as Christians is not meant to be an easy one. The bible says in Matthew 7:14 ‘narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.’

The Wide Road

At 15, I was the only one in my family that had a sincere belief in Jesus. God had given me a new life where all I wanted to do was sing praise songs and read my bible. No more sad, lonely Maria! I was an incredibly happy 15-year old and all I wanted to do is spend time with God. My mom and sister thought I was crazy. I prayed that they too would know Jesus and experience this great love God had for me! I brought them to the Baptist Church, although they called it the ‘English’ church because it was not Greek, so they could hear about Jesus. My mother was intrigued, but the language barrier was difficult.

A few months later, a Greek boy in school who heard I was a Christian invited me to a bible study. I was so happy to find out that there were other Greek believers! He and his whole family were going to a Greek Evangelical Church and the bible study was at his house. I went along with my mother and she heard all about Jesus that night, in the Greek language.  She put her trust in Jesus that night.

My father never warmed up to the idea that I would visit ‘English’ churches. He did not understand that this was a place that I could learn about the bible. He completely forbade us to go to the ‘English’ churches and thought I would dishonour the family.  I would often lie, which is a sin ironically, and say that I was going to a ‘party’ so that I could go to youth!

About three years later, I was struggling with my conscience because as a good Christian I wanted to honour my father, but he was asking me not to go to Church and the bible says we have to gather together as Christians. I couldn’t continue to deceive him either. In the end, I obeyed my father and I stopped going to the ‘English’ churches. I thought that I would do this for a while to keep him happy. I still kept reading and praying at home.

Slowly, the world started drawing me in. First it started with going along to a night out, then I started participating in night outs and drinking, then I was instigating the nights out and staying out all night! My spiritual life had disintegrated and I was praying less and reading my bible less. God was with me though, because I would get a strong urge now and then to read my bible and when I would pick it up there would be great warnings about backsliding. There would also be warnings about ‘not yoking to unbelievers’. I took no heed!

Sadly, my father died a few years later. I was free to go to Church and yet I was so far from God at that point that I didn’t. Deep down in my heart I still believed and I knew the truth but I was not willing to give up my sin. Oh what a wretch I was! I was spitting on the cross of Christ!

Years passed, I met and married my now husband. He was not a Christian, and well, let me be truthful, if I was a Christian, I wasn’t acting like one! I was on the wide road that leads to destruction!

Recently in my life, God showed me that I had built my house on sand. Towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 7:24-27), Jesus warns, “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock; and the rain descended, the floods came and the winds blew and beat on that house and it did not fall because it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

I did fall. I fell back into deep despair. This will happen when you are not right with God. Sin separates us from God and leads to spiritual death. The good news is that we may walk away from God but he does not walk away from us. I will say that in my darkest time, where I didn’t feel the presence of God, I clung to the one thing I knew – God promised me in His word that salvation is in Jesus Christ and that if we believe in Him we will be saved. I didn’t feel it, but I knew that He is God and He cannot lie.

I often turned and prayed to God but it took me 15 years to realise that my idea of God was wrong and that I needed to let go of my sins and repent.

It is so important to know scripture and who God really is. To be a doer and not only a hearer of God’s word. How can we have the forgiveness of God and not honour him with our minds, hearts and bodies? What a blessing it is when a person loves God’s laws!

The Narrow Gate

For me, a big part of this change was when I moved up to Dundalk. I wanted to get back to Church and God gave me a promise, in Jeremiah 3:14-15: “Return, O backsliding children,” says the Lord, “for I am married to you, I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.   And I will give you Shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”

I joined Dundalk Baptist Church and I have found out that God is truly good and keeps his promises! The sermons you can listen to in the other section of this website encouraged me to get serious about my walk with Christ. After some time, I started a three year women’s ministry course in the Baptist College in Moira (Northern Ireland).  During this time we went through some financial difficulties and job loss. The worst of the devastation I felt was losing my reputation; then I was reminded in God’s word that Jesus, being God, gave up his throne in Heaven to come down and die on a cross to save us? I learned what it is to be humble and more Christlike.

Living for Jesus is a joyous daily struggle. Don’t be surprised; Jesus asks us to pick up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9.23). It isn’t meant to be easy. I constantly need to put away anger and unforgiving thoughts and find merciful responses. I have to watch myself for pride as this is a sure sign of going off track. The good news is that God provides all we need to get through it and if we live humbly He pours out spiritual blessings, in my case I have finally received my dream of having a believing family. If you are reading this and you are a Christian then take good courage because when you go through a trial it is only for a season and for a good purpose. God will be with you and bring you out of it. And, when the trial comes, embrace it and ask, God, how can this help me be more like Christ? God bless you. Amen.