God used my desire for community as the driving force that led me to Christ. I was raised Catholic but my parents were not very devout. I performed all the Catholic sacraments such as being baptized as an infant, first communion, and confirmation. I was taught about Jesus but not about the Gospel. I moved quite a bit when I was young but finally settled in Northeast Ohio in 1993. School was great because it was full of friends and activities. As high school came to a close and I decided to stay home instead of going away to college, things began to get difficult. Most of my friends had gone away to school and I had nowhere else to turn.
My early twenties were all about finding something to fill the void. My thinking became Once I finish this class, I wont be so busy and life will be good, or, Once I finish college, I can start making money and everything will be good, et cetera. I was waiting for that next thing to fulfill me because there was a hole within me. No matter how hard I tried, I never found what I was looking for. I knew there had to be more than this.
Later, I met up with an old friend from high school. He had gone to a different church than I did and eventually invited me to visit. I accepted a couple weeks later entering the doors of Providence Church. The Lord was about to change everything for me.
After attending for a short time, I met Andy. We talked briefly for some weeks and then Andy gave me a small booklet called The Four Spiritual Laws. He asked me to read it then meet him for breakfast that week. This little book connected all the dots. The Gospel was finally explained. Though I didnt quite fully understand it, by the time I left Bob Evans and processed over the next couple of days, I had given my life to Christ!
Andy invited his friend Donald to our breakfasts and we agreed to meet every few weeks to go over the basics of our faith. These men took a genuine interest in me which I was not used to. I craved those meetings with Don. A sense of real community was growing amidst learning about our Lord. After finishing the material, I joined Dons small group Bible study. My community had grown and my void began to shrink.
Not long after, a young guy relatively new to the church wanted to grab a cup of coffee. I found out he was the new youth pastor at Providence, Chris. We met and he asked if I had any interest in serving as a youth leader. Admittedly, I still have no idea what led Chris to invite a new believer to influence the lives of young people. By saying yes to Chris offer, the Lord put me on a path that would change everything.
In Gods providence, my community had grown again. I was paired with another youth leader named Denny. We did the small talk thing for about six months, but eventually began to get together for a weekly Bible study. I was (and still am) new to the scriptures and wanted to study them; Denny was willing and able to teach me. Like Andy, Don, and Chris, Denny genuinely cared for me. My sense of community grew even deeper as Denny and I became transparent with each other in our study of Scripture.
In the summer of 2014, we had a new youth leader in student ministry, Rick. We got to know him a little and invited him to our Wednesday morning Bible study. That time grew even sweeter as the three of us shared and encouraged one another over Scripture. We laughed together a lot too!
In the fall of that same year, Rick invited me to watch a Browns game with him and his family. That became my spending pretty much every Sunday afternoon at his house watching the Browns lose (well, we had a few wins that year). I learned so much about Christ just by watching Ricks life. His family welcomed me, loved me, and accepted me as their own. These were the very things I longed for, and the very things I found in Christ.
Today, our Wednesday morning Bible study has grown to about six regular attenders. We all share, encourage, challenge, serve, and laugh togetherall because of the bond we have in Christ.
Who wants to live on an island? Community is vital. We ache for it. Yet, we dont find real community in temporary things: success, fortune, experiences, even like-minded friendships. Real community can only be experienced through a relationship with Christ, who died and rose from death to bring people to God and give them life. God positioned Andy, Don, Chris, Denny, Rick and many others to not just provide a real Christlike community, but to encourage me to follow and cherish Jesusmy ultimate fulfillment.