‘My God Story’ by Jessica Polum

 
 

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“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” – Ephesians 3:20

 

Syracuse, New York was never on my bucket list of places to go… let alone, live! The quaint city of Syracuse is in fact nothing like New York City, as I imagined, yet seemed huge compared to my hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan! I look at my life now and am just in awe of what God has done with it so far. He has completely blown my mind and expectations of where I would be in my twenties and the life I would be living. If I were shown my life even a few years ago, I would have never believed it. Letting God take Lordship of my life to become a disciple of Jesus, has been the hardest thing I have ever done, and the best!

 

I was raised with the title of a “Christian” but did not completely understand what that meant. Growing up, I started out going to a Catholic Church with my family. I’m so grateful for that experience because that really helped me to develop a basic belief in God. However, I was taught that there were formalities I needed to strictly follow in order to be close to Him and they came from workbooks rather than God’s Word – the Bible! In fact, I don’t remember learning much at all about the Bible during my time in the Catholic Church. I deeply wanted to be close to God and I remember lying in bed at night praying the famous “sinner’s prayer” over and over, double checking to make sure God would accept me into Heaven.

 

Let’s flash forward to my High School years. At that time, it appeared I had everything going for me. I had just gotten accepted into an accelerated math and science program, I was placed on the varsity cross-country team, I had amazing friends, supportive family, an upperclassman boyfriend, and my finances weren’t really a worry. I was living the “American High School Dream.” So you would expect me to be happy right? Actually, those were the darkest days of my life. I remember this was the time in my life when I asked myself, “What am I living for?” Without an answer, I spiraled down into deep depression and anxiety. The pressure became unbearable to the point where I would take extreme measures to fit the flawless image of the girl in which I thought my purpose was hidden. Simple conversations with people became grand performances. My body had to be perfect and thus the consuming monster of various eating disorders was born. Sleep became my safe place. Physically making myself bleed was the only way I could let out the stress and punish myself for being imperfect, all because I believed the lie. I was lost and had no purpose.

 

I would never for a minute wish that what had happened during those years could be undone. It was in the depths of my darkness when I realized that He was the Only One who could pull me out and that I desperately needed Him. It was at that moment that God showed me that only through Him could I find a true hope and purpose that nothing of this world could affect or steal. It was then when I also felt God calling me to dedicate my life to the “Full-Time Ministry” and eventually become an international missionary.

This is the period of my life when I dove into my relationship with God, for real, for the first time! I started going to a non-denominational mega-church nearby where I really “felt” the Presence of God. I dusted off my Bible and even started taking notes at church. I went to every Bible camp, worship session, Bible study, and volunteer opportunities that I could get my hands on because that’s all I knew to do with my new zeal for God! Honestly, looking back, I was just jumping from one emotional experience to another for spiritual sustainability. The new things I was learning about God started convicting my heart but I never had the accountability and teaching on how exactly to put in into practice. I felt like the life that the Bible would command from us was an ideal to strive for, but was just too radical for a “21st Century Christian” to imitate. Yet by the grace of God, I still wanted and innately knew there was more to my walk with God.

 

This longing led me to apply to intern with a traveling minister on crusades throughout Africa. I thought that this was my first step onto the missionary field. Not too long after getting accepted for the internship, to my disappointment, some complications came up causing me to have to prolong my internship until the following year. This led me to enroll in a Discipleship Training School to prepare for the mission field. I was so excited to get more ministry training in structured courses but what I was really excited about was the daily discipleship I would get living with the other students. Yet, while in the thick of the program, with all of the accountability, I still didn’t find myself challenged to live out the same radical life of the disciples in the Bible.

 

During this time, while I was in school, my sister Sarah and her boyfriend (now husband) Tyler moved to Syracuse. My sister and I have always been close; however, we never were able to bond over our love for Jesus. For Sarah, it actually wasn’t until she started dating Tyler (who ironically, almost joined the same discipleship program I did) that she started going back to church again after leaving the Catholic Church. I was always secretly praying for her because I honestly didn’t know where she stood with God in regards to her salvation.

I was on a school mission trip when Sarah called me and exclaimed, “Jessica, I just got baptized and I made Jesus Lord of my life!” She then proceeded to tell me about how excited she was about the church and how studying the Bible had blown her mind. I quickly realized how much I needed to go check out this church that had gotten my sister this fired up about God!

 

Shortly after I got back from my mission trip, I flew out to Syracuse to visit her. From the beginning I noticed something totally different about her; a spark she didn’t have before. I was surprised to find that her church met at a small, rented school building with rickety fold up chairs and had no worship band, but rather an acapella style of worship. I immediately wondered, “Why in the world did Sarah and Tyler choose this church?” Nonetheless, I was really intrigued and amazed when I found out that the church’s heartbeat was to reach all nations in this generation through church plantings and discipleship.

 

 

After church, my sister, Tyler and I went to lunch with Joel and Courtney Parlour, the church’s leaders. After hearing how much this church focused on missions I was so excited to ask them more. As we were talking they of course started asking about me and I told them with pride all about my Bible school and about everything God was doing in Kalamazoo. That’s when they asked me why I believed what I believed. So everyone pulled out their Bibles and I explained to them everything that I was taught and raised to believe. However, some of the Scriptures they shared with me in response challenged me and showed me a new perspective on what the Bible was really teaching. Thus, this conversation led me to start to question the sole beliefs of what I was basing my faith and ultimately my life on.

 

This was the turning point in my walk with God. I fought these new ideas with every Scripture I knew, everything I learned from my Bible school, and every experience I could pull from my memory. With utmost respect, Joel would challenge me with a Scripture that clearly discounted my claim. I went through a range of emotions but I kept asking questions. A conviction I had recently adapted, was that “the truth just is and doesn’t change, yet the lies, with the continual testing of questions would eventually be exposed.”

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That night when I got home I took the notes from our five hour impromptu Bible study and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning just reading the Gospels as if I had never read them before. I made the decision that I was not going to revolve the Bible around my life, but my life around the Bible. Everything Joel, Courtney, Sarah and Tyler were sharing made total sense, yet if it were true, that would mean my whole life would have to change. I was determined to get to the bottom of this and extended my trip to continue to study the Bible.

 

The Bible became so clear about what the DNA of a true disciple (or Christian) was. So the last night I was in Syracuse, I decided to accept the truth that I needed to be a disciple according to the Bible and be a part of a church composed of true disciples. Like it says in Luke 14:33; I needed to give up absolutely everything to follow Jesus. Thinking of all the churches I knew of in Michigan, I realized that as sincere as they were, none of them were preaching the full radical message that Jesus preached. I asked, “Joel, what do I do?” That’s when he asked me what I thought about moving to Syracuse.

 

I packed all my stuff, I quit my job as a manager at Plato’s Closet, said goodbye to my friends and family, and with one week left until graduation, I told my pastors that I was quitting the discipleship program. When I sat down and told them everything that I learned they were so confused and frustrated. They couldn’t understand why I had to be so urgent and how I could change my beliefs on everything so fast. I tried to explain the Scriptures but they just told me that they didn’t care to “debate” this with me. They asked me to leave the church, not to speak about this with anyone, and move out of my condo that night.

 

The next day, I followed my sister back to Syracuse in my little car and studied the Bible for the next couple days. I really needed to count the cost before getting baptized. Then on May 10, 2014 at 10pm, I got baptized for the forgiveness of my sins and became a disciple of Jesus Christ. I’m so grateful to God that my older sister whom I thought I would lead to Jesus was able to lead me down to the waters.

 

Rumors ran rampant in my old church and people started calling me concerned thinking I was brainwashed, joined a cult, and lived in some colony. Some of my church friends even quit talking to me completely out of fear. Yet some actually came all the way up to check out the church for themselves and study the Bible!

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Kendall Rickard, one of my closest friends from kindergarten, was one of the people who made the journey to Syracuse to come visit. I was ecstatic to have her come and I prayed so much for her to study the Bible and get baptized while she was visiting. When she told me that she wasn’t ready to make that commitment I was heartbroken. After she left I just remember crying and praying to God to give her another chance. God knew what He was doing. Incredibly, a year later, she called me up again wanting to study the Bible for real this time. So we started doing weekly Bible studies over the phone and that’s when she started seeing the fullness of the Gospel too. She saw how contradictory and watered down the Gospel had become in denominational churches and she too decided she wanted to become a sold out disciple! I just couldn’t believe my eyes! I witnessed the power of the Gospel completely change my best friend’s heart!

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On January 2, 2016 Kendall was also baptized into Christ! She plans to be radical like the disciples in the Bible and leave her life behind, and also move to Syracuse this May immediately after her final college semester ends. In the meantime, in making Matthew 6:33 to seek first the Kingdom of God a priority; she is driving over two hours every Sunday to attend our sister church in Chicago. I’m just in awe and inspired by her testimony of how God worked in her life. It’s just a dream come true to now be in the battle with my best friend who is now my sister in Christ!

 

Throughout this past year and a half I have truly gotten to witness God do beyond what I could have ever asked or imagined in my life but also the lives of others. I still have so much to learn, but the Bible has just opened up so much more to me by becoming even more living and active. I’ve never felt more alive having the honor to study the Bible with other women helping them to also see the power of the Gospel, the freedom in Christ, and the beauty of their purpose which is to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded them.” Matthew 28:19-20

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To God be All the Glory!

Jessica Lauren Polum

 

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