My journey with the Christian Traditions has also been a very long, fun, challenging and yet extremely soul satisfying indeed...
Don't even get me started on this topic huh! I was grateful for many things that I have learnt from the Christian churches that I attended. And here is a little of my experiences on this religion..
I didn't really know or appreciate christianity till I was around 16, when a friend took me to a church youth group meeting and for the first time in a very long time everyone was really friendly to me. We went several times and the group then went to a Youth for Christ Concert being held in the Rugby Park in Hamilton. It was here that "I gave my life to Christ", and thought my life would be different. It sure didn't stop the bulling, nor did my mothers temper abated...
But I kept going to the youth group when I could, when I wasn't working in the Dairy, and got more interested in their philosophies and ideas of life. I had my very first boyfriend in this group, he was allot older than I was and though not really my type of man, and I had to keep it a secret that we were seeing each other. I found it flattering to actually have someone interested in me! But hated the fact that I wasn't allowed to talk to anyone about it. Actually, I was quite taken back, by being with people who didn't call me names nor tried to hurt me in any way! It was quiet strange to start with, and it took me ages to fully believe and trust them and know that they were being nice to me not because they had to, but because they wanted to..
When I was 17, I moved away from Pio Pio to the next town called Te Kuiti, I left that poxy school, and I had got a full time job at the local supermarket. I wanted to continue my practice of the Christian faith and had come with another of the women of the Youth Group to a Pentecostal Church called The Lighthouse. It was affiliated to the Assembly of God. We came up several Sunday nights to attend their evening sessions, and I really liked the style of this church. The pastor at that time was really great, His sermons were filled with enthusiasm, and the worship sessions were incredible. The Pastor also encouraged the young people to be involved in the church and was always encouraging everyone to be involved in evangelical work.
When I moved to Te Kuiti I had nowhere to live and the young secretary of the church invited me to flat with her till I found more suitable digs. I would attend all the meetings that the church would be holding and soon most of my spare time was involved with some sort of church activity. I made some wonderful friends in the Youth Group, who also encouraged me in my journey with the church. I volunteered to play the guitar in the church band with 2 of my mates of the Youth group, and so more of my spare time was taken up with band practice.
We often would have our church service outside near a viaduct, that had a deep river and wonderful big trees to sit under and huge flat areas to run around on. The pastor felt it was a good way of 'witnessing' to non-believers, taking the church to the nonbelievers, rather than them trying to come to the church he would encourage the congregation that this is what Christ would of done, if he was ministering in the world today! Though, most of us teens found it a great opportunity to enjoy the summer time! We would have a Barbeque and swim in the river after the service and play with the children that were around. We would wait until when most of the other families of the church had gone home, till we would all gather around a picnic area or under a big tree. 2 of our friends, a brother and sister, who sung and played the guitars in the church band, would bring out their instruments, sit around, sing, talk and just hang out.
Our church also would run children's holiday programs. Most of the youth group would be involved, and myself and another friend would dress as clowns and help the pastor as he preached to the kids that had come. We were kept quite busy in our Youth group as we also ran a Friday night Cafe, once our church had purchased the old Picture Theatre and begun to renovate it into our church, before that we played street basketball, had bible study at least once a week and a prayer night another night of the week, with church services twice on Sundays.
We had visiting preachers, and evangelists. Some of us would go visiting other affiliated churches to be part of their services, I played a guitar, (not as good as my friend though!) my best friend also played the guitar and was a lead singer, her voice like an Angel, her brother on bass and another youth group friend on drums, while another played the piano and/or electric synth, this made up our church band... Our Pastor believed that worship was to be truly from the heart, and though hymns where lovely, lively, ecstatic worship songs were better, so we would met once a week to have band practice with who ever was to be the worship leader for the following sunday, and have fun learning new songs, or jazzing up old ones...
As part of the Youth Groups'"helping out" program we each took turns in taking a Sunday School class, and I found it fun and challenging teaching the children about the Bible and living as Christians.
Another part of the Youth Groups desire to win converts, was to do Prison Missionary work. It was fun and we got to visit the prisons and talk to the prisoners about Christ and what he could do for them and even were successful at"leading a few to Christ". I really got into the converting side of Christianity, and so another focus we took on was Friday night Coffee lounge realism. We would open up the downstairs part of the new church and invite street kids, and any other young people interested in coming, we would offer them games, and coffee with biscuits, and would talk to them about Christ and what he had done for them. We would also do drama and singing, one of the elders or the pastor would come and do a small sermon and then we would try and convert them to Christ. In the summer we would hire out the local scout hall and play street basketball with the kids, and then on dark we would preach to them, then take them back to their homes... Thinking that we were doing the world a great service and boosting the numbers in our youth group... Ahh the fantasies of Youth! We almost seemed to believe that we were invincible, that we were the only ones right and how could anyone not possibly want Christ in their life. It also helped when we had lively Youth Leaders who were interested in what the youth had to say, and wanted to help us in anyway..
For a while Church life was great. We were having success in all of the ministry work that most of us were involved in. We were holding working bees to make the old picture theatre a place of worship for Christ, and we were getting out more and more into the public areas and preaching the good word at any opportunity. We also begun to note that we weren't all that invincible after all! As during this time went by, we found the elders and deacons of the church didn't seem so impressed with all the work we were doing but seem more and more determined to shift the emphasis strongly towards the punishment of sin, hell, fire and brimstone, rather than compassion, tolerance and patience towards everyone that we were busy sewing in our ministry work. With this new found "elder attitude" came more judgments, more restrictions, more justifications, not so much freedom of choice, more rules and more uneasiness within the whole church. We noted how it begun to filter down onto the youth group and begun to worry where it would leave us all.
I felt disaster strike when our Pastor decided to go to America to learn more about pentecostal evangelism and wanted to bring what he learnt back to little ole New Zealand, and fire up everyone for Christ. He was very keen on being like John Whimber and run the church more like a coffee house, rather than a cold environment. The youth group were excited at these ideas and were right behind it, the deacons and elders however, were not. Sometime before he had left, my seeing things had begun again, and I got horrible feelings about the Pastor leaving the church. I told him on the day that he was leaving that I had seen a new person preaching up at the pulpit and that he shouldn't go or the deacons and elders would not let him back in. He rung the deacons and told them to pray for me, and to keep an eye on me while he was away. Meanwhile, while he was away with his family, the entire elders and church board voted in a new pastor. Meanwhile, I got to visit one of the Deacons home for once a week, for 6 weeks to have demons released from me, that caused me to see such things and for the deacon to pray for my wayward questions that kept arising from me!
The new pastor was exactly what the deacons and elders wanted. Someone who was more devoted to terrifying everyone with hell and the punishments of sin, the work of the devil and who could and who could not see visions, what the young people of the church could and could not do, etc, etc!!! Fractions were beginning to tear the church, and as young people, we were feeling more concerned and confused with the so called Christian Love that was no longer being mentioned nor shown towards each other in the church or to others around us.
I begun to question and struggle with, the bases of the motivation of our belief and of our "witnessing", slowly our freedom of choice become a distant memory, and we did as we were told to do. I was not to ask difficult questions. Yet I had to know and wanted to know why certain things that appeared to be harmless was "evil and from the work of the Devil". I found it more and more difficult to just having to accept, that whatever the elders said was so, and that it is the way it is because they said so!I desperately tried to hold onto my very slowly disintegrating faith in the Christian God of Love when continually we young people were being harassed for doing anything that was considered to be sinful and wrong, when all we were doing was living our lives!
We had a visiting "so called famous New Zealand,evangelist"who was also firmly into what the new Pastor, elders and deacons believed in. The church would hold Ministry nights with this visiting evangelist and the community hall would be packed with People. Having worked in the only local supermarket I got to know allot of the people of the area, and often I couldn't really recognize to many people that came to these meetings and I would often wonder who they were and where they were from.. The evangelist would call people to come and receive the healing touch of God, and some of these people would come up to the stage and announce that they had some illness or needed Gods help in whatever situation they were in, and he would touch them and say a prayer out aloud and most times they would fall over, Touched by God he would announce to the concerned audience, when they came to they would announce that they have been healed or a miracle has been performed, and people would get excited and more would come forward and more would make these announcements. But it was always people I didn't know, and I begun to suspect that maybe something wasn't all that it seemed to be. One night I decided that if God can make people walk without their crutches, then God could definitely heal me of my sever buck teeth! After witnessing once more people going up onto the stage and being healed by christ, I decided that it was my turn to feel the awesome power of Christ! I told the evangelist why I was there and he sneered back that God didn't have time for such stupid things! Go to an Orthodontist and stop wasting Gods time. I felt like I was back at the horrible School again! And began to cry, that I believed in God and knows he wants me to have my teeth healed. Then asked the most stupid question of my life! He kept telling me to go away and to stop wasting his precious time, in the end I resorted, and asked, "Don't you believe God can heal my teeth? Cause I do and I know he wants to, the bible says so!" Well, the evangelist went red with rage and announced loudly for all to hear, that I had "demons running amok" within me because I had questioned his authority on who should be healed by God, and refused to just accept his "because I said it is this way answers". He begun to spit and shout a loud demon revoking prayer, I stood perfectly still and shrugged my shoulders when he had finished, He then placed his hand on my forehead and gave it a push, my head went back, then came forward, I was still standing. He got angrier and begun to push harder, I refused to fall down because he was pushing on my head to make me fall over, mean whilst he shouted to God to release me from these demons in Jesus Name! He kept whispered "fall over, will you just fall over". I kept telling him to stop trying to push me over, because I knew when the Holy Spirit was truly touching me, and right now wasn't one of them. It only made him more madder! He called for the Pastor and the deacons to come and help determinism me, and they surrounded me, and all whispered "stop embarrassing the church and do as your told!" I was finally led of the stage, and the evangelist announced that I had been released of the demons and was being taken to a quiet place to continue to be ministered to. I was then forced to go to once again to the home of the one of deacons', for one night a week for 6 weeks after that episode to be prayed for so that the demons don't come back and that I needed to learn to be more accepting of what I was being told by the elders.
This was finally, the signal I needed to begin to get the hell out of there!... In amongst all of this I finally begun to realized just how much emotional blackmail, control and mind games where being employed here by older people over us younger ones. Just how much we were expected to follow without question, in total devotion to their game plan, how much we were to surrender our wills to theirs, all in the name of Jesus... And also just how sincere that they truly believed that they are right in what they are doing... Though the full extent would not become evident till many years after leaving this church...
As this was all falling apart I was also wanting to further my Career, so moved to Hamilton, just before my 21st birthday and begun to attend different pentecostal churches there...
I went to the Hamilton AOG church and got involved with the Youth Program and through this program was able to be also involved with Youth for Christ. I wanted more than just to be a councilor after the show, I wanted to be in the show, and having a low self-confidence in those days didn't help. I dreamed of touring with the YFC Group, throughout New Zealand, Saving souls for Jesus...There was also pressure coming from the AOG's Youth Pastor to be more involved with their outreach programs and I became more torn by the moment. Until one day when one of the Youth Pastors called me to have a meeting with him re my involvement with YFC. He expressed his concerns that more of my focus and attention to Saving souls was with YFC, and that this was unacceptable within this Youth Group. To cut a very long winded speech of why I need to be in this Youth Group and not in the YFC movement, the basic jests of the lecture was, you are otherwise in our group or theirs, not both! And as I could not be in the YFC group without belonging to a church for more than over 6 months during those times, I couldn't be in the AOG's youth group either with those sorts of childish declarations! So for months on end I floated back and forth between Baptist, Elim, New Life and a few other non-branded Pentecostal churches. Each one having similar demands or boundaries I was not to cross if I wanted to become a member of their fine church! Bah Humbug!
After a year of floating, I became involved with my beloved, a person outside the Faith! This only made life in the church more difficult, I would often have women come to me when they had heard I was engaged to an unbeliever, and say that they pity me, and don't I care about my soul! One woman actually told me that I was ungrateful and that I didn't love God, because I was marring someone who denies Gods existence. Which was far from the truth! I got tired of Pastors rejecting my invitations to marry me and my beloved! In the end my beloved had a friend who was a Aux Captain with the Salvation Army, and he was more than happy to perform our vows and marriage! No matter who we were or what we believed. It was a beautiful wedding and we got married in a pub!
I decided that the so-called Christian church in New Zealand, from all the experiences that I had had, wasn't a place where one could be loved and accepted for who they are and that the teachings of the Christ were only branded for the purpose of self-gains, whether by the preachers or the cong rations. I found it more and more difficult to forgive what I had experienced, and I also found it difficult to tolerate any christian that tried to preach to me.
It has taken along time to learn to forgive and let go what happened. I have written this experience as part of that. I know that all churches are different. I also know that not all christians are that narrow-minded, but do know that these people are rare and precious indeed! I use to wonder about why is there so many churches when there is suppose to be only one God, and who decides who is the right church and what makes them so? It was these questions that use to get me into al sorts of trouble with the Pastor, elders and deacons, and yet no-one has ever been able to answer it.. Until one day I was reflecting about this question once more... It's like this because there are so many different people in this world. If there was only one church, we wouldn't learn to tolerate, no learn to love someone for just being them. We wouldn't learn to forgive nor would we learn to respect another's belief. We would be utterly bored in our faith! And that there is no one right answer to any one question but many right answers to many questions! So once more, I begun the journey that is my journey of discovering me...