I was only four years old when my mother abandoned my eleven siblings and me.
My parents were addicted to alcohol, and my mother picked up one night, left, and never came back. My dad tried to keep my large family together, but eventually he forfeited his responsibility. He took us to a campus in Eaton Rapids, Michigan, where adults are employed to care for children. Despite these difficult circumstances, I lived a wonderful childhood. The Lord gave me loving “house-parents” who were dedicated to raising four of my siblings and me (the rest lived in a separate house) in the most “normal” manner possible. We spent summers camping and winters sledding, and attended the local public school. My house-parents were Baptist, so I was raised Baptist. I had a small understanding of the Christian life, as they were good examples, leading and teaching us biblical things. Yet as I gained independence I grew away from my Baptist upbringing. In fact, I withdrew from God almost entirely.
At age seventeen, I left the only security I knew and moved over an hour away to begin studies at Grand Valley State University. I quickly found a job at Applebee’s in Grandville and sustained myself through five years of college. I was determined to succeed and graduated with a degree in history and earned an elementary teaching certificate. Despite my confidence in school and work, I had never felt so alone. I had abandoned all I knew, but more importantly, I had abandoned God. Even so, God was still there, and his plan for me included some godly young people.
My ambition at work led me to take on the larger groups of guests who came to Applebee’s. So when many late-teen, early twenty-somethings made their way through the doors I excitedly accepted the “challenge” to wait on them. Little did I know this would be the first of many times I would encounter this group of young Christians. I knew they were Christians because of their walk. They talked of godly things and were not ashamed of it. Over many Monday nights at Applebee’s (they came after catechism), they began to ask me about my faith and my life. They were patient to hear me and ready to answer my questions about the Reformed faith. I was intrigued by their faith. It didn’t seem possible to be so normal and also religious. Yet these young people were both! Now, my point is not to stress that these people were “cool,” but that they were Christians, living their lives under the umbrella of their faith. Remember, young people, don’t be friends with someone just because he’s a “cool” Protestant Reformed person. Make sure you choose godly, faithful friends, who build you up and walk uprightly according to God’s word! Lord’s Day 47 gives a beautiful explanation of how we must live our lives. It refers to the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be Thy name; that is…that we may so order and direct our whole lives, our thoughts, words, and actions, that Thy name may never be blasphemed, but rather honored and praised on our account.” See how important your very words and actions are? First, they must bring glory to God; second, you are accountable before God for your actions. These (imperfect, of course) young people were striving to live according to God’s law, and it showed by the way they acted. Eventually, I was invited to church by several of them who are now my best friends, and one particular man, George, that I now happily call my husband!
The Lord used several young people to bring me to faith. I didn’t, of course, just believe right away. I spent months in catechism with eighth and ninth-graders under the instruction of Prof. Gritters, as well as months visiting his office on Sunday afternoons, where he instructed me further in doctrinal standards. Most importantly, I sat for three years under the pure preaching of the word. I could feel a transition taking place. I was struck by God’s word, and when studied in its entirety, it made “sense”! I could feel the Lord working in my heart and my life. I wasn’t prepared, however, to face my own sins. I thought I might ease my way into the life of the church. I thought I might get past my past without ever confronting my own sin. But the Lord doesn’t work that way. He brings us to stand before him face-to-face, to confess our salvation with heart and mouth. Remember the timid woman who wished to be healed by simply touching Jesus’ garment? She thought she could obtain her healing unnoticed. But Jesus knew who had touched him and brought her face-to-face with himself (thus joining her to him in close covenant fellowship) that she may unburden her soul. In response, Jesus said to her, “Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace” (Luke 8:48). The Lord, through his written word and the preaching of the gospel, brought me face-to-face with him, and I could finally confess my sin and guilt, lay it at Jesus’ pierced feet, turn from a life of emptiness, and dedicate my life to serving God. He had made me whole!
The way God used these young people in my life is a beautiful example of personal evangelism. Not only did God use them to encourage me and direct me to himself, but he also gave me an edifying group of friends and a godly, loving husband. The most beneficial way to evangelize is simply being conscious of your daily interactions with others, whether it be fellow Christians or those who will be gained to Christ (L.D. 32).
Despite my unique experience through dating, I firmly believe it is wisest to date fellow covenant believers. My husband and I didn’t just date and quickly marry. We made sure I had learned sound doctrine and made a godly confession. There is a lifetime of consequences in seeking relationships outside the church. Young people, marry in the Lord!
Some of you may be struck by my past, and some of you may have experienced far more tragic things than I ever did. Even so, it is God who directs these events in your life. It is important then that your response to hardships is proper; that is, knowing God has sent these trials and that he is working them all for your salvation! “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). What a beautiful reality of this truth has been shown to me. So be encouraged, knowing God is in control. In response to all his grace and love through Christ, live out of thankfulness. Let that life of gratitude be your confession, and live unashamedly wherever the Lord directs your feet, for he may direct them across the path of someone he is calling to himself.
Originally published July 2020, Vol 79 No 7
 Richard J. Smit, The Fruit of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2012), 87.