“I give up!,”
I confessed to the Lord, after one young lady’s long stretch of absence from our youth group.
“If Lorna* doesn’t want to be part of the group anymore then I will leave her alone. I want her to choose to come on her own—not because my constant texting makes her feel guilty. Only you can change her heart, Lord.”
Over the 15 years my husband and I have been youth leaders at Fairbanks Native Bible Church, we have discovered that many of our young people have little information about the true God of the Bible or His gospel message. They may have one or two Christian relatives in their life, but often conversations they might have with this person are centered around trusting God and praying. There is little taught from Scripture about God’s holiness, our sin nature and need for a Savior, or Jesus’ teachings with the promise of the Holy Spirit.
It is very difficult to determine which pieces of the puzzle each teen is missing when we come together as a group. Often a young person will claim to be a Christian, but as we get to know them better we don’t see evidence of the Holy Spirit. We have, at times, been privileged to see how God works through multiple years and experiences to bring a youth to true salvation.
This was the case with one young lady, Lorna. This is her redemption story...
It was another night out with my friend Shayna.
As usual I was trying to keep my eye on her to make sure she was safe. We’ve been close friends for about six years. She’s constantly asking me to promise I’ll never desert her. Of course, I won’t! But it seems like trouble always finds her. We were having a good time at the party when everything turned upside down.
A group of people became loud and pushy, and one guy suddenly grabbed Shayna and pointed a gun at her head! Speaking to me, he snarled,
"Your choice…live or die. If you want to live, kill someone here. If you don’t—you die."
Then he handed me a gun. Terror gripped me! Would he kill Shayna if I did nothing? Would he really kill me? I began to lift the gun in my hand, when the scene unexpectedly changed.
My eyes fluttered open and frantically I searched through the still dark surroundings. “Shayna!,” I screamed in my head. Quickly rolling over, I peered through the pre-dawn shadows and spotted her peacefully asleep nearby. It was only a dream! A deep breath escaped my lungs that I didn’t even know I was holding.
The next day I couldn’t stop thinking about my dream. It was so real. I knew in my heart that it could actually happen if I kept spending time with the same people and going to the same places. It was like God had given me a glimpse of my future, and I hadn’t been very concerned about Him or my future for a long time. It had been months since I’d attended youth group and maybe even years since I’d connected with the Bible study time during those evenings. I used to feel like the messages spoke to my heart, but lately it was pretty quiet between me and God.
Starting that day, my thoughts about life began changing. I texted my youth leader’s wife and let her know I’d like a ride to the next group meeting. I spent less time with Shayna and slowly started feeling God’s presence in my life again. When I learned there was a youth camp happening over spring break, I decided I was going!
I was excited and nervous about the three-day weekend. When I arrived there all alone my emotions were jumbled. I wondered if I’d made a mistake. Over the years, my heart had been broken into so many pieces that I had created a wall of ice around it. This wall was made up of hate, pain and anxiety. I had become very skilled at hiding the hurt within my heart. Quick and sometimes painfully true words kept people distant from my fragile spirit. I only hoped that during my time at the camp this habit of mine wouldn’t hurt anyone.
As the meetings began, I could hear the devil’s familiar lies pouring over me. I was becoming used to hearing his voice, while God’s voice was distant. He reminded me of all the things I’d ever done and peppered me with accusations and questions. “Why would God forgive someone like you? You’ve disobeyed your own mom and hurt others so many times. Why did you even come here? You’re so shy and quiet and different. You’re not meant to be here. What’s the point of being here?”
I decided then to shut my ears to the lies and instead ask God to speak to me. And He did! During our time of worship on the last night, I heard the voice of God. He said to me, “Don’t stop believing in me. You have an amazing future and family. Do not listen to the devil. You are worth way more than you know.”
That moment I could feel the tiny broken pieces of my heart being glued back together. I felt warm as chills ran through my arms and down my whole body. Tears slowly ran down my face, but inside I felt perfect peace. My sadness, pain and brokenness were gone. There were so many bad things I’d done, and I’d been forgiven of them ALL!
I had felt stuck and trapped, but now I could really live because of what Jesus did for me. Now I am reading the Bible and trying to learn more. The Bible is showing me things that I didn’t understand before. I’m trying to talk to my friend about the things I believe too. Other people have deserted me and turned on me…
but Jesus is REAL and will never leave me.
“So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. …For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
~ 1 Corinthians 3: 7,9 (NIV) ~
InterAct missionaries, Tim and Larissa Zook, have been working with Native Alaskans for over 17 years and are currently serving as youth leaders at Fairbanks Native Bible Church in Fairbanks, Alaska. Serving as a family is important to them as much of their ministry takes place in their home. Their three sons also accompany them on youth mission trips and occasional outreach events.
Larissa recently reflected on her background growing up in Alaska and how that has connected her to the Native people there:
I grew up relying on God to provide for my family's physical needs through nature. We hunted every year for moose and caribou and fished for salmon to fill our freezer. Every summer my mom and friends picked berries to enjoy throughout the long winter. God has used these cultural similarities to help me understand and work well alongside Native Alaskans. He has shared with me His great love for these beautiful people.
Many people do not understand why Native Alaskans resent the white man’s story of a loving God. Some might even consider them ‘ungrateful’ for the missionaries who have worked among them for decades. The history books have not revealed the whole story about the horrific things done to them by ‘Christians’ in the name of God. The stories of physical, sexual and mental abuse, kidnapping of children, sterilization of women, and shaming of their identity have only begun to be told by the brave elders who lived through those times. I believe it is only by the grace of God that we are able to reintroduce them to the true God of the Bible. I am so encouraged as I watch many elders beginning to read and understand Scripture for themselves and fall in love with this God whom their hearts have yearned to know. As God grows their faith, I become the student. They teach me about forgiveness (no matter the offense) and trusting God through trials (no matter the size). I am so blessed to witness God’s work of redemption!
Discipleship is usually messy. It is often a long-range process, beginning before salvation and carried on through maturity. Larissa began “pre-salvation discipleship” with Lorna. This missionary discipler now has the joy of investing the Word in “a new creation in Christ,” encouraging her toward growing in Christlikeness.
Pray for the Zooks and the many other frontline missionaries working with pre-believers, new believers and growing believers across the North Pacific Crescent.