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Discovering God's Living Spirit
 

Nhatha Nol-Mantia, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ I testify to honor God and share with the world how the Lord had brought me to His true church. May His name be glorified.

As a child, I was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith and attended Sunday services every week with my maternal grandparents (my father's family is Buddhist). I acknowledged God and cherished the golden cross that I wore around my neck, but I did not really know Him on an intimate, paternal level. I just imagined God as this awesome and powerful figure who ruled the earth from a far distance. I believed that He was a supreme being who could not be touched and was too busy and important to care about the trivial matters of this little world.

Every evening before I went to bed, I would routinely recite the Lord's Prayer and then ask God for all the things that I wished for, never knowing if He was actually listening.

Losing My Grasp On God

My parents got divorced when I was seven years old, and as a result, I moved from California to Massachusetts. I lived with my father in Boston during the school year, and I spent the summers with my mother and new stepfather. I really disliked my mother's new husband because I thought he was the meanest, most dreadful man I had ever met in my life, and I blamed him for breaking up my family.

After I moved to Boston, I stopped going to church because my father was not religious. Still, every evening before I slept, I would say the Lord's Prayer and then ask God to somehow bring my parents back together and reunite my family. I believed that the reason why my parents were separated was because of my stepfather, so I even asked God to "get rid of him" if it were possible—then my family would be together again.

Many years of tears passed and I witnessed my family situation get worse. My mother was stuck in an abusive relationship, my father had sunk into a deep depression and drank often, and I was home alone in a dark basement apartment feeling hopeless and empty, crying myself to sleep each night. I doubted that there was really a God out there, and if there was, then why was He not answering my prayers?

Eventually, I lost faith in God as my family remained separated and my prayers continued to go unanswered. I had no close family members to rely on and to comfort me, so I began to rely entirely on myself. My school friends became the closest people to me. I was determined to be successful and happy in life despite the circumstances.

The Bible warns us not to get caught up in worldly ambitions, "for all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world" (1 Jn 2:16). But like many people living without God, my idea of success and happiness was to be rich, have a high-profile future career, and enjoy all the pleasures of the world as often as I could. Everything that I did in high school and college was motivated by these three ambitious goals that I had set for myself in life.

I became the most competitive and self-centered person, extremely proud of my achievements. Each day I would work and study very hard to be the best student, athlete, and community figure. In the evening I would sneak out of the house, drink, dance, and party with my friends until morning. In fact, I met Vuthy, my future husband, at a downtown nightclub.

Giving God Another Chance

Vuthy and I were engaged my junior year of college, before I left to study abroad in Paris. While I was studying in France, Vuthy called me and told me how he had started attending some Bible studies and was really enjoying it. I did not think too much of it because I understood Vuthy's personality well. He would get excited easily about different things, but then he would lose interest within a couple of weeks.

Surprisingly, Vuthy stuck with the Bible study longer than I had expected, and every once in a while he would update me on what he had learned during Bible study and tell me some testimonies he had heard. One of the memorable testimonies he told me concerned a sister who was watching some bad things on television, and as a result, God punished her with a terrible eye infection.

One night I went with a couple of American students to a gay bar in Paris just to check it out, because we heard that it was an interesting thing to do. The place we went to is comparable to Sodom and Gomorrah, but back then, I did not think that there was anything wrong with looking. It was not a big deal to me since I was just hanging out, not really participating in the activities.

The next morning, when I looked at myself in the mirror, I noticed that my eye was swollen. I immediately thought about the testimony that Vuthy had told me concerning the sister with the eye infection. I was a little worried, and I wondered to myself if it were possible that God was punishing me as well for going to the gay bar. Just to be on the safe side, I decided to repent and see if the swelling would disappear.

Miraculously, my eye was back to normal that same afternoon that I prayed to God! My belief in God was renewed after that incident, and I internally made a decision to give my faith in God another chance.

I was startled awake at four o'clock one morning when the phone rang. When I picked up the receiver, I heard Vuthy crying emotionally. I asked him what was the matter, but he could not stop crying, and my heart sank because I thought it was something serious. When he was finally able to speak, he kept on repeating, "God exists, God exists." In between the sobs, he explained to me that while he was praying, God's power came down through his head. He felt a warm sensation throughout his body and he was overjoyed.

Vuthy then begged me to repent, kneel down, and pray for the Holy Spirit as he had done, but I was really in shock. I was not sure if this was really happening or if I was having a weird dream. Nevertheless, I knew that Vuthy was very sane and that what he was experiencing was very real. Out of hope and out of love, I promised Vuthy that I would sincerely give it a try.

Every evening, I prayed out loud, saying "hallelujah" and asking for the Holy Spirit as Vuthy had advised me. I even attempted to change my lifestyle and refrain from committing sin. Gradually, I stopped going to the wild French parties, discos, and bars. Of course, all of my friends, including my roommate, thought I was acting strangely, and even I was not so sure myself about my faith and where it was heading. All I knew was that I was beginning to fear God, and I was really starting to feel good about my new outlook on life. I was no longer that interested in pursuing one of my three stated goals in life—no longer was I indulging in all the sinful pleasures of the world.

Won Over By Example

My first semester in Paris ended and I was happy to return home for Christmas break. I remember feeling so excited when the plane landed in Boston, and I was particularly anxious to meet my fiancé and see if his looks or personality had changed since we had been apart. He picked me up at the airport dressed up in a suit, with flowers, a new haircut, and his big trademark smile.

He really did look handsome, but the most striking thing about him was not his outward appearance but his countenance and quiet disposition. His face was smooth and relaxed, almost glowing. All the previous anger creases on his forehead seemed to have faded away, and he was standing there, looking at me with gentle, loving eyes. When he spoke to me, I felt that he had such a peaceful and content heart. It was evident that he had been transformed into a better person, and I was grateful to God.

This airport encounter with Vuthy was the turning point in my spiritual life. God had renewed my faith through Vuthy, just as the Bible says: "...that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives [or husbands in this case], when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear" (1 Pet 3:1-2).

Witnessing his transformation, I agreed with Vuthy to attend the Friday evening Bible studies and Sabbath services. The sermons and Bible studies sparked my interest, and I was beginning to understand God's words for the very first time.

I grew fond of the church sisters, and fellowshiping soon became my favorite pastime. I was supposed to return to France after the holiday break to finish my studies abroad, but I was no longer interested in pursuing my vain goals in life. Instead, I decided with Vuthy to pursue a peaceful and joyful life in the Holy Spirit, and to get baptized and married together in Christ.

After a confirming prayer to God, Vuthy and I happily decided to get married that summer. The entire Boston congregation traveled down to the Elizabeth Church in New Jersey for the baptism on April 25, 1999, and then again on July 10 for our blessed wedding ceremony. To top the year, God blessed me with the Holy Spirit during our honeymoon—two weeks in Philadelphia at the National Youth Theological Seminar.

A Relationship Restored

Vuthy's faith could only carry me so far, and I needed God to touch me directly so that my faith could rise to the next level of independence. For me, that moment of confirmation occurred when God released me from the bondage of hate and resentment.

As explained before, I did not have an ideal childhood because of my parents' divorce. Living for the most part with my father, I never really developed a good relationship with my mother. I hated my stepfather (now her ex-husband) for sabotaging my family, but I also resented my mother for not being around when I needed maternal love. My animosity toward her reached its fullest during my time in Paris, when I wrote her an emotional letter and made up my mind that I no longer wanted anything to do with her.

I had decided that I would never call her again, yet when I returned to Boston, and Vuthy and I decided to get married, she was the first person I thought of. I had not spoken to her for six months, and I remember crying and feeling very sorry for myself because I could not share the good news of my marriage with my own mother. Vuthy felt sad for me and encouraged me to pray to God.

I took his advice, knelt down, and prayed to God with tears to release me from my sorrow. Amazingly, right after the prayer, the phone rang—it was my mother! She had received the letter I wrote to her from France some time ago, and she wanted to speak to me about it. We ended up talking over the phone for two hours about everything from the past to the present and my future marriage.

This was the first time that my mother really opened up to me, and I felt like I was getting to know her for the first time. I cannot explain how joyous and lighthearted I felt after I spoke to my mother that night. I no longer had any feelings of resentment or animosity toward her. God had answered my prayers and miraculously restored my relationship with my mother.

Freed From the Bondage of Hate

A few months later I flew to California for my maternal grandfather's funeral. It was very nice to see my mother again and to kick off our newfound mother-daughter relationship. I told her how I had found God and the truth in the Bible, and she was very receptive and happy for me.

I was feeling very joyous and everything was going well, until I saw my mother's ex-husband at the funeral home. Upon seeing him, all the deep feelings of hatred and resentment that I had kept bottled up for over ten years poured out of my heart. I truly despised him and I could not conceal it any longer, lest I burst. I purposely did not speak to him all day and tried to avoid seeing his face, but I could not stop thinking about him and recounting how much suffering this man had caused me and my family to endure.

That evening I was feeling very down and heavy-hearted, so I sought to find some peace in reading the Bible. I had only been seeking the truth for about five months, and I decided to read Matthew for the first time. It is amazing how God opened my spiritual eyes to see how true and living the Holy Bible is. I was able to absorb every verse that I read, and it was as if God was speaking to me directly when I read Matthew 5:43-48:

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Tears fell down my cheek as I read these verses and thought about how far from perfect my character is. I am nothing but a tax collector, not worthy to be called a child of God. I did not love, but hated my mother's ex-husband; I did not bless, but cursed him in my heart; I did no good to him; I did not pray for him; and I did not greet him when I saw him at the funeral home.

I felt very ashamed, but at the same time, I could not help the way I felt about this man. I could not just forget the painful memories or erase my emotional wounds and suddenly love a man that I had despised for over ten years. People just don't change overnight.

I knelt down, repented for my evil heart, and prayed with tears to God: "God, I do not have the strength in me to do what You want me to do. If You want me to forgive and have love for this man, than You must help me, for I cannot possibly do it on my own."

That prayer was one of the best prayers that I had in my life. When I got up from my prayer, I felt like a thousand-pound burden of hatred and strife was lifted off of my chest. I was finally released from carrying this burden of sin. God had touched me deeply, and He did what was impossible for me to do by myself. He had changed my heart and vanquished over ten years of built-up anger and resentment within twenty minutes of prayer.

This change of heart was not just a temporary disposition. The next morning, I saw my mother's ex-husband again at the funeral home. By God's grace, I truly did not feel any animosity toward him. In fact, I actually felt sorry for this man for the way he was, and I wished in my heart that he would someday be able to know God and behold the same peace and joy that I had received from Him. I even walked right up to him and sincerely greeted him with a smile.

I had forgiven him and he did not even know it. But he did not need to know it. This internal conflict was not really between me and him, but between me and God, and it could only be resolved through God. Fortunately, our Lord is the world's greatest mediator.

God's Living Spirit

Reflecting upon the wonderful life I now have in Christ, I am truly grateful to God. It is funny how I rarely thought about God before, except during Christmas or Easter—but once the depressing holidays passed, I would again put God on the back burner.

Once in a while, I would feel really down and have an incredible urge to go to a church to be nearer to God. But every time I went to the chapel and sat down, hoping my soul would be comforted, I would feel nothing but emptiness. Eventually, I would rise and exit the building after just sitting and staring at Jesus' cross for a few minutes.

The cathedrals that I have visited are grand and beautiful indeed, but I was not searching for aesthetic beauty—I was seeking for God's living Spirit. I know now that the reason why my soul was not satisfied from being in church was simply because God was not there.

In Acts 17:24, Paul states: "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands." Even though I earnestly sought for him, I realize now, after receiving the true gospel and Holy Spirit, that God does not reside inside a man-made building of brick and mortar. For "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:24).

I really thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit and for opening my eyes to find the truth of the Bible. I can now be sure that God exists and that He really listens to our prayers. Best of all, I am comforted in knowing that after all is past, there is the hope of everlasting life in His kingdom.

 

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For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11, 13)