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That’s me – Sarah Esther-Joyce Adeniran – at nine years of age. By that time, I was a remarkably well-seasoned kid. I was a Junior Birder (having identified 35 different species of birds), 24 Game competitor (and winner), recreational ice-hockey player, Friday afternoon rapper, part-time pianist and, being the daughter of a Nigerian pastor, a full-time church goer.
You see, I was involved with the former things by choice, but I was identified by the latter by force.
Church was in my blood.
I had learned how to pray by the time I was seven years old and I had been kneeling in prayer since before my kneecaps had formed any bone in them. I went attend church services with my family every Sunday morning and every Wednesday and Friday evening, there I was. For the first seven days of my life, my siblings all called me “baby.” This was because, until I was named in church, at my naming ceremony, I did not have a name. So in the most literal way, I was born into religion.
As pious as I was raised to be, I still only had a “sense” of God. By this, I mean I knew He existed. I believed in Him, I prayed to Him, and I even held the Bible up to my chest whenever I would have my occasional, but medically unharmful, chest pains, but that was about it. I did not have a deep, intimate relationship with my Creator, and I definitely did not know Jesus. It was all religious duty for me. Nothing personal.
One time, when I was nine years old, I received a flyer on my doorstep to attend a Bible day camp at a local church. My elder siblings thought this would be a good thing for my little brother and me to attend since we weren’t doing anything else that summer. I remember being so excited to go for some reason. I was always so excited to do things at that age.
Being the oldest among my little brother and our neighborhood friends, I naturally took on a role of leadership. I invited two girls who lived just two houses over from my own and together, we all journeyed to our first ever vacation bible school experience.
I remember the initial entrance. The doors to the church were painted red, with black accents and hinges. They had a very medieval feel to them. The inside of the church was cool, because of the air conditioning, and everything was polished and brown. I sat down at a brown table next to children I had never seen before. There were coloring pencils and crayons on each of the tables.
I wasn’t usually a nervous child, but being in a new place, never having congregated with kids my age, beyond the brick walls of my elementary school, made me feel a bit intimidated.
The moment the woman in the room began to teach, however, all of those uneasy feelings vanished. I loved learning. And as we entered into different activities and memorization exercises, and as we were given opportunities to answer questions, I became enthralled. I loved answering questions.
My favorite activity, and the only one I truly remember, was a question and answer activity. The teacher would quote a verse of Scripture, one that we had learned that day, and we could raise our hands to cite where the verse came from, and we’d win a small prize if we answered correctly. Sometimes the teacher would even mix it up and cite the passage while we respond with the verse, or she’d do a fill in the blank. When the teacher reached into the basket and said to us “John 14:6,” I raised my hand with all fervor and excitement, for the assurance that when she called on me, I was going to recite back to her the correct verse of scripture.
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
That was the first time I had ever learned a Bible verse.
I came back home that night with a sticker in hand and an elated heart. I went on and on to my siblings about everything that had happened in that little brown church room. And best of all, I told them of the new treasure I had found – John 14:6. I recited it over and over. My little brother memorized it with me too.
For a brief moment in my life, God felt like something to me. He felt personal.
My childlike wonder quickly turned into tears as my little Jesus parade got rained on that night. I remember getting yelled at and being told that I could never go back to that little brown church room again. I stood in the middle of the room and cried.
Eventually, the tears dried and summer memories faded and, just like that, I was on to the next childhood adventure.
The Year 2012
In terms of my identity, high school was no different than middle school, elementary school, or infancy. I was still the daughter of a pastor. Everyone knew I was “religious.” I had still practiced God.
I remember one time, in my junior year, a friend of mine randomly presented me with a clear, miniature tote for my locker which read, “Smile, Jesus Loves You.” The words were written in bold, with a large rainbow image resting in the background. In the center of it all was a picture of a smiling sun. We laughed about it and I hung it up in the back of my locker. My locker was usually very spacious and neat, so whenever I’d open it up, you’d see the tote there smiling at you, representing me – purportedly.
I remember around this time my older sister would have the television turned on to a well-known Christian network. The network would often air different youth conferences where people my age, hundreds of them, would lift their hands up to Jesus in worship. I’d watch as these students prayed and cried and sang with passion – some even speaking in tongues. It was all foreign for to me. People my age can behave like that? I had always thought that such an expression of faith was only for the elders of the church. I thought praising Jesus like that was something you waited to do until you got older.
Nonetheless, I was astounded. I saw that what they had was real and I wanted it. For the first time in my church-going life, I heard the gospel of Jesus Christ preached – that Jesus humbly came into the world not to condemn it but to save it. To, through his death on a cross, take the punishment we all deserved for our sin so that we could have peace and life eternal with God.
I wanted to know this Jesus. I wanted to be saved.
Fall 2014-Spring 2015
My first year of college was an exciting time in my life. I loved meeting new people and I knew that the campus I had chosen to go to was the place where God had wanted me to be. I was expectant.
I wasted no time in joining the Christian Fellowship on my campus. I had very few friends of faith in high school, so finding Christians to befriend was now so important to me. To my surprise, the campus had a large body of believers. I remember walking into the fellowship’s first gathering of the semester and being met by an entire room full of professing Christians. I was integrated into the fellowship with no problem at all and attended every conference, retreat, and missions trip that was offered.
I remember one conference, in particular, being very pivotal for me. I knew there’d be about 3,000 college students attending that weekend, and I had prayed that God would save me there. It had to be there. I had very little knowledge of salvation, as I had only just discovered it less than two years prior, via the TV screen. had this notion in my head that salvation was something that only happened for people at large conferences. So I had attended this large conference with all expectancy that I would come back saved.
The next big event, and final event of my freshman year, was Chapter Camp. Again, I had prayed that God would save me here.
On the second to last night of camp, my track leader lead us all in the prayer of salvation. I had been awake and attentive for the three hours of studying the Gospel of Mark every single night, but on this particular night, I fell asleep during the session. When I had woken up, I saw students crying, and praying, and opening up to one another. I’m assuming new believers were born on that night. I wasn’t one of them.
I was devastated. I felt betrayed. I felt like I was being attacked by the devil himself who was keeping me from ever truly knowing Jesus.
I was too emotionally distraught to participate in any of the fun that happened that night, so I sat on a rock and cried out to God instead.
Eventually, the feeling of grief had passed, camp had ended, I went back home, and the summer continued.
Though I never received salvation during my first-year of college as I had hoped, I did gain a lot of spiritual skills and understanding that I had never had before. I was now waking up every morning to pray to God and study and analyze the Word – something I had not previously done. In fact, I was doing it three times daily.
One evening, I had spent some time reading John 6. Before I began reading, I invited the Holy Spirit to reveal to me the truth of His Word – also something that I had never before done, but had learned to do at a church service that year in college. After an intense and satisfying study of this passage, I went up to my bedroom to go watch Jeopardy.
I had this routine that I’d developed in high school and was still sticking with religiously at that time. I’d watch the world news at 6:30 pm and then Jeopardy at 7 pm. It was nearing that time, so I had prepared to wrap up the night with the esteemed game show.
I walked into my room and the television was already on. An old 1980’s, Billy Graham TV Classic was airing and I certainly was not interested in watching one minute of it. As I began to aim the remote towards the television to change the channel, I felt…stopped. I can’t exactly describe it, but all I know is that a sudden presence came over me that caused me to leave the channel right where it was. Granted I wasn’t at all a stranger to God, I credited this feeling to Him. For some reason He wanted me to watch the old telecast, so I did just that.
There was an altar call at the end and my only response was surrender. I found myself kneeling before my TV screen, in tears, in reverence, in awe, saying aloud the prayer of salvation. my hands were raised and my heart was wide open. There was no worry. There was no fear that this time the prayer wouldn’t work. I knew that in this moment, when I had said the final “Amen” to this prayer, I had said yes to Jesus. I was eternally changed. I was saved.
Eventually, the telecast ended and a new program aired, but I remained – kneeling, weeping, sweetly broken before my King.
Jesus gave a parable in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, which says
The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. – (Matt. 13:44)
Just when I had thought that I lost my treasure when I was only nine years old, God lead me back to it again when I was nineteen.
I realize now, that my treasure wasn’t what was lost. I was the one who was lost, yet my Jesus came and sought me. And my desperate search for God wasn’t actually a search at all – it was really just me responding to His loving call. He was leading me to Himself and I followed.
Now that I finally have my Jesus, I will forever tell the world of the treasure I’ve found.
This piece was updated on July 10th, 2017, in celebration of the anniversary of Sarah’s coming to faith.
If you enjoyed reading this piece on faith, you can find more of Sarah’s faith based writing here.