Church

Rediscovering church

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Michaela van Nierop relates how growing up in a Catholic home and attending a Protestant school left her frustrated because the two religious traditions share the same foundation but rarely seemed to find common ground. This experience left her unreceptive to organized religion. One night at university, she found herself in a vulnerable situation and said a silent prayer. What happened next allowed her to once again encounter Jesus among a community of believers.

I remember during welcoming week of varsity, one of the most important issues that they spoke to us about, particularly our mentors, was religion. We all came from very different backgrounds. But we managed to bond extremely well in those first 10 days. I don’t know whether to attribute it to the heat, lack of sleep, the leadership, or who knows what other factor. But it was really interesting to see where we all came from and somehow landed up in the same place.

Rejecting religion

I grew up in a Catholic family. We went to Church every Sunday for the vast majority of my childhood. I also went to a Christian school. This led to a lot of confusion for me growing up. One of the main things that I could not understand, was that both the Catholic Church and the Protestant school spoke about the same Jesus, the same Holy Spirit, and the same God. They believed the same things. And yet they always had something bad to say about each other; they constantly seemed to be at each other’s throats.

Both the Catholic Church and the Protestant school spoke about the same Jesus, the same Holy Spirit, and the same God. […] And yet they always had something bad to say about each other.

I asked lots of questions of my teachers, my parents, at catechism. Often, I was left more frustrated than before.

It got to a point in my teen years that I just could not stand religion. I was so irritated, that even when I was told the right things, I was no longer receptive to the ideas.

When I got to university, I was finally free to make my own choices and I decided that even though I still believed there was a God, I was not going to go to church or try seek Him out.

Crying out for help

Then I went through that really rebellious phase followed by a really tough time in my life. It was only in the beginning of second year that I really started crying out with my soul. I was still struggling so much, but I felt almost numb. I knew I couldn’t survive this alone and I knew I that I wasn’t getting it right. I knew I needed someone to help me and to show me.

It was around April, several months after I had been raped, that God answered those silent prayers.

I was still struggling so much, but I felt almost numb. I knew I couldn’t survive this alone and I knew I that I wasn’t getting it right. I knew I needed someone to help me.

I had just broken up with a guy that I had been on a few dates with. I had a few drinks because I was feeling sorry for myself. A friend of mine wanted to go out, and even though I didn’t go out much anymore, I agreed to go with her. Ironically it was the same friend I was with the night I was raped.

We were having a good time, but I had had a bit too much to drink and was uncomfortable with being so tipsy in that environment. A guy started hitting on me at the bar and my friend had disappeared. I tried to excuse myself, but the guy wouldn’t let me go. I started panicking. This could NOT be happening again!

I started to leave the club, ready to walk home by myself in the middle of the night, my last thought being a silent prayer with whatever faith I still held onto: “Please, God, don’t let this happen again.”

I had made two steps towards the exit when I bumped into a guy from the residence I was staying at. We knew each other by face and name only. I frantically explained my situation to him and he rescued me from the guy that was hitting on me by dancing with me. He walked me all the way back to res. We talked and, because I was feeling vulnerable, I ended up telling him my whole story. He stopped, looked me dead in the eye and said, “Mix, you need Jesus.”

Of course, at the time, that’s the last thing I wanted to hear! Where had Jesus been the past few months? But he repeated it. And I still remember that moment like it was yesterday.

My re-awakening

He stayed with me until 4:30 in the morning, drinking tea and chatting, until I finally fell asleep. I had never experienced a guy being so nice to me for no reason, so the next day I asked him why he did it. He responded by saying that he just couldn’t leave me alone while I was so vulnerable.

The next week I met him for coffee and he invited me to go to church with him. I agreed.  I figured the worst thing that could happen was I would hate it and then I would never have to go back. That Sunday during the worship, I was just amazed at the hall full of people just openly, genuinely praising God. I could tangibly feel his presence. This experience touched a deep chord with me and gave me a new perspective about going to church and worshipping with a community.

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* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

 

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Rediscovering church