By Jaccie Kenyon
Isn’t the love of Jesus amazing? I didn’t always feel that way. I was raised attending an Open Bible church in Ohio. I loved Jesus and the Word and my community. But in my sophomore year of high school something happened that rocked my world.
Our church suffered a split and my family ended up leaving. I was lost. As a teen who had been surrounded by a great youth group full of friends who supported and loved one another, I suddenly found myself in a new church with no friends and no support. Oh, my family was still there, but as a teen I needed my group, the ones that read together, prayed together, hung out, and did life together. I no longer “belonged.” Since I had not been given a choice in the decision to leave the church, I felt my feelings didn’t matter to my family. I started drifting.
I still went to church but I gave up on my faith. I had been molested by a family friend’s son when I was around five years of age, so I already struggled with the feeling that my life didn’t matter. I started drinking excessively because it numbed the pain. I began smoking because I thought it was the “in” thing to do. Even though I played the part of a good church girl on Sunday, I began hanging out with a new group of all the wrong people. I was a fake! I was drowning in insecurity, and rebellion soon took its place. I just kept rebelling and running. I am certainly not proud of all the messes I was making in my life.
Can I stop for a minute and speak to you who are parents? The decision to switch churches, a decision that rocked my world when I was a teen, did not include me. I do not blame my family. However, I ask that if you are contemplating a move with children or teens, please discuss it with them and let them have their say. It can keep them headed in a healthier direction. It gives them a voice in a situation over which they have no control. This comes from one who as a teen experienced this situation firsthand, one who later became a youth pastor for ten years. Back to the story. 😊
After high school graduation I joined the Army National Guard and seemed to sink deeper into a way of life that was broken and misguided. I was able to hide my former life with this group of people and had several on and off again relationships. However, I was gaining a sense of worth, leadership skills, and another place to belong.
A couple years later I met and married an agnostic man. The marriage was verbally abusive, and it continued to send me on the path of feeling worthless. After a year and a half, the marriage ended in divorce.
One day I received a call from Debbie Slater, the pastor’s wife at the church our family formerly attended, asking me to babysit. She and her husband, Dan, soon loved me back to attending the church I treasured. They gently and lovingly walked beside me, even in my messed-up life.
About this time I was offered a full-time position in the Recruiting and Retention Command. Part of a great supportive team, I loved my job. I soon met a handsome recruiter with sprinkled grey hair. After only three months we decided to get married.
Herb was a kind yet arrogant atheist. Our pastime activities were drinking and smoking. I know what you’re thinking: “Where were your brains?” As I was getting fitted for my dress blue uniform (my wedding dress), I remember thinking, “Jesus, what am I doing here? I know this was never Your plan for my life.” At this time, my heart started to soften.
I cried out to Him and asked Him to stop the marriage (girls, this is the part you don’t want to follow!), but nothing stopped the wedding. I was jumping the gun but God was in the process of working a miracle. When discussing my faith, Herb told me, “You are special because you are weak and need something to believe in.” I bought those words as his way of being supportive.
Herb’s heart was hard to the things of God. He came from a broken home with much dysfunction. His mom suffered mental illness, and his dad worked all the time. Interestingly enough, one of the things that spoke to Herb as an atheist was the love of my family. The love around our home was nothing he had ever experienced. All my family were followers of Jesus. In fact, my dad filled the needed role of a spiritual father for Herb as his dad had passed.
I prayed daily for Herb as I was rekindling my life in Christ. I prayed with a fervor knowing that God is indeed faithful, that He can and will answer prayer. I prayed that Herb would come to know and to understand that Jesus does exist and that He loved him.
At our wedding when my sister sang “The Lord’s Prayer,” my husband, Herb, out of respect for me knelt at the altar with me. I told you he was kind. After our wedding Herb faithfully attended church with me each Sunday. He sat in that pew with resolve, saying that he loved me and was doing this for me. Two months later on the way home, Herb said, “I am beginning to doubt what I believe,” and asked to read one of my Bibles.
The growth that took place in his life over the next months was unreal. He just devoured the Word of God. We would sit up till 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning sharing and discussing what he was reading. Pastor Dan and Debbie drove to our apartment to meet with us late one night as Herb was needing more answers. Then on March 20, just three months after our marriage, Herb walked up the aisle at my home church, Faith Chapel Open Bible Church in Youngstown, Ohio, and gave his life to Christ!
About a year later, we were called into ministry. He continued to study, took Bible college correspondence courses, and obtained his credential with Open Bible in 1992. He retired from the Army in 1993, at which time we entered full time ministry as pastors. In 1998 we became lead pastors of Church of the Open Bible in Iowa Falls, Iowa.
I began taking INSTE courses and soon graduated. I was credentialed in 2007 and became our church’s youth pastor. Loving on the youth was amazing. I can see where my twelve years in the military gave me leadership skills I would not have otherwise had. In 2012 my husband retired, yet I was feeling the call to do more. I turned in my resume to be considered as our church’s senior pastor and was voted as just that in February of 2012. That is where I am today, loving a wonderful congregation that my husband shepherded for 14 years before me. And he is now my support!
I discovered that my maternal great grandmother came to Jesus during the Azusa Street Revival in California and attended Amy Semple McPherson’s church. She was the one that prayed for my mom, as she had not been raised in a Christian home. My dad’s family was also rich in Christian heritage; they were Foursquare. What a blessing to see how God’s hand had been on our family for years!
When I look back over my life, I can see God’s hand in it all – in the mistakes, the trials, the heartbreaks, the joys, and the victories. I cling to this verse: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6, NLT). He still has much work to do in me, in all of us. But He will be faithful to complete it!
About the Author
Jaccie Kenyon is a Jesus-loving wife and mother honored to pastor a wonderful church, Church of the Open Bible in Iowa Falls, Iowa. She enjoys coffee, critters, and conversation. What fuels her most is watching the truth of the Word come alive in the eyes of those who are growing in their walk with Jesus.
Feature image and author photo by Chris Cavan