Finding a Friend in Jesus
My family is from the Marshall Islands, which are located about halfway between the Hawaiian Islands and Australia. There were eleven children in our home, and I was the second to the youngest. My dad drank a lot, and because of that there were some scary moments when he was causing havoc. Yet, my mom became a Christian, and though she did not know much about the Gospel, she did her best to teach us to obey the Bible. Every morning, she would gather us around the table and open a hymnal for us to sing together. I remember how she would sing with a broken voice, and as a child I would think, Even I can sing better than that! Sometimes it sounded like she was sad, which made me feel sad, but later in life I realized that she was going through a hard time and was depending on God.
When I was in grade school, I started going to Sunday school. During my fifth grade year, one day the song leader told our group something that really stood out to me. He said, “You can pray and ask Jesus to come into your life, and He will be like a friend to you.” I took that message literally, and it was a surprise for me to hear that Jesus, who is God, could be my friend.
When I got home, I went to the boys’ bedroom in the house, and even though I had never been taught to kneel for prayer, I knelt and said a simple prayer: “Jesus, would You be my friend?” No one else was around, but something happened in my heart that day. Looking back now, I can see that God saved me, and He made a difference in my life. After that, I was obedient to my parents and always wanted to please them. At school, I loved my teachers and did my homework. During my seventh grade year, some bigger kids bullied me, but as mean as they were, I would still love them and want to play with them. Only the love of God could have made me feel that way.
In Sunday school, we did not learn how to keep a relationship with Jesus strong through reading the Bible and praying every day, so I never developed those habits. Yet, God was faithful to keep working in my life.
A big move to a big island
At age thirteen, I had the opportunity to move to Hawaii for high school. I moved in with my sister’s in-laws, who were Americans. They loved my sister, and they took me in as their own and became like a second family to me.
When I left for Hawaii, I spoke no English and was in total culture shock. I was from a small island where life was traditional and simple. Landing in Honolulu, I saw the big airport, freeways, city lights—everything was new and my eyes were wide open.
I had a hard time adjusting to my new school. The kids made fun of me because I dressed and acted differently than they did. I did not fit in with their modern city life. Every day, I would eat lunch alone in my classroom, scared to go outside with the others. But I remembered something my mom had told me just before I left home: “If anything comes your way that is too difficult, pray to Jesus.” I did pray, and eventually I made friends with some of the other kids. In fact, I ended up making a lot of friends.
Another prayer God answered that year was in our Physical Education class. Our teacher was a huge, rough-looking Hawaiian, and one particular day we were supposed to do exercises on a giant trampoline. The teacher would point at someone and shout, “Your turn! Get in there!” and, one after another, kids would go in and jump. I had never even seen a trampoline like that before, and they were all doing a routine where they would jump and land on their knees, then go up into the air and land on their backs, and then up and land on their stomachs, and on and on in a sequence. When the teacher said, “Okay Keju, it’s your turn. Get up there!” I was so afraid. After slowly climbing up, I froze. Then looking down, I prayed just three words: “Jesus, help me.” It took a while, but I did the whole routine. Even as I was doing it, I didn’t know how my brain was synchronizing with my body to do all those moves—it was a miracle. I came out amazed, and I knew that Jesus was with me.
As I became a young adult, I was introduced to new freedoms, and at first I was just having fun, but soon I began to leave God out of my life and slid into a lifestyle of partying and sin.
Before I started eleventh grade, the family I was living with moved to Michigan, and I went with them. As I became a young adult, I was introduced to new freedoms, and at first I was just having fun, but soon I began to leave God out of my life and slid into a lifestyle of partying and sin. It seemed I had forgotten about my experiences with God in the islands. The Lord was faithful to continue talking to me, but I did not fully grasp the consequences of what I was doing, and chose to ignore Him.
Trying to stay in control
After high school, I moved in with my brother in Southern California, and there I found a much bigger party scene. There was a small Marshallese community in that area, and I became immersed in that culture first, and then into the broader California beach culture. I was partying all the time, until my life was out of control. I wanted to slow down but couldn’t, and eventually I realized that I needed to separate myself from the Marshallese community. So I decided to move away. I applied and was accepted to a college in Eureka, a coastal town in Northern California. I thought that would be a place where I could still have fun, but maintain enough self-control to at least pass my classes.
In Eureka, I learned that another islander was coming to the school—a student named Seis Arechy from Micronesia, which is relatively close to the Marshall Islands. He had never lived in the States before, and since he was new, I wanted to befriend him. I looked him up right away, and we quickly became good friends.
From the very beginning, Seis let me know that he was a Christian. In one of our first conversations he told me that God loved me, but my response was to redirect those efforts to another friend by saying, “Why don’t you tell that to Scott? I grew up as a Sunday school boy, so you don’t need to preach to me, but Scott could really use that.”
Seis was looking for a church to attend, and on Sunday mornings he would come over and say, “Dial, get up! Let’s go to church!” I was usually in bad shape on Sunday mornings because I had been out partying the night before, but I would go with him. We attended several different places, but did not find one that preached the true Gospel. Eventually, I became disheartened and did not want to continue searching.
Reconnecting with my Friend
Everything changed when another friend from school was saved. This friend was outgoing and boisterous on campus so a lot of people knew him, and they knew he liked to party. After he was saved, all his enthusiasm turned to serving Jesus—it was a dramatic transformation that we could all see. I remember hearing him singing in the dorm on Sunday mornings. He couldn’t sing very well but he didn’t care, he would just sing out! The turnaround in his life made an impression on many of us.
Even though I was tired of visiting churches, my friend’s transformation and Seis’s encouragement eventually convinced me to visit the place where our friend had been saved—the Apostolic Faith Church. The week I visited, it felt like the pastor’s sermon was specifically about my life. In fact, I became upset because I was sure someone had told him about me. I was so mad that I initially refused to go back, yet somehow they persuaded me to return a couple weeks later.
After the sermon at my second visit, I started to walk away when the pastor came and tapped me on the shoulder asking, “Young man, would you like to pray?” Though I hadn’t been planning to pray, I agreed and went to the altar. People were praying all around me. Right then, my mind went back to the experience I’d had with God as a child when I had prayed, “Jesus, would You be my friend?” My earnest desire was to have that same relationship with Him again. I prayed, “Jesus, I want to be Your friend.” I asked God to forgive anything wrong I had done and told Him I would do whatever was needed to get back what I’d had as a child. That morning, Jesus did that for me. He saved me!
There was still a struggle in my heart to let go of worldly things, but God’s Spirit was faithful to check my heart and let me know that worldly things were not good for me. My dorm room became a place where I could pray and the Holy Spirit would talk to me and teach me.
God made a real change in my life that day. Instead of partying on weekends, I began attending church regularly. God also immediately started dealing with me about things in my life that were not pleasing to Him, like the people I hung out with, the music I listened to, and the way I dressed. I had been saturated in a lifestyle that was very ungodly, and the Lord helped me to stop doing anything that I knew was sinful. However, there were some grey areas in my life that I was unsure about. For example, I kept some music that wasn’t Christian, but I thought it might be okay because the artists attended church sometimes. Now I can see that I was looking for ways to justify my choices rather than seeking God’s will. The problem was that there was still a struggle in my heart to let go of worldly things, but God’s Spirit was faithful to check my heart and let me know that worldly things were not good for me. My dorm room became a place where I could pray and the Holy Spirit would talk to me and teach me.
One day, I told my pastor, “I feel like I need something more.” He took me to the tract rack and handed me one titled “Sanctification.” He told me to read it, study the Scriptures it referenced, and then ask God to help me. I followed his simple instructions, and soon after, attended special meetings at our church in San Francisco, California. I prayed for a long time, giving to God all the things that seemed to have power over me. I prayed, “Lord, here are my tight jeans; here are my music albums; here are my friends . . .” I hadn’t been taught about making consecrations, but that is exactly what I was doing. I gave all those things to God, and He sanctified me. When I left the altar, I felt so new! The room felt wonderful and I had a new love for every person there. When I returned to Eureka, I got rid of all the worldly stuff that had been troubling me, and that felt so good.
Shortly after that experience, I came across Hebrews 2:11, “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” I understood that when God sanctified me, He made me one with other believers, and His people were now my brethren—my family.
From that time on, I really began to immerse myself in the faith. I still knew very little about the Bible and its teachings, but I loved being in church and God continued to shape me. Seis and I started going to Bible study, and I made a point of attending all the special events at the branch churches. Eventually I was asked to help with children’s Sunday school. That was intimidating, but the Lord helped me. I actually learned a lot as I prayed and prepared the lessons.
A big move back to my small islands
While attending the church in Eureka, I became good friends with Carrie, the girl who had invited all of us students to the Apostolic Faith. She had been a great Christian example on campus and was faithful to share the Gospel and encourage others in the faith. I had been planning to move back to the Marshall Islands after graduation and settle down there, so I was not expecting to start a relationship with a girl in the United States. However, the Lord helped me to see that Carrie’s personality, her Christian family, and her firm stand for God were all the things that I desired in a wife. After we had been dating for about two years, I proposed to her during a weekend of special meetings at our church in Grants Pass, Oregon, and we were married on June 10, 1989.
Carrie graduated from college in 1990 and I graduated the following year. My tuition had been paid for by a scholarship from the Marshall Islands on the condition that I would return there to work for two years. So after my graduation, we went to camp meeting in Portland, Oregon, and were praying about when we should move to the islands. Some of the ministers found out, and they were concerned about how young we were, and that we would be moving to a place with no church. I was advised that I must receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit before moving.
That camp meeting, I spent a lot of time seeking the Lord and became desperate to receive my baptism. One evening, I prayed late into the night until I was the only one at the altars. Exhausted, with my head hung down, I was just whispering my prayers. Suddenly, the Spirit came down powerfully, and when I raised my head and my hands in praise, I began thanking God in a language I did not know. Such joy filled my soul—overflowing joy! That was in 1991, and the power and joy of the Holy Spirit is still fresh in my soul.
I worked at the college as an academic counselor, which was an opportunity to meet many young people. On Wednesday evenings, we opened our home for Bible study, and God blessed the meetings.
With God’s help, we moved to the Marshall Islands that same year. I worked at the college as an academic counselor, which was an opportunity to meet many young people. On Wednesday evenings, we opened our home for Bible study, and God blessed the meetings. One young lady who came was actually serving as a missionary, but through some conversations with Carrie, she came to truly understand salvation, as well as sanctification. We also had a neighbor who was an atheist, and he came over often. One day he asked me, “How do you know that what you teach is true?” I shared my testimony with him and told him the evidence of what God had done in my life, but eventually realized I could not convince him. Finally I said, “Why don’t you ask God if He is real?” He left and came back a while later with an amazing testimony. He had gone down to the beach and was gazing up at the starry night sky. Then he asked God, “If You are real, why don’t You make Yourself real to me?” Nothing seemed to happen, but when he started to return home, he suddenly felt God’s presence in an undeniable way. God began to talk to him, and changed his heart right there!
These were only two of the many instances when we saw God working in the Marshall Islands. Most of the people whose paths we crossed are individuals who I don’t expect to meet again in this lifetime, but some were very close to me. At that time, my father was dying of cancer, and Carrie and I were able to visit him in the hospital on several occasions. Carrie often had good conversations with him about the Lord, and on one particular occasion she talked to him about “surrendering.” In his early twenties, he had been involved in the Pacific Front of World War II and had seen the Japanese surrender to the Americans, so he asked Carrie about the spiritual meaning of that word. A while later, we heard a group of Christians singing hymns in the hallway. They were visiting the hospital and my dad asked for them to come to his room. Though he had become very weak, as they sang and prayed he raised his hands as if in surrender. I asked him, “Dad, were you surrendering?” and he affirmed that was the case. I was so glad to be there in his last days and to know that he gave his heart to God before he passed.
My Friend for life
We stayed in the Marshall Islands for four years and then lived for a time in Honolulu and Portland before moving to Washington, D.C., where we have been since 2003. Through all these years, God has continued to be my Friend. I know there is no limit to what He can do when we put our faith and trust in Him, and it is my desire to serve Him with my whole heart and point others to Him.