“How did you find Living Word?” he asked honestly wanting to know. The question takes me back four years almost to the day. I’m Jessica Jesse and this is the story of how my family and I found our church home, and to some point how we found our salvation.
In September 2008 my now husband, Carl, and I were looking for something to help us financially. He told me about an organization he had once worked for. I didn’t know much about them, but he talked me into checking them out, which put us in touch with Mike and Margaret Aycock. After a few weeks they told us about a conference being held in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Even though money was tight and we had a 3-month-old baby girl, we found the money and went.
On this particular Saturday night the program was amazing. We heard testimonies from people who had started out much like Carl and I were then; not completely but similar enough to touch home. Then Sunday morning came and they were having a church service. I balked at going and I even went as far as to fake a stomach ache. I had grown up in church and I had no respect for Christianity. They were the biggest bunch of hypocrites I had ever met. Having personally known a preacher who taught how bad sin was on Sunday, but did everything he preached against during the next week, I had no respect for the Word of God. God was that big bully on the playground that picked on the weak and sick and made them call him great before He beat them up. But Carl insisted that we had to go. So reluctantly I got in the car and went to the coliseum. For those of you who have never been there, the Goldsboro Coliseum is HUGE! We were late due to me dragging my feet, so we ended up sitting near the top of the balconies.
They talked about forgiveness, favor, and the love of God. I listened but only half-heartedly. Then they asked us to stand. There was a man speaking on the stage. I cannot remember his name, but his face is still etched in my mind. As his words traveled to my ears I began to feel the strangest sense of urgency and need to listen closer. Then he said the words that to this day bring tears to my eyes, “If you have ever needed someone to love you unconditionally and forgive you for all you have done, if you have ever felt that there is something missing from your life, then I ask you to come down here on the floor with me and accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, and let the healing begin…”
I had heard people talk about a spiritual pull, but you have no clue what they are talking about until you feel it for yourself. I felt it that day. It was almost a physical pull at my body. I looked up at Carl and tugged on his hand. He looked down at me and shook his head, saying “you have to do this yourself”. I was so mad at him, but I couldn’t ignore that pull. It was so hard it was nearly painful. So I took a deep breath and began to make my way to the end of the aisle. Taking that first step down the hundreds of steps was as frightening to me as leaping off a mountaintop without a parachute. I could barely see for the tears filling my eyes. I had no clue why I was crying. I kept thinking “Jessica you are crazy. What in the world are you doing?” Yet I continued to move down the steps. I can’t even remember if I was breathing or not.
Once on the floor I stood off a little from the rest of the group, feeling ashamed and frightened. I didn’t belong there. I wasn’t worth forgiving. I had done too many bad things. Then I felt a soft touch on my shoulder. I turned and looked into the smiling face of Margaret Aycock. I burst into tears as she just hugged me and told me she was proud of me.
Then the man on the stage started to talk. He told us to bow our heads and repeat after him. I looked to my left and saw a young woman standing alone. Margaret was holding my right hand and Mike had made it down and had his hand on my right shoulder. I looked back to the left, reached out and took hold of the young woman’s hand. We looked into each other’s eyes and smiled a small, shy, scared out of our minds smile, as tears streaked down both of our faces. I remember her grip was so hard that I worried about my bones, but I didn’t release her hand. We repeated after the man on stage and gave our lives to Christ; accepted him as our Savior and repented of our sins. After the Amen I turned to my left and hugged the young woman. She hugged me back then she left. I never got her name but I will never forget her face. Mike and Margaret hugged me and I cried some more before returning to my seat. The walk back was a lot shorter; I felt a lot lighter and I felt free for the first time in my life. I was free!
Later that day Mike and Margaret invited us to come to their church the following weekend. The Saturday night service sounded appealing to us, so we agreed. The next Saturday we came to Living Word Family Church. The Aycocks told us we could wear whatever was comfortable because this wasn’t one of those “only your Sunday best churches”. We arrived and were greeted at the door by people with huge smiles on their faces like we were long lost friends come home. They loved up on our kids and made them all feel welcome. They explained the check-in process and then took time to show us around and make us feel welcome. I was not convinced. We dropped off the kids and went into the sanctuary. We sat on the left side of the room at the back. I was not convinced. The praise and worship started and I was impressed. Good sound, good lyrics. Okay, they have a plus. I looked to my right and saw my husband in tears as Mario Patrick sang a song about God rescuing us. I was impressed and slightly convinced. Then Pastor Micah Caronna stepped up on the stage with a huge cut out of Popeye the sailor man. “Oh my God, Carl!” I exclaimed in a whisper “The Pastor is in JEANS!” I was shocked and impressed. We listened to the sermon. I found myself saying “Oh I didn’t know that” and nodding along and wishing I had a Bible with me. Then they gave an alter call. I bowed my head crying because I knew how powerful this felt. Then I felt a tug on my hand and glanced up for a second to see my husband raising his hand and recommitting his life to Christ! I was convinced. We left the church that afternoon and sitting in the parking lot we looked at each other and said “We found it. We found our home”.
That was 4 years ago. We are still attending and are members of Living Word. We have had our struggles in and out of the church, but we keep coming back. We know that God has a calling for us, and that Living Word is the starting point of that calling. We got plugged in and became tithers and givers. We volunteer; I am on the bookstore team and Sisterhood and Carl is on the usher team, and just started on the new believer’s team. We walk in favor every day and see the blessings of God in everything we do. If I am to be bluntly honest, I did not like the person I was before September 2008, and neither did most other people. I was not a good person by any means, even when I tried to be. But that person no longer exists. God saved my life, and without my Living Word church family I don’t know where I would be today.