By Stephen Samuel
Is there a place on Earth that fosters the presence of God? Is there a place where Jesus still appears? Is there a summer camp that can change the heart of a troubled youth? At Christ For The Nations, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “YES!” In this article, Stephen Samuel shares his testimony of an encounter with Jesus at Youth For The Nations summer camp (YFN), showing the impact of providing a place for God to move and transform lives.
A Family Crisis
My family moved to the USA from South India in the 1980s. My brother and I learned English quickly, but it took us years to adapt to a drastically different culture. That reality hit me sharply while attending public school. I was the poorest, shortest and shyest kid in my class, so I quickly became an object of ridicule, and most of my classmates avoided me as if I had a communicable disease.
At that time, my little sister Peace was born. She suffered from many health problems and fought hard for her life. We enjoyed her laughs, her cute smile and celebrated her victories in many medical battles. However, the doctors’ predictions were not promising, and our only hope was God healing her.
One day, when I was eight years old, my mother ’s piercing scream woke me up early in the morning. I jolted out of my bunk bed, and my brother and I rushed into her room. We found her wailing with grief as Dad hung up the phone. Trembling, we heard the devastating news that our 3-year-old little sister had died a few moments earlier. The four of us knelt around my parents’ bed and did the only thing we knew to do. We prayed. We pleaded. We cried. Then we hurriedly dressed and rushed to the hospital.
When I walked into the hospital room, I saw Peace. I tried to convince myself that she was only asleep. I placed my little fingers on her cold forehead and was struck with the realization that she was gone. I cried all the tears that I had on the two-hour drive back home; the wells of sorrow erupted deep within me. I prayed to the only One Who could save my sister ’s life, but He did not answer.
A week later, I was back in school. I walked up the long stairway toward my class. I didn’t dare lift up my head; it seemed like everybody was staring at me. The teacher met me at the door. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m so sorry, Stephen.” That simple act of kindness was too much for me. I turned and rushed down the hallway into the boy’s bathroom. Crouched in the corner, I cried bitterly, asking the questions that come with every tragedy: “What kind of God would allow this to happen to me? Wasn’t He supposed to keep us from evil?”
Slowly, time muted the anguish, but my wound grew deeper and evolved from grief to anger. There was a deep rage seething inside of me toward one person — God. I was broken and feared relationships. I was afraid to be hurt again and resolved never to open my heart. My solitude consumed me for years. I dressed in dark colors and spoke very little. I struggled at school; I felt like I didn’t measure up to my classmates.
The harshness of racism in our community only affirmed the pain in my heart. We would often find our front yard littered with trash — beer bottles, fast food remnants, dirty diapers and other filthy things. I had no idea why people would do that to us. Then a neighbor told me, “It’s because ya’ll ain’t white.” I also saw church people do malicious things to my parents, who were pastors. Church splits, betrayals, blatant manipulation . . . time after time these incidents were killing the little hope I had of happiness.
My dad was a hard worker, and from an early age my brother and I were buried in work. From studying to cutting grass, to menial chores around the house or church, I worked hard to keep my mind busy. In my free time, I would find a dark corner in my room and simply sit there pondering the great sorrow within me. Suicide became a common thought. My parents, themselves burdened with the loss of a child and feeling the weight of poverty and the responsibility of running a church, noticed that something was wrong and tried to help me as much as they could. But it wasn’t enough. None of us knew what to do.
The Week That Changed Everything
In 1994, I turned 16. That summer, a small youth group invited me to a camp called Youth For The Nations. There were cute girls in that youth group, and that was the only reason I agreed to join them, never realizing that this one week would transform my life.
After arriving on the campus of Christ For The Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas, the first activity was the evening worship service. The speaker that night was Greg Johnson, a man I had never heard of before, but I was pretty sure he was going to preach one of a thousand sermons that I had already heard. So I proceeded to do what I normally did during church — daydream, count the squares on the tiled ceiling, and ask myself, “Why am I here?”
Then Greg said something that captured my attention: “Listen to me, some of you have been fighting suicide, you have fought God, and you are angry with Him.” He went on to fully describe the depression and anger in my soul. I gazed at him critically, resisting his words. I thought, “He doesn’t know what I have gone through!”
“But God sees you,” Greg replied as if reading my mind. Then he called everyone who wanted to “surrender to Jesus” to come forward. I had heard that call a hundred times before. I didn’t move. Greg extended the call again. Not really understanding what I was doing or why, I slowly made my way to the front. When I reached the platform, I called out for the first time in years, “Jesus, if You really want me, I have nothing to give to You.”
With that confession, I knelt down under a heavy weight of dark oppression. That moment, I felt my heart’s pain intensifying. The loss, the betrayal, the wounds . . . all those negative feelings were overpowering. Then, suddenly, a powerful sensation of heat, like a blanket, fell on my back. The weight of the darkness dissipated under an unfamiliar healing touch, and I slowly lifted my head to find that I was bowing at the feet of Jesus.
“Stephen,” He said, “Before you were formed in your mother ’s womb, I called you and ordained you a prophet to the nation. Follow Me.” In that moment, He dispelled every shadow of fear. My body began to tremble, and tears poured down my face for what seemed like hours. I realized that the Jesus standing in front of me was not the distant, indifferent god that I had so bitterly accused in my thoughts. When I saw Him, I knew that He was everything I’d ever needed. When I rose up from that place of prayer, I felt alive again, as if I had awakened from years of hopelessness. The horrible season of pain and fear ended, and a new journey began as I stepped out of the darkness and into His light.
Where Is He Now?
Stephen has a heart for missions that was planted in him at YFN. In addition to leading numerous mission trips overseas, he serves as a Campus Pastor with Chi Alpha Ministries at Lamar University and is the Missions Director at Cathedral Church in Beaumont, Texas. Over the years, he has brought many teens to YFN to experience the same life-changing presence of God that transformed him.
To learn more about CFNI’s summer youth camps, go to youthforthenations.com.Like what you've read? Receive free email updates from The Voice Online: Subscribe