"Who is Jesus?"
June 12th, 2016. That is the day I accepted Jesus at Woodbridge Community Church in Irvine during a sermon by Pastor Frank Winans, the senior pastor. From my first visit to the church in 2015, the leadership team and the members of the congregation accepted and welcomed me. Pastor Frank leads his congregation with a vibrant enthusiasm. It is hard to imagine that this faithful and beloved man once felt lonely. Here is his testimony.
As told to Carly Wilson
“How could you let my mom die?”
My mom took us to church when I was a kid. When I was just nine years old, she died from cancer. We stopped going to church.
I was angry at God. “How could you let my mom die?” I asked in rage. In high school, I became a professing atheist. I made fun of people who believed in Jesus. I was into drinking, partying, and illegal street racing. Despite the “fun” image I portrayed on the outside, inside I felt lonely.
“Is this all there is?”
Then came that fateful summer in high school when my friend Kyle was killed. One of my friends, who had been drinking all night, was giving people rides in his dad’s Corvette, and Kyle was a passenger. Kyle was decapitated when the car hit a tree. That same night, I was also out drinking and driving in my Corvette, and I don’t even remember how I got home. I had “survivor’s remorse” and I felt lonely. I didn’t know why I had lived, and Kyle had died.
The police put my friend’s car on display. My stomach twisted as I looked at the smashed wreckage which contained blood and body parts from my friends. Despite this warning, two more of my friends died while drinking and driving. I came face-to-face with fears of my own mortality. I felt lonely and was afraid of death. I became depressed. In the midst of all the partying and drinking, I wondered, “Is this all there is?” Even in a crowded room, I still felt lonely.
“He was totally cool”
The summer after I graduated high school, my friends and I took a celebratory trip to Oahu. We stayed with my cousin Steve on the North Shore. My friends and I were smoking, drinking, and cussing like we usually did. Steve might have a beer with us, but that was it. It didn’t matter though. Steve made sure we had a blast. For that brief period, I didn’t feel lonely. Steve took us fishing, surfing, diving, you name it. He was kind, fun, and totally cool.
When Steve invited me to church, I was apprehensive. I hadn’t set foot in a church since my mom died. But I felt obligated to accept Steve’s invitation because he had been so nice to us.
The first true Christian
The “church” was located in a tent near Waimea Falls on the north shore of Oahu. There were surfboards and longboards lined up along the railing. Inside, one guy in front of us must have just come back from surfing, because he was still wearing his board shorts and his hair was soaking wet.
After being away from the church for almost ten years, I felt like an alien. But I observed the members who were worshiping and singing. Though I felt lonely all the time, they showed a joy that I didn’t have. After service, I bombarded Steve with questions. “Who is Jesus? What do you believe about him?” He answered me, “I believe that Jesus is the prophesized Son of God, and that He died for our sins to give us eternal life.”
I had met people before who said they were Christian, but who did drugs and got drunk as much as I did. Steve was different. He was an actual follower of Jesus - the first true Christian I ever met. He made me want to learn more about Jesus, but I wasn’t sure how to start.
When I returned home, I felt lonely and empty again. I took a summer job working on a construction crew up in the mountains in northern California. During lunch break under the trees, I was surprised when the entire crew whipped out their Bibles and began a study discussion.
“Have you ever read the Bible?” asked Dave, one of the construction workers.
“No,” I told him. “But I’m curious.”
“If I gave you a Bible, would you read it?” he returned.
Though I wasn’t ready to commit to following Jesus, I recognized that He was a prominent historical figure. I figured that any intelligent person should at least read about Jesus. I told Dave I would read the Bible. Every night, I curled up on the couch in the living room of the cabin I was staying in. There was no cable TV up in the mountains, so the Bible had my undivided attention. I didn’t feel lonely as much as before. By the end of the summer, I had read all four Gospels.
I liked Jesus, but I was still skeptical of His claims. “How do you know Jesus is the son of God?” I asked Dave.
“Turn to Isaiah 53,” he directed me.
Isaiah 53 contains specific prophecies that undeniably describe Jesus. I couldn’t believe it was written hundreds of years before Jesus. His birth, life, death, and burial fulfill hundreds or prophecies in the Old Testament.
At that moment, I opened to the idea there could be a God. If there was, He would be more vast, more powerful than I was. I began looking at the universe differently. I surmised that if God could create all this, then maybe He really could raise Jesus from the dead.
The Bible tells us that when we accept Jesus, we must deny our current life and take up our new life. Did I really want to do that? I wasn’t ready. I kept partying. I felt lonely and miserable.
My friend invited me a Christian college camp. Curious about Jesus, yet still feeling lonely, I accepted. When we arrived up in the mountains, there were hundreds and hundreds of Christians there. I didn’t know there were that many! I observed something about them in their faces, their words. Whereas I felt lonely, they felt peace.
The pastors delivered a nightly evening message outside in the forest clearing. I remember sitting on a rock next to the other campers when the pastor announced, “There are people here who need to accept Christ.” I felt like he was talking straight to me. I looked up at the starry night sky and said a prayer that I still remember to this day: “Jesus, I think you’re real, and if you are, show me.” At that moment, a shooting star streaked across the night. Suddenly, everything changed. No longer did I feel lonely.
The “cool college guy”
I gave up smoking, drugs, and drinking. My old friends rejected me. But I didn’t feel lonely because God brought me new encouragement. My new friends invited me to their church in Mission Viejo, and my cousin invited me to become a mentor for the teenagers in the youth group. Although I didn’t know what to expect, I agreed since my cousin would be involved too, and I thought it would be a good activity to do together. Well, two months later, my cousin was called away to other priorities. I debated whether to leave the youth group as well. At first,I was totally afraid and insecure in my ability to lead the youth. My willingness to serve God overcame that. Over time, I became more confident, and I stayed on for six years.
“People were getting baptized in the jacuzzi.”
While I continued to mentor the youth, I enrolled in Biola University, a Christian university in southern California. The professors walked me through the entire Bible, and I soaked in their knowledge. I shared everything I learned with the teenagers in my youth group. They thought of me as the “cool college guy.”
All the years I spent where I felt lonely melted away. I told the youth about Jesus and also related to them through activities like surfing. We would hold Bible studies in the home of Doug Smith, the center for the Los Angeles Rams. The place was packed. There wasn’t enough space in the main rooms, so we would cram into the stairwell. People were getting baptized in the Jacuzzi.
After Bible study one evening, I drove home with my then-girlfriend, now wife, Cynda. “I need to be a pastor,” I told her. I enrolled in Talbot seminary and after I had my degree, I became the youth pastor here at Woodbridge Community Church in 1992. I never left. Now, I am the senior pastor here and the police chaplain for the Irvine Police Department.
Most pastors do not stay this long at one church. I have stayed because Cynda and I have become family with this church. We share our lives. What I love most about my wife is her strength that she has in the Lord Jesus Christ. Cynda has such an awesome love and walk with Jesus that just attracts me to her. Lately at night, we have reading the book by Ruth Bell Graham, the wife of Billy Graham. It’s totally awesome to have Cynda read the chapters out loud to me. With Jesus guiding our church, and my wife beside me, I never need to feel lonely again. I think of the Lord’s command: “Shepherd my people.” That is what I strive to do here.
“Who does he think he is?”
John 14:6 says, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” The first time I read this, I thought, “That is the most arrogant statement I’ve ever heard! Who does he think he is?”
Now I know who He is. He’s God.
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