How One Woman Found Hope
Meet Stephanie. Stephanie studies Christian Minstry to Orphans and Vulnerable Children at Austin Bible Institute, works in the administration office, and is on staff with Shaping Destiny – a nonprofit ministry that inspires and empowers people to shape their destinies. She began working with us a few years ago. This is the story of her life before Jesus…
All my life I was searching for love, acceptance, and value. Although I grew up in a Christian home with loving, God-fearing parents I never really encountered God in a serious way. I attended Sunday school, heard all the stories, knew all the Bible verses and raised my hand to receive Jesus into my heart, but none of that had any meaning to me. When I began to feel the pains of adolescent romance, or lack thereof, I found myself sliding down a slippery slope of self-loathing and depression. I began cutting myself to feel some sense of control and when that didn’t work any longer I began engaging in sexual activity in my mid-teens, which only increased in consistency when I stopped going to church. By the time I was 18, I had lost count of the number of men I had slept with, was a heavy pot smoker and drinker, was selling marijuana illegally, and was beginning to experiment with other drugs. I was totally lost in the world and spiraling out of control. I was desperately alone with no direction or light to guide me home…that is, until I walked back into church one day.
One of my good friends kept inviting me to go back to church with her and I finally agreed. It was odd being back in that setting, and I felt a lot of guilt, but for some reason I kept going back. One week, the pastor was talking about getting involved in the church body and handed out a pamphlet with a list of different volunteer opportunities – one of them was a short term trip to Africa. It caught my attention and, since I had the money to spend, I decided to go. It was my first time out of the country and at first it started out as an exciting adventure; I never thought that 2 week trip would forever change my life. I encountered God for the first time in a dusty village in Uganda in the spring of 2012. My whole world was turned upside down when I saw true despair and poverty paired with spiritual richness and joy. I found passion for the first time in my life and I was moved by the people I was meeting half way across the world. I wanted what they had and I knew it was Jesus. I would say that was when I decided to surrender my life to God and strive to live for Him. I returned to the States a completely different person and I’ve never been the same since.
It was a difficult transition for me, leaving behind my life of sin, but by God’s grace I have been transformed. After much struggle, I finally left my old ways behind and started fresh as the new creation I was in Christ. I moved away from California and spent a season in Cameroon, West Africa with Shaping Destiny, serving orphans and studying the Bible through some Austin Bible Institute courses. I learned how to hear God’s voice, how to make peace with others, how to study the Word of God, and much more. I reconciled with my parents and cut off old ties that were tempting to drag me back to my past. When I returned to the U.S., I felt led by God to move to Austin, TX where I have been working with Shaping Destiny since 2014. I am still taking classes with Austin Bible Institute, working towards my Masters in Divinity, as well as volunteering and mentoring at-risk youth through my local church. I quit drinking, smoking, and sleeping around and I have found what I was looking for all this time…although the funny thing is, He was the one looking for me! I have joy, peace, confidence, healthy relationships, purpose, and a glorious future with the Lord. He has completely turned my life around and I am eternally grateful. And I know this story is not over yet.
Since returning to the Lord my future is no longer a jumbled mess, but one that is promising and full of hope. I now know that I am called to do full-time ministry for the rest of my life; sharing my experiences and stories of recovery with others in hopes of helping them through their own journeys. The more that I grow in my relationship with God, the more I discover who I am and who He has made me to be. I am a natural leader and see God using that to inspire and encourage others. I love teaching and am gifted at communicating – both talents that God has given me to relate with others and share Jesus with them. I have a heart to serve and love which I desire to use to care for the lonely, forgotten, or mistreated. I’m excited to finish school in the upcoming years with a Masters in Divinity so that I am well-equipped for the ministry work God has called me to do, whether that is here in the States working with youth, overseas doing mission work, or travelling to advocate and share the power of Jesus seen in my life.