He Guides Every Step
by Sara Westhead
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Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 5:16 (KJV)
I don’t recall much of my early childhood; in fact, it seems that most of my memories didn’t begin until I was much older than any normal child will remember. However, there is one day that stands out significantly in my mind that changed my life forever.
My parents were high school sweethearts that married pretty much as soon as they could. With love in their eyes, they couldn’t foresee the challenges that they were about to embrace. You see, there was one major problem between them that would set the stage for their entire marriage – they were unequally yoked.
My father was raised in a strong, loving Baptist home and accepted the Lord as his personal Savior in his early teens. However, my mother did not have that privilege. Although her family was equally loving, the family’s strong Catholic background had blurred the need for a personal relationship with their Creator.
Problems arose quickly and overcame the marriage, even as I was conceived, and threatened to destroy the marriage.
As I look back, talking with my father, it really is amazing that my parents’ marriage lasted as long as it did. Together, they had one more child, my brother, before ‘fate’ carried us from New York City to Bermuda in the form of a job transfer for my Dad. Little did we know that life as we knew it would dissolve into mistrust, anger and chaos.
Now that my brother was old enough to start school, my mother decided it was time for her to return as well, signing up for classes at the local college. At nearly 30, she was at least 10 years older than all of her classmates, most of whom wanted to “enjoy” their youth through riotous living. My mother, who had married so young, quickly succumbed to the great temptation around her and began living as she wanted, as if she didn’t have a family at home.
Needless to say, my parents separated. The divorce was very messy, filled with lies and accusations aimed at hurting each other in every way possible. However, there was one good thing that came of it all – it brought my father back to church.
When we lived in New York, my father, brother and I would go to Sunday School and morning services at a Baptist Church. However, on Wednesdays after school, I walked up the block from the public school to the local Catholic school for catechism classes. It was more in name, than anything, because my mother never went to church except for special occasions, like Christmas and Easter.
When the family moved to Bermuda, we pretty much stopped going to church completely. Deep inside, I knew that we were supposed to go to church, but as my family wasn’t going, I had to find another way. Since I wasn’t unfamiliar with Mass, I would go with my landlord’s wife every so often. For some reason, though, I never felt entirely comfortable in Catholic services.
It was when my dad started taking my brother and I to church on Sunday mornings, that life really began to change for us, especially me.
The divorce had taken its toll on me. I changed from a happy, popular child to a girl that had grown up before her time. I became quiet and introspective, and didn’t relate to my classmates much. Few of them could understand what it was like to experience divorce, let alone the back-fighting, bitterness and custody threats that accompanied my parents divorce. At one point, my mother, who had been deemed unfit to care for my brother and I, threatened to kidnap us.
To be honest, I shouldn’t be here today. I had become angry and bitter; I hated life and felt that no one would notice if I was gone. I began to consider either running away or, worse, committing suicide. I was only nine years old.
To that point, the only thing that kept me from doing anything drastic was knowing that someone had to take care of my brother. My mom was too busy doing her own thing, and my dad was too busy dealing with her. I was the only one left.
However, when we went back to church, the Evangelical Church of Bermuda, I quickly made friends with another girl my age. Julia had a secret joy about her. She loved her family and knew her family loved her. She also loved God and church and serving God through music.
At first, I thought she was just naïve. She hadn’t experienced what I had. She was raised in small town Bermuda while I grew up in big city New York. She didn’t know what it was like for your parents to scream and yell at each other, and, when it got really bad, to see them physically fight.
I figured that once she had experienced more of the world, she wouldn’t be so happy.
Still, Julia and I became good friends.
I wasn’t the only person who made a new friend. Around the same time, at a Young Adults Fellowship activity at the church, my dad met a young single mom. Not long after, they started dating and, within a very short period of time, decided to marry.
All of a sudden, we went from a family of three, to a family of five, with another on the way in a few months.
My dad and stepmother arranged for their wedding to coincide with Junior Camp at our church, which would take my brother, sister and I to one of the smaller islands for a week so that they could have a bit of a honeymoon. They married on Friday, and we went to camp on Saturday.
I don’t remember who was the speaker for camp that year, except that he played a rolling pin that he had converted into a kind of whistle. But on Sunday, July 19, 1987, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and I realized that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. Right there, during the morning service at camp, I accepted Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as payment for my sins.
Almost immediately, I felt God’s hand on my life and I was greatly intrigued by the missionary stories at camp. In fact, I remember telling my cousin later in the summer that I thought I was supposed to be a missionary when I grew up, but I think he was the only person I told.
The Spirit continued to work on my heart and in November of 1987, I was baptized and became a member of our church.
A few months later, during our annual Missions Conference, Brother Andrew Semenchuck was our guest speaker, and our focus was on raising money to send Bibles to Russia. During an altar call, I went forward and committed my life to serving Christ as a missionary.
As I moved through middle school and high school, that goal was always in view. I made sure to take classes that would help me to prepare, including studying both French and German. I also took Physics, on the recommendation of my dad, because, as he said, you never knew when you’d have to fix something. I also took advantage of school projects. As I thought I would someday go to Communist Russia, I wrote about the country for a Geography report, and I did a paper on Jim Elliot for an English paper.
I became very active in my church, going to Teen Club, teaching in our children’s program as a Space Cubs leader, singing and playing my trumpet for special music.
I continued to grow and the church asked me if I would like to consider going on a summer missions trip with Word of Life. I knew straight away that it was what God wanted me to do. With the prayer and support of my family and church, I traveled to Hawaii, Fiji and Australia in the summer of 1991.
It was a life changing experience, both spiritually and physically. I grew so much while on the field and became better focused on where God wanted me. Unfortunately, within a few weeks of returning from Australia, I became ill. I slept around 18 hours every day, and when I was awake, I could do little more than lie in bed or on the sofa. A horrible headache overtook me and I barely ate.
The doctors didn’t know what was wrong and I missed much of my first trimester at school. After several months, when I was finally starting to feel a little better. I had contracted a virus while on the mission in Australia, and, little did anyone realize that it would change the rest of my life.
In spite of the illness, I still maintained a high average at school and prepared for another missions trip the following summer, this time to Czechoslovakia, Belarus and Ukraine. There, I had the privilege of meeting Brothers and Sisters in the Lord that had suffered for their faith through the Communist era. I also saw, first hand, the hidden graveyards of martyrs and the effects of decades of atheism on young people who felt lost and alone. The trip encouraged my faith and dedication to missions.
After high school, I continued to pursue the calling God had placed on my life by attending Word of Life Bible Institute. During the first quarter at Word of Life, I started to get sick again. However, this time, no one knew what was wrong, even the doctors. I had unexplained fatigue, headaches, aches and pains, stomach problems, the list seemed endless. It severely limited me in what I could physically handle, making the 12-month program very challenging.
Somehow, through God’s power alone, I made it through the year and transferred to Liberty University where I pursued a degree in youth ministry, all the while enduring strange pains, fatigue and unexplained illness. The Lord taught me how to cope with classes, work and my studies by keeping a schedule and resting when I needed.
My time at Liberty brought a second major moment in my life. During my last year of school in one of my youth ministry classes, my professor, who was on the board of directors of a small ministry, shared with us about the doors God was opening in China to reach young people with the Gospel. Almost instantly, God impressed on my heart a unique love for the Chinese people that perseveres to this day. I could not get the thought out of my mind and I cannot recall a single thing that happened in class that day.
Afterwards, I spoke with my professor about how I could learn more about the work in China. He looked me straight in the eye and told me that he hoped I would talk to him about China, and that he thought I would be ‘perfect for the job.’
The Lord did bring me to China with Youth Ministry International, where my love and compassion for the people of that great nation continued to grow.
The work was challenging, although God brought many students to me to hear about how God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross to pay the penalty of all of our sins for all time. I made connections with many believers working in the house churches and developed a keen understanding of adolescent culture and spiritual development in China, specifically in comparison to young people in both the US and Bermuda.
I remained in China for 20 months, as both a Chinese student and an English teacher, to see many major events come to pass, including the floods of 1998 and the riots following the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999. The day I left China, the cult, Falun Gong, was officially made illegal. While I am certainly glad that Falun Gong was banned in the country, as it is a particularly demonic cult, the reasons given by the Chinese Government could have been used for any religion, including Christianity.
The Lord brought me back to Bermuda at that time, where He had another job for me – that of wife and mother.
My husband, Andrew, and I met at my home church in Bermuda. Andrew was a Registered Nurse working at the local hospital, hailing from Yorkshire, England.
We had actually known each other for several years, but the Lord saw fit to delay our relationship as Andrew is several years my senior. We became engaged within just a few weeks and planned our wedding for seven months later on January 27, 2001.
Through all of the years between Bible college and planning my wedding, I continued facing multiple physical challenges, with little understanding from the doctors as to what was causing so many problems. Finally, as I was planning my wedding, seven years after initially becoming ill, I had a diagnosis – Fibromyalgia.
Again, the Lord has brought us through, teaching us to live with a challenging illness and providing us two miracles along the way. My doctors thought it highly unlikely that I would ever have children, but God gave us Thomas in June of 2002. Then, after being told it was impossible to have another, Jonathan was born in November, 2005.
We are not sure where the Lord is leading us as a family, to live and to serve, but we are sure that a ministry to the Chinese will be a key part of that. For now, I am learning to be content as a mother to two small boys, leaning on God for the strength to carry me through each day, and learning to depend on Him to supply every need.
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