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I don’t remember ever hearing about God when I was a child. I knew one Bible story—the story of Moses—which I heard when I was invited to Vacation Bible School at a church in our neighborhood, but I didn’t really know what the story meant.
I should add that I came from a very troubled family. My mom was deaf and nonverbal, and my dad suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, haunted by what he had experienced during World War II while recovering the bodies of soldiers who had lost their lives in battle. With little or no parental involvement in our lives, my brother and I ran the neighborhood unsupervised, stealing and even smoking at a very young age.
When I was in the first grade, both of my parents suffered nervous breakdowns. Since they were unable to give us the care we needed, the State of Illinois came to our school one day and placed my brother and me in the foster-care system. On that day, we became wards of the state and would never go home again.
When our first foster parents divorced, we were placed in a second home. My new foster parents had two children of their own, and although they provided food, shelter, and clothing, I never felt loved. I felt like the extra child.
As a foster family, we attended church. This particular church was, in my mind, like the Boy Scouts. If I did certain things, I would get rewards, and I would be well thought of—perhaps even be loved.
When I was thirteen years old, we were moved to a children’s home, where we lived with ninety other children. There we attended chapel every day and church on Sunday. That is where I first started to hear about the love of God.
One day, when I was fourteen years old, I was sitting in the back of the chapel listening to the morning Bible lesson. All of a sudden I was struck with the temporary nature of this life. I realized that one day I would die. Fear gripped me as I wondered, What happens after death?
A month later, in another chapel service, the speaker told us about the love of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to pay the penalty for all my wrongs. He died to show me that He loved me.
That day, I understood grace for the first time. I realized that I didn’t have to try to be good enough to earn God’s approval. I just needed to receive His gift.
I fell on my knees and thanked Jesus for demonstrating God’s love for me on the Cross, and I asked Him to lead my life forever.
At that moment I knew I was Somebody’s child. I belonged to God! And I knew that after I died, I would go to my true, eternal home, to be with my heavenly Father.
My life has continued to be full of challenges, but through them all, I cling to the words of Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 31:
The lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.– Deuteronomy 31:8
Jerry Velichkoff is part of the Connections Adult Community and serves on the Front Door Ministry Team.