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Hello Brad,

I believe that there is a God who has created this world and set rules in motion for how it runs. I believe physics and science are the ways we understand the laws of this natural world. I believe faith is the way we understand our own souls and how we learn to love others. I believe that faith is a journey that has no end. It takes a lifetime of thoughtfulness and love in action. It takes courage to put ourselves in situations that make us grow and learn. I think it is necessary to do so for faith to grow. I do not believe that God intervenes in the rules he/she has placed on this earth. To clarify I don’t believe God sends hurricanes to punish communities, allows children or the innocent to die or any other horror that is true of life on this earth. These events are part of being in this world and this world is at times random and unfair.

I also don’t believe God speaks to us personally. I believe books like the bible help us along the road to being kinder to all around us. I believe we know we are on the right path based off a gut instinct that we grow to understand more throughout our lives. Checking that “gut” feeling with the moral of altruism.

I think we have all been given a measure of faith and included in that is a moral compass. Just like we grow in our faith I believe our morals narrow or expand depending on the choices we make. We either become more loving, more honest, more giving, and more open to our roles in making this world better. Or we become more selfish, more closed off to those around us, more greedy and set in the idea that we are right. This idea of being right becomes an obsession to us. We then protect ourselves in our rightness and can’t hear anything else. I believe I am called to strive for the better for all, even if that puts me at risk.

These last few paragraphs don’t fully cover everything I think and feel about faith but I hope it gives you an idea of what I believe right now in my journey.

I’ve been thinking of how to start telling the story of my faith roots and I will try to make this brief but a lot of different situations come into play.

I was born into a self proclaimed “Spiritual Israelites” group named the Assemblies of Yahweh. Their basic beliefs are that the Levitical law laid out in the Old Testament is still to be followed, Jesus (or Yeshua) is the messiah that was prophesied to come and they include New Testament teachings. For anyone who hasn’t sat down to read all of Leviticus I’ll point out that the rules in this group were strict to say the least. Our hair was long, beards were not to be trimmed, no pagan holidays (Christmas, Easter, national holidays, and birthdays), church was met in small groups on Saturdays, high holy days like the Feast of tabernacles, Feast of Trumpets, and Passover were recognized. The focus was on the law and all the ways in which we were to be holy. I remember little of this group but my father would continue to struggle with feelings of guilt and failing throughout his life because of the focus on the law. We left this organization (which was pretty close to a cult) when I was still young but continued to teach a lot of it’s beliefs in my childhood home until my mother found another group.

The Emmaus community is a non-denominational group whose focus in on personal relationships with Jesus. After she went on one of their retreats she encouraged my father to go on one as well and those experiences lead us into going to many different churches. We started with Church of Christ, and then Methodist, then the Vineyard churches and that lead us to non-denominational evangelical affiliated churches. The evangelical organizations left the largest imprints on my beliefs as well as the deepest scars. I was baptized while we were at the Church of Christ. I was eleven years old and was very concerned about going to hell. One of the teachings of the Church of Christ was that if you weren’t fully immersed in water then you’d burn forever. It was a very positive message to give a sensitive child. As a very practical little girl I figured I better go ahead and be baptized or else. I actually forgot all about this story until talking with my sister about this project.

When I was 13 years old I went on my first missions trip to Bolivia with Teen Mania ministries. This group’s focus was to get teens out of their comfort zones and show them the world. I had nothing but good experiences with this group. It was very emotional, very exciting, and overwhelming. It also opened the door for me to see the world in a way I may never have seen it in. While in Bolivia we did street performances that told bible stories, preached our personal story of how Jesus had saved us and did humanitarian work. As a homeschooled child who’s only out of the house activities were usually church related I always struggled with the personal messages. I didn’t feel like Jesus had saved me from much. Their was a lot of coaching in how and what to say to make it more intense. They never wanted us to lie but small sins and failing were just as bad as the big ones. Still “in need of saving” from Jesus. I understand as an adult now what they were trying to do but as a sensitive 13 year old it just added to the list of failings, my guilt was already so deep and I’ve pray for hours for it to go away. What I’ve taken away from that first trip was it made my perspective global and throughout my entire teen years everything I went through and struggled with as always bounced against this wall of knowledge that real suffering, real struggle and real poverty existed. That changed my life.

Once I returned from this first trip my family had found a new church home, a holy spirit filled church that was open to allowing my parents to explore their faith without boundaries. This place took emotional to a whole new level. Services would last 4 hours or more because the worship part could last 3 hours if the spirit lead it. They focused on personal relationship with Jesus. A relationship that was more intimate than marriage or children. They believe that we were in a war that was spiritual and that we were on the frontlines of that battle. It was very exciting. They cried out in tongues, prophets would speak directly to us with the authority of God himself, people shook around on the floor, and fell to the floor in joy and sorrow. I had never seen or experienced anything like it before. For a time it was great. Like a person who first tries cocaine and runs around doing everything at once feeling invincible. But just like any drug it didn’t last. This church used that feeling as a tool to control. Sadly the number things that were said to me as “God’s word” directly to me are the reason I don’t believe God speaks to people anymore.

This church opened did have some positives. It’s extreme views on God made me question a lot earlier then I think I would have had it not been for them pushing me. I try to be honest especially with myself and it was always a problem in that environment. They focused on the emotions and spiritual well being of the community around us. I believe thinking about and praying for others so much really helped me become more empathetic. I won’t go into everything that happened over the 5 years I was there but its influence lingers and not in a good way. As an adult now I will find myself in a church or with a person and I know. The way an old junkie knows when they see an addict. I can’t be around it anymore. I don’t even like being discussions that have certain phases in them. My gut tells me to run and I don’t question it anymore.

I left this church before my parents while being part of another mission focused group in my early 20’s named Youth with a Mission. It was mostly a good experience, focusing on evangelizing and serving. The base I was had a bible school as well and the people who ran it took biblical education very seriously. This was a good change from the emotional ride from before. I could have discussions about God and the bible that were more cerebral.

I spend almost 2 years with this organization and did two overseas trips both over 2 months long. The trips solidified my focus on community service and the care of those around us. They provided opportunities to find out how I wanted to be apart of this world. What role I was to play. I am a nurse now. It also solidified the belief that I wasn’t cut out to be a part of any evangelical group. I haven’t been a part of any church since. I have gone to a few churches but struggle to relax.

I find myself now interested in older churches that have rich and long histories, the Catholics and Methodists and Lutherans. Maybe it would be different in one of those communities. I crave the discussion about faith with others who are seeking. I loved the music and feeling of being in God’s presence. I’ve found now that I can get that feeling of being in God’s presence in many places. I still haven’t gone to any of those churches either. My heart is to serve and that is where my faith walk will be experienced.

Sincerely,

Rachel Ferraris