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  • Writer's pictureMennonite Church USA

Blessings amid pandemic

Originally published at:

For many, the pandemic was a time of uncertainty and fear. For me, the pandemic was a time of spiritual awakening that brought a sense of belonging. In the height of the pandemic, I had a surgery to repair my ankle. As I was lying on my bed, with a lot of time to devote to thinking, I started my search for faith. The quest started with a question: “Do I believe in Jesus because I have been told to believe? Or do I believe in Jesus because I believe?”

I began to ask questions about what others believed — from my husband, my aunt, a pastor and friends — searching for answers. I bought books to read and watched movies that proved Jesus is alive. It became clear to me; without a doubt, I believe that the Lord Jesus is my savior. Great news! But, now what?

I had never had a personal relationship with Jesus. I could barely speak about my beliefs without the feeling that I lacked understanding. I grew up in the Catholic church, and this background was my religious cornerstone, but it was waiting to be built upon.

My focus was misplaced. I was very good at remembering my scripted prayers, how to receive communion, the motions for the sign of the cross and how to genuflect. However, I lacked an understanding of Scripture and the feeling that I am truly loved by the Lord and was meant to have a relationship with God. So I was left asking, “Where do I go from here?”

I was stuck in knowing I believed in Jesus but not knowing how to develop a relationship with him. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. So I did what most Americans do: I scrolled through Facebook aimlessly. As my fingers swiped from post to post, I came across a post my friend shared of a video of a church service. I stopped to watch a little of it, and the next thing I knew the service was over! I, as any good Facebook friend does, left a comment about how I liked the service and how I am seeking and trying to find a church.

Well, little did I know that that Facebook friend and high school classmate, Adam Houser, is the associate pastor of Lowville (New York) Mennonite Church. Adam heard my cry for belonging and my yearning for the Lord and reached out to me. He allowed me to asked questions and express concerns I had about my perception of the Mennonite church, all without judgement.

I continued to watch the online services. I started to learn about Scriptures and the lessons behind them. During this time, my aunt gifted me with my first Bible.

As I continued to watch the dynamic duo, pastor Adam Houser and senior pastor Keith Zehr, I found that the messages I received were feeding a hunger that was so great I couldn’t understand how I had continued to starve for so long.

However, watching a service was easy. I didn’t have any pressure, expectations or fear of judgement from my living room. Well, Lowville Mennonite Church, upped the ante! The church decided to hold an outside service.

I, now, had a decision to make: remain an online follower or push outside the comfort of my living room. I almost chickened out. However, the Lord knew my intentions and excuses before I did. That is why God put Cindy Lapp in my path.

Cindy came into my life when I was a teenager. First, she was my nursing instructor. Later, Cindy became not only my mentor and co-worker but my friend. One day, while working together, Cindy, asked what I was doing that weekend. I began to tell her I was thinking about, but was not really sure and probably wasn’t going to, going to a church service being held outside. Cindy asked me which church it was. I told her it was Lowville Mennonite Church. Cindy became very excited, and with a big smile, informed me that was her church, too. She told me I had to go and sit next to her!

Sunday arrived and so did Cindy’s text with a gentle reminder to meet her at the service. So, I committed myself to going. My daughter and I got dressed up, grabbed our lawn chairs and went to church on the beautiful hillside. The message was powerful. It was so powerful, that I remember pastor Keith saying church is for sinners, and we are all in the right place. I knew I, indeed, was in the right place. I remind myself often of that sermon . I continue to have affirmation after affirmation that I am where the Lord wants me and with the people God has sent for me to, so I can grow in relationship with God.

I have completed a fundamental Anabaptist religion class. During that class, the beliefs of the Anabaptists spoke to me, and I felt an instant connection. My purpose became clear: I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I joined the Lowville Mennonite Church in April 2022. I chose to be baptized in August 2022.

My journey has just begun.

I have learned this from the Anabaptist faith: I am saved, because I have accepted the Lord Jesus as my savior. Good acts are a way to honor and love the Lord. You cannot earn your way to heaven. If you look for Jesus, you will find him. There is a plan and purpose for everyone. You are loved beyond all means by the Lord. You need a community in a church, for fellowship and strength.

My church community shows people what it means to be Anabaptist. They have accepted me and my family without judgement, even when judgement could be easy. The church family offers support, guidance and love freely. My children feel that love and acceptance. My husband is prayed for, asked about and invited to all of our church functions, while the church respecting his own journey. My church family has also explained to me the nuances of being Anabaptist —meaning that there must be a Jell-O salad at every fellowship meeting. And can a gathering really be called a gathering without food?

I continue to grow in my faith and relationship with the Lord, through the help of my church family. I wish I could express on paper how hard it was for me to walk into that first service with so many people. I think many others feel this way, too. It is caused by apprehension, because they have painted a picture and expectation of their experience before they set foot into a church. I am blessed to have walked into a group of loving and welcoming people. If the pandemic did not happen, and my church didn’t decide to record services, I don’t know that my journey would look like this. There are blessings, provided by God, in the pandemic. I have experienced these blessings.

Jesica Lynn Nichols

Registered Nurse

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