April 2012 - Vol. 59

Finding the Key to Happiness
by Rachael Nevinger

[Rachael Nevinger grew up in the northern Michigan town of Traverse City, Michigan, USA. During middle school, her father’s Army Reserve unit was sent to Afghanistan. When he returned from his tour, he decided to go into the Army full time. Their family was sent to Germany, just in time for Rachael to begin high school.]

As a self-focused teenager, I was very angry that I had to make this huge change and move to Germany. My only two friends on the Army base were two brothers, who turned out to be Mormons. I went with them to church a few times, but I didn’t know the difference between their beliefs and mainstream Christianity. 

My family did not go to church when I was growing up. My dad had a Pentecostal upbringing and told me once about speaking in tongues and experiences with the Holy Spirit he had had as a youth. I thought he was making it up, so he never mentioned it again. My mom was deeply distrustful of “organized religion” of any kind, so I had no Christian instruction and little understanding of Jesus Christ. But, I thought I was a Christian, sort of. 

 I came to Michigan State University (MSU)  in East Lansing, Michigan, after returning from Germany and an awful senior year of high school. I had lost what faith I previously had and was just an angry kid. I had no intention of joining anything Christian at MSU but I thought it would be good to get involved in something. So, I went to “Sparticipation” on campus – an all-day event for freshmen where campus organizations have booths and tell about their activities. Alex, the University Christian Outreach (UCO) chapter director, stood out among all the people there. I still had no intention of going to this Christian group but Alex took my email address and said he would be letting me know what was coming up with UCO.

Rachael and team at a UCO bowling tournament

For some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about UCO. At first, I ignored the emails Alex sent, but UCO stayed on my mind and it bugged me so much I decided to go to a meeting.

I was freaked out by the praying out loud and spiritual gifts. I left thinking, “OK, that was really weird but everyone was really nice to me.” I went again and it seemed slightly less weird, maybe because I knew what to expect. They also talked up a retreat they were having called Fan into Flame, where people could learn about the Holy Spirit and receive prayer. I had no intention of going until a girl stood up at the meeting and spoke about what a change the retreat had made in her life. 

So I went, kind of grumpy about paying the money (my parents were not about to give me money for some crazy retreat). Then I got stuck in a small group of women students – not my comfort zone. But my leader was pretty amazing – she explained things like praying in tongues and other spiritual gifts. Then it seemed OK – it reminded me of my Dad’s stories.

The retreat was awesome. I had what I would call three “layers” of issues that needed to be peeled away after my difficult experience while living on the base in Germany, which had scarred me badly. First, I needed to really know that God would forgive me. During evening snack, I broke down crying from guilt. Christina, my group leader, grabbed two other staff women and they prayed with me and asked the Lord to baptize me in the Holy Spirit. Christina had a sense that God wanted to give me the gift of tongues as a personal sign of his love, and it happened! That was the highlight of my year. I experienced God’s love and forgiveness. 

The next couple of layers (believing that people would forgive me and then forgiving myself) were dealt with as the year went on. Seeing that people in UCO loved me no matter what was huge for me. 

After Christmas break, I went to the UCO/Kairos Winter Conference. It was wonderful – all my friends were there, and the worship was great, but I wasn’t expecting anything special to happen. When we split into separate men’s and women’s sessions, we talked about purity. I realized that I knew God forgave me for my past, these people forgave me, but I couldn’t forgive myself!

I talked with Ginny, one of the senior staff members, and she told me that I needed to accept what Jesus had done in my life; otherwise, I was just throwing his forgiveness back at him. This really changed me.

When I returned to MSU from the conference, I really threw myself into UCO. I moved into the dorm where the women’s dorm household was, and I became part of a small group where I could share my life and receive prayer and support. I also started serving in UCO by organizing events.
I LOVE UCO! When I look around at a prayer meeting, I see all these people I love and who love me, while knowing deep inside God’s love for all of us. For a long time, I thought that the key to happiness was having a great job and living in the biggest house possible. I am not living in a glamorous place and I don’t have any money, but I have friends, I have Jesus, and I am finally truly happy.

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