"All the oppressive dread that tormented me, left. Jesus delivered me!"


BY ANDREA PACHECO

I was not raised in the church. Our family was broken, fractured, and loveless. Our home was a godless environment marked by anger and strife. When I was four my parents divorced, and my eldest sister and I went to live with my mother. As a child, I remember being afraid of my father. He was ruled by his impulses and prone to violent fits of rage. He earned his living by dealing marijuana and often kept unsavory company. He rode a Harley Davidson and looked like an outlaw. Everything surrounding him felt scary, evil, even. As a result, I chose to visit him infrequently throughout my childhood. There was a period of four years I did not see him at all. I found out later that he spent those years in a penitentiary prison for slitting a man’s throat in a bar. Thankfully, the man lived. Retrospectively, I am grateful that I was not raised by him. Although I lived with my mother, life with her did not fare much better.

Our family was broken, fractured, and loveless.

Ultimately, after my mother divorced my father her subsequent life choices led us down a path which straddled the line of abject poverty. We moved into a filthy derelict motorhome in a rural trailer park with a man who had fathered my younger brother.

Some of my earliest memories were traumatic. Alcoholism, physical abuse, and neglect were what shaped my reality as a child with her. At the age of six I was sexually abused by a neighbor she hired to babysit one evening while she went out. Next day, I tried to communicate as best as I could that something terrible had happened. I said I never wanted him to babysit me again. She threw me a harsh look and asked “Why?” Her tone was sharp and antagonistic. It dared me to say what she must have suspected aloud. When I could not conjure the courage to say “why” she stared at me for a few more moments then said nothing. She did not hire him again.

What I came to know about her is she would never come to my rescue. She was not invested in me enough to protect me. Mostly, she failed to protect me from herself since it was by her own hand that I was often beaten. I once asked her why she beat me, and she responded by saying it made her feel better. I was ignored the rest of the time and was made to feel invisible. For me there was no love, no comfort, no rest. There was only survival. Home for me was a very dark place.

Against the backdrop of my troubled environment, I had occasional reprieve. Up the road near to us lived the daughter of the owner of the trailer park and her family. They lived in a large, beautiful white house that I considered a mansion. It had neo-classical style columns decorating the front façade. It was a dream! As for Jenny and I, we became fast friends. I was often invited for sleepovers which provided relief. At the trailer I suffered from disturbing night terrors in which I saw contorted, disembodied faces appear in the darkness of my bedroom. It felt extremely oppressive and heavy. But at Jenny’s, it felt like a vacation in paradise, and it was peaceful. I loved being in a normal house with a real family. When I was there I could for a moment leave behind my own ugly reality.

It was not long before I learned the family attended church. It was completely foreign to me, but I was intrigued. When I was invited to tag along one Sunday, I was excited! Unfortunately, my impression was lackluster. I thought the grownups acted strangely. They closed their eyes, lifted hands in the air and sang ecstatically to something that was not even there! Worse they seemed to all pretend as though something WAS there and some even cried! I did not understand. Others were just so happy for no obvious reason. I thought this is what was meant by the word “cult.”

Still, I did agree to attend a children’s Bible study at their home once. They even gifted me a tiny King James Bible. It was a thoughtful gesture, but it was too hard for a child my age to read so I never used it. Despite this it was enough to be told God existed by people who believed it. This was my first exposure to the idea of God, and I wanted to understand.

My mother was an ex-communicated Catholic. That was the reason she used to justify holding all of Christendom in contempt. Truth is, she was raised in a strict religious household. She rebelled at a young age and had her first child out of wedlock to the chagrin of the family. She intentionally chose a life far from God. When she married my protestant father, she became anathema. So, at eight years old when I asked her why we did not go to church like Jenny’s family, her response was a string of expletives. She cursed God and the church. In fact, her favorite curse word was to blaspheme the name of Jesus. She liked to curse me too and often referred to me as an “instigating little Christer” I had no idea what that meant. All I knew is that it was expression of her hostility toward me. I tried not to mention God again.

Years later I learned that “Christer” was not a true curse word. It is a slang term that can be used in a derogatory sense to refer to a Christian who is active in evangelism. It is funny, really. Looking back, I almost feel blessed that this was the word she settled on to label me in her anger. It took the sting I felt as a child out of it. Now I embrace the meaning. It was practically prophetic! Even though I wanted to know God as a child but had no access to the gospel until many years later, in his sovereign providence over my life he mercifully preserved me. He turned the curses of my mother into something inoffensive to me. I am grateful for that.

Soon I came to understand that it was up to me to take care of myself. Everyone in life who was supposed to love me did not and I was on my own. Experience taught me adults were mostly incompetent; unable to protect and provide. They were not to be trusted. As a result, I became rebellious, unruly, and hard to handle. I utterly despised authority and defiance became my strength.

I became rebellious, unruly, and hard to handle.

By age eleven I was catching up to my mother in height. I was able to fight back, and sometimes I did. At school I had a few encounters with the Children’s Aid society due to my home situation. After running away and hitchhiking into town to get to my aunt’s house, I had enough. With my sister’s help I contacted Children’s Aid. I did not want to live with my mother anymore. I knew I could not go back. Despite the efforts made to reconcile us I would have none of it! For me, the thought of going back to her was a nightmare, so I pressured them to put me in foster care. Anything was better than home.

My social worker informed me in rare cases children could legally divorce their parents. For me this was the perfect outcome, so I pursued it. After a few more failed attempts to send me back coupled with the outright refusal to live with my father, they finally relented. I divorced my mother in the court of law and officially became a permanent Crown ward of the province, all before my twelfth birthday. What followed was a revolving door of eight foster homes before I settled on my permanent home at age fourteen. All I wanted was to be like every other normal teen. I was ashamed of my past. So, I cut all my family ties. I traded them for a new family to craft an improved reality; one which I finally controlled.

I was so hungry to find truth...

Early on in high school my search for God was ignited. For the first time I learned about various beliefs in a world religion course. I was so hungry to find truth I devoured everything we were taught. I even achieved a final grade of one hundred percent! I learned about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Christianity, among others. Yet, between them l only saw differences and contradiction. Frustratingly, I was not going to find the truth here. My takeaway was either there is a plethora of gods or just one God. Clearly all these religions did not worship the same God. It followed for me that there must only be one true God which meant only one religion had the answer. But which one?

I endeavored to try to understand Christianity. No one I asked could adequately explain to me who Jesus was and why it should matter to me. In the end, it seemed no different than any other religion that claimed to have truth. In our small town there was a church on nearly every street corner, but these churches had no life. Not even the people I asked who attended church seemed very interested to talk about Jesus or his significance. Sometimes they themselves did not know why they believed what they did! If they did not care, why should I? So much for the religion that claims to change your life, I thought. What I witnessed was religion but what I wanted was the truth. It seemed no one I met, who carried the label “Christian” could convincingly lay claim to it. In the end I decided it was up to me to determine which God was “right.”

Then there was Judaism. In English class we read, “The Chosen” a book I absolutely loved. I envied the faith and devotion of the Jewish protagonists. I wanted to relate to God as they did. Simultaneously, in history class we were being taught about the holocaust. I was devastated to learn about the depths of human depravity, of the atrocities people are willing to commit against their fellow man. It affected me so profoundly my search for the truth about God became more desperate. There must be divine justice in the face of such evil in the world! What was it about the Jews that made them so unique among other nations that they were hated and rejected? I thought there must be something special about them. It was their God, I reasoned so I started to look to Judaism.

Clearly there was something about the God of the Jews that was different from all the others. This God provoked a response in people. Suffering and persecution marked the history of the Jewish people throughout millennia because of this God. I rationalized that if the world hated them for their God, they must surely know the one true God! It made sense to me that the world would hate him. It was evident humanity did not love what is good and was inclined toward evil. I laid the blame for the holocaust squarely at the feet of evil people. It did not occur to me to blame God as some might be inclined to do. He must be the “right” God if evil men hate him, I thought. It was the strongest conclusion I could formulate, and it went unchallenged for two years.

During that time, I tried to live like a Jew in my heart. I did not know what that really looked like, but I tried to obey what little I knew of Kosher food laws and gave up pork. I wanted to get off to a good start with God after all! Eventually, my anxiety grew as I was ignorant as to how to properly serve God by living like a Jew “in my heart.” I decided to commit and planned to make my conversion official. The closest synagogue was an hour away in the city. I signed up to attend a conversion course there and felt content I had, at last, made the right choice! I did all my research and was convinced. I was scheduled to start at synagogue the following week. Until I was stopped in my tracks, literally.

I closed the cover to a book I was reading in the high school library. I cannot even remember now what it was. What I do remember about that afternoon is when I got up from my cubicle and started down the aisle toward the exit, a question came to my mind. It was a clear, emphatic, stop-you-in-your-tracks, kind of question. It asked, “Is Jesus who he said he is? Or is Jesus a liar?” It paralyzed me. I stood there, cemented in my steps. How had I not considered that aspect of Judaism? It is a notably big aspect! They absolutely reject Jesus as the Messiah. I had not thought about the implications of that in any depth until now. “Is Jesus who he said he is?” I had no answer. I was afraid to make any proclamation of faith to the contrary unless I knew for sure. He may not exist, but I did not want to accuse him just in case! Such was the power in the question that it killed my desire to convert. I dropped Judaism from that moment forward. Nevertheless, I was still in the same old town with hollowed out churches. I decided to go my own way and abandon formal religion altogether.

My remaining high school years were characterized by intense partying and alcohol fueled weekend binges. I regularly drank until I blacked out. On one of these occasions around 3 am I found myself stumbling along the railroad tracks to find my way home. I was too drunk to remember what direction I lived in. I felt totally out of control. I became frightened at the possibility that I may pass out and die on the tracks. This was an active rail route. I was petrified! When I was a small child in grade school our teacher made us memorize psalm 23. In my drunken stupor for the first time since then, these words came to me:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” These words carried power. Peace flooded over me. I knew I was going to get home and I was going to be okay. Next thing I remember is waking up in my bedroom with my uncle pounding on the door. He asked if I remembered coming in late and cussing him out! I had no recollection as to how I even got home.

Not knowing how to find God or the truth but believing in the existence of a “spiritual” realm I decided to explore the occult. I signed a book out of the local library on guided meditation by a famous clairvoyant who channeled in a trance-like state. I did not understand what that entailed, really. I just wanted to see if I could connect with divine energy. So, I went home and followed his instructions on how to transcend. It was my first time exploring such things. I had no idea what I was doing! I gave it a shot, anyway, scarcely believing it would work. I laid down and focused on “white light” which I was told was good and went through the steps as instructed. Then, I felt like I lost control of my mind. I went into a sleep-like state, but I while alert and awake! My body became paralyzed, and I could not move. In what I can only describe as a “trance,” I saw a ball of light appear from the atmosphere outside my window. It zipped through the glass and hovered above my body while out of nowhere a tall shadowy figure manifested and stood menacingly at my bedside. It grabbed my arms and shook me so hard it broke the trance. I could still feel the effect of his grip on my arms. What had happened to me?? I was confused as to whether it was real or a dream. I was terrified! I got rid of the book and I thought that would be the end of it.

Instead, for over a year the shadow-figure tormented me. Before I fell sleep, I would sometimes fall into an involuntary trance in between the state of being conscious but not fully asleep. In the midst of that strange limbo, the shadowy figure materialized to cause overwhelming dread, fear, and sleep paralysis. I wanted to scream but I could not muster a sound. Sadly, I became afraid to sleep and would take measures to keep myself awake as long as possible. I grew extremely paranoid. I started to feel I was being followed by an entity I could not see. I felt like I was going crazy. Nothing I did could free me from the grip of that nightmare. I visited a psychic, recited protection prayers, and focused on positive thoughts but to no avail. There was no one I could turn to who could help me! Then, I met Anne.

Anne was my friend’s sister. She was a missionary who lived in Israel with her husband who was also a pastor. She was visiting at the time. Although raised as a Christian her entire life, my friend remained ashamed of Christ. She avoided sharing the gospel and opted instead to strive to blend in and find acceptance with her friends. We were hopelessly lost but she wanted to be like us anyway. Aside from stating her father was a retired Presbyterian Minister she distanced herself from her Christian roots. One summer day we were spending time together at her place, when I met Anne for the first time. Our meeting although brief, was quite fruitful. She wasted no time and invited me to stay at the family property on the upcoming weekend to hear about Jesus. For my part, I could not say “yes!” fast enough. My friend, however, was appalled. “Anne! Don’t speak to Andrea about Jesus. She doesn’t care to hear about that stuff!” she was embarrassed her sister would be so bold. My response was, “You don’t really know me if you think that.” It was settled. I had three days to finally hear something about who Jesus was.

The context of this invitation is that the family would lend out their vast property to hold what they called a “Tent of Meeting” in which Pastors from all around were invited to come and preach under the sprawling canvas tent over the course of a weekend. All of them stayed as guests at the host residence or among the property cottages. I would be in good company! Interestingly, I learned they held this event annually. Yet, it took Anne to come all the way from Israel to tell me about it.

Friday evening came and I found myself at another friend’s house which was situated along the same country dirt road where the Tent of Meeting was being held. It was a house party. Drugs and alcohol were the main feature; cigarette smoke clogged the air. I thought to myself, why am I here? I do not even hang out with these people! For the life of me I could not remember what else I was supposed to be doing. It totally escaped me. I sat there in a fog of confusion wondering to myself how I ended up in this place. Then the phone rang, and it was for me! It was Anne.

When I picked up the phone I was surprised. How did she track me down? She said “Andrea, the meetings have started.” Right! That was it. I expressed to her I did not know why I was at this house party and that I had trouble remembering where I was supposed to be. She said, “Andrea, Satan will try to stop you from coming here.” Her words cut through my mental haze like a knife. I believed what she said, and it scared me. I did not know what to do. Thankfully, without hesitation she offered to drive over and pick me up. I was so relieved! I am thankful to God for her, to this very day.

Once I arrived, I was welcomed like family. I felt so at home among the people gathered there. I was honoured to share a seat at the dinner table with the family and the guest Pastors. I enjoyed being privy to their conversations. For hours on end, I sat in the front row under the large tent soaking up sermon after sermon. I could not get enough! Their words were alive. I had never experienced anything like it.

On the last sermon of the day Anne’s husband got up and preached on the road to Emmaus. As he spoke, I identified with the two men. I walked beside them as they left Jerusalem. I felt their despair. I understood their disappointment. Jesus was not who they had hoped he was. They walked away in bewilderment without answers not knowing about him at all. I got that. All the while they were kept from seeing it was Jesus himself who came along side them as they walked. The Pastor explained the prophecies concerning Jesus as a suffering servant. I had no idea any of that was in the Bible.

In that moment, I understood and believed Jesus was who he said he was!

I was at the edge of my seat. I wanted to know more! Then when he said, “their eyes were opened” suddenly, mine were too. In that moment, I understood and believed Jesus was who he said he was! What confounded me before made perfect sense. Jesus himself had opened my spiritual eyes and finally, I could see him. I was elated!

When the sermon was over, I could barely contain myself. I leapt to the front and told the leaders what had happened. I remember I was talking so fast! I was over the moon. I had waited to know this for what seemed like a lifetime! I expressed I wanted to be baptized- immediately. They were on it. People I did not even know crunched into cars and drove with us out to the family cottage on the lake. There at the lakefront my friend’s father who was retired minister baptized me before dozens of Christian witnesses. It was like a celebration! People were singing. Pastors gathered and put their hands on me to pray; some prophesied. As I walked into the water, I told Jesus I believed him completely and entrusted myself to him with full confidence. When I came up from going under the water, I felt changed. Everything looked different to me than before. All the oppressive dread that tormented me, left. Jesus delivered me! I was free at last, and it was miraculous.

Years later, God made a way for me to reconcile with my mother as he taught me to forgive. Although we are not as close as some mother and daughter relationships, I am grateful both of us have been liberated from the bitterness of the past. He set me free from so much pain. I am no longer defined by my traumas. I am truly a new creation with a new heart and my identity is now in him.

He became the father I never had. His faithfulness has never ceased and has been ongoing in my life. Looking back, I can see that before I knew him, he was actively guiding my steps toward him. Now, twenty-seven years after I was baptised in the river on that beautiful summer day, I still wait on him to guide my steps to know him more deeply.


Were you touched by reading this story? Would you like to get in touch with Andrea and learn more from her experience with God? Get in touch with us here.

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