StillSTANDING

Welcome to the #StillSTANDING Project. 500 years ago, Martin Luther stood up for the world to see his belief that our sins are forgiven through Christ alone. This fall, we are sharing stories from our St. Paul family on how we continue to stand on this life-changing gospel. This Fall, over the next several Sundays, we are sharing these stories one by one.

Anny's Story

I was raised in a Catholic orphanage in Rwanda—Orphanage  Noel de Nyundo. My parents had been Muslim, and I grew up considering myself Muslim. It was a history I could hold onto. But when I first came to Canada , I was angry at God. I blamed him for the life He had given me, for making me so alone. But he changed my heart. For the three years I lived in Canada, I had everything I needed: food, medical attention, safety. When I went back home and visited the refugee camp I had once lived in, I saw other girls suffering, and it made me wonder: What have I given to God to deserve this? It wasn’t until years later that I learned that it wasn’t about what I had done, but what God had done for me.  Until then, I kept Jeremiah 29:11 close to my heart and knew that I didn’t want to blame God:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I remember during winter when my daughter was born, I was just so tired. It was so cold, and I was feeling depressed. I took my girls for a walk and passed St. Paul church. I went in, but the service had already ended. A woman invited me downstairs for coffee. That’s when I met Nicole. She just sat down next to me and didn’t really move. She asked me my name, where I came from, basic questions.

That was almost two years ago. Since then, she has changed the way I see my life. She was the first person who ever called me her daughter, and I needed a mother. She calls me on the phone just to talk. She introduced me to her family and told them that Annie is my daughter who I adopted. She became a grandmother to my two girls.  I feel as though God has sent me an angel to be in my life, reassuring me, “you are not alone.”

Being at St. Paul and getting to learn more about the Bible with Pastor Thompson has given me a lot of comfort. In Africa, I learned that there were certain things that could never be forgiven. But the Bible has shown me that God is really merciful. Jesus died for all sins. None of us are perfect, and when you ask him for forgiveness, he will forgive you. Now, I just get to serve him. I’ll be going back to a refugee camp to visit and bring supplies in just a few months. The last time I went, people asked me, “How can you have the courage to go back?” I’m not scared. I’m no different. For some reason, God has given me a different life, and I don’t want to take that life for granted. I just want to serve Him.

Manfred's Story

My story is not very uncommon and it reads like so many other ones except for a few twists in the road of life here and there which we all have. I was brought up Lutheran at the insistence of my Dear Mother. I went through Sunday school and then 2 years of confirmation class which I found truth be told very hard, harder than High School.  I went year’s not attending Church afterwards due to military service and being married to a non-believer with the busy life of constantly moving and raising 3 kids. Eventually the marriage broke up.

I met my wife Bonnie who steered my life back into Church life and getting my kids confirmed. Bonnie and I took the foundation class at Abiding word and with the help of Pastor Schultz we became serving members. I started to notice that the flame inside me for the Lord became alive and stronger again thanks to the Holy Spirit. I have since matured in my knowledge and faith and now serve here at St. Paul’s.

My faith means the world to me. I have an insight into where I am headed after this short life. I feel protected and secure in my knowledge of this life and the next one. I truly feel forgiven for all my past and present transgressions. I have a serious illness and through prayer from my brothers and sisters in Christ and my family, I know I have been given added time in this life through Grace.

Jesus my savior has rescued me from eternal damnation and has chosen me to be in Heaven one day with him. There are no words that I have that can express my complete thankfulness. It makes me cry just thinking about it that he loves me that much. Thanks be to the Holy Spirit that through countless Christians, he kept the Gospel alive to inspire and teach generations about who the Trinity is and what he has done and continues to do for all mankind. 

I feel like the richest man on Earth. I have a treasure that no one can take from me or tax me on it. I have Eternal life in Heaven with my Lord Jesus. I have my destiny all laid out for me. I have incurable cancer that affects my day to day life and yet I am not scared of the outcome. I will see my loved ones again and live forever in Heaven. What could be better!!

Monika's Story

My first semester in university was my most trying and difficult time. I realized that it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind and I was so far away from everything and everyone, that it wasn’t as easy to turn to someone for comfort. I started doubting everything: my decision to have moved away from home, my choice in university, and eventually, I also started to doubt God. I had never up to that point experienced such loneliness and sadness so I didn’t understand why he would let this happen. During those four months, I talked to God constantly. I turned to passages, read so many times that once used to only be words, but now all of a sudden had so much more meaning. I started looking at his word in a whole new light, and when the suffering finally eased, I realized that I had never been as close to him as I am now. Once again, I saw his hand at work and I was reminded that there’s a bigger and better plan unfolding than ours. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ –this is the Lord’s declaration– ‘Plans for your welfare, not for disaster, plans to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11). And there’s a certain sense of relief when I think that no matter what happens in my life, good or bad, it is all part of God’s plan.

I think of Jesus and how the reason and a purpose for everything that happened during his time was revealed and is clear to Christians. The ultimate sacrifice itself, which before Jesus resurrected, people didn’t understand why it happened, is the greatest comfort we all have today. The love shown to us through this act doesn’t stop there. If God would sacrifice Jesus to be with us, then why would anything he does ultimately be bad for us? Knowing that God is in control and does everything for our good fills me with a sense of peace like nothing else. This is something I never had before I went through a more trying time and today I am so grateful for it. Today, even when things aren’t going the way I planned, I think of the way God has always done things for a reason and feel better instantly, thanking him for his reassurance in his word.

Yi's Story

 I first stumbled upon St. Paul as an international student. I was already curious about Christianity: my close friend’s mother, Auntie Zhao, went from a sombre quiet woman with a trauma-filled past, to a woman who sang while she cooked and enthusiastically shared how happy she was to have found her Father in heaven, to be a Christian.  I could not believe the transformation, and it stuck with me. Many years later, when I migrated to Canada, I decided to check out one of the Christian churches in Sandy Hill that I walked by everyday on my way to get groceries. I borrowed a Bible from Sue in the church office and was invited to a bible class.

I started attending, mostly to work on my English, but as I continued in the class, Christianity starting making sense to me. It was no longer a mysterious, magical religion, but real and relevant to my life.  I used to think I came to Canada just to seek a new adventure. Now, I believe that the Lord was calling me to know more about him, to be his dear child.

Rob's Story

My faith isn’t something I just practice or preach, it is my identity. God through the gospel has woven into the very fabric of who I am the core truth that Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sinful nature and to provide me with everlasting life. However, there was a time when my view of my faith wasn’t so simple. As a youth, my journey was full of twists and turns and external pressures, and I succumbed to the temptations of the world to conform to societal norms out of fear of being alienated from my peers. Consequently, I drifted from the Lord and became lost. The further I drifted from the bible and church, the less I could hear His voice. Sadly to say, I had found the ability to fully tune him out of my life.

This went on until the day I met my wife, Brittany Ypma (Livingston), who reminded me of the sacrifice that was made for me so that I may live. This reclamation has allowed me to reconnect with the Lord and has reignited a spark within me that was out for far too long. So in closing, you may ask me what my faith means to me? It means everything! It is my north star that guides me each and every day. And although I may stumble and fall from time to time, I reminded by the Gospel that the Lord will be there to catch me. The Lord will always be there for you!

Phil's Story

There’s nothing like a good old fashion End Times sermon, eighteen months after you have been given two years to live. The initial diagnosis of a cancer which is untreatable and terminal was certainly devastating enough to call for a couple of good anti-depressants. This is fertile ground for all the doubts that tend to swirl around in our sinful minds.

But the real hero here is Martin Luther. He had his own demons to work through and after years of contemplation rediscovered for me what is a couple of relatively simple concepts that have guided our Synod.  Letting the Bible interpret the Bible, the 4 Solas (Christ Alone, Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone) and the unmistakeable promise of the Bible from the very first verses to the end are key points. These have been important focal points for me in these later years. Keeping it simple and not letting the opinions of scientists and others rein has really simplified my beliefs.

Our shepherds have the training to read and understand the Bible in the original text. Being able to filter the Biblical principles back to the intended context is a crucial capability. As a younger student, the Bible seems like a bunch of discrete stories, and the tie-in to Christ was not something appreciated initially. That tie-in allows for the Bible to interpret the Bible in a way not previously appreciated. The Solas are unshakable truths that bear the bones of our Christian belief and strip away a lot of the human fluff that has been added to many versions of Christianity.

Today I stand, tomorrow I continue my cancer treatment. GOD only knows what will happen, but I am comfortable at the foot of Christ, in spite of what my emotions may look like.

David's Story

As I opened my New Testament, I expected to read a passage and then return to life as usual. Instead I found this: 
 
Once a man came to Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what good thing must I do to receive eternal life?” "Why do you ask me concerning what is good?” answered Jesus. “There is only One who is good. Keep the commandments if you want to enter life.” "What commandments?” he asked. Jesus answered, “Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not accuse anyone falsely; respect your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” "I have obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. 
Matthew 19:16-20a, Good News Translation 

But I obviously had not obeyed all those commandments! Condemned by Jesus, I fell to my knees, begging to be allowed somehow to enter eternal life as a slave. 

Years later I learned that because "the only One who is good" was sentenced to death for my crime, I not only received eternal life but received it as God's forgiven child. Grace alone. 

I did not receive it by doing a good thing but simply by believing that good news. Faith alone. 

No church council or Pope could take the joy of this full pardon from me, for I had not learned it from mortals but from the very words of God. Scripture alone. 
 
Just as I am, thou wilt receive, 
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; 
Because thy promise I believe, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 
(from “Just As I Am,” Charlotte Elliott, CW 397)
 
[This story can also be found on David's blog, DawningRealm.org]
 

Anne's Story

I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and immigrated to Canada with my parents when I was a baby. I grew up in the greater-Toronto area. I came to Ottawa to go to University, stayed and got married. That is how I became a member of St. Paul’s.

Along the curves and bumps in my life, I was fortunate to have a wonderful Christian woman steer me in the right direction, get me back on track and cheer me on. My mother-in-law, Viola LaSalle. She was an inspiring, wise, and strong woman. She appeared in my life like a blessing, just at the right time and with purpose. She was a powerful role model and a firm reminder of who I am and what I can become in Christ.

Viola was a farmer’s daughter who moved to the city, raised a family and later in life, developed a successful health care career. More importantly, she was a Christian woman with a strong faith that was evident every day of her life. Her church was the centerpiece of her life and she dedicated countless hours over her long life to it. 

Everyone she came into contact with knew that her faith was her priority. She was not afraid to stand up for the good news that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. I learned from Viola that we cannot life a single day without giving thanks for the forgiveness of our sins. Viola mirrored her Saviour’s forgiveness for us through how she lived her life.

I miss her. Whenever I asked for her opinion, I always got a thoughtful, caring, faith-based response. About five years ago, I developed some serious health concerns. I have a disease called Sarcoidosis that causes white blood cells to clump together. They are in several places in my body but the most serious place is my heart. It was a shock to me when I got sick but Viola played a big part in helping me adjust to my new normal. She was struggling with her own heart health issues by then, but I don’t know what I would have done if I had not had her to talk to. She brought me back to God’s word when I needed guidance when I was sick. And I know she prayed for me.

My son was devastated when she died a few years ago. He kept saying,” what am I going to do without her”? My response was, “you are going to become the person she would want you to be, living your life in Christ. She laid the foundation. We need to take up where she left off”.

Jess' Story

I always look at myself as one of the most fortunate people in the world. I grew up in a big, loud, fun, and religious family. My parents, my three older sisters and I went to church every Sunday, participated in Sunday schools and all of the different church functions. I even had the incredible opportunity to travel to different places throughout North America with our St. Paul Lutheran Church’s Youth Group. It was a really great experience being so young, and getting to share everything with so many different people who believed in the exact same thing that I did.

When I was about 11 years old, my family and I went on an 8 week road trip around North America. One of our destinations was Pike’s Peak, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. My dad was driving up the mountain with my whole family in the van. The road going up the mountain was steep and very narrow. As you can imagine, the tension was high in the van. Nobody was talking or moving. Finally, one of my sisters asked, “what’s going on?” Everybody answered that they were nervous of falling off the mountain. She joyfully replied, “if we go down at least we all go down together! We can all be in heaven together!” We all laughed and thought she was crazy to think that way, but then we all realized that she was right. There was nothing to worry about.

It’s that faith that gives you peace. The faith that if something goes wrong, we’ll be ok. Because of Jesus, we know we’re forgiven children of God and really have nothing to worry about in life. I feel so blessed that I grew up in a Christian home. Don't get me wrong, I have definitely had my own struggles in life, but I know that I can always count on God and my family to help me through them.
 
“Do not be afraid: do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Karen's Story

We weren't created to do it— die that is. Losing a loved one is an event none of us want to experience but for Christians who lose Christian parents, siblings, spouses, or friends even though there is understandable sorrow there is also comfort in knowing that that person is with their Saviour.

But there was a Christian death a number of years ago that blew me off my feet. I was flattened by a grief so harsh, the depths of which I had never experienced before, even when my dad died. This grief was crushing and it came with immediacy when we received news that our beloved friend, who suffered with the debilitating mental illness of clinical depression for years, jumped off a massive highway bridge. 

He had been hospitalized about a month earlier, was released after a week or so and seemed to be doing fairly well. Then that fateful phone call. The anguish felt as if someone was standing on my chest. I couldn’t breath. Not for just a day or a week or even months but for years and it was exactly where the devil wanted me—suffocating with relentless doubt. How could my God allow such a tragedy to happen to this family whom we loved so dearly, who served Him in so many ways, leaving our daughter’s Godmother and her three daughters to mourn? Did He not promise to guard and protect us? Why did our treasured friend, who loved his Saviour, have to suffer so extremely and meet such a death?

Comfort did not come easy. Questions did. 

But praise be to God that the foundations of my upbringing (nightly devotions lead by my mom or dad, parochial primary and secondary school, weekly church and Sunday school, and parental dedication to my spiritual health during my rebellious teens and early 20’s) taught me to cling to Him in times of trial and not to turn away. So, I searched the Scriptures alone for answers; for air fresh enough for me to breath. And over and over, every night before I went to sleep I would read these passages of comfort and assurance:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  John 10:27-29

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 35-39

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not even the heinous results of mental illness. 

On these sure promises, I could breath. On these sure promises I could sing with the Psalmist, “Restore unto me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with your free Spirit.” On these sure promises I could stand. And on these sure and rock solid promises, I am still standing.

Judy's Story

One of the major events we will face in our lives is the death of our parents.
My father passed away suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 55 when I was in my early teens, leaving my mother to raise her three children.  This she did with a quiet strength and faith that the Lord would be by her side with his word and sacraments and nurtured this faith in us.

As a selfish teenager I often failed to realize the hardship my mother faced and must have added to her woes.  However, I was a recent confirmand, so the catechism pointed me to a solid way of coping with loss, finding comfort and strength In God's word.

Last year my mother passed away, fifty-two years after her husband, at the age of almost 101.  In the last years as her health declined, her faith in her Saviour remained a constant source of strength.  She was determined to attend church, something we may take for granted, which took a huge effort on her part. Finally receiving holy communion and hearing the benediction in her hospital bed, a beautiful smile crossed her lips.  God's gracious gift of forgiveness was hers through her faith in Jesus.

When the time comes to face death, our own or that of a loved one, we know we have nothing to fear.  In the words of the hymn "God's Word is our Great Heritage", we sing "in life it guides our way, in death it is our stay, Lord grant while worlds endure, we keep its teaching pure, Throughout all generations."

Christine's Story

Religious radicalism was the norm in my childhood. My parents raised me and my siblings in a religious cult complete with a charismatic leader who claimed to speak with God and lots of abuse. When my parents finally left, my Dad gave up on God and my mom lost herself in her mental illness. As a young child, I didn’t understand what was going on, but I was afraid much of the time: scared of my parents, fearful of life, and terrified of God and all things spiritual.

But God still found a way to bring me to him. After a psychotic episode, my mom believed she was supposed to send me to a Lutheran elementary school. So, at the age of 10, I started to hear God’s Word taught by pastors and teachers who did not give me religious answers based on visions and new revelations but by letting Scripture interpret Scripture and always bringing it back to basic law and gospel: all have sinned, but Christ has died for all people; it is by grace you have been saved. I had a road map to understand my life and the Christian God. And I stopped being afraid.

I find it humbling and inspiring that God uses ordinary people to reveal his love to others. Looking back, I can see Jesus in the lives and actions of so many in my life: 
  • The Christian friends and families who welcomed me into their homes and treated me as a surrogate daughter
  • A church family who covered the cost of my school tuition so I could continue to hear God’s Word and provided food and clothing for me and my brother when they knew there was little at home
  • The Christian counselors who helped me heal and learn how to survive trauma
  • The Christian mentors who invested in me and encouraged me to grow in my knowledge and trust in the Lord.
  • A Christian spouse and extended family who live their life to share Christ’s love and glorify God
I don’t know why God has seen fit to preserve and protect my life as he has. But I am honored to be his child, nurture and train my own children to love and follow the Lord, and use my life to show Christ’s love to others, like me, who were broken and alone.

Helen's Story

I was blessed by being born into a strong Lutheran family here at St. Paul. My parents’ first concern was that I together with my two sisters were brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We attended Sunday School, Saturday School, Confirmation Class, and were involved in our youth program, the Walther League. God has richly blessed me, especially when He brought my beloved Ernie into my life—as young people and during our marriage we served our Lord together.

I learned from a child how Jesus, My Saviour, died for me—took away all my sins—and rose again so that heaven was mine by his grace alone. I could do nothing to earn my way to heaven… and the knowledge that Jesus died for me is still overwhelming.

Through my 85 years I was given the blessing of teaching Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, working with teenagers with my husband as counsellors, and serving the Lord in our women societies of St. Paul. I still cannot fathom the undeserved love of Our Saviour and Lord. Raising our two children and sharing our faith with them as they grew up helped my faith grow.

Now in the twilight years of my life have come challenges that are different and difficult to face. As I draw closer to the time of meeting my Saviour and Lord face to face, I find myself looking back over the years, and I once more thank God for the many many blessings he has given me… and also for the knowledge and faith that my sins are all forgiven, all my shortcomings wiped away.

I have had various surgeries in these past years and each time my heart fills with joy to know that God is with me every step of the way and I can place my life in his loving arms. In early October I once again face cancer surgery, and do not know what the Lord’s plan is for me. But this I do know: because Jesus died for me and rose again, heaven is mine. No matter what the outcome of my surgery is or his plan for my life—whether he wants me on earth to serve him more, or whether he wants to take me home to heaven—I am in his hands.

However, this I know: my sins are all forgiven. And through his grace alone heaven is mine and the glory of God is waiting there for me.

Marina's Story

I went though a very difficult health challenge time a few years ago. It was clearly that the Holy spirit and Love from God that I had learned in the Bible that ensured me, directed me and accompanied me as I went through a long, hard and rewarding recovery journey which lead to my life of today! Going through that difficult period, I felt the words from God, the love from Him and the Spirit from Him was with me all the time. I knew He was watching me from Heaven above and He took care of me in every step I put forward. I knew this because I had learned it clearly from the bible that I am his child through Jesus’ death on the cross. I became a Christian as an adult. I received countless help and support from our brothers and sisters in Christ during the process of becoming a Christian. I am still benefiting from this fellowship today, and I know this clearly is the Love from God to me.

I was recently married, and during our wedding preparations, we booked our wedding flowers 3 months in advance and set the date as June 10th to have the flowers delivered to church at 10am. The date and time of June 10th, 10 am was also inputed in the computer database of the flower shop. However the owner for some reason had the date as June 11th in her mind and she had not done anything at 10am on June 10th when Simon went into the store to pick up the flower band for my hair. What a scary disappointment that our wedding would start in 5 hrs and no flowers had been prepared for us! But God had a plan. The owner kindly made apologies to us and committed to have the flowers delivered to our church by 12pm - 2 hrs late but good enough for our 3pm ceremony. It turns out God did want flowers in our wedding! We were so thankful for this blessing! And even if flowers had not been delivered, we still know that our God is in control and he is watching over us, his children, for Jesus’ sake.