Write a brief auto-biographical account of your relationship to Jesus. In the story describe your understanding of who Jesus was, what were his aims and what were the most formative influences in your understanding of Jesus.
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I grew up attending church at a very young age in a rural part of NJ. Both my parents were very involved. It was as if I was born on a Tuesday and in church on Wednesday night for a prayer meeting. Growing up, I went to church twice on Sundays ( morning Sunday school, morning worship service, and  Sunday night youth group and Sunday evening worship) and once on Wednesday night. I was thoroughly taught about the Jesus of the Gospels. I memorized the books of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I attended weekly backyard Bible Club taught by my grandmother, Vacation Bible school in the summer and, when I was old enough, I went to Bible camp. It was called Camp Haluwasa in NJ. If you want to see it here’s website http://www.haluwasa.org (Links to an external site.) ! I just looked it up. How crazy is that! What I most remember about summer camp was qualifying to swim and the dining hall ritual.
To swim in the lake without a life preserver a kid had to prove he or she could swim unassisted. You proved this by swimming to a buoy and back again under the eye of the lifeguards. If you swam the course successfully, the lifeguard would tie a bright colored piece of yarn around your arm. It was a badge of honor. If you had the yarn you felt like you were part of the cool group. You could divide up the camp between those who could swim and those who couldnâ€™t. Not being able to swim was a significant social liability. I will admit I felt somehow better than those who didnâ€™t have a piece of yarn. I donâ€™t think that was the Christian outcome they had hoped for!
The dining hall ritual is another memory. Before you ate your meals, all the campers would circle around their tables â€“ we all had assigned seats â€“ and we would sing a song and say grace before taking a seat. What I remember of the song went like this: â€œCome and dine the Masterâ€™s calling come and dine. You can feast at Jesus table anytime . . . he who fed the multitude; turned the water into wine . . . come and dine the Masterâ€™s calling; come and dine . . .â€ I remember loving camp!
It was just these kinds of experiences going to church, Bible Club Vacation Bible School and summer camps, that shaped my understanding of Jesus. Jesus was a human, but he was God. Jesus was sent by his father to die for my sins. I learned that he was kind and loving â€“ and was so particularly to children. I learned that I loved Jesus too because you should love people that love you that much. I learned that I was a sinner and I needed Jesus in my life. So at the age of 5 I prayed a prayer to Jesus and asked him in my heart. I asked him to forgive me of my sins. I told him I loved him and wanted him in my life always.
I learned a lot about Jesus through the medium of flannel graph. That is an ancient way (not really!) of using pictures to teach stories in the Bible. The teacher set up a felt board on a stand. She would place cutouts of characters from stories in the gospels. I remember the flannel graph Jesus smiled and his arms reach out. He seemed never anger or unkind. He was always soft â€“ its flannel after all. One story captured my imagination. It was the story of Jesus the good shepherd. Now as it turns out itâ€™s not a story about Jesus, but a story Jesus told. He told a parable, that is a story that attempts to shape imagination, about a shepherd. In the parable, the shepherd watches over a 100 sheep. One day he notices that one of the sheep is missing. So loving is the shepherd of each and every one of his sheep, that he leaves the 99 behind in the pen and goes in search of the one sheep. I was taught that this is just how Jesus is. He loves his sheep like that shepherd. I was told I was one of his sheep. This story taught me most of what I needed to know about Jesus. He is the good shepherd.
Of course lots of things have changed between my childhood at Camp Haluwasa and my middle adulthood now. There are some things I no longer believe or donâ€™t believe in the same way that were taught to me in church and the other places. I’ve had a number of painful experiences that have caused me to question who Jesus really was and I have historical and theological questions I haven’t found answers for. But I honestly can say that I have never stopped believing that Jesus loves me like that good shepherd.