I was born and raised in the area of Columbus, Ohio. I came from a family that, four generations earlier, had been strictly Catholic on my father’s side, and my mother had been raised a Catholic. But my brothers and I were raised as Protestants. I was saved in 1969 when I was 14 years of age. All of my prior years I had a desire to know about God and learn what Jesus Christ was all about. As a little one I attended a handful of different denominations with my various friends, as our family was not set on exactly where we should go. My father’s side of the family, because they couldn’t make up their minds, went between the Baptists and the Nazarenes. My mother wanted to be in the Presbyterian denomination. All of us kids were just left to make up our own minds.
My mother told us as children that we were Christians. I went to a couple of Nazarine revivals and “got saved” each time. Even though my heart was for the Lord I didn’t experience anything unique until, at 14, I accidentally encountered a free group. A friend of mine had noticed a house a few doors away from hers was being run by a handful of young people and they had a pool table, and the house was open to the public. She wanted to go down and check it out. So we went. Much to my surprise I came to know they were a Christian group. That day some very unique things began to happen inside of me. I had a strong desire to come back when they were having a meeting, so I found out their schedule. The next meeting was Saturday night, almost a week away. All week long I was excited deep inside; I knew this day I would be saved. I watched the clock until it was half an hour before the meeting and then I walked the five-minute walk to their place. All the way there my feet felt like they were lifting themselves off the ground almost like I was running, but I tried very hard not to show my excitement. I was nervous, but I really knew somehow I was going to get saved. There were only a small number of people there, 15 maybe. We lined the front room floor like a circle and made two rows so there was just enough room for the Puerto Rican brother who was speaking. I can’t remember the specific message, but a couple times he looked right at me and asked if anyone wanted to be saved. I didn’t speak up. I was terrified. Should I go through with this? He had been asking us if we would let Jesus Christ make his home in our heart and I had no clue what he meant. How could Jesus get inside of me, into my heart? The second or third time he asked he looked right at me again and said, “Cheri, would you like to let Jesus into your heart?” I squeaked out a little ‘yes’ and then just burst into tears. I had been holding my breath, trying not to cry. I must have cried all night—tears of joy with a complete release inside of me. That night I smiled so much my cheeks hurt. My childhood had been so empty for so long that for the first time in my life I could say I experienced true joy and happiness, and I had a deep sense that everything was going to be all right. The most unique thing about this experience was I began to open my mouth and say “Jesus” out loud. The first day after I was saved I woke up and immediately said, “Jesus” and before the word could leave my mouth my joy came back and I knew He never left me. At first I would look up to the heavens and talk to Jesus my Lord, but it was not long before I realized that the answers were coming from inside of me, not from above me. He had come into my heart and was living inside of me. I walked for hours in the summer, along the country roads, just talking to Him, telling Him every little feeling I had and how happy I was to have found Him. Some people later tried to say that it was not Jesus but a representative of Jesus inside of me, but I had news for them, when I said “Jesus”, the One inside answered. Three weeks after I was saved I was baptized in the river on the north end of town, just above the dam. It was an incredible evening. When I came out of the water it was as if there were three suns shining all around me. There was a brightness coming from within me that I think only I could see, and it was bright, clear and almost like being in the heavens. I shook with life and my whole being was enveloped in His presence. I felt like I had been kissed by God.
Like most people, within a year or so my experience of the Lord began to fade for reasons that I could not explain. Eventually I left the free group because people changed hands and it just wasn’t the same. It seemed no one had a sense to take care of the ones who got saved. Just get saved and ‘be out there’ and somehow you will go on. During the next three years I searched for anyone who could give me something real from God to feed on in my heart. I didn’t want to hear ‘about’ Jesus, I wanted to hear from Jesus. Talk is cheap, but the person is priceless. All I wanted was to find Jesus again. I didn’t want to hear, “be good and you’ll go to heaven”, or “now you have to do what Jesus did in the gospels”; I was getting sick of the routine answers of what to do and how to be. I wanted something to satisfy my inner being. In 1972, my senior year, I went back to the free group. They were reading some particular books by Watchman Nee and were looking for a place to buy some more. They found a group of people that were practicing what Watchman Nee ministered and came back to our group and just simply told us, ‘you have to come and see’. In the next few months our whole group of 30 people moved to meet with the local church in Akron, Ohio. There was real peace inside. I knew this was my home, a place where the people called on the name of Jesus and got the person of that name. I have been here for 27 years now, and life hasn’t always been so rosy and wonderful, but I am at home with the believers who desire to know God in a deeper way. And Jesus is there when I call on His name to guide me and comfort me and lead me in His paths. I’m not searching through an endless pile of meaningless sermons for a little bite to eat any more. I’m not wondering what the will of God is—for I have found the answer in His Word.