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My name is Tonya Thomas and I serve on the leadership team at i195. I want to share with you how God has given my life purpose and proven to me that His grace truly is sufficient for all things.
In Jeremiah 29:11-13, it says ‘For I know the thoughts I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me, and find Me when you search for me with all your heart.’
I never thought I was worth anything. I never knew that life had meaning or purpose. Most of my life was spent seeking approval from other people, namely my peers. I was constantly trying to fit in and be like others because whoever I was, was not enough. I didn’t grow up in a Christian family, so there was no biblical influence around me. Growing up I always felt like an outcast, like there was nothing I could do to fit into the mold that everyone else seemed to fit into.
Not only did I feel like an outcast but there was one significant difference between myself and the majority of everyone around me. I was black and they were white. Growing up in a predominately white neighborhood and feeling so different, I began to believe that what was different about me must be bad. I did not know that my skin color, my hair, my features, and my culture were hand picked by God Himself. Needless to say, the lies I chose to believe caused a deep emotional turmoil within me. I stuffed all of this inside and never shared it with anyone - not even family. How could I think such things? How could I not be proud of my heritage? I was afraid of how I felt so I kept it all inside.
I turned to substances, people, clothes, money, etc. to make me feel good about myself. Going off to college I found everything I was using for temporary fixes wrapped up in tight knit depraved community. I started partying heavily. I abused alcohol, then drugs and then turned to seeking the affection of men. I was hooked on the highs because I could forget about who I was and in a sense became someone else. But moments of sobriety reminded me that I was still this hurting girl, trying so hard to fit in though I never truly did. This downward spiral in my life led me to dropping out of college and getting fired from a job because of my partying lifestyle.
Then God intervened in my life in a big way. I found a new job and my boss was a Christian woman who slowly began taking interest in my life. At the same time I had gotten to a point where I knew there had to be more to life than what I was experiencing. I remember making this statement towards God, ‘if this is all there is to life, then I don't want to live anymore.’ God heard my prayers and He placed a desire for something more to live for in my heart and slowly but surely my life began to change.
My boss invited me to church and church became ‘home’ for me. My pastor would preach about the lifestyle I was living as if he knew me and knew I was sitting in those chairs listening to his sermon. I know now it was the Holy Spirit pleading through him. I was being led to repentance through God’s goodness being expressed through that man. I would just weep. I knew I needed to change.
Jeremiah 29:11-13 was the first verse that ever truly spoke to my heart. My boss had written it in a bible that she gave to me. God showed me in this verse that I was thought about and that there was a divine purpose for my life. I realized everything that I had filled my life with apart from God had left me completely empty.
I made a decision to surrender to and follow Jesus, the living God. And from that decision has come so much! He has led me into many adventures, doing things I never thought possible. He has shown me my true identity in Christ. After completing a yearlong discipleship school, I got to serve on the mission field in places like India, Central America, & Africa where I grew even more in my relationship with God!
Now serving here at Impact195 I get to see where I fit into His body, the church. He has revealed my spiritual gifts to me and has shown me that my purpose lies in my contribution to His kingdom and helping others grow. I love getting the opportunity to encourage people to trust Jesus even when they feel they can't.
When I came to know God my sins didn't automatically leave me. I still struggled. But He promised that if we seek Him with all our hearts we will find Him and I have found Him time and time again. In the midst of sin, He can freed me from that bondage. It came not from relying on my own strength or power but relying on the almighty power of God. He always shows up!
Many of the Impact195 students that graduate go onto the mission field. A part of my desire is to encourage them to go and persevere through the hard times. I get to pray for them and be a listening ear when discouragement comes their way. It's extremely fulfilling to get to care for the souls of the Rock Ambassadors we send out and also to receive them home again. This is a part of my godly purpose and I know that there is more to come!