Every week God is at work in the lives of the people of The Image Church. Check out this story from Haley about how the gospel casts out fear and liberates us to pray for those that hurt us:

   I just wanted to let Pastor Matt know how awesome his sermon was this past Sunday on 1 Peter 3, the Michael Dunn trial, and racism. I’ve been blessed by the Image Church, and its leadership to address issues like this head on so we can experience unity in our differences.

   Sunday’s sermon was a real full circle moment for me that I’ve been praying for, for many years.  Just a short background on me, I’m a white 20-something, grew up in J-ville on the Southside, met my husband in youth group, we’ve been married for 7 years, no kids, sounds pretty ‘pasty’ so far, right?! 

   I never considered myself someone who cared about race. I’ve always had a heart for volunteering and helping people, young, old, black, white, Hispanic, it didn’t matter. In college I worked at The Sanctuary on 8th St. in Springfield for a couple years. I drove a 14-passenger van around Springfield, picking kids up from Andrew Robinson, Andrew Jackson, Mattie V, taking them to The Sanctuary where we did homework, tutoring, played outside, etc. We’d cook the kids a big meal, we called ‘snack’, in case they didn’t have any dinner when they got home, they wouldn’t be hungry. I picked kids up off Phoenix doing drug deals, to take them to Basketball practice. I was so white, I didn’t even know they were drug dealing. One kid asked me if I’d circle the block and come back around to pick him up, I figured hey, whatever gets him in the van to practice. I later realized he was finishing a drug deal. Anyway, I was fearless, I guess because I saw what all my kids had to overcome daily, I figured what in the world did I have to worry for. I felt God was always watching over us.

"I was so white, I didn’t even know they were drug dealing."

   Fast forward to four years ago. My husband Thomas and I were in a wedding in Riverside and the wedding party decided to go to Kickbacks afterwards to celebrate a friend’s birthday. We parked in that lit alley behind the restaurant. Two black men approach our car, one on each side, put guns to both of our heads and demand money, cash specifically. We didn’t have any cash, this really ticked them off, and they became increasingly aggressive. I become hysterical, the guy holding the gun to my head, pushes me back into the car, pushes my head down onto the seat, and tells me to ‘shut-up’. My husband, looks the guy holding the gun on him, right in the eye, and says ‘look man, we don’t have any cash, you can have whatever you want, my wallet, her purse, just get the gun off my wife’s head’. Thomas tells me to calm down, stop making noise and hand them my purse. He completely deescalated their temper. They took my purse and Thomas’ wallet, told us to drive out a certain direction, and kept guns pointed on our car until we left the alley.

"You can have whatever you want, my wallet, her purse, just get the gun off my wife’s head."

   Some people (Mostly males) we’ve shared this story with, have commented on ‘What they would’ve done’ in that situation, it usually involves some breaking bad, guns blazing, matrix, Ju-Jitsu, moves they imagine would just come to them in that split second moment of panic. And I thank God everyday I’m not married to one of them, because we’d probably both be dead! I’m so thankful my husband was able to talk to our aggressors and reason with them, to let us go unharmed. Unharmed physically that is.

   That night I was completely robbed of my colorblindness (for lack of a better word), and now I was acutely aware of color, and specifically anyone that looked like my attacker, would bring physical fear into my body. My heart would race and my neck and face would turn red, when someone would walk too closely to me. I avoided certain sides of town, gas stations, and parking lots. My husband was working out of town, and had to request in town work. I was put on medication because I couldn’t sleep. I built up walls to protect myself and I was consumed with fear.

"That night I was completely robbed of my colorblindness..."

   Over the last four years, since that night, my husband and I have struggled to find a church we felt God was leading us to be involved in. We’d visit different places, but nothing fit. I prayed for a couple of years for God to guide our family to where we were supposed to be. His plan was so much greater than mine. I found Image on Facebook through a friend ‘liking’ their page, then read their mission statement, and was intrigued. However, when I saw their address, I put off wanting to visit, never even mentioning it to Thomas. I was visiting with a friend, and telling her about our struggle to find a church and she said she went to Image, and really enjoyed the teaching. I was thinking, out of all the churches in Jax., really? Ok God, I get it.

   Thomas and I visited for the first time about 6 months ago. I think we we’re both scared how much we immediately felt in our spirits we were supposed to be here. The clear difference in Image and the other places we’d visited was that they were projecting Christ outward, not inward. We’d visited places where it seemed to be ‘All about me’ doctrine, almost like a self-help book. Image is being Jesus to Jacksonville. When Matt spoke about ‘What Jesus would look like in our city, in Jacksonville’, it was like I’d never thought of that?! But I bet it wouldn’t look like big red velvet aisles, hymnals and pearls?! It spoke to my heart, and I knew we were in the midst of likeminded believers who were here to be servants.

   God has shown me since being at Image that I was trying so hard to protect myself, when that’s not my job. If I believe the Gospel and what he’s done on the cross for me, I cannot keep trying to do this life in my own power, he is my protector. Pastor Matt preached on the parable of The Good Samaritan, when someone asked Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor’? I immediately got convicted; I was trying to choose my neighbors because of my fear. Then, this Sunday in 1 Peter 3, it brought it home, 14. ‘Do not be afraid, and do not worry’…’Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in you’. Is anyone asking about my hope? Not if I’m living in fear, avoiding life?!

 "If I believe the Gospel and what he’s done on the cross for me, I cannot keep trying to do this life in my own power, he is my protector."

   This Sunday, Jordan Davis Day, Matt put on the video of Jordan Davis’ mother, saying she would pray for Michael Dunn, it hit me that I had never once thought to pray for those two men who put guns to our heads that night. I prayed for them for the first time in 4 years this past Sunday. It felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders, and a full circle moment for me. Thank you Matt for letting God use you to speak to me, my prayers were answered when God guided us to The Image Church.

(sidenote: That kid who asked me to circle the block, later went on to get a job at the Publix in Riverside that helps him pay for college at FSCJ and I hug his neck every time I see him at Publix, I’m so proud that he has become active in his community, and has protested at both the George Zimmerman trial, and the Michael Dunn trial for justice. I still volunteer when I can at The Sanctuary on 8th St. )



Aaron Ventura1 Comment