Jesus loves me

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A woman’s journey to Christ

by Linda Klassen

The Klassens

 

The power of the resurrection is at work today among the women and men in our U.S. Mennonite Brethren congregations. Linda Klassen, who recently became a member at Kingsburg (Calif.) MB Church, is one of many who testify to the power of our resurrected Savior and his overwhelming love for them.

I was born in 1953, the second of four children, and raised in Bakersfield, California. My mother was a bilingual Spanish American and my father was a red-headed and hot-headed German. Mother raised us Catholic; Dad attended only on Easter and Christmas.

God was a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I prayed the Rosary daily, attended church every Sunday and completed my catechism. I was baptized as an infant, had my first communion at age seven and was confirmed at age 16. I believed in the Holy Catholic Church, God and his son, Jesus, Mary the mother of God and all the saints.

During high school I was a popular, outgoing girl who everyone knew. I was elected spring queen in my junior year. I dated a popular football player who I fell madly in love with.   Things looked so good on the outside, but inside I was filled with fear and loneliness.

At home, my father’s drinking was growing out of control, and he became an angry, mean drunk.  I was afraid of him. My mother, having “found” Jesus only a year earlier, was dealing with her own demons, launching Bible verses at my dad with legal accuracy and deadly result. I had lost my foundation, and home was no longer a safe place.

 

New life flickers

When I was a sophomore a friend invited me to a Christian weekend youth camp.  During one of the talks, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior and immediately told my friend. I wanted to speak with the counselor, but the boisterous crowd of teenagers was so thick I could not talk with him. I knew nothing of Christianity or walking with the Lord. When I got home, I told my mother what happened, but she wasn’t a Christian at the time and did not take me seriously. 

My new life grew dim. I began to shoplift with the girlfriend who had invited me to the youth camp. My boyfriend broke up with me, leaving me more confused and angry than ever. My life continued to spiral out of control. I would sneak out my bedroom window at night to meet up with the other kids looking for excitement. The tiny life in me was silent.

During my senior year, I came home to find my mother on a ladder in the garage trying to hang herself. I climbed up behind her, hugged her back and prayed to a God I had forgotten about. Mom was trembling and silent but eventually backed down the ladder and proceeded to lock herself in the bathroom. She would not answer when I knocked or called to her. I sat by that bathroom door until she came out 90 minutes later. 

After high school I got a job, attended college and dated many boys, always looking to fill that empty place inside me. One day my father’s coworker came to my parents’ home and invited my dad to a Local Church* meeting. Although my dad declined, I accepted the invitation.

 

Finding an immediate family

At Local Church I found an immediate family to hold and protect me. I learned that God loved me, especially if I conformed to the group. I burned my school books in the fireplace because I had found God and did not have to look any further. I burned pictures of my family and gave my heart and soul to the church group. I was happy for the first time in a very long time. 

I met Stan Klassen in a church meeting. We married six weeks later and made our home in Fresno. Since I barely knew Stan, our marriage was not a happy one for several years. I always wondered if we were actually married since an elder from the Local Church was the one to marry us.  We stayed in Local Church for 11 years, during which time we cut out both of our families, old friends and all outside contact with Christianity because “Christianity was Christ-less.”   Our sole focus was Christ and Local Church. All reading material was written and distributed by the Living Stream Ministry, the publishing division of Local Church. 

Stan and I had two boys while with this group.  One of my biggest regrets is not being there for my sons as they grew. Although I worked fulltime, we attended church meetings every night, once Saturday morning and twice on the Lord’s Day, leaving very little family time. Striving to be more Christ-like, the women of the church gave up pants and only wore skirts and dresses. The “sisters” always sat in the back row at the meetings and always with a head covering.

 

One miraculous morning

In early 1986 I developed hepatitis and was hospitalized twice. We were taught in the meetings that illness is an indication of sin in your life, so very few church members called or came over to offer support. We were also taught that Christ was only in the meetings, so we were in darkness if we were not there to hear him speak. I had to remain in bed for nearly six weeks after my release from the hospital, and during my convalescence I felt rejected by God and very alone.  

But one miraculous morning, Jesus spoke to me! He assured me he loved me, and that if I listened, I would hear his voice crying out to me. I was shocked, since I totally believed Christ was only in the church meetings. But that day I heard his sweet voice telling me he loved me. It felt like blinders were taken away and my heart basked in Jesus’ love for me. This was the Jesus I met so long ago and had left behind. This was Jesus, my Lord and Savior!

My strength began to come back, and my labs gradually returned to normal. My skin was no longer yellow but glowed with this new life in me. When I returned to the church meetings, people barely spoke to me, and the head elder made some quip about my absence. The meetings began to lose their allure and paled in comparison to the Jesus who spoke to me with such kindness during my illness. I had to leave! I did not fit any longer.

As clear as if it were yesterday, I remember holding our youngest son and telling my husband I was leaving the church. If that meant I would leave him behind, that was okay with me.  But miraculously Stan said he did not want to lose me and the children. He would follow, and we attended our last meeting in March of 1986.

 

Choosing love

The adjustment back to the world was harder than I had anticipated. We had no support system since we had cut off our families and friends. The boys had attended our private church school, and now they had to attend public school. Stan and I renewed our marriage vows, deciding love was a choice and we would choose love. New life filled our marriage, and for the first time in 11 years I fell in love with my husband. 

We moved from Fresno to Kingsburg in 1989 because Andrew, our oldest son, was having trouble transitioning into public school life. We settled into a small house. Andy joined Little League and quickly became a home run star! He loved it in Kingsburg, began writing poetry and excelled in both school and sports. 

 

Running to our great God

At the end of 1989, Andrew was diagnosed with Lymphoblastic Lymphoma and died 13 months later at the age of 13. During his illness, he and I both struggled with the idea that God was punishing us for leaving the church. We had been taught this, and its poison still lurked in the shadows of our minds. I don’t really know how God did it, but he showed us differently.  Illness was not from God as a punishment but came with the fall. We read in the book of Revelation every night about the streets of gold and the gates of pearl. It became like a travel brochure. When asked if he was saved, Andy said, “Every chance I get!”   

An angel named Victor visited Andy and was there when Andy died. Before he died, Andy had said that if people only knew how great God is they’d come running! A few nights after he died, both Andy’s nurse and his grandmother had the same dream of Andy standing up in a convertible with a group of kids. He was waving his arms and shouting, “Tell Mom I’m all right!”

Three months after Andrew went to heaven, his little brother, Sandy, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1991 at the age of 10 years. The journey began again. Sandy eventually had surgery in 1997, performed by a leading pediatric neurosurgeon, to de-bulk the tumor. The tumor was diagnosed as a slow growing cancer called an Astrocytoma. Because the surgeon was unable to get all the tumor, Sandy underwent six weeks of radiation. As a result Sandy lost half of his vision and does not feel comfortable enough to drive. His memory gives him fits. His left side is smaller and weaker than the right, but he is here! He is an amazing person, kind hearted and very industrious, and we love him so.

 

Every step of the way

Looking back, I have to say God has been with me every step of the way. Even when I couldn’t hear him and was looking in all the wrong places, my precious Jesus was there. But to be truthful, after Andy died, I was angry for a very long time. It was a sort of quiet, desperate anger that defies all logic. While I knew Andy was with God, he wasn’t with me and that hurt beyond words. My Sandy was dealt a bad hand, and I couldn’t fix it. On my darkest days, I sometimes wondered if God had forgotten him.

After Andy died, I did not feel strong enough to attend any church, but after years of wandering in the wilderness, God has begun to speak to me again. He is drawing me to himself. He has provided a loving church family to support me and walk alongside of me. My wounded heart is finding peace and healing.

I still have great difficulty opening-up to people because of past hurts and false teachings. But over the past year I find myself opening-up to both Christ and his church once again. I am learning to recognize and run after that sweet voice, and I still am in awe that Jesus loves me! 

Titus 3:5-7 says, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to his mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

 This is my Jesus and I stand in awe of him.

Linda Klassen is retired after 36 years with the State of California Department of Social Services, where she worked as a disability evaluation analyst and later a team manager. She enjoys quilting, cooking and reading. She lives in Kingsburg, Calif., with her husband of 42 years, two cats and five chickens and dotes on her son, Sandy Klassen, who resides in Fresno, Calif.

*For the purposes of this article, we have capitalized the name Local Church. However, churches affiliated with the local churches movement do not take a name except as a geographic marker, such as “the local church in Bakersfield.”     

 

    

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