Through it all

Testimony: God pursues us even as we wrestle with sin

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I am honored and privileged to have been brought up in a godly home, where I was taught to love God, people and God’s Word from an early age. I grew up primarily in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a few years in California and Texas as well. I gave my life to Jesus when I was 6 years old and always had a desire to know Jesus more.

But as I wrestled with acceptance from this world and conviction from the Lord, God interrupted my life to take control of my whole heart.

I went to a small, private Christian school and was very sheltered from the evils of this world. Faced with a decision to transfer to a bigger Christian school or a public school for my seventh grade year, I chose the latter because people at the public school didn’t know Jesus, and I wanted to tell them about Jesus.

However, I was not prepared for the bullying that would come from being a new kid, as well as sin running rampant around me. I was the only student in my youth group at this public school, making it even more difficult. I felt alone.

Over the next few years through dating, basketball and building friendships, I began to feel accepted. Unfortunately, my desire to seek acceptance and make more friends led to an addiction to chewing tobacco, pornography and drinking before I even began high school.

I still loved God and wanted my new friends to know God. I invited my friends to youth group and wrestled with the convictions of sin throughout the week. On weekends, I struggled with sin temptations and did not always win. As I fought to bring my friends up, I more often found myself outmanned and brought down.

Throughout high school, I never had a close friend push me to grow in my relationship with Jesus. I felt somewhat abandoned by my youth group friends, although I cannot place the blame on them. My dating relationships with girls were not helpful either.

My parents did an amazing job helping, but I needed someone who was going through what I was. There were a couple of small group leaders that were extremely helpful, but unfortunately I let fear and others’ opinions of me prevent me from being transparent about my sin issues.

I’m thankful God was with me through all of this. After my freshmen year of college, God led me to an internship opportunity with the summer Christian camp that I went to every year with my youth group, Big Stuf. God interrupted my life and drew me closer at camp, as well as called me into youth ministry. I couldn’t shake what God was doing! He started to change my desires and began helping me get rid of the sin in my life.

In February of my sophomore year, I felt the Lord call me to leave everything behind to pursue ministry in the fall. I was obedient to God’s call, recommitting my life to Jesus, getting baptized in water and the Holy Spirit, and starting my journey toward youth ministry.

Throughout three years of seminary, I saw Jesus’ faithfulness in so many ways. He created a way for me to play college basketball, to finish my bachelor’s degree and to grow in the gifting that God has given. I got an amazing, two-year internship at an Assemblies of God church in Springfield, Mo., months after graduation. I met my now wife as well. God continued to place me in beautiful and healthy environments where I experienced God’s presence and grew in the gifts that God alone gave me.

Jesus gave me peace through all of these difficult transitional decisions. From leaving college early to go to seminary, to moving out of state for an unpaid internship and then to move halfway across the United States to California to youth pastor at Mountain View Church in Fresno, Calif., four years ago.

I continue to see God’s heart for all people. He uses my mistakes, experiences and personality to empathize with others and to reach more students to encounter the life-change, healing and freedom that comes from Jesus alone!

John Leonard
John Leonard is the youth pastor at Mountain View Church in Fresno, California He and his wife, Brianna, love serving God’s youth. They moved to Clovis, California, from Oklahoma a week after getting married and started their first youth pastor position in August 2017. John and Brianna have had a heart for the next generation. They are passionate about teaching students to know God personally, to know the truth of his Word and to be able to share the good news of Jesus Christ boldly with others. John graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Southwestern Christian University, received a three-year ministry degree in student ministries from Rhema Bible Training College and is pursuing a counseling certificate from Multnomah University. He served as camp speaker at Ascent 2021.

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