Editor’s Note: Ehllené Bekker, a sister in the Johannesburg church, went all the way to the United States to find her way back to God. She shares her conversion story.
“I had grown up with our dad urging his children to “Maak jou saak reg met God, en laat jou doop!” (Get your case right with God, and get yourself baptized!”) I had received religious instruction, including instruction on false doctrine, from a young age. So I knew I was lost spiritually, but I needed to walk my own journey first, and not do things based on my dad’s faith.
Then the world called, and I answered. As a teenager on the Cape Flats (in Cape Town, South Africa), I got into a lot of sin, from drinking to seriously contemplating murder. One time, I actually stood with a butcher’s knife in my hand. Fortunately, I could foresee the consequences for my own future, and put the knife down.
In 1996, Henry and I got married in Cape Town shortly after my 21st birthday, before I moved to Johannesburg to join him. Less than a year later, in 1997, we bought our home, which we still live in, in Roodepoort (Gauteng, SA). In 1998, we packed a suitcase each, left our home behind and moved to the USA in pursuit of money, a good career opportunity for Henry and a life of leisure for me! James 4:13 comes to mind. But before we left, I told an old friend that when we got to the USA, I wanted to find a church. I knew I needed a community of believers if I was to “get right with God!”
Two weeks after arriving in Los Angeles, CA, I was approached by two young men who invited me to church. They offered to give my number to a South African sister in the church when they knew where I was from. Eugenie called me soon afterwards. We met her and her husband, Ken, and we soon became friends. Henry and I visited the church and started to study the Bible. But although we attended every meeting that we were invited to, including all the fun activities, we were not ready to commit.
As I did not have a work permit, and we did not have any children yet, I had a lot of free time. I only knew a few church members and one other South African couple, so naturally I spent a lot of time with Eugenie.
One afternoon, we were cooking together in our apartment, when completely out of context, I heard Eugenie say, “Uncle Winnie”. I responded by asking, “Uncle Winnie Pienaar?” and she said “Yes!” We were both perplexed and tried to figure out the connection. After further discussions and a phone call home, we pieced the puzzle together. My mom’s reaction on hearing that I am friends with Eugenie: “Oh my word! Eugenie! I have not seen her since she was two years old!” It turned out that, when my late grandmother’s home burned down, my mom’s younger sister (who married “Uncle Winnie” years later) was taken in and temporarily raised by Eugenie’s parents.
God is amazing! He cared enough about me, to plan every detail of my journey back to Him. He started to put the broken pieces of my life back together, long before I was even born.
On January 2, 1999, we moved to Memphis, TN. We had a phone number, and Kenneth and Rosa Carter, who led the church there, were expecting our call. We delayed deliberately. We wanted to check out some other churches first. It only took one chaotic experience for us to both say, “Let’s make the call!” Memphis was like arriving home for me. For the first time ever, I felt like I truly belonged. The unity, the deep love, and the true friendships were obvious!
We continued with the Bible studies and God’s love (John 3:16), Jesus’s sacrifice (Isaiah 53:3-7) and the fellowship of the believers (Acts 2:42), which I could see being lived out, made me realize that I had finally arrived home spiritually as well. In May 1999, we decided to make Jesus Lord of our lives, and we were baptized into Christ. The time spent with our brothers and sisters in the Memphis Church, from worship services to baseball games and pizza nights, are some of my dearest memories.
Our situation changed a few months later, and we had to return to South Africa. We did not come back with loads of money as we had hoped, but we had found a treasure far greater – a treasure God took us halfway around the world to find.