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My Christianity Started as a Teenage Phase

In CT magazine, Vivian Mabuni shares her testimony of leaving “cultural Buddhism” to find life-changing faith in Christ:

I can still smell the incense. My dad would light three sticks of it and bow until his forehead met the ground. Three times he would bow—slowly, reverently—and the room would grow somber and silent. Platters of our favorite Chinese delicacies filled the dining table. A single chair, situated away from the table, represented the spirit of my grandmother. Each dish represented a special offering to honor her memory.

I grew up in a culturally Buddhist home. By “culturally Buddhist,” I mean that religion didn’t influence my day-to-day life. When it came to rituals like honoring the spirit of my grandma, I was only going through the motions.

During my sophomore year of high school, my friend Jean, underwent a notable change in disposition. Intrigued, I asked her the secret of her newfound glow. “Well, Viv, I became a Christian. I have a personal relationship with Jesus now. He died to forgive my sins, and now I’m born again and made new. The glow is from my new life in Christ.”

Disappointment filled me from head to toe. Jean was funny and smart. How could she get duped into becoming a weird Jesus freak? But she continued to transform before my eyes. She liked to say that human beings could never be satisfied with relationships, shopping, awards, or achievements. God had made people with a God-shaped vacuum that only he could fill.

My heart felt restless. I could already see the futility of going after bigger, brighter, better. The temporary thrill of winning an award or buying something new to wear could not relieve the emptiness I felt inside.

I started going to church and attending the youth group. Over time, I grew captivated by the person of Jesus, who spoke words of radical hope. His invitation to enter a relationship with the God of heaven proved irresistible. The summer before my junior year of high school, I gave my heart and life to Jesus—or so I thought.

I knew Christians were supposed to read the Bible. But no matter how much I read, very little made sense. I also knew that Christians were supposed to pray, but whenever I tried, I would get distracted or fall asleep. Christianity wasn’t working for me, so I planned to casually toss it aside like just another teenage phase.

Then my life got turned upside down. My dad went through a midlife crisis and moved our family from Boulder to Hong Kong. Everything was different. Angry and confused, I unleashed my frustration and let God know exactly how I felt. But at the end of my tirade, I added a sincere prayer: “In my heart of hearts, I want to know you and do your will. I need a church and a youth group, some Christian friends. And if you do that, I will give you my whole life. I’ll hold nothing back.”

Shortly thereafter, I got involved with the debate team at the school I attended. After one of the debates, a boy from a rival school approached me. “Excuse me,” he said. “Are you a Christian? Would you like to come to our youth group? The following Friday, I attended the meeting. That night, I learned that the Christian life wasn’t just hard to live—it was impossible to live, at least by our own efforts. God supplied the power source. Reliance upon him and his Spirit enabled us to live as Christians.

For the first time in my life, I felt willing to give God total control. Once I made this commitment, Scripture came to life in a new way. And God’s Spirit began to lead, guide, comfort, and convict.

Over the years, I’ve often needed to recommit to God’s rule and reign. This was especially true as I suffered through financial challenges and a cancer diagnosis several years ago. But each time I placed my heart, life, plans, hopes, and dreams into God’s hands, I found that his faithfulness is unwavering.

Editor’s Note: Vivian Mabuni is an author, speaker, and host of the podcast “Someday is Here.” She and her husband have served with Cru for 31 years.

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