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From Orthodox Jew to Bible-Believing Christian – My Journey

Emma Tekstra > Faith  > From Orthodox Jew to Bible-Believing Christian – My Journey

From Orthodox Jew to Bible-Believing Christian – My Journey

If you ask a bunch of people especially in the US and especially in the middle part of the country, why are you a Christian? You’ll probably get a range of answers like “I was raised in the church”, “my parents are Christians”, or “I’ve always been one”. Or maybe you were lucky enough to have had some type of “experience” that seemed supernatural and it convinced you there must be a God in charge of your life.

The problem with these answers is that you could replace the word “Christian” with any number of religions and get just about the same answer.

I’m going to outline my journey but I don’t want anyone to misunderstand. It’s not the journey or the experiences I’ve had that make me a Christian. Read my earlier blog I’m Not a Christian Because . . . I’m a Christian because I found the details to be evidentially true and God chose me to be included in the Book of Life. I had very little to do with it, other than following where He led.

We went to synagogue every week, kept all the Jewish holidays, and Friday nights were family occasions with a big shabbat dinner and external activities prohibited.

I was born in England in the early 70s into an Orthodox Jewish family. We went to synagogue every week, kept all the Jewish holidays, and Friday nights were family occasions with a big shabbat dinner and external activities prohibited. During tennis season in my teen years I won special permission to play in club matches on a Friday night but I had to get myself there and my parents never came to watch. It was a tight Jewish community with many of my friends the kids of my parents’ friends. We went to Israel a lot for vacations and supported various Jewish charities. It was a fairly idyllic childhood overall but I constantly felt that something was missing. It wasn’t clear to me why we celebrated the festivals and why we weren’t allowed to eat bacon or shrimp at home but if we were away on vacation it was permitted. God was rarely mentioned. I learned to read and write Hebrew but had no understanding of what was taking place during a synagogue service other than it was the same ceremonial rituals that had been practiced for over three thousand years since Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt around 1445BC.

I was considered rebellious, always following my own path, which got me in various scrapes from an early age. I didn’t fit in. I was buddies with many different types of people but never one of the crowd. Alcohol, and eventually drugs, became a regular feature from the age of 12. Alcohol wasn’t (and still isn’t) particularly frowned on in the UK and Jews are a merry sociable lot so drinking was generally encouraged. The first sign that drinking might be a problem for me was when I went for my entrance interview at Oxford University and proceeded to go out on the town the night before rather than prepare. I was still inebriated at 9am when the interview kicked off! Needless to say I did not graduate from Oxford but had a splendid time at the University of Nottingham which is known for having more pubs within a square mile than any other city or college.

I managed to graduate with a strong degree (in Mathematics and Computer Science) but immediately ran off to Australia with an Australian boy I had met and dated throughout college. He was Jewish and related to friends of my parents so no questions were asked when I started spending my summers out there. And then after graduation was fully expected to spend another year in Australia until he graduated and could move back to the UK with me. I have many happy memories of my time Down Under but most of them revolve around partying.

Eventually I had to get down to serious life and embarked on my actuarial career which involved full-time consulting work plus studying and regular exams once I returned to the UK. It was tough and stressful. The Australian relationship became a casualty of the situation and my unidentified alcoholism. Released from a committed relationship I became even more rebellious though somehow managed to hold down a responsible job. On qualifying as an actuary I decided I needed to escape the confines of the UK and head across the Atlantic. The US seemed like a wide expanse of opportunity and I was hired by a major multinational consulting firm to be based right in the heart of New York city. My partying ways really took off there in the 24-hour rhythm of Manhattan: Working long hours across multiple timezones, it was always happy hour somewhere!

One of the first instances I can recall of God visibly stepping in and pointing me in the right direction – I call this a God-shot – was one weekend soon after I arrived in New York. I went out for a walk in a park near to my apartment and saw a group of people playing softball. I stood there watching for a while until one of them invited me to join in. I had so much fun. They invited me back to play the following weekend. It became the highlight of my week as I bought my own softball mitt and secured my regular position at second base. After a few weeks a new guy showed up to play. We were lining up to bat when he said “So are you from the meetings too?”. Baffled I asked “What meetings?”. “Alcoholics Anonymous” was the reply. Turns out the entire group of people were all in AA. I was horrified. I assumed AA was full of homeless drop-outs and was offended to be considered one of them. But by then I was already entrenched and enjoying myself too much so kept showing up. As time went on, I started socializing with some of them away from the park. This came in handy months later when I found myself inside drinking vodka alone on a beautiful Saturday afternoon that happened to be July 4th, Independence Day, instead of outside in the sun celebrating with others. I decided that perhaps I better check out one of these AA meetings afterall. I phoned one of my softball chums and he took me to a meeting the next day.

It was AA that first introduced me to God as a real person who I could have a relationship with.

It was AA that first introduced me to God as a real person who I could have a relationship with. God is very much part of the AA program and the twelve steps and traditions are routed in principles found in the Bible. However nowadays it has become more typical to use the word “Higher Power” and encourage people to choose something or someone that meets that need for them. Nonetheless, I learned the basics of prayer and asked God to remove the obsession to drink and use drugs. That was July 1999. I have been sober ever since, now coming up on 25 years.

After two years in New York I headed out to California to lead the western division of our international consulting business. I wouldn’t recommend this major geographic move with only nine months of sobriety but getting plugged into local AA right away greatly eased the transition. Who wouldn’t love Sunday morning meetings on the beach or a weekday evening around a campfire. It was there I met the man who would become my husband and the father of my two wonderful sons. He was from the bible-belt in Kansas and was attending a local church in addition to AA. I started going to church and heard God’s word for the first time. I began to connect some dots that had been frustrating me in my youth. The light was going on and I could see God working in my life even though at that time I wasn’t quite sure who He was or whether it was all really true.

For me it took another few years of listening to teaching at church, reading the Bible, and doing my own research, before I was convinced that God is real and the Bible is His inerrant word. But believing is not enough. As the Bible says “Even Satan believes” (James 2:19) I needed an extra kick in the pants. This took the form of a family crisis where I realized I have zero control of anything that happens in my life or in the life of anyone else in my orbit. I had a few questions left such as why God needs to come even before the honor to be given to our parents. This was a last sticking point due to my Jewish upbringing. A leader at church lent me a book called Betrayed! by Stan Telchin about a Jewish Dad whose daughter goes off to college and becomes a Christian. He recounts his attempts to prove to her how wrong she is, ending up becoming a Christian himself as well as the whole family. I read it in one sitting out in my backyard and gave my life to God in that moment in 2007. It was like Einstein’s elusive Theory of Everything; life now suddenly made sense.

I have never stopped learning and growing in my faith. As my consulting work became more focused on health and wellness, the science made so much more sense viewing it all through God’s eyes. It’s been quite a journey but looking back I can see all the nudges and God-shots over the years, ultimately getting me to a place of total surrender. The unshakeable foundation of truth, purpose and security no matter the daily circumstances and struggles, provides a peace that is the pinnacle of human flourishing.  My chief desire is to help others achieve this insight and reach the prize.

Please reach out to me via the Contact page if you’re struggling with whether or not there is a God and His purpose in your life. I’d love to see if I can help.

Emma Tekstra
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