The Words of the Gray Family

Self-Discovery is found Beyond the Self

Charles Gray, Michael Stringer, and Jonna Yoshizumi
September 2010

Three young people on STF explain how their lives were transformed by the experience of reaching out to others

Charles Gray

Witnessing gave me my faith. I experienced moments, completely unexpectedly, that touched me deep in my heart and that I will never forget. It's funny how the smallest things can build up, unnoticed, to create something profound and uniquely meaningful for you. This year on STF, I had the great privilege to witness to students in Bosnia Herzegovina, which is in Eastern Europe.

My first impressions of the country seeded doubt in my mind about gaining witnessing success there; the capital, Sarajevo, still bore marks of the war they went through fifteen years ago. I wondered if the people were just as scarred. Also, spiritually, I was still in a shaky position with my faith. The fund raising conditions had revealed my faith to be an empty shell, which raised questions about my basic beliefs such as in the existence of God and in the spirit world.

My faith was then laboriously rebuilt with real experiences and investment. But it still felt vulnerable -- still young, fresh and fragile. Could I share my faith with complete confidence and inspire belief? Was it now strong enough to withstand a barrage of doubts and questioning from others? Did I truly believe that True Father was the Messiah, and most importantly could I declare this? This was how I began witnessing, with doubts plaguing my mind.

And I struggled. For one thing, I found it difficult to deal with the circumstances in Bosnia. We were witnessing predominantly to Muslim students, so we had a different style of approach that took me a while to adapt to.

But my biggest difficulty was when I lost my connection with God. Right at the time I needed it the most, it was gone and it nearly broke me. I couldn't pray. I had no inspiration to study the Divine Principle. I couldn't unite with central figures, and I was just generally depressed. I tried not to let it affect the team though. It was a test of my character not to dump my problems onto all of them. I also felt this was my first real test of faith. All I had was completely blind faith and trust that if I kept giving, trusting, and investing it would come back. A good attitude was so very important, but so difficult to keep.

Somehow, through this difficult period I realized how much I actually wanted this faith and valued it. Slowly things began to come back. There was no definitive point at which things turned. My prayers became clear and flowed easily. When reading Divine Principle, I could see deeper into it, and questions were answered after short prayers.

When I reconnected with God, I could humble myself and unite with my central figures. It was at this point, past a seemingly insurmountable mountain, that I experienced my deepest moments with God and True Parents. After everything, when you've drained yourself completely, there's still more you can do. You can hold onto what you believe even when you feel nothing, and that's when God comes. He can trust you now, trust that He can work through you, trust that you will not give up when up against a wall. My connection with God is so much stronger now than before.

I began to see people as children of God, something I'd struggled with for a long time. I just couldn't have an emotional connection to this, only an intellectual understanding, but it was something I really wanted. And it came. It started first with my team. I saw them at moments of vulnerability when they were expressing themselves almost as children would. It was as if I could see their true selves for a fleeting moment. It overwhelmed me because it came about all at once one evening at dinner when I was watching my team members. I was so grateful for this insight into God's heart and for this truth, that we are all children of God.

Something else that came was a sudden passion to give lectures to my guests. It came when I was blocked and giving out to them was a challenge. Did I want to actually give them something that would help their lives or did I just want to give lectures for the sake of the experience? When I finally had the chance, I was so happy and truly believed I was giving them something that would help them in their life with God.

The most profound experience however was finally understanding and shedding tears for Father. It was the moment I actually dedicated myself to True Parents as the Messiah and to God. My heart was brushed a few times by simple things one week -- reading a passage by Father about how he does not give us the whole truth so we don't have to suffer what he has, seeing a picture of a small smile while he was giving the blessing -- simple things. But one morning we listened to Hyung-jin vim's service on the seven deaths and resurrections and everything came back in such a powerful way. It just hit me that True Father has been through hell and back to give us an easier path. How, regardless of this, he can smile and laugh out of love for all of us. I just cried. I could finally see why he was the Messiah. It was his parental heart for all of humanity. And this is what we must inherit.

Opportunities for growth were bound to come up while spending six months in an intense environment with a bunch of STF members. This period of witnessing was the toughest time of my STF year and probably of my life up to this point. Yet, after witnessing for six months, going through ups and downs, trials and challenges, I finally have my own faith. It was built by me, through what I gave and invested and what I experienced. It is my own.

Michael Stringer

The word "witnessing.' evokes many different ideas, memories and reactions for me but the most outstanding of these is the true relationships that I was able to build. My experience with my spiritual child is probably one of the most genuine human relationships I have been able to have. I just tried my best to be able to understand him and do the best for him. Through this, I was able to bring him the Principle and he was able to help me understand that the way I invested in him is the way I should invest in all my relationships. This is how witnessing becomes a lifestyle.

Jonna Yoshizumi


Jonna Yoshizumi says witnessing (in Albania) gave her ownership of her faith

One summer, in frustration, I exclaimed to my mom that I felt my life was based on obligations toward my parents and I didn't feel personally connected to God or True Parents at all. 1 felt that I couldn't go on living the life of a hypocrite, but I also knew that finding faith requires going out of one's way.

A year later I found myself on STF. After a few months of fund raising, I was off to Albania to go witnessing. The four months spent there turned out to be an intense rollercoaster ride. I was confronted with myself as a person, as well as with my faith, and to be honest I had no clue whatsoever what I was supposed to do.

My not being clear in my faith made me struggle with the fact that I should be trying to convey it to others. I was asking myself, How can I witness about God when my relationship to Him is nearly non-existent? Why do I need God in my life? So far, I've managed without him. As for the Divine Principle, I hadn't found any particular loopholes in it, but it didn't inspire me to witness.

I tried praying desperately to find clarity and conviction, but nothing was happening, which made me even more miserable.

Eventually my struggles made me turn to my parents. Being completely honest with them, being stripped of my secrets, allowed me to feel their unconditional love for me. The connection I was able to build with my parents turned out to be my lost key to God. However, I still find myself frustrated at times, being the impatient person that I am, because connecting to God is not a given and requires constant effort.

How much pain and betrayal is out there in the world really hit me one day while I was reading my e-mail. Many of us in the second generation, me included, try to adapt and mold ourselves to fit into the secular world, deluded by its disguise of short-term fun. This made me value our blessed families despite our imperfections. Also I could realize that a life lived for a greater purpose is more fulfilling, though it is the road less traveled. Overwhelmed with passion to live for something bigger than I am, I tried to direct it toward witnessing.

While witnessing, you want to share something you find meaningful, and through your investment in your guests, you wear your heart on your sleeve. I could experience a broad range of emotions from feeling absolutely heartbroken and desperate for people to accept True Parents and the new truth to feeling immense happiness through my guests. During those moments, I could come to understand God's parental heart.

Without a doubt, witnessing made me grow tremendously and helped me come to the point where I can say that I own my faith. Just getting the opportunity to question my faith, come to my own conclusions about my faith and be in situations where I am made to face my faith were essential building blocks for me. I feel it's necessary for us in the second generation to make effort to own our faith and to be inspired about conveying the truth to the youth of today. The world is in need of a change and we have a lot to offer. 

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