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Feeling that the repetitiveness of praying the Rosary has no value, a young man comes to fully realize the true meaning of prayer. This is Paolo Montinola’s story of faith, on INC Podcasts.
When you grow up in the inner city, when you grow up in these crime-ridden neighborhoods, it’s like you always have to be alert. You always have to watch your back or watch the corner.
Growing up on the tough streets of Philadelphia, Ahmad Waleed and his family lived life surrounded by clear and present danger on a day-to-day basis.
We would continuously hear gunshots almost every day. It was not even a second—a split-second—you couldn’t even play for a split second without something happening. There would be dealers selling – I would be at a playground. It’s hard not to focus on that when you see it right before your eyes. And it scares you, especially when you see guns. It’s just like, “Wow.”
It was like I was teetering. I was like a ticking time bomb… just waiting to give up.
When Ahmad’s father began serving a prison sentence, Ahmad’s mother was left behind to raise their four children.
When you come from a single parent home, life isn’t easy. When you don’t have that foundation, that structure coming from a man. A man being present in the household plays a key role.
Ahmad did his best not to give in to his surroundings. He worked on physical safety, and tried to find spiritual safety as well.
We always prayed. Because again, we didn’t know what to do. There were things we wanted to have that my mom couldn’t provide for.
My former religions were Islam, Baptist, Pentecostal. It was a lot of their own interpretation. They would preach a little bit about the Bible then it would go straight to a life experience.
I would go to a worship service to hear the Word, and I would come out empty. I was always searching. At that point in time, it was like I was going to give up. I was really going to fall into whatever this world had in store for me. And it was right then and there, for me to just pray that I wanted to be closer to Him, that if He would guide me and show me where he wanted me to be, then I would all the more praise Him and do what it is that He wants me to do.
As Ahmad yearned to be where God wanted him to be, a friend from work invited him to attend a worship service in the Church of Christ.
We became friends off the notion of hip-hop, so the thing that I said was, “Church? I need to go to church.” The brethren were just very open and welcoming. As soon as I sat down in the front row, I just felt at peace. I can really meditate, I can gather my thoughts — and really pray.
“I feel like my family is safer now than it has ever been.”
The thing that stuck out the most for me had to have been how unified they were in performing their duties, and how unified the worship service was. Even down to the hymns of praise and the offering. Just everything was in sync. They really give due importance to God. Down to the T.
This is something I was really looking forward to, something I wanted. My life has gotten better because now I know I’m in the right place. I know who is the true God through teachings that I’ve learned in the Church of Christ. He truly saw my heart for what it was, and He really saw something good in me that I didn’t see in myself at all, and it was that thing that was worth saving.
Knowing he’s now in right place, Ahmad knows how important it is to share his faith by introducing his family to the Church of Christ.
I felt like it was very important to share my faith with my family because I wanted them to know who the true God was. I really wanted them to receive something great but I really wanted them to receive the truth. I think many people are in the dark about what the truth is, and the truth is clear. It’s a great feeling because I get to have my family next to me. I feel like my family is safer now than it has ever been. I feel that God has really been guiding this family and protecting them. That was the design for the family, for God to be present in all of our lives.
Every day was a struggle for Roxanne Garvin. “My fears for my children when they were growing up was bullying, people in the neighborhood that they didn’t know would bully them.” But the bullying wasn’t the only thing she was afraid of. Danger threatened them around every corner.
Raising Kids in the City
Every time a police car siren blares, Roxanne’s heart rate rises. As a single working mom raising her children in one of Philadelphia’s roughest neighborhoods, Roxanne Garvin was always worried about her kids, Naeemah and Ahmad. The crime rate in Philadelphia is 46% higher than the national average. Residents have a 1 in 25 chance of becoming a victim of crime. Hearing gunshots go off while seeing dealers loiter the streets was part of their norm. “I constantly sat down and talked with them, about who’s at home, where they were when they weren’t home, who they’re hanging out with, I was always overly protective.”
Prayer for Protection
Studies reveal that 70% of inmates in state juvenile detention centers were raised in fatherless homes and 70% of teen births occur to girls in single mother homes. Roxanne wanted a different future for Naeemah and Ahmad. “I always tried to have the Bible on hand to have like a family gathering on Sundays and kind of go over what the week may entail . . . And I’m not a fluent person of reading the Bible in terms of quoting verses but I was strict in terms of some of the rules and regulations of the 10 Commandments and how to follow those things and instill those things in them.”
But she couldn’t get a tight grasp on life and parenting. “I really needed some source of direction.” She tried to pray, but she wasn’t sure how to start. “I really wanted to know—what type of prayers should I pray? Will He really listen, or what type of prayers will I pray so that I know He hears me? This was important to me.” But she kept praying anyway.
Soon, instability threatened Roxanne’s hope. “I was petrified when Ahmad had to drop everything [school] and to take care and help out the family. I didn’t think that would be a good situation for him to be in, because education is paramount. That happened to me when I was growing up, and I didn’t want to repeat the same type of circumstances, as I had to deal with. So I really was not comfortable at all with him dropping everything.”
But with no other income, there was no choice. Ahmad put school on hold and went to work. They were grateful for the opportunity because he found something more than just financial stability. Ahmad’s coworker introduced him to the Church Of Christ, capitalize Of and he discovered something he never felt before—he found peace, and he wanted to share that with his sister and mom. “When Ahmad first introduced me to the Church Of Christ, I was overwhelmed. I felt safe that he had sought out peace of mind; he could now find substance in seeking our Lord and Savior . . . And he could now find that people are out there that can help him and guide him in the direction that he may need to go in.”
Roxanne and Naeemah pursued Bible studies in the Church Of Christ, and Roxanne knew they were in the right place. “I felt closer to Christ for the first time. I know, in my life, I’ve always needed Christ. This is what I needed to really give me some kind of guidance and some direction. And not just for me but for my whole family.”
Prayer for My Family
As members of the Church Of Christ, Roxanne and her children spend their time worshiping God together, and she’s learned that prayer is a right and privilege in the Church Of Christ. “I really needed some source of direction and peace, I mean from my heart, to overcome some of the hardship and obstacle that I was dealing with, with my children. My prayers were being answered. And for the first time, I could tell you that prayer really does work. Prayer really does work and He really does hear you. And I gave up a lot of my burdens and a lot of my troubled heart and my boggled mind . . . I really did give it up.”
She gave her problems to God, and in return, He gave her family peace. With that peace came the guidance and protection she so desperately prayed for. Her children are adults now, with their own careers, and a future filled with awesome possibilities. “The worries are not as frequent anymore. My life has gotten better because I rely on the fact that He provides. Every day is a blessing—every day”
As early as I can remember, as soon as I could talk, we’d do what’s called the “Rosary” which is repetitive prayer in a pattern for Catholics. For me it was just something I dreaded doing and it didn’t really mean anything more to me, it was just talking.
And looking back now I understand why, because if you’re really praying to God you would feel it.
When I was younger and I would see my Mom pray I didn’t know why she was doing it. I did what I was told, but I wasn’t told what it should mean to me.
I didn’t identify myself as being a Catholic outside of church. It was just something I did once a week. There was no significant moments to me. Back then it was like I was praying to no one and it’s kind of sad thinking about that.
“It’s not what I expected because the Catholic Church
and Iglesia Ni Cristo, they’re so different from each other.”
One of my closest friends at that time introduced me to the Church. It’s not what I expected because the Catholic Church and Iglesia Ni Cristo, they’re so different from each other. I was scared and actually didn’t go again to a bible study for a long time after that. I would say almost a year and a half until I went again to another bible study.
“Not knowing if what I’ve experienced my whole life was
even the truth – it was a hard pill to swallow.”
It’s so much easier going back to what you know. But my friend, she was persistent. She kept inviting me. I was like you know what, you’ve been asking me a lot, you’re a good friend of mine, I’ll go. I’m thankful that she didn’t give up on me. The idea of not knowing what my faith really means to me, and not knowing if what I’ve experienced my whole life was even the truth – it was a hard pill to swallow.
“And there was this person guiding me on how to talk to God.
It comes from the heart.”
I had a really good minister in Roseville, California. He really took the time to take care of the Bible students. After each worship service, he would sit us down and ask us ‘What did you learn from the lesson today?’ I’ve never had that before. Someone asking me what I learned and what it meant to me. Then he would always say, ‘Each time you come together, one of you will pray. But don’t worry, I’ll guide you through it.’
I prayed for guidance. I prayed for answers and also I prayed for comfort.
“If you take that leap of faith,
God will guide you.”
I thought that a prayer was a thing you did by yourself and now there was this person guiding me on how to talk to God. It comes from the heart. It’s different each time because you’re actually talking to Him. It became conversing and letting God know all your cares and worries and knowing with full confidence that he’s listening back.
Even though you don’t know what you’re doing exactly, even if you’re not fully confident in your decision. If you take that leap of faith, God will guide you. Even though I didn’t really know where I was supposed to be, God knew where I was going to be the whole time.
Looking back now, it’s like every step of the way, He guided me. I could keep telling myself that all these things were coincidences. But at a certain point you have to tell yourself that all these things aren’t happening just by accident. It’s because God has been guiding you. He’s listening to your prayers.
Brother Paolo Montinola
Does God listen to your prayers? Is He slow to answer them? Is there something you can do to make sure your prayers are answered?
How do you know if God is talking to you? Does He speak through your pastor? How can you tell if a preacher is really sent by God?