God Is Working
Brother Joe Velasquez: Now, how many of you are looking for guidance in trying to figure out their next step?
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Brother Joe Velasquez
Minister of the Gospel
Brother Joe: Well, our next speaker looks back on his life, and sees how God connected all the dots for him, which taught him how to depend on God to direct his path. Welcome, James Johnson!
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God Is Working
James Johnson: I was running errands for my Navy Commanding Officer one day [and] while walking past the crew’s lounge, I suddenly heard loud laughter. I heard one shipmate saying to another, “You are crazy. This is not the only church that’s gonna be saved. There’s lots of them out there, why this one?” The shipmate being bullied responded, “Well why don’t you join me in Bible study,” and he further explained Matthew 16:18, and questioned them by asking, “Why would Jesus Christ save any other body of believers or Church besides the one He built and died for?
Initially, I kept walking but I had to step back to see who was speaking. Three days later, I see him in the hallway, on the ship. This time, I stopped. I stopped to ask him about this Church and why he was making such a bold statement.
I was 20 years old then, about the same age as some of you watching and listening today. I started my praying journey at the tender age of 12 years old. I would pray for guidance, help, and support with graduation. But most of all I prayed that God would allow me to know the truth. His truth. But more on that later.
So you’re probably wondering why I’m up here on this stage, telling this story. I’m sure there are a lot of you at this point, ready to start your life or your careers. Maybe you want things to happen faster in your life. Maybe you want God Almighty to act quicker on your behalf. But please allow me to tell you why practicing patience will give you the best experience God Almighty has in store for you.
How do I know? Because when I think back and look back on that ship, I know for certain, it was God Almighty who led me to that pivotal moment in my life.
So let me back up for a second. At the age of 12, a lot happened in my life. My father died. I joined and was baptized in a local non-denominational church, and I started my praying journey to God Almighty wholeheartedly. I didn’t really know what I was praying for, but I would always ask for Him to lead me to where I needed to be in life.
By 14, I was already thinking about my future. I would pray that God help me pass my state-required high school exam so that I can get out of Georgia, and leave and grow professionally. Ironically, it was the same year I failed the math portion of it. But I kept praying. So much was happening around me. I had neighborhood friends and/or family members stealing and going to jail. Some were in fights and were killed, some killed others and were jailed. Seeing all of that, I continued to pray to God Almighty. I continued to pray that He would lead me to where I needed to be in life.
Finally, I graduated at the age of 17 and I started college. That did not work out so well. I was not ready. So, I worked a few part-time jobs. That was not satisfying. And then, 19 months after graduating from high school, I decided to join the United States Navy. I kept praying for God to lead me where I needed to be. Then, I started to see all the pieces come together through prayer.
After basic training, I was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. At that time, there were 576 US naval ships in the fleet, 403 in which I could have been assigned to. Remember how I said I saw and heard a shipmate speaking about his church so passionately? Well, that man was Brother Paulin Satre Jolly Sr, a member of the Church Of Christ.
He invited me to Bible study and church, but due to my schedule, I could not attend. After hearing Brother Paulin speak about his faith, I was introduced to seven other religions. I practiced Catholicism. I also attended Holiness [Church] and Pentecostal services. I even studied with a Mormon shipmate, and a few others.
While trying these other religions, I kept praying that God leads me to where I need to be, and strengthen my faith. One by one, God Almighty allowed me to cancel those other religions out.
During this time, Brother Paulin persistently invited me to worship service and church. And finally, after 3 months, I gave in and attended worship service. I started my 28 lessons and was baptized in the Church Of Christ at the age of 22 years old.
I had prayed for so long. It took 7 years to get the answer… every success and every failure led me to that moment in that breezeway. I am forever thankful to God Almighty for leading me to where I need to be to hear His words.
James: I could have been anywhere on that ship. I could have been walking around aimlessly, playing my walkman… Do any of you know what a walkman is?
James: There were hundreds of people on that ship but God Almighty allowed me to hear Brother Paulin talk about his faith. And that’s what happens when you believe in, trust in, and rely on what God Almighty can do for you. I know this because He did it for me. And just thinking about it makes me even more grateful for His love and His kindness.
The lessons from God didn’t stop there. I was still in my 20s when I joined the Church Of Christ. And like many of you, I was a little impatient and way too anxious about my life. I just needed to learn complete patience and wait on God Almighty to act. Like when I was praying to God to allow me to continue in the Navy and be assigned close to Georgia but not in Georgia. I wanted an assignment in Florida, but my detailer refused to give me an assignment in Florida for almost a year. So I took action. I prayed constantly and poured my heart out to our Father regarding the purpose and intentions for wanting an assignment in Florida.
My career counselor and I even traveled to Washington, D.C., but still, there was nothing available in Florida for me. So, we thanked him and we left his office. As we reached the exit door, we heard, “Hey! Come Back!” We turned around and met him in the passageway. He asked, “What location do you want? I have Jacksonville, Mayport, and MacDill Air Force Base.” I [was] stunned. I [was] shocked. My career counselor said, “MacDill Air Force Base, he will take it.”
I can probably keep going with instances and stories of how God has shown me the importance of praying to Him and trusting in Him to act. I’ve been in multiple dangerous situations and terrorist activities while assigned overseas, but simply because I prayed for safety, God answered and kept me safe.
I sometimes look back to my prayers when my dad died. I prayed earnestly to God Almighty to lead me to where I should be. And it didn’t happen right away, 7 years. But I find it a true blessing for God Almighty led me to that one Church Of Christ (Iglesia Ni Cristo) member who I just happened to overhear.
I’m certain that had I not prayed wholeheartedly to our God Almighty as a child, I would be a victim of society. I would be without hope and God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). The world was harsh then when I was in my 20s and even more so today. I often try to understand why things are happening and I’m sure many of you are doing that right now.
So if I could talk to my 20-year-old self, I would say, “Stop worrying. Stop worrying about all the things. Let God handle this. There is no need to bottle up any unnecessary situation in this life. I would tell myself, “James, focus and pray. Prepare for all the snares and traps that Satan is setting before you. Ignore all the sideshow distractions because there will be many in your journey. Above all things, James, pray, pray, pray. Believe in, trust in, and rely on what God Almighty can do for you.”
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Brother Joe: Thank you, James. Your story definitely reminds us that although the journey that we are on at times might seem difficult and filled with uncertainty, God will indeed provide guidance and light to all of us. Like what is written in Psalms 119:105,
Your word is a lamp to guide me and a light for my path.
[Psalms 119:105 Good News Translation]
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