My name is Joshua James. I was born to Bob and Brenda James in February of 1980. They were members of The Church of Jesus Christ Forever. During those early years we were taught to listen, to obey our parents, and the value of the truth. Lying was frowned upon and tithing was essential for God’s blessings.
We celebrated Christmas but not in the conventional way; no Santa Claus, no reindeer, and no Christmas presents. I was taught the importance of understanding what Christmas symbolizes; Jesus – the birth of our Savior! One thing our parents would do was take us shopping before returning from Christmas break to get new clothes so we didn’t feel bad when classmates would ask “What did you get?” Birthdays were not celebrated with big parties or cakes, not for any reason other than we had no hand in being born and it’s not about us. Valentine’s Day was a fun holiday to celebrate primarily due to all the candy!
Early on in school is when the rumors started of us being in a “cult.” I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt or bother me! I got into several fights with kids as a result. The biggest support system I had was knowing I had siblings and cousins going through the same thing. Ultimately, the rumors eased as time passed and as schoolmates realized I was the same as them. I was allowed to have sleepovers at friend’s houses, played football for Blackhawk Football, practicing in Mt. Morris, and joined the middle school wrestling team. We watched movies, listened to music and spent lots of time on our bikes. Life was good. I truly enjoyed it and the best part was that the rumors had stopped at school.
Shortly after the death of our Church’s founding Pastor, Rev. Rose M. Aluli, my parents had a falling out with other members of the Church and we left the Church. I remember that night vividly. Lots of tears. Lots of confusion.
Within a year my family moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan to pursue a job opportunity for my dad. It was the summer before my eighth grade year. My first year in school was terrible. As a new kid it was hard making friends. I remember showing up to school with my jeans tight rolled at the bottom only to be met with the judgmental stares of the school body. Clearly I was out of touch with the latest fashion. I was 4’ 9” tall in eighth grade and had no friends. I was picked on relentlessly, forcing me to join up with the less savory crowd. Within the year I was exposed to and experimenting with marijuana. My new interests also included smoking and vandalism. I went along with so many awful activities simply to fit in, knowing full well they were wrong.
By my freshman year, God had grace on me. I made the football team and became a starter, earning many new friends in the process. Following the conclusion of football season, I joined the high school wrestling team where I would go on to meet my best friend Jon. He was a year older and had a license. It was his friendship that gave me the courage to cut ties with the bad crowd. My new priorities were sports and girls. For nine years (12 years old until 21 YO) I rarely attended church. I had lost the desire to be good, choosing rather the desires of the world. I started going to parties and drinking. By graduation I was happy, popular and going to college to wrestle…what more could I want?
The summer following graduation things began to splinter. I was arrested, along with another buddy, for drinking. In Michigan it’s called a Minor In Possession – or MIP. My parents didn’t make a big deal about it. Within two months, Jon and I were living off-campus in a town home with another friend/wrestler, Nico. Nico and I were partiers and would have people over regularly. We lived roughly 30 minutes from Grand Rapids and would spend many weekends in the city at the clubs. One night mid-wrestling season, I was driving home from the club and was pulled over for driving under the influence. Once my parents found out, that was the end of my wrestling career. My funding was cut and I was made to move back in with my parents. This was the beginning of the fall for me. My life soon spiraled. I started smoking a pack and a half a day, drank profusely and used women as objects. Every relationship and friendship began to crumble to where I was getting in fist fights with some of my best buddies from school. Each night I went to bed in the basement of my parent’s home and I knew I was going to hell. I knew that what I was doing was wrong but I still lacked the strength to make a change. That is until Spring Break 2001.
Two friends and I were driving back, having just spent a little over a week in Panama City Beach. As you can imagine, college spring break is wild and everything goes. As I drove home with my buddies passed out in the backseat, the Lord began to replay my life before my eyes. The shame I felt was unbearable. The certainty of hell was so real I knew I couldn’t wait to make a change. I made a promise to God during that trip that if he would help turn things around then I would live the way I knew. Once home I quit smoking cold turkey. Shortly thereafter I stopped drinking, swearing and sex before marriage. I started attending the Church I grew up in via conference call while still living in Michigan. The Lord blessed me more than I could have known.
One weekend I made the trek back to Oregon to visit my ailing grandpa. During this trip I injured my leg and had to take extended time off work. God certainly had a plan. I ended up reconnecting with a family friend, someone who would go on to become my wife a little over a year later. Roselani and I have now been married for 20 years this August. We’ve been blessed with three healthy and beautiful kids. We’ve put our faith and trust in Him that as long as we are faithful to Him, he will take care of us. My God has never failed me. I thank Him for his mercy and for seeing something in me when I was at my lowest. I honor Him by walking clean before Him and by teaching my kids what it means to be a Son of God.
I’ve been asked, “Why do you stay in a Church that so many people have an issue with?” “Why not find a different Church?” For me the answer is simple: there is no other Church that could do for me what this one does. Most churches today don’t preach sinlessness. Most churches today don’t teach their people to study AND live the Word of God. Most church goers live their lives, entertain sin during the week and church on Sundays. Please know I’m not pointing the finger or condemning anyone. I’ve shared my life…I have no room to do so. What I am saying is that I needed more. I knew the call on my life was more. I tried for nine years to outrun it and I never could. I believe it is required of my family and I to live like Jesus and be a light to others…not because we are anything special but rather to show others what is possible for them!