Missions -

‘I don’t know God …’ —

By Olivia Portwood

CIY Engage is leading three Spring Break trips to Northern Ireland during the months of March and April.

The first of those took place March 11-18. While in Northern Ireland, the teams work closely with RIOT (Revival In Our Town) Youth Center, with one of the key components of that work being developing relationships with the students from the country. As part of the training for a lifetime of Kingdom work, Engage helps each of the team members develop their own personal testimonies and teaches them how best to share that testimony with anyone who might ask – after all, we are all called to give an accounting of our faith at any time. The following is just one testimony from that first Spring Break trip to Northern Ireland, written by team member Olivia Portwood:

My name is Olivia, and I am actually part Irish! I know it's a surprise. I attend a non-denominational church back home in Georgia, USA. Another thing you should know about me is that I don't know God …

I've heard, read, and shared stories of God my entire life. I could recite the books of the New Testament by the time I was 6. I tried to teach the lesson for the teacher at Sunday school in third grade. My identity was built on the fact that I - a pastor's daughter and lifelong churchgoer - "knew" God.

This factual faith that I was so proud of only kept me on a straight path until I was 11, when the emotional, conscience-driven part of me began to develop. That's when God on paper and in lecture wasn't enough for me. I started acting irrationally. I was melodramatic, moody, arrogant, completely clueless but convinced I had all the answers, spiteful, and downright unpleasant. I did whatever I wanted, so my life was utterly arbitrary. My middle-school years are a blur - they all blend together as three years of one lonely child trying to be better than everybody else.


I first met God at church camp when I was 13. When the music played, and I raised my hand, I felt a presence in my chest, like a swell of hallelujah rising from my gut. It wasn't a "Hello." It was more like a smile from across the room. I liked that feeling. I wanted to talk to God.


It became more of a conversation when my foster puppy, Moses, got sick. He had parvovirus, which has a 20 percent survival rate in puppies. He was so skinny and so thirsty that he would go into the bathroom and lick water droplets off the shower curtains. That was my first real prayer: "God, please don't let my puppy die. But if he lives AND we get to keep him, I will never turn away from You."


He lived, and we kept him. He grew to be 80 pounds, and he's our most slobbery miracle. …


And I turned away from God.


I've found that God doesn't appreciate when I bargain. "God, if You do this, I'll read my Bible." or "God, if you do this, I'll stop fighting with my sisters." God was my vending machine. If I put a dollar in, I wanted a candy bar out. I had a hard transition into high school, and I struggled with being anxious and moody. You know why? Because if who I am is rooted in God, and I don't have Him, then I'm left with what I and the world can make of me. And I told myself I was bizarre, unlikeable, even intolerable. The world told me I was strong enough to do it on my own, and believe me, I'm not. I am smart, and fierce, and weird, and good, and I am not enough on my own. That sounds depressing at first, but think about it: When I try to do it on my own, my life becomes unstable. When I allow God to speak to me and guide me, He never misleads me. He never lets me lose sight of who I am.


When I was 15, I accepted Christ for reals. When I was 16, He spoke through me. When I was 17, He called me (to Ireland), and I came.


You know what else happened when I was 15, 16, and 17? I fell into apathy and depression again. I went my own way and then expected God to grant my every wish. I chose convenience over redemption. I still have trouble listening to God. Even now, I still struggle to live out the reality that I am not capable of making it through this life of mine on my own strength. I'm not perfect, but I'm learning how to get to know my Savior and keep my eyes focused on my purpose.


Because there is a purpose. … There is always a purpose.


My purpose is to be God's voice. He sometimes chooses me to speak through, and I am honored to be the messenger of great truths.


Now, back to this statement: "I don't know God." It's true. To say that I've had a lifelong, consistent relationship with Him would be a lie. To say that I, a human, am capable of fully understanding an omnipotent, eternal, and selfless God such as Him would be a lie. But here is the greatest hope I have, and the source of my strength: I am getting to know Him. And if that is all I ever do with my life, it'll be enough.