For the most part, I was raised in church. When I was little, my mom carried my brothers and I to church every Sunday and Wednesday. When I was a baby we went to Sand Hill Baptist Church in Carnes, MS. Then, later, when I was in kindergarten and elementary school we went to Grace Chapel Baptist Church in Brooklyn, MS. I grew up loving to go to church. I loved going to Sunday School and learning about the Bible. I also loved to sing hymns with the congregation and loved to show off and sing "Jesus Loves Me" for a special (I loved the attention more than anything!). In the summers, we had Vacation Bible School and that was always so much fun!
When I was 6 years old, my mother took us to our family cemetery to clean some graves. While there, I found out that I had had a twin sister, Ida Claudine Gunn, who died when we were only 4 days old. We were born 3 months premature and Little Ida was just too fragile to live. I was crushed to learn that I had had a sister because I had always wanted a sister to play with. I was told that my sister is in heaven with Jesus and that was a great comfort to me. So, from an early age, I always knew that heaven was a real place where Jesus lives and where people go when they die.
When I was almost 10 years old, my family moved to Southern California where we lived for some 5 years. My mom joined a church out there, Calvary Baptist Church in Bellflower, CA and we went pretty faithfully for about a year. Then we stopped going except for Easter and Christmas services.
The second summer we were in California, I started going to a summer day camp at Grace Brethren Church in Long Beach, CA. This was a 10-week day camp held in the summer for children whose parents worked. We went to different places all over Southern California (Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, etc.), to the beach, did other activities, and had lots of fun. The counselors also gave Bible lessons and talked about how you can get saved.
I don't remember which day camp counselor it was who spoke, but I do remember that he told us that the only way to get saved was to trust Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour and that you had to ask Him for the gift of eternal life. I was totally shocked when I heard this. I always thought I was going to heaven because I was a "Christian" and was raised in church and my mom was a church pianist. I also thought I was going to heaven when I died because I was always told I would. This day camp counselor was the very first person to ever tell me that I had to ask Jesus to come into my heart and save me from my sins. I knew that I had not ever done that and it scared me to death because I knew then that I was on my way to Hell. So I repented of my unbelief (to repent means to simply change your mind) and trusted Jesus as my personal Saviour. I remember praying several times for Him to save me. I also remember thinking that I should not have to ask to get saved so often so, on August 23, 1983, I prayed for the "last time" to get saved.
When I was 15, we moved back home to Mississippi so that I could finish high school at a good school. I went to church sporadically the last two years of high school and rarely during my first year of college. Then, a good friend of mine's mother started inviting me to go to church with them at Maranatha Baptist Church in Wiggins, MS. God is so good to put godly people in our lives. He used Joan in a mighty way to bring me closer to Him. In October 1990 I was finally baptized and joined Maranatha Baptist Church. Then I started to grow! I read my Bible daily and learned more and more about the things of God.
I started to doubt my salvation, wondering if I really had had enough faith to get saved. Well, my preacher once said something like God gives each person enough faith to get saved so that took care of that. Also, I have full assurance from God's Word that I was saved because it says in Romans 10:13 "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." and I know I did that. God said it, that settles it!
I also knew that once a person gets saved, they become a "new creature" and a change takes place in their life. I could not remember how my life had changed any. However, I finally got confirmation on this just a few months ago. My preacher's wife, a godly lady who I learn so much from by her example and her teachings, and I were chatting while going soulwinning one day and when I told her that I'd been rather spoiled as a little girl, she was surprised because I don't seem to be spoiled now. (I don't remember how that conversation came about, but I now know why!) In my mind, I thought, "Well, of course not, then I got saved!" In that instant, I knew that my life had been changed! Glory to God, what a blessing!
I attended Maranatha Baptist Church all the way through college and was faithful. After college, I took a teaching job in North Mississippi. My preacher at Maranatha knew of Calvary Baptist Church in Coldwater, MS, which was in the same town as the school where I was going to teach! So I visited Calvary Baptist and soon afterwards, joined the church. I was pretty faithful in attending church for a year or so and then got lazy and dropped out. No good reason, just did. I always knew I needed to get back in church, but was kinda hesitant in going back -- I was afraid of people asking "Where have you been?" I also loved sleeping in and would make excuses to myself. I would also tell myself "after Exams are over, I'll get back in church" or "once the school year starts, I'll get back in church" The devil sure is slick about getting people to stay out, isn't he? I even visited a couple of other churches a couple of times, but I knew they weren't the churches for me.
Sooo....four years or so passed by . . . and finally one Saturday evening in early November of 1999, I picked up my Bible so I could resume my daily Bible reading and came to Hosea 10:12 which says ". . . it is time to seek the Lord" That was God's way of telling me "You get yourself back in church, young lady!" Well, when God speaks, one would be a fool not to obey, so I got up the very next day and went to church. I was welcomed back and not a single soul asked me where I'd been hiding out the past few years. I even went back to church that night and it was a week later that I started going to Wednesday night services. In January 2000 I started going soulwinning; in March 2000, I became the church librarian; in July 2000, I attended my first-ever Ladies Retreat in Hot Springs, AR; in September 2000, I became a Sunday School teacher of 10- and 11-year-old girls and boys (now just girls); in October, I was added to the schedule of nursery workers as well as helping with Children's Church and began helping with the bus route. More important than all that is that under Preacher's teaching and preaching and through getting in the Word more and more, I began to grow again! It is truly amazing what God has done in my life over the past year. I look forward to seeing what He has in store for my future!