Free to be me

Jodee Hayward (16) was brought up to believe ‘God was just a conspiracy’. Then, after a powerful experience at the Amplify creative arts camp earlier this year, she couldn’t deny God anymore. But how was
she going to tell her parents?

When I was in Year 8, at about 12 years old, a teacher asked if I was a Christian or believed in God. I didn’t have to think, my answer came out straight away: no.

What else could you expect from a girl who had been brought up her whole life believing that religion was pointless, and that God was just a conspiracy?

When I was in Year 9, a friend asked me to go to a programme called Revolution, a youth group for college kids at Winton Salvation Army. I only went as a favour to my friend, but I kept going because I liked the people. They instantly made me feel happier when I was around them, and were so unique and fun-loving.

Even though I was now continually going to a church programme, if you asked if I believed in God, I would still have said no. At Revolution, we prayed every week without fail. Well, they prayed—my version of praying was closing my eyes and waiting for whoever was talking to … well, stop.

But as cheesy as it sounds, they became like a second family to me. They were, and still are, really supportive of everything happening in my life—whether it was a breakup or if I wasn’t sure what I believed—they understood and didn’t judge.

I don’t know when I stopped saying I didn’t believe in God, and started thinking of myself as a Christian. But one thing I do know, if my family had asked me if I believed in God, my answer would still have been no.

When I started going to church, I told my parents I was going to see a friend. One day I brought home a Bible and they asked why I had it. I shrugged it off, saying I got told to take it home—even though I had asked for a Bible.

A message from God

In January, I went to Amplify, a Salvation Army creative arts camp in Wellington. I experienced something I thought could never happen to me: a message from God.

During Night Church, a lot of people felt God’s presence and stayed behind afterwards to pray. I went outside to get some fresh air, but felt like I needed to go back inside. I went to comfort a friend who was praying and in tears. Instead, she told me about a dream she’d had: God was coming towards me, and then he just stopped and turned away as if I was pushing him away. Suddenly, I was the one in tears.

With the help of my friends, I gave myself to God and promised to build my relationship with him and let him be my focus—starting with my mum and dad.

My parents were still in the dark about my belief in God, so I finally decided to come clean. Mum and Dad are perhaps the funniest and most loving people I know, but I was suddenly so scared of them. One day my dad said, ‘No Hayward goes to church!’ I knew he didn’t mean anything by it, but I still felt really upset.
I replied, ‘This Hayward does.’

My parents took it way better then what I had imagined they would—I honestly don’t know why I was so scared to tell them. They support me and are slowly getting used to where my faith stands.

This is who I am!

Anyone who knew me in primary school knows I wasn’t exactly the nicest person. I was too focused on what others thought of me, so I would tell everyone what they wanted to hear—even if it meant being fake. I regret this, as it meant I hurt a lot of people that I didn’t intend to.

I used to be in denial. I didn’t want others to know I believed in God. I was always shutting God out and pretending like he didn’t matter. But I’m no longer focused on what others think. I’m focused on showcasing who I really am, and not what I want others to think I am.

At the moment I’m just working on the little things—talking to God most nights and thanking him for everything he has done in my life. I’ve been way more involved at church, making sure I take every opportunity to grow my faith. I’m working on my confidence in Christ, and this has helped me do things I never thought I could—especially sharing my testimony!

Right now, I’m confidently saying I couldn’t be happier with where I am. I’m proud to say I went from believing in nothing, to believing I have a role in God’s plan and that I am a Christian. I’m nowhere near a perfect Christian, and I’m still working out everything as I go—but that’s alright by me.