Man holding arms in air before city. Praise God.

Where We Started, Where We’ve Been

My name is Jordan Pence and I am twenty-eight years old. When talking with friends, we often discuss theology and living the Christian life, and I thought it would be a good idea to start writing some of my thoughts down. To begin, I have decided to share a bit about my background and testimony.

My life has been quite the journey. Like many others, I was raised in a Christian home with Christian parents who faithfully brought me to church every Sunday. When I was five years old, while driving in the car with my mom, I asked Jesus to come into my heart. Being as young as I was, I obviously didn’t have a full understanding of what it meant to follow Christ, nor would most any child of that age. However, as I grew older, through Godly guidance and the study of scripture, I learned what it truly was to follow Him.

Given the nature of my upbringing, hearing of a classmate or friend who came from a broken home was a foreign concept. You could say I was very sheltered from much of the secular world. Being sheltered may not seem like a positive thing to some, nor did it necessarily always seem like a positive thing to me…but as the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20”. However, when I was in 8th grade, my parents separated and eventually divorced.

I was fourteen at this point in my life. As a result of this tragic event, the sheltered bubble that I had been raised in, popped. I vividly remember first learning of the separation. One evening, my dad sat down with my mom, my brother and I and explained to us that he had been unfaithful to my mom. This completely took me by surprise. Up to this point, my upbringing had seemed to be without blemish, but now I was the kid from the broken home with divorced parents.

As confusing of a time this was for me, I believe that it was my mom’s strong Christian faith, my loving friends and family, and God’s sovereign hand which left me relatively unaffected. My faith in God wasn’t shaken, and although my life now looked very different, God truly kept me safe from the negative effects that many people from broken homes often face. Following this change, in addition to my dad needing to sell his business, we lost the house that I had grown up in and ended up moving to a nearby city, Folsom, California. This was a major blessing in disguise, but I’ll elaborate on that a bit later.

Although I had many close friends in the private school that I attended, I always looked forward to finishing junior high and starting at a public high school. Starting high school was a very exciting time for me. I had never experienced the “real world”, as I used to call it. The switch from private to public school was quite the culture shock for me. The opportunities to be stupid and to make stupid decisions were tremendous, but oddly enough, by God’s grace, I never found myself in any terribly stupid situations.

Now, I’m not saying I was perfect – I was far from it. I had hiccups like every teenager. However, I believe it was the moral values that my parents and school helped to instill in my life, in addition to God’s sovereignty, which kept me from anything that resembled serious trouble.

In high school, I was, in my eyes, a “nomadic” student. I didn’t necessarily “fit in” with any one group, but I had many friends in many different friend groups that I would often visit between classes. I was an extremely extroverted, innocent, “ADHD” kid who talked too much, stuttered and blinked a lot; friends with some, tolerated by many.
Throughout junior high and high school, I was very much so involved in my church, attending youth group each week and taking part in annual Mexico mission trips with my church.

I loved, and still love, being around people. My Christian upbringing really had a tremendous impact on my interactions at school, where I would often become very passionate about outreach or making an impact in some measure. I even helped to lead my highschool’s Christian club.

However, my aspirations to make a difference, as quickly as they were fanned into flame, were often extinguished. I knew the impact I wanted to have but didn’t have a sustained or flourishing walk with God to make it a lasting impact, nor did I fully understand my “why”. All I knew was that because I was a Christian, I needed to love others and DO SOMETHING. Now, in sharing this, I can also attest that my attempts at following God on campus were not simply empty works, but rather genuine attempts to make an impact for Christ in the life of others the best I knew how. In fact, I wish I had more of that desire burning in my heart right now.

During my freshman year of high school, I became very passionate about the extreme sport, parkour. Now you might be thinking to yourself, “Isn’t that what Michael Scott attempts to do in The Office?”. And my answer would be yes, but Michael did it better. I formed a love for flips and acrobatics at a young age and would often walk to my neighbor’s house as a child to jump on their trampoline.

I remember being in high school when I began to take the sport seriously, and I would tell myself and others that I couldn’t imagine my life without parkour; The sport had ultimately become my life. I met some amazing people through the parkour community who loved it as much as myself, and I had many opportunities to travel around the country for parkour events with my friends. Although, at the time, parkour held a higher place in my life than God did, I believe that He used it as an avenue that would steer me towards what was next in my life. In October 2012, the trajectory of my life was forever changed.

While living in Folsom, a friend from church shared that he had a friend who was a very skilled parkour athlete. His name was Drew. Me, being the extrovert, messaged Drew on Facebook and introduced myself, explaining that I also trained parkour and that I wanted to meet one day to train. He let me know that he would be training that upcoming Sunday, and that two of his friends who were brothers would be joining him.

The best part was that they were all Christian. I mentioned earlier that moving to Folsom was a major blessing in disguise, and the reason is because of that fact that Drew lived in my neighborhood, as well as a few others who also trained parkour. Sunday rolled around and I met Drew at the local park. About an hour later, the two brothers he mentioned also arrived. Their names were Sam and Calin, and they were Romanian.

The interesting part is that I had seen Sam and Calin at the gymnastics gym that I frequently trained at when I was beginning my “parkour journey”, but this was before I knew how to do anything other than a backflip (and I could hardly even do that). When they arrived at the park, I immediately recognized them. I was astonished by their skills in the sport. In summation, that day we all trained, Drew broke his nose, Sam gave him his shirt to soak up the blood, and then Sam and Calin left for church that evening. I spend so much time detailing this day because meeting Sam and Calin changed the trajectory of my life. Sam would quickly become my best friend.

Sam and Calin were not only skilled parkour athletes, but they were also a part of an amazing family as well as an incredibly close and caring Romanian community. Within a few weeks of meeting them, I began going to their house twice a week to attend the discipleship group and youth night held at their church, Maranatha Romanian Church of God. I spent much time with their church community, but even more time with Sam’s family. I was immediately drawn to the family and to the church community. The culture, the love in the family, the tight-knit community of the church, all reasons I continued to grow in my love for the Romanian community.

Each year, I spent more and more time at Sam’s family’s house. You could say I had basically become a full-time resident, considering I had my own bed. When I explain this to others, I tell them that I lived there from Wednesday to Monday, only coming home on Tuesdays. Sam’s home was my second home, his parents were like my second parents, and his seven siblings were like my siblings. God blessed me with this family that treated me as part of their own.

During my first three years at Maranatha, while attending discipleship and youth night, I was still trying to look for a church to call home. I wanted a church that spoke English, which only made sense. However, my love for the Romanian community had continued to grow over those three years, and through prayer and the guidance of my mentor, Adi, I decided to make Maranatha my home church. After all, in passive conversation, I continued to refer to Maranatha as “my church”. I remember how funny it was when I approached our pastor and told him that I wanted to become an official member of Maranatha. His reply, “Are you sure?” [insert heavy Romanian accent here].

Around this time, I was given the opportunity to spend a month in Romania on a mission trip. This opportunity was, hands down, the most impactful mission trip I had ever been a part of. I was able to finally experience the culture firsthand and spend time with the people that I had cultivated such a love for, in their home country. Wow, what an experience that was.

Switching from a large, evangelical American church to a small, conservative Romanian Pentecostal church was a major transition. However, the cultural differences didn’t affect me as much as you might think, especially having already been a part of the church for some time at this point. I can recall many arguments with Sam over some of the “requirements” of the church such as the dress code, in addition to other cultural standards that were kept by the church.

Thankfully, I was able to move past these frustrations and see things through the perspective of Paul, where he became “All things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Over the next 5 years, after becoming a member, I was privileged to participate as an active member of the church, serving in various ministries such as the worship team, youth choir, youth board, and was even trusted with opportunities to give exhortations and messages on Fridays and Sundays.

Maranatha church was the first church that really had a genuine spiritual impact on my life. It was there that I was provided with strong guidance from various leaders such as my youth leader, Eddie, and my mentor, Adi. Eddie had a genuine, evident love for God and actively lived out his Biblical convictions. He played an important part in helping to formulate my beliefs and guide me in my walk with Christ.

Additionally, Adi took me under his wing early on as his disciple and provided me with strong, Biblical guidance in following Christ. He held me accountable to walking with Christ faithfully, although I did not do it perfectly. I don’t know who I would be without the influence and direction that both Eddie and Adi provided to me.

Now, as a quick side note, you may be asking yourself, “Okay Jordan, pause real quick. What happened with parkour?”. This is a question I do want to address. I continued to train parkour for about four or five years after meeting Sam and Calin. We continued to attend different parkour events and spent much time at the parkour gym that Sam and his team, The Way PK, had opened called “The Haven”. We were even able to use the gym for ministry purposes where we held weekly prayer nights with people from our church, as well as a few others. However, a recurring injury (I have dislocated my shoulder 14 times) kept me from progressing as I would have liked, and I began to slowly step away from the parkour world.

Additionally, I mentioned earlier that I couldn’t imagine my life without parkour. The sport had become an idol in my life. My desire for affirmation and the approval of others drove me to pursue the sport more than I sought God. Now I must say, those weren’t the only reason I practiced parkour. I genuinely loved the sport. However, it had become unhealthy for me. I believe God used parkour as an avenue for me to become part of the Romanian church.

So, what is going on in my life now? After attending Maranatha for about nine years, I decided to move to Tennessee with some friends from church. The choice to move wasn’t an easy one, but I believe God helped to lead my steps and open up the doors for an easy transition to a new state. I had lived in Northern California all of my life, but at the end of 2021, I packed up my car with all of my belongings and made the long drive across the country, and what an adventure it was! I arrived here three days before Christmas and started my new job five days later.

With God’s help, I quickly found an apartment, and then purchased my first home two months later. Things happened so quickly, and God’s hand was so evident through it all. Currently I serve at an American church and also attend a men’s group and a young adult’s group where I have made some great, Godly friends. However, I still would love to join a Romanian church again, if the Lord wills it and opens doors in that direction.

Living here has been an amazing experience. I have had some mountain top times, but also some valley lows. I experienced one of the most difficult seasons in my life while living here, a real James 1:2-3 moment for me. At many times, I had pursued God out of guilt or obligation, but this time, I found myself pursuing God because I realized I had nothing and desperately needed His help.

Up to this point, I had made a lot of different things my foundation, but not God. It was just prior to this difficult season that I had begun my pursuit of reading through the whole Bible. To my shame, this is something I had never accomplished. However, with the encouragement of a friend, I decided to truly take on this venture — and I was successful this time! God was preparing me to be sustained through this time.

When facing a genuine trial, a Christian really only has two options: Seek God, or run from Him. Running from God is something I could never do; And if I tried, I would most definitely be unsuccessful. Psalm 55:22 says to

“Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”

Through spending that difficult season in scripture, as well as pursuing God in prayer, He sustained me. I could see the work He was doing in me, although I most definitely did not enjoy the process. God was growing me and refining some areas that most definitely needed His attention.

During this season, I also sought out my beliefs. I didn’t question whether Christianity was true, I knew that without a doubt. However, for the first time, I really had a genuine desire to pursue the reason of why I believed what I believed. The American writer, Alvin Toffler, once said,

“The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

I had learned a lot of theology over the years but had never broken down my beliefs and truly sought out why I believed them to be true. Eddie and Adi had also taught me the importance of this at Maranatha, but it wasn’t until going through difficult times that I truly desired to know it for myself. My beliefs, at their core, were finally becoming my own. This important process was helping to strengthen my foundation.

Like all seasons, the difficult ones eventually come to an end. I know this doesn’t always seem to be true, especially when you’re in the middle one. But God is GOOD. Valley seasons are not indications of God’s lack of control, but rather opportunities for us to see God’s faithfulness through them.

If you are reading this and find yourself in an impossible season, you may be asking yourself what to do during this time. What is God’s will for you in trials that may seem unbearable? I think the answer is simple, although your situation probably isn’t. Seek God, and be faithful to what you know, then trust him with what you don’t.

Do you want to hear from God? Read the Bible. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you through his word and refine you where needed, and to strengthen you in the areas that you are weak. If you want to hear God speak out loud, then read the Word of God out loud. As an encouragement to someone who may be reading this and currently facing a difficult season, situation or trial, I would like to share three Bible stories that provided great encouragement to me when I was in mine.

The first story that helped to encourage me comes from Jeremiah 29, home to one of the most misquoted scriptures, Jeremiah 29:11. This scripture states,

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

What is often missed, however, is the context. The exiles from Jerusalem were taken captive by the Babylonians and would be there for seventy years. Can you imagine that? They went from prosperity to captivity — granted it was due to their own stubbornness and disobedience. The prophet Jeremiah preludes verse 11 by telling the people to seek the welfare of the land into which they were taken captive, to marry and bear children, to build houses and grow vegetation, and to continue on living, praying for the welfare of the city. So what should you do during trial and tribulation?

Keep moving forward as a Christian with the commands God has already given to you in scripture — be faithful to what you already know. Don’t allow your trial to take your eyes off of God but continue to be faithful in the midst of it. God DOES have good plans for you. He may not have the timeline you would like Him to have, but His ways and thoughts are higher than yours. He will never leave nor forsake you, and that’s a promise.

The next story that I’d like to reference comes from the life of King David. He has become one of my favorite Bible characters, but not for the typical reasons others may like him. We all know David for being the humble shepherd boy who was anointed as king at the ripe young age of 16, defeating Goliath with only a sling and a stone, and the person that God referred to as “A man after God’s own heart”.

These are all compelling reasons to admire him, but those are not the primary reasons I admire him. Because of David’s many victories in war, King Saul became jealous and sought to kill him. This caused David to remain hiding in caves for many years. David was the anointed king, but he was hiding in caves? Imagine what was running through his mind. Well, thankfully he tells us much of what he was thinking and enduring throughout the book of Psalms.

David faced much doubt, anger, confusion, frustration, and I am sure he wanted to see this impossible situation come to an end. But had he missed this trial, as long and drawn out as it may have been, much of God’s refining work in his life would have also been missed. I believe that his “cave season” truly developed the character traits that God desired to be displayed in the man that He anointed as king, the man who he would give the title “A man after God’s own heart.”

Lastly, the story of King Jehoshaphat provided great encouragement to me. King Jehoshaphat was one of the kings of Judah who did what was right in the sight of the Lord. During his reign, he was approached by some men who informed him that a great multitude of Edomites were coming to fight against him and the people of Judah. His response to this news had an immense impact on my response to the season I was facing.

When Jehoshaphat heard the news of imminent war, scripture says that

“he was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord and proclaimed a fast throughout Judah, and all the cities of Judah set their face to seek the Lord” (2 Chron 2:3-4).

During difficult times, especially when feeling afraid, I often find myself trying to find a solution on my own, often seeking advice and consolation from others. There can be merit to these actions, but I believe that our first response to hard situations can reveal to us in whom or what our faith is truly placed. Although he and his people were in a position to be destroyed by the Edomites, Jehoshaphat’s first response to this terrifying news was to seek God. In prayer, he states “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you”. God ultimately delivers his people from the plans of their enemies into victory, and they sing praises to Him.

So, here is my question to you. In who, or what, is your foundation and in who, or what, is your faith? This is a question that I was faced with myself, and I believe the answer to this question can often be revealed through hardship. I hope your answer is God, but if He isn’t, let this story be a reminder that we serve a God who is BIGGER and stronger than whatever we are facing. He is in control, and although He may not work in our desired way or time frame, we need not be afraid or dismayed because He is with us.

To conclude, remember that God is not unaware of the season you are in, but is with you in the valley lows as much as He is with you on the mountain tops. And as difficult as it may be, choose to count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds, and know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-3, paraphrased).

So, what’s next for me? That’s a good question, and to be honest, I am not completely sure. As I mentioned earlier, I would like to join a Romanian church again one day, but we will see. All I can do is pray and trust God’s direction. He has guided me this far, and it is amazing to look at how far I have come and how He has had His hand in every part of my journey. To recap, I have written a brief synopsis of how God has sovereignly connected each significant part of my life together.

Because my parents divorced, we lost our home and moved to Folsom. Had I not moved to Folsom, I may not have been too involved in the parkour community. Had I not been involved in the parkour community; I may not have met Sam and Calin. Had I not met Sam and Calin, I would not have been introduced to the Romanian community. Had I not become a part of the Romanian community, I ultimately would not have moved here to Tennessee, nor would I be the person, or Christian, that I am today.

The exciting thing about looking back at our life, as I have used the process of writing my testimony to do, is that we are able to look at where we started, where we have been, and can oftentimes use that as an indication as to where we are going. Now sure, this is not always the case, and I don’t quite know what is next for me.

However, this is where I can look at God’s sovereignty over the course of my life, His faithfulness, and remember that it was by His strong, right hand that I was brought up out of Egypt. Yes, this is a reference to the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt in the Old Testament, but for the Christian, it is a reminder that it was Christ who brought us to Salvation through His death on the cross and our faith in Him, and it is Christ that we look to for guidance through our life, day by day, in the good and the bad. He is faithful, He will continue to be faithful, and He can be trusted.

One Response

  1. Godwin 5/12/2024

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