From Puzzle to Picture
by Reny Madjarska
The most important event in my life is coming to know the Lord when I was 22 years old—10 years ago this year. He changed me in a radical kind of way, a night-and-day type of change. Yet it took two years of living in the U.S. before this transformation happened.
I was born in Bulgaria during the last two decades of communism. Though modern technology was slowly entering our closed society, things such as blue jeans and rock music were still considered “infiltration of Western capitalism.” Religious freedom was not an issue in my world since the communist party had long ago instilled in the minds and hearts of many people that God did not exist. Religion was not something I thought much about as I grew up. Grandma would sometimes take me to an Eastern Orthodox church to light a candle, but this seemed more for “good luck” or “good health” than devotion to God. Later, when communism fell, I became somewhat interested in the spiritual and supernatural. I started reading new age and occult newspapers and books bought from a Krishna book seller. I also tried reading the Bible but got stuck somewhere in the book of Numbers. Eventually, my studies and cares of daily living absorbed my attention, and I left my se mi-spiritual pursuits behind.
Coming to the U.S., I know now, was possible only because the Lord made it possible. I got a full scholarship to study at Texas Christian University and another scholarship from the U.S. government that covered all my other expenses, down to the airfare. Being in the States was exhilarating—at least for the first year. I had two dreams in my life—to study at the best possible school and to travel around the world. The first dream came true at TCU, and the second one came true during my first summer in the U.S. I traveled by bus from Fort Worth, Texas, to Seattle, Washington, where I spent three weeks seeing the sights. Then I traveled, gain by bus, to Washington, D.C., for another two weeks, and ended up in Amherst, taking classes at UMASS for five weeks. During the summer, my roommate’s family also took me on a trip to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. It was quite an amazing summer!
When I returned to school for the fall semester, an inner turmoil began. I realized that my dreams had come true, but my heart was empty. I was also feeling homesick and, to make matters worse, I had not formed any close friendships in the U.S. People here didn’t relate like I was used to, and though everyone was very friendly, I felt they were not open and genuine. So the combination of homesickness and loneliness pushed me to search for the meaning of my life.
My last semester at TCU, I signed up for 21 credit hours, which was a crazy thing to do. I was studying hard, sleeping little, and eating poorly. One day I was in the library, and a strange thought came to me, one which made me think I needed to get counseling at the end of the semester. The thought was: “Everything in life changes, but God never does.” Where did this thought come from when I didn’t even believe God existed? I began to worry about the state of my mental health.
Some weeks later, I was at a gathering at the International House, a ministry of University Baptist Church in Fort Worth. Someone was sharing about his best friend and how they do everything together, share everything, and don’t keep secrets from each other. I was on the edge of my seat since I longed for such a friend. When the person said, “His name is Jesus,” I became angry. “Why do people always talk about a dead person?” I questioned. But in my heart of hearts I really wanted this kind of friendship.
The end of the semester came, and I was falling behind in one of my classes. I decided I would turn a paper in late, thinking the professor would only take off a grade or two which wouldn’t hurt me much because my other grades were excellent. This calculation was flawed, however, because the professor gave me a flat F instead of a lower grade. This course was required to graduate, so I had to stay one more semester at TCU.
At this point I didn’t have a job or a place to live, so I went to the people at the International House and asked if I could stay with them. They embraced me and showed me love and kindness like I had never experienced before. While there, I picked up one of the many Bibles on the shelves, thinking that as a college graduate, I ought to read this book—like I had read Shakespeare and Tolstoy. So I started reading in the book of Matthew, and by the fifth chapter, I knew this book was talking about me— I had wanted to keep all the rules, but always failed. The message in the Bible rang true in my spirit.
That summer I had plenty of time to reflect on my life. I recognized all the privileges I had been given—a solid home life with a wonderful mother and caring grandparents, an education that few people even dreamed of, and people who truly loved me. One night I began to ponder the question, “Why me? I’m not the smartest, the kindest, most deserving person. Why me?” In some supernatural way, which I can only compare to a vision, I saw the resurrected Christ who said to me, “Because I want to know you.” I will never forget, at that very moment, the scattered, seemingly meaningless pieces of the puzzle of my life came together and made a coherent, clear picture. I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that I was created to have an everlasting relationship with Jesus. Suddenly my life had meaning and purpose, and it was so wonderful.
So this is my most significant life story. It is really about God more than about me—His kindness, His love, and His miracles. This was the beginning of a new life for me, and it has been a wild ride with the Lord ever since.