Tortured for years by despair, 17-year-old Triana Riddle wrote this message on her Facebook page in September after a friend killed herself:
“People say suicide is selfish and cowardly … It’s more selfish to expect someone to go through life feeling [miserable].” Sometimes, she added, it can seem better to be “stone cold dead than face another day.”
The words were a window to Triana’s soul.
She has struggled with depression since third grade and has frequently cut herself. On several occasions, she even made plans to take her life.
Years of medicine, psychiatric treatments and placement in institutions haven’t removed the darkness that seemed to smother her life.
A difficult relationship with her mother, Denice, hasn’t helped.
“You come to believe you’re a bad mom,” says Denice, who herself has struggled with self-doubt. “You say, ‘How did I fail?’”
Denice and Triana’s friends, Charlie and Jo Alegria, could see their struggle. They spent weeks praying for the mother-daughter duo as well as other friends and family members they invited to attend their “home blessing” party on Nov. 6. For more than a year, the Alegrias’ home in El Cajon, Calif., had undergone a major overhaul. They planned to unveil their remodeling efforts at the party while using the occasion as an opportunity to serve as Matthew hosts in the My Hope evangelistic outreach.
Charlie was the setup man for the party. He cleaned the house, shopped for needed items, set the tables and ordered pizza.
“We use the term enabler as a bad thing in this culture, but it’s not necessarily so,” Charlie said about a half-hour before guests were to arrive. “I enable Jo’s ministry to take place. I’m kind of the Martha to her Mary.”
Jo prepared diligently for the ministry opportunity. She attended training to be a Matthew from pastor David Jeremiah at Shadow Mountain Community Church. She studied the training materials and discipleship booklet she would use if anyone received Christ.
“I’ve got to be honest with you,” she said as the first guests were arriving. “I’ve really been nervous about tonight. I think it’s because so many nonbelieving friends and family are coming. I asked a lot of my prayer groups to pray for me.”
Triana and Denice were among 16 people who attended. A close friend, Gretchen Hofer, brought her daughter Sarah and son Billy. The group socialized and ate pizza and snacks for about 45 minutes, and then Charlie prayed a prayer of blessing over the house.
Afterward, he asked everyone to take a seat near the 70-inch television in the living room so they could watch Defining Moments, one of three videos in the My Hope initiative.
As the program began, Triana was sitting in a rocking chair in the center of the room, directly in front of the TV. Her black and tan sweater was covered with crosses, which she liked because of their design. But she was about to hear the spiritual significance of the cross of Jesus.
Triana watched as Christian singer Lacey Sturm talked in the video about once loathing life so much that she planned to kill herself— until God intervened.
Lacey explained how an older man in the back of a church talked to her about God. He told her: “He’s seen you when you cry yourself to sleep at night, and He loves you so much, and He sent His Son Jesus to die and bleed on a cross to take all of the pain that you’re experiencing on Himself so [that] you don’t have to experience it.”
Triana personally related to that message of salvation—something that had never happened in a church.
“It would always go in one ear and out the other,” Triana said, “but tonight it really hit me.”
Like Lacey had done years earlier, Triana prayed to receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior that night, as did her mother, Denice, and Gretchen’s daughter Sarah.
Tears of joy streamed down Denice’s face, and Gretchen was so happy that she said she was “shaken to the core.”
The two mother-daughter pairs immediately began participating in a Bible study with Jo and attending church together at Shadow Mountain.
Denice said God did in one night for Triana what behavioral health treatments couldn’t do in more than a decade. She thanked Him for saving her daughter’s life and her own future as a mother.
Triana still experiences periods of depression, but Jo’s enthusiastic mentoring helps.
When Triana wrote on Facebook that she was having sinking feelings, Jo urged her to dwell on something else and closed the replying post with a smiley-face.
Jo has attended a high school football game with Triana and is filling the same role in Triana’s life that an older woman named Ruth filled in her own life for years.
“It’s an honor and I am humbled to finally be able to give back and do for someone else what Ruth has done for me,” Jo said.
On Sunday, Nov. 24, Triana came forward in response to an altar call by Pastor Jeremiah. She told him she wanted to be baptized and to join the church as outward expressions of her new life in Christ.
“I’m overwhelmed with happiness about it,” she said. “My heart feels warm.”
Finally, Triana is starting to feel safe. Finally, she is discovering joy in being alive because of Jesus.
“I’ve given Him my future and I don’t worry about it anymore,” she said. “I feel like it’s going to be OK.”
JEREMIAH, CHURCH VIGOROUSLY EMBRACE MY HOPE VISION
One look at the Defining Moments video changed Pastor David Jeremiah’s plans about whether his church, Shadow Mountain Community, in El Cajon, Calif., would participate in the My Hope evangelistic outreach.
After resisting overtures for months from his friend Franklin Graham, Jeremiah watched the video in late September. He was deeply moved by the Gospel presentation and the testimonies of a professional football player, a magician and a singer.
“I couldn’t understand why I was crying because I’m not a crier,” said Jeremiah, widely known for his books and nationally syndicated radio and television ministry Turning Point.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything as powerful as that video,” he added. “It helps people understand what it means to truly put your trust in Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah showed the video to his staff and later to the entire congregation during Sunday morning services. It was the first time in 40 years of ministry that he had shown a video instead of preaching a sermon.
Jeremiah later personally trained around 700 Matthews, adding late afternoon sessions on three consecutive Sundays to his already busy schedule of two morning sermons and an early evening Bible study.
“I wanted to lead this in a way that our people knew I valued this highly and it was incredibly important to me,” he said. “I wanted it to be a personal encouragement to pull it off.”
Led by assimilation pastor Pierre Rosa, Shadow Mountain quickly mobilized around the cause, including the church’s thriving youth and Hispanic ministries.
More than 100 middle and high school students received Christ when Defining Moments was shown at a youth meeting. Later, more than 400 students attended 28 small-group gatherings, where more than 90 made decisions either for salvation, rededication or baptism.
Hispanic pastor Erick Zaldaña said about 90 people from his congregation were trained as Matthews. Zaldaña also used his church’s Sunday morning TV programs on three Hispanic networks—with a combined reach of 9 million potential viewers—to air Momentos Decisivos, the Spanish language version of Defining Moments.
Felicitas Aranda, a member of Shadow Mountain’s Hispanic congregation, hosted a fiesta the day after her 38th birthday at her San Diego home so she could present the Gospel to around 40 family members and friends through the Momentos Decisivos video.
“God is really precious, and I want everyone to know Him and to believe in Him 100 percent,” said Felicitas, a single mother with two teenage sons. “I want them to receive what I’ve received.”
Guests were treated to homemade carne asada, tacos al carbon and other Mexican delicacies before packing into her living room and kitchen to watch the large screen TV visible from both rooms.
When the video ended, Felicitas passionately shared her testimony in Spanish. Her small group leader from church, Ishmael Bobadilla, explained the importance of the Gospel and the nearness of Christ, declaring: “Jesus esta aqui (Jesus is here)!”
One person made a first-time decision for Christ and two more rededicated their lives. Felicitas said afterward that numerous people told her they’d been touched by the video and that she believes they’ll be saved in God’s timing.
Jeremiah credited the My Hope effort with invigorating his church, which already was vibrant in evangelism, outreach and discipleship.
“There has almost been a spirit of revival in our services since this began—people coming forward in every service,” he said. “I think we lose sight, if we’re not careful, of the power of the simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“What an experience this has been. What a great opportunity.”