A Journey from Heartbreak to Blessing
Juliana Sokolava's Story of Redemption and Service
March 7, 2011 - Meet one young lady from Latvia whose passion to help children is featured in the latest Billy Graham Television Special.
I’ll always remember that day with Franklin Graham. And I'll love those children forever. I hope they will continue on the same wonderful road with Jesus.
by Janet Chismar
Seeing her 27 students graduate from The Greatest Journey discipleship program last November was a stirring capstone for Juliana Sokolava's own journey of faith, which began quite dramatically four years ago.
“I am from a non-Christian family and when I was small, we rarely went to church except for a special occasion,” she recalls. “I never knew there was something like an evangelistic church.”
While Juliana was growing up, mother began singing in the Orthodox church “for money—as her job.” On occasion, Juliana would come see her mother sing in the ornate sanctuary, but she found the service with all its rituals difficult to understand.
Money was a constant struggle for the family. Her parents worked constantly, so young Juliana spent much of her time with her grandparents. When she turned 11, her grandmother died. “For me, it was terrible because grandfather, he cried all the time. It was all very, very bad.”
Now when Juliana arrived home from school, she didn’t know what to do. She was all alone: I sit. Okay, I do my homework. What else? So she headed out to the streets to find new friends.
“I was 12,” says Juliana. “But those new friends were 16, 17, 18. They all smoked, went to clubs, and had relationships. For me, it was, ‘Wow! I want it too.’ I started to do all the same things.”
The First Step
When Juliana turned 14, she became friends with a girl who introduced her to the club scene. “The clubs had closed parties,” she explains. “There was club style music—heavy on drums and bass—and there were all sorts of narcotics.”
Juliana estimates that 19 percent of youth in Latvia use drugs. She began using them heavily at the age of 15. “It got bad and I knew I couldn’t continue like that. I decided to go to a psychologist.”
During a support group meeting, one of the leaders started talking about God. She told a story about the love of Jesus and how to find salvation. Juliana listened: “She started just with saying ‘God is love.’ For me, it was the first step to recovery.”
After six months, a young man from her support group invited her to a youth service at his church. “My mother was shocked because she didn’t want me to go there, but I went because I wanted to see what it was like,” says Juliana. “I began to go but only to the teen group called the Fish Club, not the church.”
A Second Step
Juliana wasn't ready to ask Jesus into her life quite yet. The Fish Club served only as her introduction to Christianity and helped with her recovery from drug abuse. The following summer, she began to work as a waitress and found she had little time remaining to attend youth group. “I forgot about this God experience,” she says.
Back at school that fall, Juliana once more came home to an empty house. She thought, What to do? What to do? and then remembered church. “I knew I must go there, and I went. And very soon, I went to their camp. The people there already knew Jesus and prayed for three whole hours! They also worshipped for one hour. I sat and I didn’t know what to do. They all lifted their hands. For me, I was shocked!”
On the second day of the camp, Juliana forced herself to listen to the message: "I decided I needed to listen because all the other youth listened.” The pastor seemed to speak directly to her problems. “I was sure that he spoke about my life,” she recalls. “Yes, it was all about me and it touched my heart.”
That evening during worship, she committed her heart to Jesus. "My whole life changed," she recalls. "It was like there was a point before and after.”
Juliana’s parents opposed her conversion. Her father and mother thought the church only wanted her money and begged her not to go. For a year, says Juliana, life was terrible. Her old friends from the club scene snubbed her. But she didn’t yet have new friends in the church.
“It was a hard time for half a year,” she says, softly. “But I prayed very much. All my thoughts were about my family. I want my family in church. Oh, please, please, please!" she asked God.
A Family United
After every service she attended, Juliana met with a minister who invited people to talk or pray. Each time he asked, Juliana had only one request: “I want you to pray for my family!” Six months later, her mother came to church and after Christmas that year, so did her father. Both accepted Jesus—one year after their daughter.
During the Hope Festival with Franklin Graham in Riga, Juliana’s mother sang in the choir, and mother and daughter served together as counselors.
Juliana's church and family are now praying for her grandfather who was a Communist during the Soviet era. “Although my grandfather hasn’t yet invited Jesus into heart," she explains, "his thoughts are already very changed. Now he’s now much more open. He even came to the Hope Festival with his new wife.”
As for her own Christian growth, Juliana finished Bible school last year and began studies at a local university. She still teaches Sunday School and hopes to once again lead The Greatest Journey when the course rolls out across the rest of Latvia in the next two months.
Thinking back to the November 2010 class, she says: “I’ll always remember that day with Franklin Graham. And I'll love those children forever. I hope they will continue on the same wonderful road with Jesus.”
This story is featured as part of the March TV Special »
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