Russ Heppner's Testimony
I was born into a Christian home and went to church my whole life. First time I ever remember getting prayed over I was probably 4 or 5 years old, I remember I was really sick. We went to a gospel-preaching, Jesus-loving church in Washington. And I first prayed the sinner’s prayer when I was 4 years old in my dad’s office. And I remember like thinking like “oh yeah, I’m a Christian now.” So, that was more of a lifestyle than a relationship with Jesus. And so I grew up in Church. I went every Sunday and on Wednesday nights I started going to youth group in junior high. And right about when I got into fourth grade, I think? I started hanging out with some older cousins who were not living for Jesus and I really looked up to ‘em, I thought they were cool. They were really good at skateboarding and I wanted to be just like them. And…
So, I was never really a bully in the physical sense, but I was definitely a bully in the verbal sense. Uh, I was really mean looking back, I was really insecure in who I was, probably really didn’t like myself. Didn’t really like going home too much, although nothing in particular, it just was a little dysfunctional. My parents didn’t really love each other growing up and. Looking back on it later and having conversations with my dad, I now know that I grew up with my dad in a pretty deep depression, which explains so much. You know, it explains the, the years of evenings just watching TV unengaged. But then there’d be the moments where it looked like the cloud was lifted and we’d go on really fun bike rides or awesome vacations and it was great. I just remember my parents fighting all the time, and that was really hard. Probably had a lot to do with me not wanting to go home, I always wanted to be out. It has a lot to do with my personality because I’m the definition of an extrovert. I’ve had FOMO since I was a toddler. I’ve always wanted to be up and be around people. And even to this day I could probably fall asleep in a crowded room quicker than I could fall asleep by myself, in a quiet room. So hanging out with my older cousins when I was in Junior High and even before then, I think it was like 4th or 5th grade that I smoked weed with them. And that happened a couple more times. And that sort of road that I was headed down included getting in fights, not physical fights but just getting in fights with parents, family members, brother and sister, and not getting along with anyone. Hating my teachers, hating kids at school unless they were like me, a skater who liked to swear and figure out how to get cigarettes, then I would be cool with them and I would not attack them verbally like I would some of the other classmates.
And thank God this only happened for a couple years. I had a really hard time with anger. It would bubble up constantly. I remember it was July 27, 1997, being at a youth camp where we were, my friend Ben and I were throwing dirt clods at a wall above where people would walk and then it would rain down dirt on them. And we just thought it was hilarious. And, I still think it’s funny, I just don’t do it anymore. But Ben and I got in trouble and were made to go to the prayer room. Keep in mind at this time I would have called myself a Christian. I’d been saved already… that was the life I thought I was living. And when I was made to go to the prayer room I was just furious. I was angry, and Ben was on the other side of the room and he was way angrier than I was. And I remember thinking, “yeah this is terrible, I can’t believe they’re making us go to the prayer room, this is so stupid.” And I remember looking up, watching the people walking around talking to God and they wanted to be there. And I thought “oh these are like real Christians. They would want to come to a prayer time before service and this is the last place in the world I would want to be right now. So, if they’re Christians, and I’m a Christian, but we’re different then that means one of us isn’t a Christian …And I know that’s me.”
Well that was the holy spirit speaking through me, like, convicting me. “You’re different, you’re not in the fold. You are not one of my sheep.” And I remember growing up hearing 34-year-olds saying “don’t do what I did… I spent 15 years of my life this way or that way,” whatever their particular avenue was that they traveled down. And I remember thinking, “yeah, you guys are stupid if you knew that Jesus was real, why didn’t you serve him.
And then in that moment I remember thinking “I don’t want to be like those guys. I know that God is real. I know that Jesus is the son of God. I know that He died, to cover my sins, and I know I need to follow him. I don’t want to look like this anymore.”
So I closed my eyes, I bowed my head, I folded my hands, put my head down and prayed really for the first time, “Jesus I need you I’ve screwed my life this much already and I’m only 14.”
And I don’t want to be one of those guys that says don’t do what I did. So I told Jesus that I wanted to repent, essentially. And, in that worship service I raised my hands and prayed, and I sang songs, like I worshipped Jesus in music for the first time in my life. You know since I was a kid and didn’t have a theological concept right, not saying that kids don’t, but I don’t think I did. And I paid attention in the service for the first time in my life. And we had a prayer time afterwards, and I went up and I got prayed over. And I think the guy that prayed over me thought I was joking, but I wasn’t. I really wanted to go get prayed for, I really wanted Jesus to change me and I didn’t want to live my own life anymore.
So, stronger than anything that I’ve ever felt since or before in my life, God called me to youth ministry. And I didn’t know what that would look like…and… I knew I was supposed to follow him. So I went up to a few people that were in that youth group, that were in that room at that time and I apologized to them. I remember crying and this cute girl brought up some tissue for me. I remember that being really embarrassing. I was a little 14 year old crying, and, but not really caring because I was like well this is God working in me, like “I’m different now.” I remember, other than treating my family and my brothers and sisters differently, I remember the biggest change that I could see was that my friends parents no longer hated me. My friend’s parents wanted me around their kids after that. I remember thinking “yo, that’s Jesus changing my life!”