I was born in Japan to a mother who was a devout believer and a father who was a dogmatic atheist. He physically abused my mother, and I was in great fear of him. Once my father beat my brother badly. He grabbed my brother by his hair and pulled him out of bed, dragged him all over the floor, and threw him from the second floor to the first floor.

Blinded by torment, I hid myself in the corner and covered my ears, trying not to hear their agony. Yet every night, I got on my on my knees beside my bed and prayed, “Jesus, please save my Dad.”

Rebellion Takes Hold

I hated school. I had no friends, and I was lonely as I wasn’t able to speak Japanese and was the only Christian. I was laughed at, mocked and made fun of. I began feeling ashamed of my faith. Going back home was a hellish experience, for seeing my father beat those I loved was unbearable.

I had no place to go.

My only comfort and escape was music. Whenever I was scared, hurt, sad or depressed I played the piano. It gave me a temporary peace that didn’t last long, but I could run away from reality for a little while.

I began to doubt God, and eventually I walked away from Him.

I began spending time with gang members and doing the rebellious things they did. I was an angry, depressed 12-year old and became addicted to various sinful behaviors—smoking, drinking, drugs, sex. I was trying to fill the emptiness with all the pleasures of this world. I knew, deep down inside, there had to be more than this.

At 15, I ran away from home. I had failed all my classes, hated myself, my parents, my school, authorities, all adults—and Christians. I decided they were a bunch of self-righteous, hypocritical, judgmental people. I remember telling myself I will never become one of them.

Above all, I hated God.

I hated preaching that told me God is love and He has a wonderful plan for my life. If God so loved me, why couldn’t He give me a dad who loved me? If God so loved me, why couldn’t He protect me on the streets?

I was a morally corrupt, sin-loving God hater. I loved the very things God hates and hated the very things God loves. With all my might, I boasted of my immorality and wickedness. I was a great sinner.

When God Speaks

That September, the police caught me and sent me to court. Handcuffed in a police car and heading to the police station, I had an encounter with God.

“Jonathan Hayashi, I have a bigger plan for you; here is not where you belong.” I ignored His voice, but He spoke again.

I realized then God is real, and I truly wanted to know Him. I left school, my gang and the girl I was with, and instead I began to seek the Lord. Just 15 years old, I became a carpenter. Without any hope but Jesus, I read the Bible for the first time in my life.

Soon, I met Pastor Kawamata. There was something different about him—this man was filled with joy and love. When all other Christians avoided and despised me, he drew near to me and encouraged me. All church folks greeted him and loved him, and he treated me as if I were his own son.

“Pastor, what is the secret?” I asked.

I still can vividly recall his answer: “Jonathan, God loved me, saved me and changed me. That is more than enough.”

I was 16 when I decided, for the very first time in my life, to profess Jesus Christ as Lord. I was no longer a hater of God but a lover of God. I respected authority and found delight in spending time with children.

Finding Forgiveness

Jesus took away my sin and my shame. Even though I was a great sinner—the lowest of the low—and even though I had nothing to offer, Jesus came to me and saved me. How is it possible? What happened? I know it simply by this: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

I have dreams and hopes for my future. I can genuinely smile from the bottom of my heart, and I was able to love and forgive myself for my past. I forgave my dad, and I love him. In October of 2011, my father came to know and experience the saving grace of God, and we all praise God for this great milestone.

I have been a Christian for over ten years now. Since then, God has begun to pull me out of the darkened valleys and has let me walk in His righteous path. He has taught me how to be a genuine believer. God has radically changed my life. He is my constant companion.

Jesus radically restored my life. He dearly loved me first with His unconditional love and called me His own son. I was heading straight to Hell, but Jesus has saved me from that eternal condemnation. This truth drives my goal; I want to become a pastor and share this truth to the ends of the Earth.

Serving Him and the Church

My life has never been the same. God is still humbling and teaching me as I am growing in wisdom and truth. I believe in pursuing higher theological education as it will allow me, as a student, to not only be trained but to be able to train others and build up the church. I recently graduated from Moody Theological Seminary’s Masters program. Currently I am pursuing a Doctorate of Education of Ministry in Biblical Counseling degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

Today, I serve as one of the pastoral staff at Troy First Baptist Church in St. Louis, Missouri. Every day, I encounter people who are dealing with marital issues at the verge divorce and young students dealing with suicidal thoughts.

So much of who I am today is in answer to my mother’s prayers for me. She has a special love for the Japanese people and has found a way to serve God by serving them. Her ministry is to translate the book “Our Daily Bread” into Japanese for the nation. Her prayers transformed the hearts and lives of my two brothers, our father and me.

*Jonathan Hayashi completed his undergraduate and masters degrees at Moody Bible Institute. He is currently a doctoral student at Southern Seminary. Jonathan is married to his wife, Kennedi, and has a daughter, Kaede.