Delivered from Islam…and depression

When former Muslim Fernando Santana dos Santos heard that HeadHeartHand Media were making a documentary curriculum about Christians who suffer with depression, he sent us this beautifully inspiring testimony to God’s grace in his life. 

The stigma of depression runs deep in today’s Evangelical churches.  We ( the church) lack knowledge on the subject of depression , and it is imperative to educate our brothers and sisters.  Instead of saying something rash, we can encourage the depressed believer, not discourage.  Christ calls the church to lift up the fainthearted, the weak, the discourage (Rom 15:1; 1 Thess 5:14).  We need to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2).  We rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15).  If we don’t care, who will?

Raised a Muslim
My name is Fernando dos Santos.  I’am 29 years old, married to a beautiful women named Helnna, and together we are raising two little boys, Gabriel (8), Vinicius (3).  I came to know the Lord November 15, 2006, at 11:45.  Christ removing the old heart, and replacing it with a new one, is an experience I will never forget.  Before my conversion, I was a sunni Muslim since birth.  My mother was, and still is a wonderful women.  She played, played well both mother and father.  My father was intelligent and percipient man.  He was an architect, and a good one too. He was strict in my up brining, and sometimes went to far when he disciplined me.  It was so bad at times; to the point where my mom would have to intervene.  However, I stilled admired my father.  He was my hero.

Helnna and I were married on September 9, 2003.  In 2004, we had our first child, Gabriel, and In 2009, Vinicius came along.  I had trouble in the beginning raising Gabriel .  I did not have the skills or training to raise him up.  It wasn’t until my conversion to Christ, and the Lord bring godly men in my life; I was able to see, and observe the men interacting with their wives and children.  It is a blessing too see a father fulfill his role; as the federal head of his home.

Emergency Surgery
In the fall of 2009, my appendix erupted, and I was rushed to the emergency, where they performed emergency surgery.  I was in intensive care for 6 days.  I was discharged on a weekend, and by God’s grace, my wife was able to take time off work to care for me.  I was so weak, when I was discharged and was now at home, it was tough to walk up the stairs, to take a bath, I was immobilized.  I looked in the mirror and I looked like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons.  I weighed in at 145 pounds before the surgery.  After the surgery, my weighed in at 115 pounds.  It took a lot out of me (literally).

That same year, I was scheduled to go back to University, and that fell through because of my health.  I also had to take a temporal leave of absence at my part-time job.  Helnna’s pay check from her part-time job (at the time) was the only income coming in.  It was a difficult time.  But glory be to God! my church was able to come along side, and help with the bills.  I saw God’s providence and His grace at work. But it again, they were those days when it was difficult.  I started to lose hope.  I saw myself as a loser, and a less of a man, because it was my wife who was bring in the manna, and not I.  At that time, I was blind to see my behavior.  I was prideful.  Instead of casting and my anxiety and fears on the One who cares, I looked to other means, which were prescription pain-killers.  Oxycontin was the drug of choice.  Who would have known that a pill the size of a dime would do so much harm and damage to myself and my family.

Fake joy and false promises
I had that fake joy, the one the world craves for.  It wasn’t like I was going to a back alley in the hood and getting the pain-killers from a guy; I was getting them legally from my doctor, whom I failed to tell I had a problem.  I would sit in bed all day and night, and not move from there. I had the blind close, it was like I was the phantom of the opera, in total darkness.  I spent little time with my children, I made false promises to them, and my wife who waited hands and foot on me, I was ignoring her.  I wanted to be alone.  The thought of suicide bounced back, and forth in my head. One night when I was left alone, my wife and kids weren’t home.  The thought of suicide  emerged and it was so intense. I went to into my closet; got my belt; made my way to the bathroom to end my life.  I looked at myself in the mirror, “worthless” I thought.

Then my practical theology kicked in (praise God for Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology) and I thought of Calvary, and the atonement.  Christ died so thatI can have eternal life and forgiveness, Thoughts of Helnna, and Gabriel, and Vinicius started to appear.  Who is going to instruct and discipline my children in the Lord?  Who will love my wife as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up to her?   It was right there and then; I dropped the belt, and fell on my knees, and cried out to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  If it weren’t for the Lord’s sovereignty, mercy and grace, you wont be reading this letter.

Ongoing battle
I sought help after that night. We called our pastor and told him everything.  He was able to counsel me and I was able to get help from the local center of addiction and mental health clinic in Toronto.  I praise the Lord He let me grow through that.  Theology matters, and having a solid biblical view of God help through it.  I still battle with depression, but now I’m on medication, and being on meds is not a stroll through the park.  I read a book by a pastor and his wife, Steve and Robyn Bloem, “Broken Minds” a huge help in my life.  The Bloems made reference to another book, “Christians Get Depressed Too” Again it was a super huge help in my life.  One of the things I had to pray about, was being honest and seeking not to glorifying my story.  I take this very serious.  May God (if He so wills) use my petty story to bring glory to Himself, and to help the those who need it.

Let us remember the words of Christ, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matt 25:35-40)


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An Ode to Creative Work


Diversity, diversity, diversity

The Republican party lost the election because the vast majority of African Americans (91%), Hispanics (71%), women (55%), and young people (60%) voted for Barack Obama.

It failed to capture these votes for three reasons: (1) too few speakers from these groups, (2) too little speaking for these groups, and (3) too little speaking to these groups of voters.

1. More speaking from
The conservative movement has way too few representatives, spokespersons, nominees, etc., in these groups. It is still the party of largely middle-age-plus white men. I’m one of them, but our day is passing. We need way more diversity in the voices and faces we present to the public. There are a number of conservative pundits’ voices and faces I’d love to see retire early. But how do we attract a more diverse group of supporters and speakers? That brings me to my second point.

2. More speaking for
The conservative movement has failed to speak for African Americans, Hispanics, etc. There’s plenty advocacy for businesses and for the middle class. But why don’t conservatives equally speak for the poor and for those who are discriminated against? If we don’t speak for people, if they don’t sense that we are their advocates, that we have their interests at heart, we won’t get a hearing from them. Of course, there’s no war on women. But why not a war for women? Most women know that conservatives are not against them. But do they really sense that we are enthusiastically for them and their concerns? Same goes for young people.

3. More speaking to
I never got the sense from Mitt Romney that he was trying to speak to minorities or to young people in general. His message was finely honed and targeted on the middle class and the business class – the establishment, you might say. Like many conservatives, he seemed to just give up on any attempt to show how conservative principles can lift and inspire the poor and the disadvantaged, far more than any amount of handouts or government programs. The 47% comment revealed so much.

When the only message people in urban areas hear  is, “We will cut entitlements,” they also hear crime rising, assaults increasing, windows smashing, etc., as a result. An alternative has to be offered, something more inspirational than dependency, and something more constructive than cuts. Surely there’s a modern day William Wilberforce somewhere that can translate conservative principles into policies and a persuasive message that will give hope to the inner-cities and urban areas.

Diversity and morality
There are certain kinds of diversity that are immoral – gay marriage for example. But there are other kinds of diversity that are a moral duty. And that goes not just for conservative politics, but also for the church of Christ. Let’s not be dragged there kicking and screaming, but embrace this reality with enthusiasm and excitement.


The Gospel has no small print

I visited Scotland last summer, including a wonderful 5-day trip to Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, where my wife’s parents live and where I used to pastor.

To reach my international return flight from London to Chicago, I had to take two internal UK flights with two different airlines, one from Stornoway to Inverness with Flybe, and one from Inverness to London with Easyjet.

Knowing the unpredictability of Scottish weather, even in July, I decided to pay for delay/cancellation/missed flight insurance on both these flights, at about $10-$15 per flight.

And sure enough, when the morning of July 6 rolled round, the fog rolled in, delaying my Stornoway-Inverness flight, and causing me to miss my Inverness-London flight.

Not a big problem, though. The flight was only delayed two hours, I was able to purchase a ticket for a later Inverness-London flight, and my international flight was the next day. I’ll just claim the insurance and get the $300 back in a month or so.

Terms and conditions
Three months, multiple forms, long delays, and many phone calls later, I still have no insurance refund, and won’t be getting one either.

I first tried re-claiming from Flybe, whose Stornoway-Inverness plane was originally delayed. Eventually, they told me that their insurance only covered flights going outside the UK, not domestic flights. “Read the terms and conditions,” I was told.

OK, I’ll try Easyjet, the Inverness-London flight I missed. They refused payment too, because I was not a UK resident! “Read the terms and conditions, etc.”

Both companies allowed me to purchase insurance knowing that their policies could not cover the flights I was booking. Flybe knew I was booking a domestic flight. Easyjet knew that I was not a UK resident. Both took my money. Both refused to payout. Both had small print excuses. Does anyone ever read these terms and conditions?

False pretenses
It’s not the money. OK, it’s partly the money – my wife I  could do quite a lot with $300. It’s mainly the principle, the injustice of taking money on false pretenses, and then using small print that they know no one reads to cover their tracks. Why advertise it as delay/cancellation/missed flight insurance when it isn’t, and why take money from people you know can’t re-claim it even if they do miss their flight?

American tourists be warned! Read the small print – although you probably need an attorney to understand it – and don’t trust the capital letter promises.

True and trustworthy promises
One upside of this little episode is that although my bank balance has decreased, as has my trust in human organizations, my valuation of the Gospel and trust in God has increased. As I was preparing a sermon last week on John 10:10 and Jesus’ gift of abundant life, I couldn’t help but rejoice that His CAPITAL LETTER promises are true and there’s no small print.

What a joy to be able to proclaim the good news of free salvation for sinners through Jesus Christ! No small print, no terms and conditions, no attorney required. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. Full stop.


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Our Southern Zion and the Sovereign Grace of God
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URC Counseling Luncheon
If you’re in the Grand Rapids area, the United Reformed Churches invite you to join them at their Pastor’s Luncheon on Wednesday, Nov 7th, at Bethany URC (5401 Byron Center Ave., SW) from 12-1:15 to hear Dr. Jeff Doll speak on the topic of counseling. Jeff is the director of the Institute of Reformed Biblical Counseling and has a ton of counseling experience and wisdom.  This is a “bring your own lunch” event, but drinks and desert will be provided. Everyone is welcome especially pastors, elders, deacons, seminary students, etc.