I was born into a family who were Dutch descendants of one of the founders of New Netherlands, and this man was also the founder of the first European settlement on Long Island. Fast forward to after World War II; my dad was in the Navy when he met and married my mother. However, they divorced when I was a baby. My brother and I were raised on a farm in the Northeast by my paternal grandparents until I was five years old. My dad remarried, we moved to a small town, and I began my first year of school. In second grade I started going to a Catholic school, and was then brought up as a Catholic.

My childhood had a lot of happy times, and some sad ones. Dad was a man who kept his emotional distance from his children. He had been hurt in his life, and he carried a burden of bitterness. Verbal abuse was something that, no doubt, had been heaped on him, and he heaped it on my brother and me. He was also very strict. He and our stepmother worked hard and provided well for us, but I was bereft of affection. My stepmother took good care of us, but I needed something more.

As the years went on, I became aware of my sinful nature, which no religion could help me to eradicate. Going to church did not get me close to God. At the age of 16, I left the Catholic institution, never to return. At that time I also went to live with my birth mother, who was extremely lenient. I was in my final year of high school by then. My oldest brother, not the one I was raised with, convinced me that God did not exist. He was attending the University of Minnesota. We had drinking parties at our house on the weekends, and I now considered myself to be an Atheist. Not believing in God seemed to temporarily relieve my conscience so that I could sin without guilt, although I felt myself descending down into layers of sin from which there was no escape. I was aware that I was in a spiritual prison, and I wanted to be set free, but I thought that even if there was a God, He wouldn’t want anything to do with me, a sinner. And I thought that if there was a Hell, I’d surely go there, and my friends and I would drink beer together, play pool, and party. How far my thoughts were from the reality of eternity!

After graduation from high school I took a year off so that I could do what I wanted to do before college, and before a future career in journalism which I hoped to have one day. I wanted to find the “truth” and then live for it, whatever it was. I had questions about what my purpose on earth was, and about what came after this short life, after death.

I often lived dangerously. Sometimes I would hitchhike rides with people because I trusted them and did not realize how evil they could be. Due to this there were two different times when hitchhiking that I had to jump out of vehicles in order to escape being killed. I actually got to New York City this way.

I loved rock and roll music, and Led Zeppelin was one of my favorites. While I was in New York I attended a Jimi Hendrix recording session with the Band of Gypsys at the Fillmore East on my 18th birthday. But neither that nor anything else I did in New York filled the emptiness inside of me. I had been through the mill of sin and was ready to be set free, only where could I find freedom for my soul?

When you are godless, sometimes very evil doors open for you which are meant to hasten your destruction. There were many evil open doors in New York. Fortunately for me, I left there after only two months and headed to my long term goal: California. Soon, there I was in Hollywood. It didn’t take long to find my kind of people, and I spent a day with them looking for where they could get more speed. We went to Van Nuys and I asked them to drop me off at a motel, which they did. While there, I started talking to the proprietors about my sinful life. I had taken a large dose of speed earlier that day. Now I was telling them that I wanted to live a good life, that I was sick of sin and sick of dope. The woman had her elderly mother there with her, and she wanted to tell me about Jesus. Somehow a ray of hope came into my heart when I heard the name Jesus, but her daughter would not allow her to tell me about Him. I remembered that there was still a small piece of hashish in my pocket from when I was in New York. I took it out and threw it in their trash can in front of them. Instead of helping me, one of them called the police, and I was arrested. After a few weeks in jail, I was so miserable being imprisoned there that I was willing to sell my soul to the devil, and I did that thinking it would help me get out of jail. Later, I went to sleep and I dreamed that there was good and evil set before me, and I chose evil. Right after this I started choking and couldn’t breathe. Then I heard the most evil laughter as I felt myself going down, down, down into darkness. Satan was taking my life and my soul! I cried out with all my being, “No, I don’t want to be evil”! God heard me and intervened. I then woke up choking and gasping for breath. It was a horrible experience! I never wanted that to happen to me again. I just had to get out of there. I spent a month in Sybil Brand Institute, which is where the Manson girls were when I was there, and I still faced more time in prison if convicted. Then, in a very unethical move, my public defender secretly bailed me out, but made me know that he expected something in return, which I refused to do. I was elated to be out of jail at last, but I knew that I was still in a spiritual prison.

Three days later I checked out of the room I was staying in, picked up some new clothes, and decided to go to Sunset Strip in Hollywood. After spending some time there and reflecting on how I had come from the East Coast to the West Coast and had still not discovered the TRUTH in life, I found my way, quite by accident on my part, to the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Church, which was also in Hollywood. (I had been witnessed to by one of the young men from that church earlier that afternoon). I decided to stay for the service, not knowing what to expect, and I am so glad I did. On the wall of the sanctuary was a neatly stenciled scripture which said that Jesus is the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life. At last! Could it be true? The service opened with glorious gospel songs and truthful testimonies of many young people who had been saved from all manner of sin and addictions, and they were able to completely stop sinning. I loved it! I could see that these people were truly happy. Pastor Tony brought a message such as I had never heard before about the Lord coming back to earth, and about how the Lord could save even me. Jesus cared for me even though I was a terrible sinner. I went forward at the altar call because I decided that if Jesus is the truth, I had to find out for myself. I was wonderfully saved that night, and I found the truth I had been searching for, for all those years. I was finally set free from my spiritual prison. Thank God for redemption, and for a ministry that told me the truth about Jesus, and also for Tony and Susan Alamo who were willing to lay down their lives that others might be saved.

The judge who presided over my case was so impressed with the change in me from the time he first saw me at my arraignment, to when he saw me again after I had gotten saved, that in my final court papers he gave me only 12 months of probation (which was dropped after 6 months), and he said I wasn’t allowed to associate with any known drug users unless I was trying to convert them from their lifestyle.

The proprietors of the motel and the elderly mother also came to visit me, and to go to services at my new church, because they saw the change in me that God had wrought. I found that Jesus is indeed the TRUTH, and He truly saved me and has given me a church with a Godly pastor whose messages have strengthened my soul for over four decades. Now I have all the power in God that I need to keep me from sinning. Yes, it is possible to go and sin no more.

Debbie Ondrisek