“Hola, como estas?” I asked before I began to speak through an interpreter. I smiled, and took a deep breath. In true vulnerability I began to share, "There was a time in my life when I felt that God was taking away everything that I loved. All that I had worked for--- everything I had that gave me security in life was all of a sudden crumbling to the ground. I was very angry at God because of that. But during that time, God gave me a vision of me burning in flames. Although that sounds scary, God showed me that His love was an all-consuming fire. He showed me that He was burning away everything that didn’t belong in my life. In all reality, God is making us more like Him by removing everything that is not of Him... You know, in order for a diamond to be made, it must undergo extreme pressure.”
I shared these words last summer in Colombia, to inmates who were imprisoned in a jail famous for housing the country’s most high-profile criminals. As I shared my testimony, I began to cry because I had forgotten about my vision until I started to speak to them. And as they listened to my words, the inmates began to also shed tears. I saw in their eyes and smiles that God was taking, “criminals unworthy of forgiveness” and reminding them that His love makes a way for them to be made new, despite the darkness of imprisonment. That is exactly what He does for us.
In the five years prior to this moment, there was never a day where I could believe that God’s relentless grace could take away my depression, resentment, rebellion, and heartbreak, and put it into a testimony. I would have never believed that He would use my story to bless people who had also lost everything. But He did.
God gave me that vision of flames in 2014. In it, I was consumed in fire and burned until I became a pile of ashes. When the fire subsided, I saw Christ come down from the Heavens and extend His hand toward the ash. From the heap of ash, my hand reached out to take hold of my Savior’s hand, and He pulled me up from it and I saw myself radiant, a new creation. I remember hearing Him say, “My child. When I bring you through the fire, it is not to harm you, but to make you new. I must also burn away the dirt that you’ve plastered onto yourself, so you can see who you truly are, and so my glory may shine through you. ”
As time passed, the Lord would remind me of the flames, but in new visions I would be walking through the fire and holding Christ’s hand as He walked alongside me.
These are the images that God reminds me of when I feel as though I am walking through fire. I may not know where I am going, and I may not know when the fire will stop, but I do know that He walks through the pain and the refining fire with me. He shields me in the midst of the pressure, because His will is not for me to die. His will is for me to walk out of the fire unscathed and more alive than I was before entering into it. He holds my hand through it and smiles on me with love all the while.
When the Bible talks about the refiner’s fire, it speaks of gold being tested and silver being made pure. I mentioned to the men that a diamond must undergo pressure in order to be made. Diamond, gold, and silver all remind me of riches and treasures. It is encouraging to know that God puts us through pressure and fire to refine us and mold us into all we were created to be because we are His treasures. And in the midst of trials and hardships He whispers, “You are my inheritance, being refined.”
1 Peter 5:10 reminds us that, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
I have not seen those inmates since that day, and I don’t know if I will ever see them again in this lifetime. But God has made this clear: His love redeemed them. Their fire and pain led many of them to Christ. They are no longer inmates, but heirs of a Heavenly Kingdom. If they have freedom in the midst of imprisonment, we too have freedom from any darkness. The pain we endure becomes a testimony, and only God knows where that testimony will bring freedom.
About The Author: Sarah Michelle Cruz
Sarah Michelle Cruz is a Whitworth University graduate and studied psychology and English Writing. Her heart beats for creating music and telling stories, while giving a voice to the voiceless. She currently serves with The Collide team and is completing her first fantasy novel and while also studying to be in full-time ministry. She has a call to missions and has been to Hong Kong, Colombia, Brazil, and the Philippines to serve and is currently preparing for Africa. She lives for the prayer, "Here I am, Lord, Send Me..." whether that is here or abroad, she will follow His call.