Search for the ‘real deal’
“God is real”, says Maria Raine, pictured with her husband and daughters
As a little 10 year old girl, Maria Raine remembers standing in front of a huge black cross behind the church alter, staring at the likeness of a dead Christ. Her little heart was troubled.
"If you are real get off that cross and help me, I need you!" Maria remembers crying out.
There was no movement from the cross and she left the building, resigned in her heart that the person on the cross was dead and would never be able to help her.
"From a very young age I wanted to know God and give my life to Him but that experience was a turning point in my life," she says.
"I no longer looked to the cross for help but instead turned in the opposite direction."
Maria's father was a hobby horse trainer and everything associated with horse racing became a major part of her life.
Despite being a "good Catholic family", Maria was confused by her eight brothers and father who saw gambling, alcohol and immoral living as a normal way of life.
At the age of 17, Maria joined two of her nine sisters on a trip around Australia and, while sitting in the laundromat in Sydney one day, she started reading an article about Jesus Christ.
"God reached down and touched my heart in a very real and powerful way," she recalls. "So much so that the next day I went to the Catholic Church, my only point of reference for God, and asked the priest how I could become a nun."
After several months of involvement with the nuns, Maria was sitting at a morning service with them when she recalls the priest saying: "say but the word and my soul shall be healed".
She remembers thinking to herself: "Well if that's the case why do we need to confess our sins to a man?"
"After that I started to see more and more hypocrisy in the church," she says.
"So once again I decided that the dead man on the cross had nothing to offer me. I would not live a life of hypocrisy."
Life became a continual search for the next new experience and the next bit of excitement Maria says, but God was always in the recess of her mind.
"I travelled around the world thinking to myself: 'maybe in the next country I will find where I belong, learn what life is all about and why we are here'," she explains.
There were moments during her travels where began to feel a real sense of God's protection in her circumstances.
Lost in Spain, being followed and running in fear, Maria once used the cross on a church steeple as a landmark to guide her back to a main road and to safety.
Back in her hotel room she was overwhelmed with the reality of God and felt His presence so strongly that she quickly wrote to her closest sister.
"I told her that God was with me but that I didn't know who He was and that when I got back to Australia my life was going to change. Somehow I just knew that."
Again in London she had a similar experience.
When she eventually returned to Perth, her sister had accepted Jesus as her Lord and Saviour.
"I was shocked at the change this had brought to her life," Maria says. "She was actually nice instead of a vindictive, nasty person, and she invited me to church."
In her sister's church Maria says she felt the real presence of Jesus and recognised that He was the one who had been with her in Spain.
She prayed to Him to come into her life and felt a strong sense of him saying: "Maria, I am Jesus Christ the LIVING GOD".
"'Forgive me', I cried to him in my heart, 'I never believed you were this real,'" she recalls praying afterwards.
"I felt the weight of all my past sin and unbelief and at the same time I felt Him washing me clean from all the guilt and shame."
It dawned on her that Jesus had been alive that whole time, that He wasn't dead on a cross, nor was He just a statue behind an alter but had instead risen from the dead and was able to change her.
"I no longer needed to search for answers in my life and travel around the world trying to find where I belonged," she explains.
"I found my identity in Jesus Christ 28 years ago and today my life is so full and so complete that at times I cannot fathom the goodness of God and the power of God to do this for me.
"Jesus is real and He is the only 'God' who has come back from the dead."