By Victor Villevieja
PINEVILLE (LBM) – James Preston Mayo III – Trace to his friends – was wandering in life, depressed, lost in his own lusts and temptations. Having stepped away from God, he was following a worldly path until he remembered the forgiveness Christ offers and resolved to live for Him again.
Trace’s grandparents were missionaries in Mexico for over 20 years, and he went on mission trips he barely remembers. Yet, he still recalls his encounter with God when he was only 5 years old and “met” Jesus during a school assembly.
“I was sitting in the back of the room and I saw this face on the wall. I did not know what was going on,” Mayo recalled. “Later, I realized I had been looking at Jesus’ face.”
Sometime after that encounter, maybe a couple of days or even a week, at his grandparents’ house, he remembers feeling God’s presence. “I felt something pressed upon me, and I could recognize Him knocking on the door of my heart.”
He heard that voice encourage him to preach, and that is what he did.
Shortly after that, James Preston Mayo III began to share his innocent and unassuming understanding of the Gospel in churches.
Unfortunately, Trace’s joy in the Lord – at being a child of God – was soon challenged by classmates.
Although he attended a Christian elementary school, he was mocked so harshly for his enthusiasm for Christ that he was forced to leave the very place where he had seen Jesus.
Now enrolled at a public school, he made friends and enjoyed the carefree life of a child, until the 6th grade, when other students harassed him for his faith. More specifically, they chided him for living his faith and not going along with sinful plans just to get along with the “in crowd.”
They marginalized him.
Moreover, his friends, not wanting to be social outcasts, too, abandoned him.
Still, despite the hostility of this constant middle school social pressure, Trace remained steadfast in his faith. That is, until the next year when his parents divorced after 19 years of marriage.
Trace felt his world coming to an end.
He was hurt by the betrayal of the only people still showing love to him.
Lonely and bitter, he stepped away from God.
“I started to watch pornography, and that really dug a hole in my heart,” explained the West Monroe native. “People became objects. I did not see them as God’s children, beautifully and wonderfully created. My whole mind got infected with all this crazy stuff.”
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all,” he read from Isaiah 53:6 to describe the spiritual reality he had to own up to.
“In front of everybody, I was supposed to be this Christian guy, but behind closed doors, I was not really speaking to God, and I was loving my sin,” Mayo clarified.
The conflict brought on by his knowing he was not living as he should combined with the separation of his parents created an “existential crisis,” he said. He fell into depression and even considered suicide.
Thankfully, despite his feelings of being a hypocrite, he kept going to church and reading the Word, and this is what helped him find his way out of the dark place he was living, spiritually.
“I really struggled with doubt and how to get away from all the pain,” he said. “Then God started to speak to me through the Bible,” Mayo exclaimed, “and I realized God still loved me.”
He realized forgiveness was still there, and that Christ does not save us to live in fear – or wrapped up in what others think, haunted by being rejected by others.
Mayo used John 10:4-5 to portray his emergence from the life of sin and separation he had been living: “When he has brought out all who are his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will flee from him because they do not recognize his voice.”
“We all hear voices, thoughts coming to our head,” he said. “I asked God to help me.
“I came to understand that the pictures that had invaded my head did not define who I was, or who I am today – I am a child of God,” the college freshman said with emphasis.
Mayo said God called him to Louisiana College in order to grow in his faith, to grow in his experience of the Holy Spirit living in him.
“When someone curses me out, I cannot get mad,” he gave as an example. “I understand that they do not know what love is, yet. They do not have the hope that I have.”
The Wildcat offensive back used a football metaphor to make his final point.
Running out on the field with his team each weekend is something special, he affirmed, but nothing compares to walking daily with God.