I was baptized as an infant in the Russian Orthodox Christian tradition under communist rule in the Ukraine. This was done undercover in our home, and my father was baptized the same day. I remember having an icon (sacred symbolic image) of Jesus Christ in the house, and my mother did attempt to read the Bible with me once or twice, but overall, we were not a church-going family. Still, I understood right and wrong as a child, and was a good and obedient son up to the age of twelve or thirteen, when I began to rebel.
My family moved from the Ukraine to Canada when I was eleven, and this move exposed me to many negative influences. I quickly became addicted to video games, fascinated by money and material things, and also experienced bullying, with the subsequent desire to be like the cool kids and fit in. Before long, I was introduced to recreational marijuana, heavy metal music, violent sports, etc. These were the things that the cool kids in school were into, and by acquiring the same interests, I was hoping to find acceptance in school and new friends who could protect me from the bullies. At thirteen, I became obsessed with a girl from my class and in an effort to conquest her, turned to magic and witchcraft. It was just around the time when the Internet first became widely available, and I scouted web pages in search of magic spells and formulas. This turn towards the occult happened mostly because I felt powerless and wanted to obtain power. I was too shy to even speak with the girl I liked, and the way of magic and witchcraft seemed like my only chance of getting some sort of personal power and control. My memory of this period is not vivid, but I know that I carried out more than a few magic rituals and read whatever esoteric books I could find. At this time, I had no idea of the possible dangers and repercussions of such actions.
A few years later, I experienced magic mushrooms with a friend and began to seek out psychedelic experiences. This period lasted for many years, and while I would never be a drug addict, I experimented with many different consciousness-altering plants over a period of perhaps ten years. The experiences I had required explanations, so, in an effort to understand them, I turned to eastern religions and philosophies. I began meditating, chanting mantras, and doing yoga. At seventeen, I became fully vegetarian, suddenly losing all desire for meat. I stayed vegetarian for over ten years.
When choosing which University to go to, I opted for the University of Toronto, because I desired to get away from small town living and experience new things. There, my spiritual search continued. I became involved with a local Tibetan Buddhist temple, with the Hare Krishna temple, and on a lesser level with a Siddha Yoga group and even the Church of Scientology. All of my spare time was spent reading spiritual books, chanting mantras, meditating, and sometimes experimenting with psychedelics. Although I had a copy of the New Testament, I didn’t really give it a fair chance. I remember opening it randomly one day and reading something about it being shameful for men to have long hair. I had long hair at the time, and as soon as I read that statement – which did not come with any sort of an explanation – I concluded that the Bible was not for me. Only later did I learn the difference between God’s Word and what might be the writer’s personal opinion or something that was possibly more culturally relevant in the day in which it was written. Not every statement in the Bible should be taken as God’s explicit command applying to everyone, at all times, throughout history, and without exception (like Paul’s admonitions concerning the institution of slavery, for instance). Many of the customs and cultural norms that were taken for granted 2000 years ago may not be relevant today. In the end, God is concerned with our hearts, not with our haircuts or traditions. Besides, where do you draw the line? At what point is a man’s hair “too long”? Who determines that? And isn’t Jesus depicted with long hair? This one statement about the appropriate length of hair made me perceive the Christian tradition as shallow and superficial, and unfortunately, I put away my New Testament, leaving it untouched on the shelf for many years.
In University, I experienced what is known as “kundalini awakening.” It is impossible for me to describe the experience, because it was so intense and multifaceted that my memory was not able to record it with any accuracy. I just remember that my breathing stopped, and a bolt of energy rose up my spine and broke into my skull like a sledgehammer. This was accompanied by sensations of heat, electricity, a buzzing in my ears, and flashbacks of many extremely vivid memories of scenes from my childhood. The experience left me exhilarated and in awe. Over the years that followed, I had this experience hundreds of times, though the first time was perhaps the most intense. Reading whatever literature I could find on the subject, I understood that awakening the kundalini was the goal of a number of eastern spiritual paths, with people meditating for decades in hopes of experiencing it. In my case however, the initial excitement faded and was replaced by a sense of depression. “So, I achieved this awakening,” I thought, “and now what?” I could relate to John Lennon’s Yer Blues:
“My father was of the sky, my mother was of the earth
I am of the universe and you know what it’s worth
Yes, I’m lonely, wanna die…”
I continued my search, meeting several big-name Hindu gurus, and getting initiated by Amma. She gave me a mantra that I was supposed to repeat at least 108 times every day, but I remember getting home and chanting it just a few times before mentally saying, “Sorry Amma, this is not going to happen. It just doesn’t feel right.” Years before this, I was chanting the Hare Krishna mantra 1728 times a day (the minimum!) and sometimes twice as much as that. After a couple of years, the mantra became automatic in me, and I would hear it in my head at all times, even when I was doing math, reading books, or sleeping in my bed. The moment I opened my eyes in the morning, the mantra was there resonating in my mind. I would catch the end of it, meaning it had been going all night long. After a while, I felt the mantra taking on a life of its own, and as I watched it spinning round and round in my head, I realized that the sounds of it felt alien to me, and that I had no idea what the words I was hearing and repeating 24 hours a day really meant. It was certainly a prayer of some sort, but to whom and asking for what? Thus, after reaching such a high level of mantra meditation, I forced myself to stop, because the mantra’s persistent self-repetition inside me began to frighten me. Several years later, I returned to mantra practice with 100,000 repetitions of a mantra to the Hindu god Shiva, at the suggestion of another Amma devotee.
Meanwhile, I also became interested in the shamanic plant called Ayahuasca, the vine of the dead. I read through hundreds of experiences with it on Internet forums, found out where to buy it, and began experimenting with it. Many experiences followed. By taking this substance, I made myself available to entities – whether spiritual or physical, I don’t know – who could see me from very far away and come to visit me. At the time, my worldview did not have a place for the concept of evil. I basically imagined that all entities are essentially good, and that spirits only existed to edify and serve people like me.
My focus turned to reading all the books on Amazonian shamanism I could find, and I quickly made up my mind to go to Peru to experience contact with spirit entities under the guidance of an experienced shaman. To make this possible, I took on a year-long job in South Korea teaching English to save money. There, I met a Christian girl who became my first real girlfriend, and who no doubt prayed for me. While in Korea, due to extremely strict drug laws, I abstained from all mind-altering substances for an entire year. When one of my friends in Canada offered me to smoke marijuana upon my return, I could no longer enjoy it. The ever more potent Canadian marijuana incapacitated me completely, so I renounced that part of my life; but I still wanted to go to Peru and study shamanism.
My first visit to Peru was for three weeks, followed by a longer one later, which lasted eight months. There, I participated in ceremonies involving ayahuasca and other plants under at least half a dozen different shamans. Before long, I became a student of one, keen on eventually becoming a shaman myself. This part of my life is described in detail in my first book, “Shamans and Healers”, which I wrote in the form of a day-to-day journal during my stay in Peru. By this time, I had fallen in love with another Christian girl, who was also no doubt praying for me. In fact, meeting her was an answer to a prayer, because although I was living like a lost soul by Christian standards, I still had the habit of talking to God, and I asked Him for a life companion shortly before meeting her.
The eight months in Peru weren’t easy. The experiences I had there were as powerful as my earlier kundalini awakenings and were soon followed by a similar sense of hopelessness and despair. It was as if the more I experienced, the more miserable I became, because none of the experiences offered lasting satisfaction. It was as if I was eating amazing food inside a dream, which in reality only made me more and more hungry. The only thing that interested me at that point in my life was the supernatural. Over those eight months, I lost all connection with the material world. I never talked to anyone who was not deeply involved in shamanism, except for occasional phone conversations with my girlfriend, whom I left back in Canada.
After several months of faithfully serving and obeying my teacher, it dawned on me that he was consistently lying to me, using me, and manipulating me. I entered into a love-hate relationship with him, loving and admiring him on one level for all the amazing things he could do, but hating him for lying to me and using me. During my last two months, I moved out of his house and went into seclusion, fasting and praying in a little hut in the jungle. When my teacher would come to visit, I would avoid him as much as possible. This difficult period culminated in a crisis. Every day, I felt exhausted, hopeless, and close to suicidal. Then, in one ceremony, I had a vision of Jesus, and realized that my time in Peru was done. There was nothing else I needed from the shamans or the plants. Still locked up in my hut, I found myself praying for healing and forgiveness, intuitively singing “Lord Have Mercy” in Russian, part of the Jesus Prayer. Tears flowed from my eyes as I paced around my hut, going through layers and layers of sadness, frustration, pain, and anger. I realized that the path of shamanism was not for me and returned to Canada, but my inner crisis continued.
Because of my involvement with shamanism, many unnerving supernatural things began to happen in my house. Things would go missing, music would turn on and off by itself, the lights would turn on and off, and from time to time, demonic voices would come through on the telephone, which was absolutely horrifying. Almost every night, I would get panic attacks, accompanied by extremely rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath, not to mention a terrible anxiety. When I did sleep, my shaman teacher entered my dreams and ordered me around: “You have to come back to Peru.” Instead, I went to Mexico to visit my girlfriend. For three months, I tried to recover from my time in Peru and get back to normal. What I really wanted was to wipe the slate clean and start over. This is what I was praying for deep in my heart, but I did not know where the answer would come from. I had several more ceremonies with shamans and healers in Mexico, but if they helped at all, the relief was only temporary.
By this time, my girlfriend was also back in Mexico with her highly devoted Presbyterian mother. They suggested I go to a Christian center in the mountains of Oaxaca to see how Christian healers work – how they compare to Peruvian shamans. I had very little interest in Christianity but thought that the visit would be worthwhile from a purely scientific point of view – I wanted to know how these people operated, and whether their songs and prayers really helped anyone. And so I met Jose and Ela, a married couple in their 50s, who had gone through nearly two decades of deep involvement with eastern religions, drugs, and the occult. Independently, each of them received a vision of Jesus, telling them to renounce everything and follow Him, because He was the only way. Both were scared to follow the calling, thinking that it could mean divorce, but when one of them finally decided to make that leap of faith, it turned out that the other was thinking exactly the same thing. Shortly after they gave their hearts and lives to Jesus, people began asking them for prayer and healing. They prayed, and miracles happened. Thus, their ministry began, and continued full time for over sixteen years, totally free to all who sought their help.
Unfortunately for me, Jose was not very talkative. I had tea with him and over approximately 40 minutes, he only said two or three words. When I found out that Jose would be driving back to the city two days later, I asked him for a lift into town. “There is nothing for me in this place,” I figured. For about half an hour, we drove in silence, then I attempted to start a conversation. After some time, Jose frankly told me, “You need help.”
At the time, despite my problems, I felt like I was highly advanced spiritually. My spiritual ego was huge. I had amulets and talismans from all kinds of gurus and shamans “protecting me”, hanging from my neck and around my wrists. And yet, Jose’s words rang true. His specialty was deliverance ministry. I asked him whether it could be possible that I had any demons or negative entities attached to me. He didn’t even have to evaluate me before replying, “Of course you do, it’s impossible not to have demons attached to you after doing all those things you did.” And so I decided to stay at the center longer. I came in the name of science, so I figured I would test out whatever Jose and Ela offered on myself. After wandering around the city for a day, I returned to the mountain with Jose and told him that I’d be willing to go through the deliverance process. Thus, I renounced my past, buried all of my amulets, and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior in a humble prayer. I realized that the idea that I didn’t need a savior was just another aspect of my big ego. I always wanted to be in control, mixing and matching spiritual teachings as I saw fit, forming my own religion, which I could always change to fit my own desires.
One night, I had a vision that promised total healing if I would stop living in sexual sin. However, my will was not strong enough to do that, and I had to go through about four years of needless suffering as a result. Some nights, I would get spiritual visions, but I also struggled with achieving faith. I did not know the answers to many of the questions in my mind. I did not know whether I truly believed the Bible or not, but I was willing to give Jesus a chance, because everything else I had tried up to this point had failed me, and because the Christian path was clearly working for Jose and Ela, who radiated spiritual power and genuine happiness.
My deliverance was a slow and rather painful process. Right before my first session, I was tormented by demons all night. They showed me horrible scenes involving my family members and loved ones. When I awoke, I was terribly anxious, like a tiger in a cage. It was an anxiety I had experienced many times before. An unbearable urge to smoke came over me, and although it was against the rules, I chain smoked my cigarettes until Jose suddenly called me in for prayers. I began confessing and repenting, while Jose prayed to God to forgive me and accept me in the name of Jesus. Sometimes, he prayed in tongues, and I didn’t know what he was saying, but I certainly felt the power. There were both physical and emotional effects, and once the prayers were finished, I felt a sense of relief and liberation. It was almost like being born again, and although I felt better immediately, many more such sessions would follow. After my first session with Jose, I threw my cigarettes into a fire and never smoked again. I also renounced all mind-altering substances and all esoteric practices the same day.
Although I was baptized as a baby, I decided to get baptized again by Jose and Ela. In retrospect, I believe that my baptism as an infant was valid to a limited degree and helped me by protecting me during the years I wandered as a spiritual seeker, because everything could have turned out much worse than it actually did. (I am not implying that I was spiritually accepted into “the church” at that point, but I was dedicated to God. True biblical baptism is only performed after a person repents and it involves full immersion, not sprinkling.) I never thought I would become a Christian, yet I believe now that the Lord had never let me go precisely because I had already been dedicated to God in a Christian ritual. Moreover, while I did not have a single Christian friend, God arranged for both of my serious girlfriends to be Christian. Immediately after my baptism with Jose and Ela, which took place on Easter, a tremendous tiredness came over me, and I again started feeling miserable and hopeless. I went off by myself and fell on the ground under a bridge, about to break into tears, because my baptism didn’t take away my pain and sorrow the way I had expected. At that point, I heard the audible voice of God saying, “He wants to be miserable, but I won’t let him.”
Over the next few years, I did little to move further along my newfound Christian path. The best I could do was just hang in there, enduring the spiritual attacks coming against me from my enemies, who had once been my allies. I was almost always tired. The eight months in Peru took a toll on every part of my being. My hair turned grey, my teeth were full of holes, my intestines had parasites. I had visited so-called healers hundreds of times, but nobody helped me prevent the health problems I was now having. In fact, after an eight-month long healing retreat in Peru, I was much sicker and weaker than ever before.
God led me to meet a number of amazing people, and they prayed for a hunger for God to come alive in me. I often wondered why I had been so hungry earlier for all things New Age, but now felt lukewarm about Christianity. I didn’t feel the same hunger and fire for Christ as I had felt previously for New Age spirituality, but I kept praying for it year after year, and the hunger eventually came. When I finally started learning about Christianity, I realized that it is much more interesting than I had first assumed. Even now, I have a long list of things I still wish to learn about my faith. Once you really get into the Christian path, you will never get bored.
Although I was through with shamanism, many unpleasant aftereffects persisted. The years that followed were some of the most difficult of my life. My relationship with my girlfriend nearly failed a number of times, but in 2014, we finally got married. Having been raised Presbyterian, my wife did not believe in the gifts of the Spirit, while I certainly did, having experienced the shadow side of them in shamanism. I kept praying for getting the gift of tongues for my edification. In 2015, while on our honeymoon in Europe, my wife went to a deserted Presbyterian church to pray. Before long, she realized that she didn’t really know how to pray. She could pray in her own words for ten or fifteen minutes, but afterwards the inspiration dried up and she could think of nothing else to say. Leaving the church, she sat on a bench by the entrance thinking about her predicament. “Why can’t I pray longer, God?” she asked in her mind. “I want to pray, but I just don’t know how.”
She sat there for a few more minutes, when a car pulled up to the old church and a Korean lady stepped out. She spoke almost no English.
“You… like… pray?” she asked. “Yes,” my wife replied. “Come,” said the lady, leading my wife back into the church. That afternoon they prayed together for over three hours, much of it in tongues. When my wife came home, she looked radiant and could pray in tongues fluently.
Later, I attended Russian Orthodox services in France, which raised more issues. After each Sunday worship, the pastor invited everyone to tea and snacks, and the visitors asked spiritual questions. He answered everything very wisely, and bit by bit, my theological doubts began to disperse. I started understanding the events in my life from God’s point of view, looking for a deeper meaning behind everyday events. I studied theology for several years on my own, until Christian doctrine began to make perfect sense, and I began to feel like I could answer most of the difficult questions a New Ager or an atheist might ask a Christian.
Coincidentally, my career as an artist took off the year I decided to follow Christ, and it had been on the rise ever since. To paint pictures for a living is is by no means easy, but God has provided for me and my family in an impressive manner. At the time of writing this, I own my dream home, which I was able to buy the year my wife became pregnant with our first child. As in everything else in my life, God put all of the puzzle pieces in place to make this possible. Moreover, as a father of two kids, I now find myself short of time and unable to dedicate long hours to painting or to marketing my work. In response, God has made it possible for me to complete paintings quicker than ever before, and people seem to find me and purchase my work without any special effort on my part. Now, I am slowly working towards painting more spiritual subjects to exalt the God who had given me this talent in the first place.
Long before my baptism in Oaxaca, people used to ask me whether I was a believer, seeing Christian symbols in my paintings, but I had no idea what they were talking about. I didn’t even know that fish was a Christian symbol, but I certainly painted a lot of fish. Overall, this has been an amazing, unpredictable journey full of blessings and miracles, and I sure hope that I’m nowhere near the end of the ride yet. Not for a second do I miss my previous life as an atheist or a New Ager, nor would I ever think of going back to that lifestyle. Over the years, my many passions and addictions slowly faded, offering me a peacefulness I could not even have dreamed of when I was younger.
My journey has not been easy. Even now, challenges and trials persist. And yet, I am blessed to feel God’s loving care, protection, and provision everywhere I go, so when there seems to be no way out, I call out to my God, and He answers. In times of stress or anxiety, all I have to do is pray and peace comes over me. If you give your heart to God and ask Him for what you need with the faith of a child, He will surely answer. Jesus never claimed that our path would be an easy one, but we must remember than nothing is impossible for God. Difficulties don’t have to bring us down. We can use them to practice having faith, worshiping God no matter what, just like Job did.
I don’t believe in easy salvation, or in a one-step formula for accepting Jesus and being instantly saved. It might happen that way for some people, but it would be a big mistake to think of yourself as saved if you are still living in sin. A marriage does not come to its culmination when the newlyweds walk down the aisle. The wedding is just the first step of a very long journey together; it is a promise of commitment, but without actual faithfulness – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – a wedding means almost nothing. A wife cannot be faithful for two hours every Sunday and unfaithful the rest of the time. Likewise, a Christian must be a Christian both inside and outside the church. We need to be praying for a hunger for God and a repulsion towards evil. Only then will we become fully protected from the dark side. As long as we keep holding on to sinful habits, regardless of how insignificant or harmless they may seem, we are opening doors to the enemy and giving the devil every right to torment us. If you’re thinking about dabbling in the New Age or the occult, don’t, because it doesn’t lead anywhere worth heading. And if you are already involved in these things, do yourself a favor – get out, repent, and don’t look back.
I have explored many spiritual paths in depth and have found it true that a tree is always to be judged by its fruit. A spiritual teacher who does not live a spiritually pure life is a false teacher. I have had tremendous spiritual experiences, yet they have all proven to be temporary and unsatisfying, whereas the experience of a personal relationship with God is ongoing and permeates every aspect of one’s life. The love of God is the only thing in this world that can offer true peace, joy, and satisfaction.
Andrew Osta is a gifted artist with a unique, stunning and attractive style. He is also an author of three books. He may be contacted through his website: www.AndrewOsta.com or through his Facebook page: www.Facebook.com/andrew.osta