Ebenezer Collective | ALMOST GONE
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John Baldwin

In June 2014, we, with the help of the FBI, stopped our 18-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, from secretly leaving the United States – just 3 days before she was to board a plane to marry a Muslim man from Kosovo.

Fourteen months earlier, Mackenzie and a friend were killing time surfing the video chat site, Omegle, which is where she first encountered Aadam. After sharing her social media account with him, a presumably innocent friendship started; however, it quickly spiraled into a year of lies and deceit in which Mackenzie rejected her family, friends, and Christian faith. Mackenzie kept the relationship a tightly held secret the entire time, which allowed the online predator to manipulate her into believing that the only person she could trust was him.

We were gravely concerned for Mackenzie during this period, but Christ was there for us and for her. When Mackenzie was aggressively rejecting everything and everyone around her, Christ showed us how to love her and we managed to keep her within arm’s reach. When it was revealed to us that Mackenzie wasn’t acting out of rebellion, but was in fact a victim and in grave danger, Jesus brought exactly the right people, at just the right time, to put into motion a nearly impossible chain of events that saved her life. In just a 25-day period, we learned of her plan to leave, secured the help of the FBI, and developed a secret plan to stop her from getting on that plane.

After it was all over, Christ took this broken teenager and her family, and transformed our story into an instrument for good.

Mackenzie and I share our full story in our book, Almost Gone: Twenty-five Days and OneChance To Save Our Daughter; however, I would like to expand on two specific points that I touch on in the book about unconditional love. These served as my anchors in the storm, when my relationship with Mackenzie was at its breaking point. Within months of meeting Aadam, Mackenzie was an island unto herself. By Christmas of that year, she had completely rejected Christianity and was in full defense of Islam. It was a confusing, difficult, frustrating time, and we were desperate to have our daughter back the way she was. My family was being torn apart. Nothing we were doing or saying was making a difference with her and it felt like more than we could handle.

But Jesus was there.

My first anchor was given to me through a BBQ joint owner speaking at a men’s breakfast at our church, and it was that I needed to love Mackenzie ‘where she was at’. The storm I found myself fighting was me coming to grips that Mackenzie had rejected her Christian faith and was turning to Islam. This was so far out of my realm of possibilities for her, I couldn’t even imagine it, and I wasn’t handling it so well. The truth is, I was really angry at her, but even more so, I was angry about how this reflected on me personally. In short, I was thinking mostly about myself. That’s when Jesus showed me a different road through the words of a humble BBQ pit-master. Loving Mackenzie ‘where she was at’ meant I needed to love her unconditionally. I realized I had been setting conditions for me to love her fully. I needed to love her the same, whether she was a doctor or a circus clown; Muslim or Christian. I didn’t like where she was, but I needed to love her anyway.  

Jesus taught me to love her unconditionally, just as He did. Following His resurrection, Jesus appeared and reinstated Peter, who had denied even knowing Him just a few days before, with love and forgiveness. I’m certain Jesus didn’t like that Peter had rejected him, but Jesus didn’t stop loving him. Jesus didn’t require Peter to apologize or even ask for forgiveness for his mistakes. He simply loved him. And I realized I needed to do the same thing. From that day forward, I held on to that lesson and I simply loved her as best I could. I could hold on to this, and this first anchor held me steady and it blocked damaging anger and frustration from taking over.

My second anchor in the storm was revealed a few weeks later, when Christ reminded me to never do or say anything to blow up the bridge that connected Mackenzie and me. Honestly,  there were several times that I was tempted to give up and just let Mackenzie do what she wanted to do. But my friend and pastor reminded me that someday Mackenzie may need a way back home and it was going to be a father’s love and The Father’s love that would show her the way.

In Luke 15, Christ tells the story of a son who had ‘hired himself out to a citizen of a (distant) country’ and following a severe famine in the land, ‘he came to his senses’ and decided to return home. When he appeared on the road back to his home, his father was actively waiting and looking for him and ‘while he was a long way off’ he saw him approaching and welcomed him home with love and forgiveness. During the hardest of times, I tried to love Mackenzie without condition and I take great care never to say or do anything that would burn the bridge between us. It wasn’t easy to do, but through Christ’s strength I was able to do just that. There came a day that Mackenzie realized she was lost, broken, afraid, and embarrassed and she needed her family. Thankfully, the bridge was intact and we welcomed her home with love.

I hope our story will help you when your world turns upside down, when you encounter a crisis that is too big to handle by yourself. Your crisis may not be an online predator, but rather an illness, a breakup, a job loss, or an addiction. When things are too big to handle alone, I hope our story gives you hope and confidence that Christ is there, and the assurance that you are never alone.

***To purchase a book, join us on social media, or request speaking engagements – please visit us at:   www.mackenziebaldwin.com

Amanda Buccola
[email protected]
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