Amanda Bennes: Climbing Out
By Sarah Morris
A hand scrapes along the rocky wall, trying to find a way out. A small crack of light shines from above, but the darkness surrounds like a never-ending abyss. Loneliness floods the senses, and the ability to run is stifled. The path seemed innocent enough at first; but this journey of choices slowly led into a deep pit, where hopelessness started to creep in.
Growing up in a Christian household, Amanda Bennes learned the classic children’s church songs, memorizing verses, and going to Sunday school in the Lutheran church. She got into mischief in middle school, writing on bathroom walls, stealing, lying, and making threats against people she was angry with. But as what so often happens in life, an individual started to help her change things around. Amanda decided to try out the Element in high school, and the student pastor, Terry Parkman, started investing in her, helping her to see that this mischief that she was getting into wasn’t worth it. Her sophomore year, she made her faith her own, trying to model her life after Terry, realizing now she was striving to live more like Jesus.
The years went by, and Senior year came about. It was a great year, until the last two weeks when her only remaining grandfather had passed away. They traveled to Minneapolis for the funeral and attended the visitation. Returning to the hotel, Amanda was shaken up—but that wasn’t the worst of it. Checking Facebook, she found out that her best friend who had been battling cancer had passed away. Feeling overwhelmed by it all she took it hard; and for the next three weeks or so she held it all in, not talking to anyone about it.
After some time, things started to get better. She got a college scholarship for soccer and track. But one wrong moved changed it all. Warming up for a soccer game, Amanda tried to block the ball, but something happened where she got hurt, ending her soccer career. She had to have surgery, which also affected her ability in track. She only went to college to continue playing these sports; now that plan was dead, and so she took a turn that would take her down a dark path: she began to party—hard.
“I don’t think I spent one day at college sober,” Amanda said. “I would wake up in the morning and I would drink and I would continue to drink throughout the whole day, like I would have a water bottle full of booze. And then I would come back to my room and I would drink some more, and then go to sleep, then start all over again the next day.”
She remembers one party in particular. Her friend wanted to leave, she wanted to stay. So she found some other friends and started a shots competition. Not remember ending it, she later learned she had around 30 shots of different alcohol.
“The next day I had no idea where I was, what I was doing, where anyone else was, like, ‘how do I get back to school?’” Amanda said. “I was terrified because I didn’t know how I had gotten there. I wasn’t even at the same house where we started the party.”
Waking up, she realized something had to change. She told her best friend that she was going to stop drinking. It wasn’t overnight; she didn’t attend any meetings or stop cold turkey. But slowly, her life took a turn for the better. She stopped partying, she started studying. She started to grow closer and closer to God. Her grades still weren’t good enough to keep the scholarship, so she dropped out of college. But, she started a new job that would influence her more than she would imagine.
“I worked at Camp of the Cross and I got a whole new respect for Christianity and living your life as Christ and really striving to be more of a peacemaker than anything.”
She wanted to help others who struggled with loss—whether it was the loss of a family member or friend, or the defeat of a dream. Returning to school was on her mind too, but for two years she said she would go, and those two years went by without her going. Instead of going back to college the next year, she decided to do something totally different: The World Race. This is a Missions organization where she traveled to 11 countries in 11 months. Amanda went to Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, China, and the Philippines.
The second or third night they were on their trip, the teams were asked what they wanted to get out of the year.
“Two things that I came up with were, ‘I want to be more selfless and I want my brother to love Christ again,’” Amanda said. “That was the only two things I wanted to get out of it. If I had to leave for my brother to come back to Christ, that would be a big deal.”
She experienced some wonderful miracles, but also some terrible circumstances. One of the miracles happened when they were in Guatemala. Amanda was dealing with a pretty bad peanut allergy. She had this very vivid dream, of this woman with a black shirt and floral detail, donned in a skirt with an apron, sitting next to a brick wall in a white chair. Then she heard a voice that said ‘Remember this woman, because when you see her, you will be healed.’ She portrays the voice now as Jesus, but at that time, she brushed it off. The only thing that she needed healing from was her peanut allergy. Telling the dream to one of her teammates, that was the end of it—well, at least until around two weeks later, when they were doing house calls to local widows.
“And all of a sudden we walk into this house, and there’s this lady from my dream sitting there, and it clicked as soon as I saw her,” Amanda said. “And I turned back to my teammate and I was like, ‘That’s the peanut lady!’ She goes, ‘the peanut lady?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, the peanut lady!’ And so I went up to our translator, and I said ‘Hey, you got to tell this lady she was in my dream.’ And so he told her, they spoke their native language. … She got this terrified look on her face, and then said something back to him, and he got this terrified look on his face, and he goes, ‘she had a dream about you.’
Walking down to the supermarket after this encounter, she grabbed a Snickers bar, which contains peanuts. Armed with her EpiPen, she ate the Snickers. She didn’t have to use her EpiPen and she had no allergic reaction.
“And so I got healed from my peanut allergy because Jesus said it would happen which is insane still to this day,” Amanda said.
But with the highs comes the lows. In Kenya they were visiting this village, and there was a young African girl. She spotted their team, and started crying out in an excited voice the word for white people in the native language. Being in a thrilled state, she ran out onto the street, and a truck didn’t see her, and she got hit.
“I ended up in the middle of the street, holding this little girl in my arms, trying to quiet her down,” Amanda said. “Her mom comes out of the Supermarket and sees the commotion, and sees me and runs to me, and by the time she got there, her daughter had already passed away.”
Sitting in the middle of the street in shock, Amanda was pulled away from the scene by her teammates. A few days later this same mother shows up at their ministry center, and thanks Amanda for being there with her daughter as she died.
“And I was like, ‘we’re the reason she got hit by the truck, she saw us and got excited. Why aren’t you mad at us?’ And she goes, ‘I don’t know why I’m not mad, but I want to know why you are here and I want to talk to you guys, and I just want to understand why this had to happen.’”
So the team shared the Gospel to this woman, and they helped to give comfort in her time of mourning. Returning home, it was hard to return to a normal life. But, it was worth it.
“I learned so much in just that year of traveling,” Amanda said. “Ever since I really left, all I wanted to do was just know more about what it means to be a Christian, know more about what it means or looks like to live like Christ, be like Christ.”
And every day is a process she acknowledges.
“I guess like, now, I still wouldn’t say that I am a strong Christian, because I don’t think there is such a thing. I’m a growing Christian, which I think is what all of us are, no matter what we struggle with, what we’re trying to get through, what we’re doing well in. There is always more to learn.”
In the future, she dreams of planting an orphanage in India. India was originally on her mission route, and then it was changed. But she doesn’t think it was an accident.
“God placed this on my route and changed it because it wasn’t for that time, and I’m thinking now it’s coming back around,” Amanda said. “It was placed in my mind for a reason, it wasn’t just written there because it was written there. … But that’s where I’m supposed to be, that’s where I feel that toughest tug, you know? I always thought I’m going back to Kenya and I’m going to stay in Kenya. But as soon as I heard the word India I was like, ‘whoa,’ and ever since then, that is almost all I can think about when I think about what I want to do with my life.”
Amanda had taken some wrong turns on the journey. In a dark spiral of drinking, she went deeper and deeper into the pit, until she felt the bottom. But God helped her get a foothold to climb out of the abyss. And every day she keeps putting one foot higher and higher up. Jesus reached out His hand, and pulled her up. The small fraction of light grows brighter and brighter, as she continues to journey with Jesus every day.