The positive and negative imprints of social media on the world are well known by now. Oregon student Evan Johns has experienced both extremes.
For Johns, 2020 marked the low point of his young life — isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, no friends in school, no job and feeling overwhelming social anxiety.
At 16 years old, he began a program to complete his first years of college while in high school. He admittedly had trouble keeping up, and after COVID protocols closed on campus learning, he finished high school online. Going back to in-person classes at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon, proved difficult.
“I only found a sense of community through online sources, meeting kids from all over the country,” Johns said. “I began joining group chats through TikTok where we played games together. I eventually was part of a group that was cyber-bullying others.”
Johns, who was adopted alongside his twin brother from the Marshall Islands at 6 months old, occasionally attended church while growing up, but never understood how God could make a difference in his life. After his parents’ divorce in his early elementary school years, life became chaotic — both parents remarrying, introduction of several step-siblings, frequent moves and part-time parenting.
‘Theirs was real’
“I didn’t really like Christians and was jealous of the faith I didn’t have,” Johns stated. “I attended a Christian chat group on TikTok, which I used as a chance to ridicule them. They were kids my age, and I couldn’t understand how they believed.”
Viewing the faith pushed by his parents as fake, Johns sensed a difference in the faith of the teenagers he encountered on the social media platform.
“For some reason theirs was real,” he recalled. “I could see the Holy Spirit in them.”
After being asked if he was a Christian or had shared the gospel, Johns began to ponder things he had done and where he stood with God.
“I had a severe porn addiction and [occasionally used marijuana],” Johns noted. “I knew there was a standard I’d never met and began to see what God had done — and what I’d done could be wiped away. At 2 a.m. on my bedroom floor, I cried out to God and told Him I didn’t want to live for anything else but Him.”
A shift took place right away.
“Friends started to see the changes online, as I was more engaged,” he said. “I came out from my bedroom the next morning a different person, although it wasn’t easy to tell my family in-depth at first.”
The “friends” he was involved in bullying with didn’t want to hear Johns’ story of faith, and his step-sisters were questioning him about the changes they’d observed.
When the college resumed classes in 2021, he returned to campus and met Northwest Collegiate Ministry volunteers set up at an information table on the campus and they invited him to join them for lunch and Bible study.
“I don’t typically walk up to strangers, but they waved me down,” Johns noted. “I had cut off my social media presence and didn’t know how I was going to stay strong in my faith.
“I thought why not give it a try even though I was scared,” he said. “I had never been in Bible study before and it was very interactive, but I mainly observed.”
Now Johns is sitting at the same table inviting other college students to join the group.
He spends regular time with other students in the group and went on a mission trip to prayer walk and offer acts of service on two other college campuses in Seattle recently.
“I was baptized recently by Turner Barnes, one of the [campus ministry leaders], and was able to give my testimony of what God has done through the year,” Johns said. “One year ago it was me and the Bible alone, and that day I spoke to 30 people.”
While not attending college currently, Johns wants to finish his associate degree and potentially seek out a career in trades.
“I don’t know where I’ll end up career-wise, but I know what my purpose is and don’t really care what direction life takes me,” Johns added.
“It is hard to keep my head up high and be bold with my faith, especially with my friends and family, because I’ve always wanted to blend in and not be the center of attention.
“It has been a humbling learning experience losing my pride and coming to God, but it’s all worth it,” he said.