Eliza Downer is up at 4 a.m.—early for anyone but especially an 18-year-old.
She uses that time to pray, read her Bible or coach people online through a BGEA discipleship course.
Eliza talked to BGEA one recent morning at 6:30 a.m. from her home in Johnstown, Colorado.
“I’m a morning person,” she said, chipper but keeping her voice down for others still sleeping. With eight younger siblings, she appreciates the time to herself.
One of her recent joys, though, is the product of a conversation with her sister.
In January, Eliza’s 13-year-old sister read an email from BGEA that mentioned Search for Jesus, the organization’s internet evangelism ministry.
Search for Jesus has over 500 volunteers nationwide who share the Gospel and guide people in their faith online. Eliza is currently the youngest one, with 18 being the minimum age to serve.
“She was like, ‘I wish I could volunteer, but I’m not 18. But you are!’” Eliza remembers her sister saying.
Eliza thought it was “a cool idea” and took time to pray about it, ultimately deciding to wait until she graduated from high school in May to apply as a volunteer.
“I’ve been enjoying it ever since,” she said.
Like all of BGEA’s Search for Jesus volunteers, Eliza went through substantial training and vetting before becoming a discipleship coach. In that role, she makes herself available to mentor people around the world who want a deeper relationship with Jesus or have questions about Christianity. She guides them through Know Jesus, a free online discipleship course.
She gets some tough questions, she says, and sometimes it requires her to do some digging. One of the biggies is from people seeking truth but wondering why there are so many Bible translations and so many ways of preaching. How do you know which one is right?
Eliza has had her own questions over the years.
“I’m kind of the prodigal,” she said.
She decided to make Jesus part of her life at 7 years old, but through some personal difficulties later on, grew apart from Him and “stopped caring about Him.”
The distance broadened for a couple of years until she was 15. That year, she participated in a 5K. She walked most of it, then decided to sprint to the finish line, but it wasn’t happening.
“I tried running and I could not run,” she said.
She’d had ballet class the day before and thought maybe she was just tired. Over time, she noticed she was tripping more and wasn’t dancing as well. It slowly got worse.
She’s seen three specialists but gotten no clear answers and is now in a wheelchair.
“We basically don’t know what’s happening,” she said. She can walk a little bit but said it’s “kind of like walking through a jug of molasses.”
The same year as the 5K, she started going to a Tuesday night discipleship group where the leader bluntly shared truth about God. It got Eliza’s attention.
“I would leave every Tuesday like, ‘I want that. I want more. I want God.’”
One night, she felt Him telling her to make a decision: follow Him or not.
“God was like, ‘Decide,’” she said. She did and recommitted her life to Jesus.
“It’s been hard, but God is good and He’s taught me so much,” Eliza said about being in a wheelchair.
Before the incident a few years ago, she planned to move to New York after graduation and pursue dance. But she admits her spiritual life probably would have taken a different route.
“I probably wouldn’t be pursuing God as much. I feel like God has used this to break me down … as a reminder to be dependent on Him and not my own strength.”
Of course, being in a wheelchair doesn’t slow her down.
As one of 12 children, ages 2 to 24, Eliza stays busy at home, helping homeschool the younger ones. One sibling has severe special needs, so Eliza is there to help with speech therapy and teach her how to read.
She also volunteers as a receptionist at a crisis pregnancy center and over the summer went on a mission trip to Poland to help deliver wheelchairs.
The busyness is one reason Eliza decided to volunteer with Search for Jesus.
Online volunteering fits more easily into her schedule, she said, and she can do a little at a time.
Eliza plans to attend community college in the spring, eventually transferring to Colorado Christian University to get a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in counseling.
It seems she’s got the next several years planned out already, but from previous experience says “God is welcome to change that.”
Need a life change? The Bible says those who accept Jesus are “a new creation.” Here’s more.
Are you interested in sharing your faith online? Learn more about BGEA’s internet evangelism ministry, Search for Jesus.