Juliette Djebaoui has always believed in God. But at just eight years old, Juliette suffered the trauma of being separated from her siblings. She was taken from her home in Haiti to France, adopted by a French family. A few years later, Juliette’s world crumbled again. She was removed from this home, too, from a complicated relationship. She was placed in a government-run home for youth in foster care. There, Juliette endured years of assault and abuse. As a teen, she felt utterly helpless, powerless over her own life. She was angry.
“I started to not believe in God,” Juliette remembers. Her years of endless suffering had convinced her that she was alone. “Nobody comes to rescue you,” she remembers thinking. “So I just rejected God.”
At 18, Juliette was finally free to leave the government-run home. She found a job, rented her own apartment, and began studying international business. She converted to another religion, trying to make sense of how she could engage with a higher power that didn’t seem to care about her. But she found the faith complicated and confusing. She didn’t understand the required prayers, and she wished she could speak with God directly, without an intermediary. He felt so far away, but Juliette longed to believe in him. To be saved.
Then, during Covid lockdowns, Juliette became friends with a boy her age through a group on What’sApp. They began to talk regularly on the phone. The boy and his mother attended a Church of the Nazarene near Paris. His mother was part of a prayer call that met over the phone six nights a week. Every evening, Juliette would hear her friend’s mom in the background of their call, talking to Jesus, asking for help, for strength. Juliette was captivated. This woman’s prayers to Jesus were something entirely different than any prayer she had known.
“I found it so beautiful,” Juliette remembers. “Who is this God that I can talk to him? That’s the kind of relationship I want to have with God.” She asked her friend, and he invited her to join a weekly online youth group meeting.
Pastor Bobby Valentin remembers that first encounter with Juliette well. Each week, Bobby, who then worked with Nazarene Youth International on the Paris District, hosted a Zoom call to keep youth connected and engaged in learning more about Jesus.
Juliette was overtly curious, and it stood out.
“From the first meetings, she was already asking questions,” Bobby says. Most students were quiet when they first joined the weekly calls. Juliette was bold, determined to learn more about this God who received such adoring prayers.
After the official Zoom call, Bobby would stay, playing games like online Uno and connecting with students. Juliette had more questions. She asked Bobby about the requirements to convert to Christianity. Bobby remembers saying, “If you believe in God, if you believe with all of your heart, if you believe that Jesus is your lord, you already have all of the requirements.” Juliette asked if she needed to do this in a physical church building. Bobby said that accepting Jesus could happen anywhere, and Juliette wasted no time. “Ok, let’s do it now,” she said.
“I felt empty because I did not have this relationship,” Juliette remembers. She had been astonished that she could become a follower of Jesus right where she was, with a simple prayer from her heart. “When I did that, I just felt full,” she says. Juliette knew she no longer needed to carry her heavy burdens alone. She willingly handed them over to this caring, loving Jesus. “All of my problems are no longer my problems,” she remembers understanding. “All of this was in his hands.”
Since that decision, Juliette has walked through hard seasons once again. She has struggled with falling into old patterns, as humans do. But she continues to find Jesus calling her into deeper relationship. This summer, she chose to be baptized. The baptism class reminded her through scripture that no human is perfect, and that God is a God of restoration. “God wants you to be new,” she says. “To learn from your mistakes. To listen to him…I’m learning every day.”
Bobby pauses, temporarily speechless when thinking about how much Juliette has overcome with Jesus. When Juliette first shared her story, Bobby was overwhelmed, unsure how he could help. “I felt so limited,” he says. “But God is doing all of the work.” He hopes that Juliette continues to learn more about God and his kingdom. “He’s the one who can heal all of the things that happened in her life.”
Juliette shares openly about the darkness she experienced as a teenager, including one very dark day. She says she was suicidal, unable to picture living her life another moment. She chose to self-harm to alleviate her agony, but eventually sleep overcame her exhausted body. She awoke the next morning in the same place, but something was very different. She could see her future. “I saw I was about to do a lot of things,” she remembers. “It’s like I was seeing the rainbow before the storm was over.” Juliette was confident, hopeful about her future. She now shares openly about that dark day, proclaiming Jesus’ protection and seeing that he was calling her to himself.
“Jesus came to save the sick, sinners,” she says. “Any way, he saves you…when people are going through bad things, God starts to invite you to believe in him,” she says. “I really deeply think that’s the call of Jesus. He invites you to search.”
– written by Sarah Norris