Chika Anyanwu grew up Catholic, but notes it took a “come to Jesus” moment in a rapidly descending plane to make her fly high in faith.

A first generation Nigerian-American, Anyanwu was on a plane with her mother and aunt as the trio left Nigeria following a visit there some years back.

The plane seemed to be taking an unusually long time to ascend, she recalls. Suddenly it dropped rapidly, not once, but twice, before settling into a cruising pattern. Needless to say, the free falling experience frightened everyone on board, and Anyanwu remembers passengers crying from fear.

“When we landed, I pulled a Pope John Paul II and knelt on the ground and kissed it,” the 32-year-old Catholic speaker says with a slight chuckle, recalling the late pontiff’s trademark habit of greeting the various lands he visited.

Surviving the experience made her wonder why she was still so attached to this world and not really looking forward to the next, she says. Thus began a reassessment of her belief in Jesus.

“I had to ask myself, am I just living for this world or am I living for heaven?”

An English studies graduate of Cal State University in San Bernardino, Anyanwu says the event shifted her focus from worldly success to spiritual success.

She is now a veteran parish youth and young adult ministry worker, as well as an alumna of the Minnesota based National Evangelization Teams Ministries (NET Ministries). She also serves as an Area Contact for the Catholic youth ministry organization Life Teen in the Diocese of San Bernardino.

Anyanwu left her job at Sacred Heart Church in Rancho Cucamonga last fall and is now a traveling Catholic speaker, who will lead breakout sessions at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ City of Saints Teen Conference, Aug. 4-6, at UCLA.

Anyanwu says her conference topics will include healing, adding that her faith sustained her through the deaths of 11 different people she knew over the course of her high school and college years. Just as she herself did when she was young, Catholic teenagers today are wrestling with all kinds of issues, from sexual ethics and racism to social isolation and information overload, she says.

At the core of their difficulties, she says, is a search for an authentic identity in a world that too often offers inauthentic models of being.

“They’re seeking for something, and they don’t know what it is,” she says of today’s teens. She believes that Jesus can offer teenagers that “something.”

“We all need to call each other to holiness and conversion,” she adds.

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