‘I desperately needed a love I could not find at home’ Cotia says
The hatred and bitterness that plagued each generation of her family left Cotia Saunders defenceless against depression, racism, rape and mistreatment before she found a way to break the destructive cycle.
"There has always been abuse, rejection, evil, hatred, division, and constant fighting in the generations of my family," Cotia says sadly.
Affection did not come naturally and she says it was easier to hate and fight than love one another.
Even Cotia's mother treated her as an outsider, replicating the behaviour of her grandmother and great grandmother.
"My mother was never affectionate, never touched me in a loving manner; the only thing she was interested in was getting drunk so she would be gone for days or weeks."
Depression overwhelmed Cotia due to her mother's neglect and she often went without food, clean clothes to wear or the medical and dental treatment she needed.
At age 11, she was brutally raped by her sister's husband.
At school Cotia did not feel safe or cared for either, experiencing segregation and racism because of her dark colour.
In a desperate search for love she started attending Christian tent 'revival' meetings in her early teens and one time the speaker quoted scripture from John chapter 3 verse 16, which says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His One and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life".
At the end of the service the speaker asked if anyone wanted to accept God's love through surrendering their lives to Jesus Christ.
"I wanted this kind of love from God, I wanted to be his child," Cotia recalls thinking.
"I went straight up to the front where the speaker was and I prayed and asked Jesus to come into my life to be my personal Lord and Saviour."
Through the work of the Spirit of God, Cotia says her fears turned into peace and she began to feel inner calmness, an ability to forgive and endure harm inflicted by others and a kindness that gave her a tender concern for others.
"Most importantly, I received a love that heals my heart, a love that takes away the pain, the anger and the depression, and a love that could overcome the pain that was crippling my life," she says.
“I received a love that heals my heart, a love that takes away the pain”"I knew I did not receive these gifts from having money, prosperity, success, material things, or being a good person, I also knew the things of this world weren't going to give me a better life, peace, joy, happiness, or comfort."
Instead, Cotia says she felt her heart change by simply asking God to forgive her for her own wrongdoing and telling Jesus that she trusted and would follow Him with her whole life.
Despite the change she felt from within, her family situation grew worse because the love of Jesus became very evident in her life.
She began telling her siblings about Jesus dying for their sins and their need to give their lives to Christ but her mother hated this and separated her from them.
"I had to solely depend on God's love for me and His strength to help me," she says.
"My mother still doesn't want a relationship with me, although I have still forgiven her and I long to show her love, which is much better than the hate, strife and division that cursed us."
Although Cotia is still seeking reconciliation with her mother, she has written a book called Mama Please Love Me (just give me a hug) and has a blogspot by the same name to encourage others who have been through similar experiences.
Now married to a minister, Cotia and her husband Ford have a heart for online ministry and street ministry both near their home and overseas.
"My life of abuse was not in vain for God had a plan for my life," Cotia concludes confidently.
"What the enemy [of God, the Devil] meant for evil against me God is using for His glory, my own good and for the call of God in ministry to others."