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Confessions of faith: Anna Linden

A woman relates how God’s grace has changed her life and how she works to share that grace with others.

Grace—God’s unconditional, undeserved love—is a concept that used to be foreign to Anna Linden. Now it is a familiar concept: She receives grace from her heavenly Father and gives it to those she encounters in her life and work.

A directionless blessing

Anna was born and raised in Belarus, an Eastern European country within the shadow of the former Soviet Union. Church wasn’t a part of her upbringing, and she didn’t have friends or relatives who had Christian faith. In fact, in her family, religion was “frowned upon.” The “pomp and tradition” of religion was something to distrust.

In the mid-1980s, Anna’s father, a scientist employed by the Belarus government, believed it was important to modernize the country by introducing computers to the general public, even forging a partnership with the US-based company Microsoft. The communist government of Belarus strongly disagreed with his progressive thinking. “He was persecuted, prosecuted, and jailed for a month,” Anna remembers. “They didn’t like it that he was fraternizing with the Americans.”

Fearing for their family’s safety, her parents made the painful but necessary decision to immigrate to the United States. Anna’s family members began to flee Belarus bit by bit. Her middle brother made the journey first, settling near family friends in the Milwaukee, Wis., area. Anna followed later as a foreign exchange student, living in California during her senior year of high school. She fell in love with her adopted country and considered remaining in California for college, but her father, who was now living in Wisconsin, missed her and wanted her nearby.

Anna enrolled at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee to study criminal justice, a major she was drawn to because of the injustices her family had suffered in her homeland. “I had to right the wrongs,” she says. While in college, Anna met the man who would become her husband and the father of her two daughters, Katie and Emma.

While in school, Anna interned at the district attorney’s office in Milwaukee County. But to eventually have a career in law enforcement, she had to become a US citizen. While working on that process after she graduated, Anna served as a probation and parole agent for the state of Wisconsin for seven years. It was a foot in the door, opening up opportunities and providing valuable work experience.

Although Anna was succeeding in her new job, she admits she was stumbling and directionless, without faith to guide her: “I was meandering through my 20s, trying to find myself, and looking in the wrong places,” she recalls. Her husband, an atheist, didn’t provide the direction she craved. “I was just floundering. And that’s okay,” says Anna. “I can look back on that season with clarity and be grateful that I now have meaning and purpose in Christ.”

An introduction to grace

After her first daughter, Katie, was born, an investigator position opened up at the district attorney’s office. Now a proud US citizen, Anna jumped to apply, was hired, and went through the police academy. As an eager-to-learn rookie, her first partner steered her further away from God. “He taught me to mistrust everyone and lean on worldly pleasures to cope with difficulties at home,” Anna recalls. “But God intervened and put a new partner in my path. And this new partner is the reason I am where I am today.”

That new partner was Tom—and Anna’s first encounter with grace. “He’s the one that introduced me to Jesus,” she remembers with gratitude. “He told me that the only way to heaven is through Jesus and it’s clear in the Bible.” During their hours together in the squad car and on duty, Anna observed Tom and the grace-filled way he interacted with people. “I took note! It was different. He was different,” she emphasizes. “He stood out in the way he was living his life. I’ve never experienced that before.”

Those hours in the squad car fostered another topic of conversation—Anna’s search for childcare and a school for Katie. “You know,” Tom mentioned to Anna, “those Lutherans are really good about their child education and child-rearing.” After an online search, Anna discovered Zion Lutheran School in South Milwaukee, Wis.—five minutes from her home. She made an appointment, loved what she saw, and enrolled Katie in Zion’s childcare. “The people I was interacting with, the parents and the teachers, were just different, like Tom . . . in a good way,” she says.

Finding out that she’d need to pay full, nonmember tuition when it came time for Katie to attend kindergarten at Zion, Anna started the church membership process for practical reasons: “At that point, it was not because I was seeking faith, but because I wanted to save money,” she candidly admits. Unsure what to expect, Anna enrolled in her first Bible information class with Zion’s pastor. “It was so eye-opening,” she recalls. “There were so many myths and so much misinformation in my head. He was so patient with me. He guided me through all the questions that I had.”

Partway through the class, Anna and her husband moved to nearby Germantown to be closer to her aging parents. Despite not being a believer, Anna’s husband supported her decision to find another Lutheran school for Katie. After touring Bethlehem Lutheran School in Germantown, and again loving what she saw, Anna enrolled Katie. Anna then completed Bible information class at Bethlehem and became a member. When Katie was seven years old, both she and Anna were baptized, together. Her work partner, Tom—who had introduced her to Jesus—was there with his wife to offer love and support.

Light in a dark time

Even after her baptism, though, Anna knew she wasn’t yet completely committed to God. “But God has a way of bringing someone fully to him. And that’s what he did with me,” she remembers. That refining came through her crumbling marriage. Anna’s new partner at work, Manny, taught her about the disease of alcoholism and helped her realize that her husband may be an alcoholic. At Manny’s urging, Anna began to attend Al-Anon meetings to help her cope with the pain of living with an alcoholic, and it was an answer to her prayers. Those meetings taught her that much of her life was out of her control. And that helped Anna begin to trust fully in God.

Anna Linden as a child and with her parents
Left: Anna at age 4 in her Soviet school uniform for her childcare. Middle: Nine-year-old Anna on the first day of first grade. Note the star-shaped pin she is wearing with a photo of Lenin inside. Each year, the children moved up a step in communism, and the star was for that step. Right: Anna with her parents in 1996, the year she moved to California for school.

Although she battled for years to save her marriage, Anna and her husband eventually divorced. She was broken and in a deep depression and even considered ending her life, but she is now grateful for that time: “It was the catalyst for me seeking the Lord with all of my heart,” she says. “There were so many weeds that took root in my heart that needed to be pulled, and by God’s patient weeding and through some difficult emotional growing pains, I am a new person today.”

During this dark time, God brought a light into Anna’s life—a woman named Kim. After Anna’s daughter attended a summer camp at Kim’s church, Kim called Anna on the phone one day and simply said, “I am just calling to see if there is any way I can pray for you.” That unexpected call blossomed into a beautiful Christian friendship.

Bethlehem—its pastors, teachers, and other parents—has become Anna’s beloved church family, especially since her immediate family was not supportive of her faith and how it has changed her. Anna fights tears as she talks about her gratitude for Pastor Peter Schmidt, one of her former pastors at Bethlehem who walked with her through hard days and patiently answered countless questions. He met with her one-on-one every week for six months. “He taught me about Jesus. He gave me Scripture to read, he prayed with me, and he listened to me,” Anna says. “I’m so grateful for him because he gave me the love of the Bible.”

A life full of grace

Today, Anna is unashamed and unafraid to talk about what Jesus has done for her. She begins each morning with Scripture and soaks in Bible study at every opportunity. She prays constantly throughout the day—for daughters Katie and Emma, for her family members who don’t yet know Jesus, and for those she encounters through her work.

Anna Linden in her police uniform and bible study
Left: Tom and his wife, Gayla, with Anna. Tom, one of Anna’s partners in the police force, was the first person to introduce her to Jesus. Center: Anna at Bible study at Bethlehem, Germantown, Wis. Right: Anna and her daughter Katie’s baptism at Bethlehem on Feb. 22, 2015. Pastor Paul Huebner (now retired) baptized them.

This soft-spoken, kind woman, who grew up not knowing God, now lives to extend grace in a law-oriented profession. Anna’s work in drug treatment court brings her into daily contact with addicts who are unfamiliar with grace. “They are just like me,” she says. “I did not know what unconditional love really meant.” Grace has changed the way she does her job, and God continues to send broken people to her who desperately need it. She says, “It gives me opportunities to talk to them about Jesus.”

Anna’s core of strength is her faith in God. “I never deserved the love that he gives me! I’m not worthy of it. And despite all that, he still died for me. It just blows my mind,” she says. “He has held my hand, and sometimes he has dragged me. But I trust that if he puts a situation in front of me, he knows the outcome and he will get me through it.”

Anna talks repeatedly about the people God has placed in her life to challenge yet strengthen her: Tom, Manny, Kim, Pastor Schmidt, and her brothers and sisters at Zion and Bethlehem. She will forever be grateful for their unconditional love and grace. “God put just the right people, at the right time, in my path to guide me closer to him,” she marvels. “I’ll someday be sharing a dinner table with all of them in heaven.”

Learn more from Anna about how the gospel and her congregation’s ministry impacted her life.

Author: Ann Jahns
Volume 110, Number 9
Issue: September 2023

 

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This entry is part 58 of 68 in the series confessions-of-faith

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