Agnostic Wallflower to Confident Christian
Severe social anxiety — it was a way of life for Vincent Kancans, a self-described “Latvian-American” living in Minneapolis. Although he was perceived as shy and introverted due to his social anxiety secret, God had something in store for this young man that no one, including himself, ever believed he was capable of doing.
The Social Anxiety Association defines the disorder as the fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people, causing anxiety and fear in most all areas of a person’s life. For as long as he can remember, Kancans has felt alienated from groups and fearful of what people thought of him, which ultimately led to even greater alienation and depression.
Kancans grew up in what he knew as a Christian home — his father a Catholic and his mother a Lutheran. Marrying a Protestant was something his father wasn’t “supposed” to do, and resulted in conflict within his family and the church. In order to protect their children from that conflict and “legalism,” Kancans’ parents opted not to influence their children’s religious choices and just let them “find their own way.” As a result, Kancans never went to church or Sunday School and never read the Bible.
After managing to make his way through high school and to get an undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Kancans went on a trip abroad hoping to find who he was and thereby ending his social anxiety. Instead, he returned to the U.S. worse than when he left, and experienced mental health crises.
He finally sought professional help in 2016 and started making progress in overcoming the disorder.
SEARCHING FOR GOD
His first encounter with God began as a flippant prayer. “I prayed that God would let me get a date, for once,” Kancans recalls. Soon after that he got his first date. He dismissed it as “coincidence,” but didn't forget it.
“The relationship quickly became impure and sinful,” Kancans admits, saying he became obsessed with the young woman and objectified her. Predictably, the unhealthy relationship fell apart — thrusting him into a deep depression to the point of considering suicide.
With the woman he idolized now rejecting him, Kancans dealt with depression for months. Stepping back from suicide, he began searching for ways to cope.
“I discovered drugs and really got into the drug scene,” he says, “and then I began researching exotic religions and philosophers. I hated Christianity for no good reason, I didn’t know much about it, but I thought Christians were stupid and I had everything figured out.”
The exploration into drugs and exotic religions didn’t fare well for Kancans. He began experiencing horrifying and demonic encounters. “The only thing that provided any relief for me was when I grasped this cross that my family had laying around my house,” he says. “When I grasped the cross, I felt an incredible peace and my mind would clear out.”
The experience with the cross caught his attention. And then he believes God gave him a dream.
“I was in the river, similar to where I had planned to take my life months earlier, and I was drowning,” Kancans says. “But there was this man fishing from the shore, and as I was being swept along, he reaches out and pulls me out of the river, lifts me up, puts his arm around me, and begins walking me through this forest towards this light, filled with people.”
Kancans didn’t know it then, but later realized, as he began exploring the Bible, that the imagery in his dream resonates powerfully with what the Bible has to say about salvation and redemption.
“I was drowning in sin, drowning in my despair, and Jesus was the only One able to pull me out of that,” he says. “None of the exotic religious teachings could fix my problems, not even the help I got before that — it only masked my problem and made it possible for me to function.”
The more he read the Bible, the more the truth of the Bible spoke to him. On March 6, 2018, he wrote his name inside of a New Testament as an admission that he believed what it had to say and signifying his first step into his life journey as a Christian. He got into a Bible study and began reading and studying Scripture. As result, he began to see God wanted to purify his life from drug addiction.
In the summer of 2018, he stopped doing drugs “cold turkey” due to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and has been clean ever since. That fall, as he began his graduate work at the University of Minnesota, he encountered a group from Chi Alpha Campus Ministries
, U.S.A., the AG U.S. Missions
ministry to college campus students.
CHI ALPHA CONFERENCE LEADS TO BAPTISM
But it wasn’t until late in the semester that he finally decided to attend a Chi Alpha small group. Kancans, now 24, says although God had helped make progress in being more social, he still had insecurities with friends — as he didn’t have any his age — and dating.
“When Vincent first came to Chi Alpha, I asked him what made him decide to come now — we typically don’t have a lot of people joining toward the end of a semester,” says Ryan Koster, the Chi Alpha director to the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
. “At the time, the groups were all making a push for students to attend SALT [a Christian student conference].”
After attending a small group for just a few weeks, Kancans says he made a life-altering decision when he decided to attend SALT.
“On one of the first nights at SALT,” Koster says, “God clearly did something during worship and prayer for Vincent, and he went up for prayer, but also to tell me what was going on — he shared a lot of his story with me . . . I could just see Jesus doing a new work in him, such a sweetness in spirit coming out.”
Through the weekend, Kancans say he was able to let go of past sins, resentments, and unforgiveness in his life.
Koster says he also had the privilege of baptizing Kancans in water at the hotel pool during the conference, in front of hundreds of other Chi Alpha students.
“At first I wasn’t certain about being baptized as I didn’t want to stand out,” Kancans says. “But then I realized everybody in Chi Alpha was on my side and really supported me in my decision. Afterwards, I felt like I was glowing, like the way Moses is described as glowing in the Old Testament. I felt something new about me. I also no longer needed nicotine or alcohol in my life as I knew that had been in the way of my walk with God.”
Since being baptized where he publicly proclaimed his faith in Christ, Kancans has become a new person. He regularly attends Chi Alpha, he feels God is leading him to take on more leadership roles, he’s praying with people, inviting people he doesn’t know to Bible study, and as he’s prioritized his relationship with Jesus, his relationships with others have flourished. In short, he’s doing things “the Vincent” of prior years would never have dreamed of doing. He’s even considering ways to use his education [he desires to teach German] in some kind of ministry.
“Before, he was more reserved in nature, but now, God has given him a boldness and he has to tell people what God did in his life,” Koster says. “He even physically carries himself differently — he’s always looking for opportunities to serve and opportunities to share . . . he’s just really hungry to learn and to grow in his relationship with Jesus and with others — it’s really cool.”
Kancans’ transformation has also been noticed by his parents, who were initially skeptical at his newfound faith. But as time has passed and God continues to work in his life, his mother has started to read the Bible and look for devotionals and his father has taken a greater interest in God and his faith. Even his sisters are beginning to have some spiritual interest.
“The way I see it, I didn’t choose Christ; Christ chose me and I responded to Christ. I said ‘yes,’” Kancans explains. “Christ is basically knocking on everybody’s door — I’m not someone special . . . , but I’ve never felt this much joy in my life — all I want is to share it with the world.”