I was a lonely, depressed teenager. I was smaller than my friends which made me a target of bullying. My family was large and poor which made us the object of constant ridicule. My parents provide little emotional support so we were left to fend for ourselves when the inevitable struggles of growing up appeared. I was plagued with insecurities which I channelled into humor for attention. Unfortunately this resulted in my being the class clown. My grades were poor and teachers saw me as a disruption. Socially, I struggled because of my small size. Girls showed little interest in me and when they did I was too insecure to respond. I spent most of my time playing sports with friends. Eventually all this caught up with me as I entered my senior year of high school.
With graduation looming, all my friends had either educational or employment prospects. I did not have the grades or motivation for university so I resigned myself to working in a grocery store when I finished school. This was the only thing besides sports that gave me satisfaction; otherwise, I was miserable. Little did I know, I was a perfect target for evangelism.
When one of the schools most popular students invited me to his church, I was at first stunned. I wondered why he would think I of all people would want to go to church, after all I was wild and rebellious. I spent my weekends getting high or drunk or both. He was an A student and varsity athlete. I was a loser and everybody knew it. But I agreed to go purely for the comedic value.
I remember the Sunday morning he picked me up in his fathers shiny Cadillac. It felt like you were driving on a cloud. I secretly envied everything about his life. His beautiful home, successful parents, popularity and winning personality. As we got closer to the church, I had no idea what to expect, but had I known I would definitely not have agreed to go.
It was a small church. When we entered I felt all eyes were on me because they were. Every step we took I was introduced to another smiling Christian. We made our way to a back room where the Sunday school class was held. It was here my life would be forever altered.
The man who led the youth or “young people” as they were called was everything you wanted in a leader. He was handsome, charming, eloquent, a former professional football player (this was never verified) and a fireman. He spoke softly and effortlessly making it hard not to listen to him. Whatever he was speaking on from the Bible seemed to rise from the page and become real. After class my friend and I returned to the church and took a seat. Surprisingly, the Sunday school teacher was also the main speaker. Again, the words flowed from his mouth as he spoke. I don’t remember anything he said except the end. He told of how Jesus wanted to come into our lives but sin prevented it. If one was willing to admit he or she was a sinner and needed God’s help, they could invite Jesus into their heart and he would forgive their sins and fill them with joy and peace. I thought to myself how much I wished I could have this life but not even Jesus could help me.
The service ended and I assumed we were going home but to my surprise the speaker came down to our pew and started to talk to us. In hindsight, had I never met this man, I would never have darkened the door of this church again. But he did. He invited us and the rest of the “young people” in the group to his house for lunch and football. I couldn’t resist. There were few things I loved to do more than playing football.
That day was the beginning of my entrance into evangelicalism but not because I wanted to be saved. It would be several months before I actually converted during which time I spent considerable time with this man and the group of young people he led. What attracted me to him and them was their unconditional love and support. I was used to being constantly ridiculed and teased by my “friends” but was now feeling people actually cared about me. The people at the church were warm and welcoming inviting me over for meals and getting to know me. However, the youth leader was the real reason I could and would not stop going to church. He seemed to genuinely want to help me work through my emotional problems. We spent hours together talking about my struggles. He was the father I never had. During this time, he repeatedly encouraged me to become a believer if I wanted to experience real change in my life.
Eventually I began to wonder if everything he and others were saying was true. If I accepted Jesus into my life, would it really make a difference. Would I really find peace and joy. I remember asking him if after I became a Christian would I have to give up drinking (I loved getting drunk!). I will never forgive his answer. It was perfect. He said, “You don’t have to but you’ll want to.” He was right. Soon after that I got on my knees on night and asked Jesus to come into my life.
Transformation. No word better describes my life after that decision. Literally, over night I stopped swearing and gave up partying. I seemed genuinely happy (joyful as evangelicals like to say). I began telling my parents I loved them and my friends about Jesus. But more than anything, I started liking myself.
My conversion had such a dramatic impact on my life, I determined I wanted to dedicate my life to teaching and telling others about Jesus. I had found the answer to all of life’s greatest questions and nothing was going to stop me from doing whatever was necessary to accomplish this goal.
Up to this point in my life, I had not read a single school book and only a few Encyclopedia Brown books. Now I found myself buying dozens of Christian books and spending hours studying the Bible. I could not satisfy my thirst for biblical knowledge. This resulted in me enrolling at a short term Bible school in England and Austria. Here I would be exposed to evangelical Christians from around the world. It would open my eyes to a something I would not forget.
The day we all arrived to Capernwray Bible School, we were gathered in a large living area where the principle of the school addressed the student body. He asked for a show of hands from where students came (USA, Canada, Germany, England, Norway, Ethiopia, Australia and Israel were among the countries represented). Then he asked a question which I’ll never forget. He wanted to know how many people were not raised in a Christian home. I shot up my hand. I looked around and there were perhaps twenty hands of about two hundred with their hand up. Then he predictably asked how many students came from a Christian home. Everybody seemed to raise their hand. I would find this pattern repeat itself everywhere I went and would have a profound impact on me later.
It is no secret most evangelicals were born Christians. This doesn’t mean they actually came out of the womb as believers but rather they were born into a household with one or more believers (mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, cousin, grandparent). Many are socialized or indoctrinated into the evangelical culture from birth. Evangelicalism is comprised of 70-80% generational Christians (I think the number is probably even higher). They were converted as children by their parents or through a church or para church organization. The remaining believers usually enter the faith through a crisis experience or deeply felt need such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse, spousal abuse, depression, disease, sickness, financial hardship, loss of job, failed relationship, mental illness, imminent death etc. I fell into this later category.
When I began to have doubts about the validity of my evangelical faith from a theological and historical perspective, the tepidness and complacency I would witness among the evangelicals I encountered provided early confirmation I was on the right path. This will be explored in much greater depth in a later post. Stay tuned!