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I grew up in Corcoran, Minnesota. We did not go to church even for holidays. We didn’t talk about religion in our house. A phrase I remember hearing was “You believe what you believe and I believe what I believe.” I remember being told that I was being raised to make my own decision about what I wanted to believe. The sky was the limit. I was an agnostic bordering on atheist.
After high school I joined the Navy. In boot camp in San Diego, I chose to sit at the table on Sundays rather than attend any kind of religious services. For no solid reason I can think of, I did decide one day to read the bible. However, I don’t think I ever made it much past the genealogies in Matthew.
My next stop was A-school in Millington (Memphis) Tennessee. I spent almost all of my free time in the clubs since my major passion was dancing. It was here that I met my friend Robert (Rob) Vaughn. During A-school we were really more acquaintances than friends. Rob had a roommate who also had the name of Brian, I think. One day I went to breakfast with Brian. In about the most formal, dorky way possible, Brian asked me “So Brian, will you be attending church today?” Taken off guard I said no. However, for some reason, maybe out of a feeling that I had let him down, I continued to explain. I said, “I don’t really go to church. I’ve never really gone to church. I suppose I should some time. Maybe I will go some day. Maybe I should go with you some day. I can’t go today but maybe next week. I tell you what, I’ll go to church with you next week.” Did I really just say that? All that time and I don’t think Brian had ever said anything other than his initial question.
I’ve always been a man of my word. So, knowing that I would be out late at the clubs on Saturday night, I was still determined to hold to my word and get up for church the next day. I found out that Brian was picked up for church by the pastor. Once in church I spent most of my time observing and it was clear I had little clue about what was supposed to be done and when. The church had about 30-40 people in it and was located in a store front.
At the end of the service, when it was time to pray, I bowed my head and closed my eyes more because that’s what others were doing than based on my own instincts. While in prayer the pastor asked a question and asked us to raise our hand if the answer was yes. Not doing a good job of listening I didn’t know what had been asked. Also, I didn’t think it would be a good idea to open my eyes to look around to see what others were doing. So, my thought was that I had to guess and I had a 50-50 shot. So, I took a guess and raised my hand. In a southern drawl like that out of a televangelism show I heard, “I see that hand.” Oh boy! What did I just get myself into?
So, I went up to the front, as directed, and repeated some words I couldn’t begin to even paraphrase today. On the way home I had no idea why Brian and the pastor were so excited.
A few days later my friend Rob went to Cecil Field, Florida and I followed about a week later. By the time I arrived Rob had met a girl, Patricia, playing tennis who invited him to church. Knowing that I had gone to church with his ex-roommate, he asked me how it was and if I wanted to go with him and the tennis girl. I said church was alright and decided to go with him to church only because I had no other friends on base and nothing else to do. If I didn’t hang out with Rob I would just be hanging out in my room.
The next Sunday we were off to Philippian Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Once again I spent most of my time observing rather than listening. Even shortly after that first service I could not have had any meaningful discussion about the sermon topic. We went a few more Sundays and then started to attend Sunday school; specifically new member’s class.
One week during class we were visited by the Pastor. He spoke and I can only remember him as funny and interesting. Then, he started doing something I could only faintly recall having ever seen on television. He started laying hands on people. As the people began to “fall out” I was thinking that Rob and I were strategically positioned right by the door. We could make a quick escape caring little about whether or not we were noticed. Unfortunately, at least at the time, Rob wasn’t able to read my mind. So, eventually the pastor came to me.
I had already predetermined to “fake it” which I did. Then the pastor went on to my friend Rob, to my relief. I expected Rob to fake it too but I could tell that he didn’t. I actually noticed a glow. Not a supernatural light or anything but the kind of glow people notice on other people sometimes when we say they are glowing.
Even though I was not on this day the only Caucasian in the room (Philippian is mostly a black congregation) the pastor, Pastor Callahan, came back to me. He whispered in my ear “Give it a try.” At that time I was an agnostic/atheist but I thought “What do I have to lose?” so I decided to give it a try. He laid hands on me and I felt something indescribable that I’d never felt before and would never feel again. I began to cry for no known reason and my legs felt weak. Someone sat me in a chair and I left that day and told Rob “God is real.”
We went back to our barracks and Rob and Patricia began to walk me through the story, starting from Adam and Eve. I was that biblically ignorant. I had, and still have, so many questions but I know that God is real. I’m aware of the theology, doctrine, and philosophy of experience, gifts, and miracles, but that is not what this post is about. This post is about my testimony.
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