I want to share the testimony of how I came to Christ for 2 reasons. The first is that I wish to magnify the kindness of God in my life. The second is as a way of illustrating the importance of understanding that missions is defined by the mission we are fulfilling, not where we are fulfilling it. Click here for the previous post “Defining Missions – Where is the Mission Field?”
An American Testimony
I grew up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. My family weren’t church-goers, but my parents raised me with the assumption that Christianity was true. So as a child I believed that Jesus was God’s Son and that He had “the whole world in His hands” and that he loved “all the children of the world; red, yellow, black and white,” including me. Come to think of it, that is not a bad starting point for understanding of the Christian faith. But that beginning was as far as it went for me. And the ideas I had about God and His Son, didn’t come up very much in my thoughts or life, as I went about the business of growing up.
I followed the cliché path of a young teenager growing up in suburbia. I learned to drink a beer and act drunk, which led to learning how to get drunk. I learned cigarettes could give me a buzz if I smoked them real fast. This of course led to smoking daily without a buzz. This habit came in handy after learning to smoke pot, because the smell from a cigarette smoked in a car with the windows up always covers up the smell of the joint smoked just before it. From cigarettes to pot, from pot to LSD, from LSD to the reputation as a hippy stoner, this was my path.
Darker though than any of the sinful habits I learned from the “god of this age” was the rebellion that became rooted in my heart. It wasn’t the rebellion of one who carries a gun and rages at the world or of one that gets into trouble just to get noticed. No, mine was the rebellion of claiming to be wise and so becoming a fool. I thought denying everything my suburban world assumed was true was the coolest route to take. Soon I was convinced beyond all doubt that there was no God and that all the talk about Jesus was just a bunch of nonsense!
At first my atheism was like my early attempts at drunkenness. It was just an attempt to look cool and philosophical. But before long I was thoroughly convinced that what I believed as a child was just childish fantasy (Romans 1:18). In addition to the daily pursuit of getting high, I had two main goals each day. The first was to be a genuinely good guy. At around the age of 15 I realized that for most of my life I had been a sarcastic jerk, so I sought to rectify that by being as nice to everyone as possible. Of course my parents and sister were exempt from the benefits of this attempt at self rehabilitation! My second daily goal, which was more a passionate hobby I might say, was to argue with anyone who was willing (and many that weren’t) that Christianity was a farce. If I wasn’t sleeping in class, I was surely arguing with someone who made the regrettable mistake of admitting to me that they were a Christian!
In my junior year of high school I had a math teacher named Esther Shigley. She had grown up in Africa with her parents who were missionaries. She never confronted me about the content of my lively religious discussions, but she began to faithfully pray for me. Of course I was unaware of this at the time, but I believe it made an eternal difference in my destiny.
During that year I wasn’t terribly happy, but I wasn’t terribly depressed either. On the one hand, my ego took a hard hit every time I decided to give up drugs and failed. But on the other hand my “be kind to others” policy gave me a reason to pat myself on the back and helped heal my bruised ego. So my mood swings were kept in check and I wouldn’t say that I was led to Christ because of any great emotional conflict I was facing at the time.
Besides my “be kind to others” policy, I also took pride in the fact that I was open minded guy, willing to listen to many different world views. Though I was convinced there was no God, I was open-minded enough to read about and even try eastern meditation. In fact I would have been pretty open to anything as long as it wasn’t biblical Christianity. Even Jesus started to interest me, which led me to rent the movie, The Greatest Story Ever Told. I thought that in watching it I might learn more about what Jesus “the philosopher” had to say.
The night I watched that movie I didn’t have any spiritual experiences. But what I was drawn to was the truth of Jesus’ statements. His words were just so true that it got me thinking. I thought if Jesus was really God’s Son, and all that I believed as a child was real, then I was going to end up in hell. Watching that movie didn’t bring me to believe the Gospel was true, but for the first time since I was a kid, I was really open to the possibility. If you would have asked me that night, and the few days that followed, I probably would have told you I believed in Jesus. Of course I would have said it just in order to err on the side of caution, but I was definitely open. I remember asking God with all sincerity to show me if He was real. I was really expecting something to happen that would show me it was true, but nothing did. And within a week I regarded the whole episode as just an embarrassing philosophical mistake.
In time I forgot the incident and went back to living my life as if it never happened. All the doubts that I had toward my atheistic faith during those few days disappeared, and I was again a devout and unwavering atheist. But a few months later God answered my prayer for revelation. It was the beginning of December, 1992. My friends and I were driving to Tulsa to go shopping for Christmas presents. The drive took about 45 minutes, so we had plenty of time to get stoned along the way. As we were sitting at a red light on the outskirts of Tulsa, I felt an energy cover my body. Immediately I knew it was the living God! I was suddenly convinced beyond all doubt that God existed and was real! Though my conscience told me that Jesus was at the center of this experience, the first thought that flashed through my mind was, “I don’t want to be a Jesus freak.” I quickly started to rationalize an alternative interpretation of this encounter. There was no doubt that it was God, but I decided it had nothing to do with Jesus. Within minutes I had it all worked out in my head. My experience had been with the living God of which all the religions of the world had spoken. There was no reason to become some religious fanatic and change my lifestyle like those Jesus freaks who toted their Bibles around school.
The next week of my life was filled with amazement. I was in awe that there was a God! I remember smoking pot in the McDonald’s parking lot before school telling God how amazing it was that He was real. I thank God He didn’t leave me in that place of ignorant worship. I am grateful that He insisted that I listen to all that He had to say to me.
After a week of worshiping, though not in spirit or in truth, God came once again. It was late evening; I was alone in my car on the way back home from buying some pot from a friend. I don’t remember thinking of anything in particular on the drive home, but suddenly I felt the presence of God again and a thought came lightning clear to my mind, “Jesus came from heaven. If I don’t serve Him the rest of my life, I will go to hell forever!” A sudden fear led to an immediate decision to follow Christ until the very end. And that honesty-producing fear that came so suddenly was mixed with a burden-bearing peace that only comes from seeing truth and receiving it wholeheartedly. That precious fear and that absolute truth have kept me until this day. “T’was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”
I didn’t know much about the Christian life the next morning when I woke up, but I knew that the world had been changed. I was like a man born blind seeing the world for the very first time. In the next few days I stopped cussing, drinking and doing anything else that I knew was against the Bible. Some other things that were still unclear in my mind, like smoking pot, lingered on for a couple months. But in a short time I realized that I had no peace of conscience when I did drugs, and that it always led me to lie to my parents which I knew was a sin. So I sought to escape from my drug habit. My friends were good friends, but when I was around them I couldn’t help but join in the festivities. I realized I needed to separate myself from them. The problem was I didn’t know anyone else. I didn’t know any Christians. I had gotten drunk with enough church-goers to assume there weren’t any Christians in church either. So I felt I was on my own.
I decided the best thing to do was to join a monastery! I figured that was the sure fire way to avoid smoking pot and doing LSD! So I called information to get the number to the nearest monastery. Though I didn’t know much about Christianity I had an impression that Protestant was better than Catholic for some reason, so I asked the operator if there was a Protestant monastery in the tri-state area. After an understandable silence, the operator said, “Well, there are some seminaries, but I don’t have a listing for any monasteries.”
I wasn’t daunted. I would have to go to plan B. I knew of a Catholic church nearby that had a parsonage next door. So I decided to go talk to the priest about joining a Catholic monastery. With long hair hanging in my face and the smell of my last cigarette (I had many “last” cigarettes in those days!) radiating from my clothes, I knocked on the priest’s door. He hesitantly invited me in and asked me to wait in his study as he finished his supper. After finishing his meal he came and asked me what it was I needed. I began to sob and tell him that I recently had believed in Christ. I then informed him that I wanted to join a monastery.
Because of my incessant sobbing, he felt responsible to comfort me in some way. So he started to tell me some story about a Catholic saint that carried a baby in the rain without him or the baby getting wet. I don’t have any idea what the point of the story was but he told it to me nonetheless. Ultimately he impressed upon me that I wasn’t a candidate for becoming a monk, and graciously saw me to the door.
A month or so later, after I had gotten more distance from drug use, and was a little more stable in my walk with the Lord, I went to see that priest again just to let him know I was doing better. This time, as I shared with him the experience I had with Christ, he began to share with me the importance of being baptized with water. I explained that I felt my experience with Christ was more important than a ceremony, but he said that wasn’t enough. I listened carefully to his reasons and humbly accepted his point of view. So then I asked, “Will you baptize me now?” He answered, in the tone of a father to a son who asks a childish question, “Oh, it doesn’t work like that. You will have to go through many classes to be eligible for baptism.” With that answer, I quickly reverted to my previous conclusion, my experience with Christ, and the decision I had made to follow Him, was enough to make me a Christian.
After the first time going to the priest I concluded that I would have to walk the path to victory with Christ alone. I started going to a nearby state park after school every day to pray and read my Bible. My prayer was basically a conversation with the Lord that kept coming back to the request, “Don’t let me go back into sin.” I still pray that prayer to this day, and He has been gracious to keep listening and answering all these years.
During school hours I was still either sleeping or talking about religion. But of course now I was on the other side of the argument. Those that had before tried to argue against my atheism now found themselves bombarded by my new-found revelation of the risen Christ. I challenged them to truly follow Christ, not just go to church. Toby was one such classmate. As I shared with him my experience he said he knew just what I was talking about. He said that every summer when he went to church camp he had the same experience of deciding to follow Christ, usually on the last night of the meetings. He invited me to go to his youth group with him, so I did. That was the last time I think I saw him in church, at least until the next year at summer camp!
The first night I went to the youth group I was totally hooked. I worshipped earnestly and soaked up every word that the youth pastor shared. I had found a place to receive manna from heaven. At the end of the service I stayed around to get an application form for the mission trip to Jamaica that they were going to take in the summer. I was ready for anything that had to do with serving God. He had saved me and I was His!
Most of the people had cleared out when I noticed my math teacher, Esther Shigley, coming towards me. I didn’t know that the man who just fed me manna was her husband. She sat down with me and began to talk. She asked me if I was thinking about following Christ. I responded with tears in my eyes, “I have already started following Him.”
Her husband, Eddy Shigley, made the mistake of saying that I could come by his office anytime to talk and hang out. For the next few weeks I was at his office all the time. When he would go to run errands, I would go with him. When he had paper work to do I just sat there quietly, well mostly quiet, waiting for him to finish. Over that season and until I went away to Bible school, I asked him question after question, and soaked up all the answers like a sponge. I never once felt like I was annoying him because he was so willing to help me. Over the next year and a half until moving to Texas, I was with him as much as possible. I was always at youth group early and stayed late. When he would do ministry at other youth groups I would go with him. He would introduce me to other youth pastors and when we didn’t have services at our church I would go to those other youth ministries. I was hungry and Eddy Shigley fed me! I was thirsty and Eddy Shigley gave me something to drink!
We have now come to the reason for which I share this testimony. From early on in their marriage, Eddy and Esther Shigley desired to be missionaries. I believe that since she grew up in Africa her heart always longed to return and minister there. Eddy also felt a burden to minister overseas, and yet God always seemed to direct them away from the foreign field. He always directed them to minister in the United States. I believe they still have a heart to go overseas one day, and I am sure they wonder if that desire will ever be fulfilled. But, as far as I am concerned, they have always been on the mission field. I am so glad that God had them on the mission field of Bartlesville, Oklahoma in 1992.
Without Esther’s prayers and Eddy’s shepherding, I don’t know where I would be right now. I grew up in America and knew the Gospel. As a child I even believed it in its most basic form. But through my own willful pride and rebellion I was lost. Surely many people tried to share the Gospel with me, but due to the hardness of my heart I only saw it as a chance to argue about the folly of believing in religion in general and in Christ in particular. So though I had access to the Gospel, the Gospel didn’t have easy access to me. But there was a math teacher who was a missionary to her students, and she began to pray. I believe those prayers were instrumental in my soul being saved. After salvation God led me to her husband who took upon himself the task of the Great Commission and began to disciple a young man in the things of the Kingdom of God.
Mission work is not about location, it is about the mission! God has called us to win people to Christ, build people through discipleship and send people into their destiny. Wherever we are involved in that work, we are involved in missions!