Christian By Birth – Baptist By Choice (Part 2)
What Happened Next –
So you have read the story of how I became a believer in Christ. (See my earlier blog posting with this same title.) The next part of the journey includes some of the struggles that shaped my journey in the early days.
God Begins Moving Me in His Direction
From the beginning I was excited about what I had discovered in this new relationship with God. I wanted everyone to know about it, and I tended to go “overboard” with some of my family and friends. I struggled with figuring out why not everyone was as excited to know God as I was. As a result it strained relationships in a variety of areas in my life. But, something told me that I was going to be telling people about God for the rest of my life.
Delmar, New York – God Rang My Bell
You know how people can remember where they were when significant events took place. The assassination of John F. Kennedy. The explosion of the shuttle in January 1986. A sunny Tuesday morning on September 11, 2001. The exact dates and times might become blurred over time, but where they were and what they were doing is forever etched in their mind.
For me, one of those pivotal memories was at the Delmar United Methodist Church during a youth retreat with our district youth ministry. It was a big event, and one of the first that our church youth group had participated in for some time. I don’t remember how many kids were there, what the lessons were, what activities we participated in. I don’t remember much of the details. What I do remember is a young lady who was there crying in a stair well.
She was a senior in high school, a couple years older than me. I walked past and caught sight of her out of the corner of my eye. Weird that she would be crying here all alone at this great event. I kept walking a few steps, but felt strangely pulled back to her. It was an incredibly uncomfortable thing for me, but I went back and asked what was wrong. She looked up and then unloaded. Her boyfriend…her parents…her grades…everything. I mean I got the jumbo-sized portion of her troubles. Then she said, “I just want to kill myself.”
Have you ever had someone unexpectedly stomp on the brakes and send you hurtling forward. That’s what that moment was like for me. I knew that pain and sorrow and heart-break. She stood up, looking very determined, and she started up the stairs. I followed behind not sure what the heck I was going to do. She turned around as we neared the top of the stairs and said, “Just leave me alone.”
I replied, “I can’t. I can’t let you do this.”
She reached for the exit door that lead onto the roof and I lunged at her and held on. I hollered down the stairs to a couple people I saw passing for help, but they ignored me. Even one of the other adult youth leaders only gave us a passing glance as I struggled to keep her from going onto the roof. I pleaded with her to stay inside and talk. Fortunately, while I was younger I was also stronger, and probably in my panic was running on heavy doses of adrenaline.
She gave in and came back in and sat down continuing her crying. I don’t know how long I sat there listening to her, but it was probably not as long as it seemed. Eventually she calmed down as we sat on the stairs. People passed by and took little interest in us as we talked there. When she finally laughed a little I felt pretty secure that the worst was over. A little while later her youth leader came by and she went with him to join the group. For several minutes I sat on the stairs. I started to shake—I know now that was a latent reaction to the very stressful situation I had been in. However, as stressful as that situation had been, moments later I would be confronted with an even scarier and more stressful situation.
Is God Calling?
I wrote earlier that I didn’t remember what the lessons were at the Delmar event. I was referring to what the speakers or leaders were teaching the group. I do, however, remember what the lesson was that I was being taught. God put before me a brochure with the title on it, “Is God Calling?” It was information about how God calls people into the ministry and what to do if you think God is calling you. When I picked that up and read it I immediately sensed that God was saying “This is what I want for you” in my heart. I realized at that moment in that location that God was calling me to be a minister!
To say God got my attention would be an understatement. It was as though someone pulled the fire alarm in my life. I was flooded with a mix of terror and excitement. I felt at once overjoyed and overwhelmed. I knew so little at that time about God and how He worked, and I understood even less.
I got mixed responses from the people I started sharing my revelation with. Some people—mostly church people and some family—were proud, happy, supportive of my decision to enter ministry. Reaction from others in my family and from friends outside of the church was often the opposite. Some of them would just laugh, mention something that I had done or said that proved I couldn’t possibly be a minister. Others would just scoff at the idea and, in essence, tell me that I needed to get a real job.
Two people, however, were very supportive and in review I owe much of my ultimate decision to follow-through on God’s calling to these men. Chester “Chet” Vanderbilt and Ralph Thompson. It wouldn’t be until years later that I would fully grasp the impact these men had in those early years, but I can never express the gratitude I feel for their encouragement and support in those begin steps. Ralph encouraged me to attend a Lay Speaker’s course with him where I became one of the youngest certified Lay Speakers in our denomination. Chet took me to conference meetings spending hours on the road and encouraging me in following through on serving God in the church.
The support of these faithful men was crucial and enabled me to stay the course in some pretty difficult and challenging stages of my adolescent life. At the same time it would also make the shift in my life over the years of my early adulthood some of the most heartrending and difficult I have ever faced.
(to be continued)