Archive for the ‘Conversion Stories’ Category

Conversion Stories Podcast – Al Mitchell

Friday, January 8th, 2016

John McDougall talks with Al Mitchell of Gloucester, Massachusetts, about his conversion story, including his Catholic upbringing, Christian radio, and how a Cursillo weekend brought him closer to God and helped him learn to love himself and experience God’s forgiveness.

John McDougall: Hi, I’m John McDougall, and I’m here today with Al Mitchell. Welcome Al.

Al Mitchell: Thank you, John. Pleasure to be here.

John: Absolutely. So, tell us about a turning point in your life where you decided to become Christian.

Al: Well, I had 12 years of Catholic school, and for some reason that left me a little short. I felt like there was a lot more to this God than I had been taught in school. When I got out of school, I was just kind of seeking more, and one thing led to another.

I would start reading some Christian materials and listening to different shows on the radio, and so forth – Christian radio – and eventually I heard a minister by the name of Wayne Monbleau – he has a program called “Let’s Talk About Jesus”. And he really focused on God’s love an awful lot. When we were in Catholic school we heard a lot about God’s wrath, but we didn’t hear a lot about His love. So with all that talk of wrath, you know, like the baseball bat God up in heaven waiting for you to screw up so he can hit you over head with a bat, it was kind of the image we had. Then we I started hearing of love, it changed a lot for me.

And I just kept pursuing that, kept reading things, and running into people. Then, finally, my good friend Joe Salah invited me to what they call a “Cursillo”. And Cursillo, in Spanish, means a short course – a short course in Christianity – and it’s a four-day weekend. And I resisted for a couple of years when he had asked me to go. And then, finally, it got to the point where I think God was kind of tugging at my heart, saying “hey, I’ve got something here for you, I want to talk to you, and get closer to you”. So, I did, I finally went on the weekend, and that was certainly a big, changing, turning-point in my life.

John: Yeah, and you’ve been guiding some people on that too?

Al: Yeah, I certainly try to do that. Once you go on a Cursillo, you can sponsor other people to go on the weekend. So, yeah, it was like 24 years ago that I went, and yeah, I’ve sponsored several people along the way, and you, kind of like an AA sponsor, you kind of be there for the people, and guide them along their walk, and try to point them in the right direction, and introduce them to some good people that will help them in their walk. Because it’s tough walking alone, that’s for sure, these days.

John: That was a major turning point – the Cursillo definitely opened your eyes?

Al: Yeah, huge. Because, I went into that weekend with a lot of baggage. A lot of people do, you know, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of unanswered questions about your faith. But when I came out of that weekend, the one thing I believed was that God loved me, and he forgave me. And those two things were huge, because once I really took that in and not just made it a head-knowledge thing but a heart-knowledge thing, I began to be able to forgive myself, and love myself. Because I don’t think that you can do that unless you can get that from the source, and God is the source. You get that love and forgiveness from him, and then you love and forgive yourself and then, in turn, you love and forgive others.

So, that’s what the weekend did for me, and I try to — I’m not saying that it isn’t a struggle sometimes, to forgive people, because it can be — you know, we’re all human, but it certainly makes it possible, and a lot easier. So, yeah, it was a huge turning point, and we keep it going by having weekend meetings with guys. We have a group on Saturday morning that we go to, and there’s a couple other groups I go to too — Friday bible study, and then on a Monday night it’s just a few friends, we get together and we talk about God and our week, and how things are going. Just basically supporting each other as best we can.

John: Yeah, and what are some other ways you keep inspired?

Al: Well, you know, I never thought it would happen, but Christian music — I really enjoy it a lot, and I never thought I’d see the day that I would. I never thought I’d like country music either, but I’m starting to.

John: [laughs] Country Christian music.

Al: Yeah, can’t beat that. But that, and Christian readings. I think a big thing for me is fellowship. You know, I always say if you want to be a better musician, you hang around with other musicians, and you practice, and you share your talents. If you want to be a better athlete, you practice more in the gym, or on the field, or wherever it may be. It’s the same with being a Christian — I think if you want to be a better Christian you gotta hang out with people that are trying to be better Christians like you are.

John: Yeah.

Al: You kind of support each other, you pray for each other, and to some degree you hold each other accountable too.

John: Yup. And you go to Mass in Gloucester, or where?

Al: I got to Mass in Essex [Massachusetts], at St. John the Baptist in Essex, right near The Village restaurant. It’s a nice, quiet, little, cozy community church, and the people are great there. We have an awesome coffee hour after the 10 o’clock Mass where, it’s evolved from coffee and doughnuts into a full-fledged brunch with eggs, and sausages, and potatoes. And the place is packed every Sunday, it’s amazing, and the fellowship is awesome. And my wife really enjoys it too, which is a big part of the reason why I go to St. John’s — she felt comfortable up there, so that was big for me. If she feels comfortable, that’s where I want to go. We’re also, one of the five or six coffee teams that puts on the coffee every five or six weeks, or whatever it is, and we provide all of the food, and have our own little team, and cook things and buy things and bring things. You know, she really enjoys doing that, so that’s — it’s kind of like her contribution — she doesn’t like to get really into the spiritual end of it, too heavy, you know, but that’s her part, and I feel good about that.

John: That’s great, yeah. Nice. Alright, well, good talking to you today, Al.

Al: Well, thanks for having me, John. Good to see you.

John: Yeah, absolutely. This is John McDougall with Al Mitchell for conversionstories.org.

Conversion Story Podcast – Dr. Shaelyn Pham

Friday, December 19th, 2014

John McDougall:  Hi, I’m John McDougall and I’m here with Shaelyn Pham, psychologist and speaker and best‑selling author of “The Joy of Me”.

Shaelyn, can you share your Christian conversion story and a little bit about your background?

Shaelyn Pham:  Thank you John for having me to speak with you about this. I came to know Jesus Christ when I was about nine years old. It was back in Vietnam when my mom, she heard it on the radio through some sort of podcast.

The next thing you know she dragged my sister and I to a local church and from there we went through the whole bible study and I got baptized soon after that.

John:  Wow. Did you say she heard a podcast?

Shaelyn:  She did! She heard some sort of podcast, something on the radio, on a Christian radio. It’s wonderful when you can do things through the radio medium.

John:  So, that inspired her and, sorry, how old were you when that happened?

Shaelyn:  I was about nine, eight or nine.

John:  Is that when you got into it deeply, or was it later in life, or what’s the progression of it?

Shaelyn:  At the time, because mother said “you go to church with me”, then “yes ma’am”. I went with her and we did study. Then, for the longest time, I went — you know I did enjoy it, but when I hit teenage years, like most teenagers, I don’t know if anybody else can relate, but I didn’t want to go to church.

At the time, I tried to wiggle my way out, find whatever reason. The one reason that I found that was very helpful at times was, “I have a lot of homework to do”. That’s the one thing I could get away with. Anything else, I couldn’t get away with. You had to go to church, otherwise, I hate to say this phrase but, “you’re going to go to hell”.

John:  So you’d say, “but I have to do my homework” to try and get out of it? That is clever.

Shaelyn:  Yes.

John:  That was smart.

Shaelyn:  I think education was so important to my parents and so that’s the one thing that I could get away with. If I say, “I’m sick”, well my mom would check on me because she is in the medical field so she knows.

I could say, “I just have a lot of homework” and I can get away with that because when we came, my parents they didn’t know that much English, it’s very limited. So, I can just, you know, I think, pull out a book and say I have to do this whole reading of two chapters or something else I have to do it, I get away with that — don’t tell my parents I just said that.

John:  [laughs]

Shaelyn:  Going through the whole teenage years, I feel like I was obligated to go a lot of time because of my parents said that, “You have to go.” So when I was able to make my own decisions, that’s when I moved out of the house.

After college I moved down to California for grad school, I just stopped going to church. But also in my late teenage years there was some trauma that happened to me, some sexual trauma that happened to me and that was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back.

That was my last straw. I said, “If God really exists, why did this happen to me? What did I ever do to deserve such a thing?” I was really angry and at the time, I didn’t even realize this, but even in my anger I never really turned away from him, I was actually talking to him but very angry. I was saying, “You don’t exist, if you did you wouldn’t let this happen to me.” I was really angry.

John:  That makes sense.

Shaelyn:  When I really found a way, was when I moved down here but then every now and then I feel, like, really guilty, so then I would go back every now and then just to give me that sense of peace. I’d say, “Hey I can do a good Christian deed somehow” and…

John:  But you had moved to L.A from somewhere else or…

Shaelyn:  Yeah. I moved to L.A from Tacoma Washington actually, in Washington.

John:  That’s a big change, now you are in a city of temptation et cetera.

Shaelyn:  It was, I didn’t have my parents behind my back and nagging me and telling me that I should be going to church otherwise go to hell.

I pretty much did whatever I want. That was also the time of exploration and you’re talking about temptation, I did a lot of things and tried a lot of things and at one point when I was…I was almost finished with my doctorate degree and I remember I was like, “OK, I have set out to accomplish this. I have a list of all the goals I was to do.”

I was pretty much checking things off despite the fact that I was a, I want to call “wild child”, at the time.

But I felt really empty and I didn’t know what else I could do because it doesn’t matter what I accomplished, it just doesn’t seem to fill that void or that emptiness and I remember I went to a Christian college actually. It’s called Seattle Pacific University.

I reached out to an old friend of mine, at the time, and he recommended a book for me to read. I read the book and it helped a little bit. It was The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.

John:  Yeah, that’s a great book.

Shaelyn:  I read the book. I couldn’t finish it though. When I got to the chapter that said you need to get involved in the community, find a church to go to, that was when I closed the book and never picked it up again. Because I just didn’t have a good experience of going to church, that a church can really solve it all. I think it is really the work of the spirit.

One afternoon I was going to this outdoor mall. It’s called the Spectrum. It’s down in Irvine, CA. I wanted to pick up a book, and particularly I like C.S. Lewis. He was actually an atheist before he came to know Christ. I wanted to pick up a book, so, I walk into the Barnes and Noble, but then I was like, you know what, forget it.

I walked passed Barnes and Noble and I felt this tug in my heart, that I have to go in there. I turned around, walked into Barnes and Noble, and I was asking the clerk where can I find C.S. Lewis. They told me, “upstairs”. So, I walked upstairs and there was — you know how in Barnes and Noble they set up all the chairs for people to sit and read?

John:  Yeah, it’s good.

Shaelyn:  I walked up to this section, and there was this older gentleman. I think he was in his 50’s or 60’s at the time. He was in one chair. There was a small coffee table and another chair that was empty. I was just browsing through, picked up a book. It’s called A Problem with Pain. It was C.S. Lewis.

When I was browsing through, this guy just looked up at me and he has the biggest smile on his face. He was like, so you enjoy reading C.S. Lewis too? I was like, “yeah”, so I asked him, “can I sit down, is the chair taken”? He was like, “no”.

So we’re just sitting there, we talked from my school to life. We talked about philosophy, about spirituality, Christian and all this and that. I think it was like a three hour conversation.

John:  Wow, in Barnes and Noble. That’s impressive, standing by the C.S. Lewis books.

Shaelyn:  It was a three hour conversation, I was like OK. At the time, I was like, OK, it’s about dinner time, I’m going to need to get out of here, because I want to go shopping too. I love shopping. I was like, OK, I’ve got to go, buy some clothes and go grab some food. So, I walk out and we exchange business cards before I go out.

When I was out shopping, I receive a call from him, and he’s like, you know what you’ve got to eat, I’ve got to eat, we have such a good restaurant here, would you like to just have dinner with me? I’m like, sure, why not, since we’re already here, it’s out in public, I’m not really concerned about my safety.

We end up having dinner and then he invited me to church. Also, it just happened that it was Saddleback Church. It’s the church that’s founded by Rick Warren.

John:  Oh, that’s interesting.

Shaelyn:  It was. Whether its coincidence or whether its miracle, whatever you want to call it. That was one of the major churches that I had heard of, because as I had spoke, I am aware of it since I live in southern California. Because it’s so huge, I never really had the courage to go there, because it’s so big. I don’t want to get lost in it.

I was like, you know what, I’ll meet in the parking lot, and we can just walk in. I met him on that Sunday. We walk in and it was Doug Fields was his name, he was a pastor there. He has his sermon and he was talking about forgiveness and our path.

I remember he did this little trick, it’s that magic paper — I don’t know what it’s called but, when you lit the paper, you light on fire, and then he just threw it on the air and it just vanished. That is so powerful. He used it as an analogy that when — you know, it doesn’t matter what your sins are, what you have done, this is how forgiveness looks like. When you come to Christ and ask for forgiveness, your sins just disappear like that piece of paper.

I get the concept. I understand. Growing up and learning about the Bible, I’m aware of that, but that image, it was something that just resonated, stayed. That instant when that piece of paper disappeared, I felt like my whole world was just turned upside‑down.

Everything just lifted and my shoulders, off of my shoulders. I felt so much lighter. From there, I rededicate my life and baptize and trying to be a Christ follower. I guess the rest is history.

John:  That’s amazing. It’s a very specific story. From the tugging on your heart, going into Barnes and Noble, meeting a specific person, the whole little bit about CS Lewis books is very specific, and then that leading to dinner and then church. That’s incredible. That’s a beautiful story.

Shaelyn:  Thank you. It just seems like everything’s just following from one step to the next to the next, and I couldn’t picture or orchestrate any better than that.

John:  How do you keep inspired now? You’re still living in LA. There’s still temptations, and we’re all not perfect. Sometimes life just gets depressing or tiring, and there’s so much work. How do you keep uplifted in modern life?

Shaelyn:  One thing that I have, after I came back, learned more about the words and also learned more in terms of…because the profession I’m in, in psychology, then I have come to a new appreciation for the Bible.

I think for me and probably most people, growing up in church, a lot of times, you’re taught to live by the Bible. A lot of things that we do is out of fear or guilt that you should be doing this, otherwise you are going to pay consequences or some repercussions.

What I have found is that we forget the true meaning. It’s not about fear, but it’s about love. That’s what keeps me motivated. The things that I do now is not because I’m fearful or I feel guilty that I should be doing it, but I’m doing it because one, I want to do it, and two is that knowing sort of like a father who’s so loving to you.

The guidelines that he’s put forth is not to make you feel guilty or to control you, but it’s in the way that it’s helping you, guiding you, in the course of life that is best for you. Because he loves you, he puts that out for you. I, in turn, loved him enough not to try to hurt him by hurting myself.

John:  Very well put, yeah.

Shaelyn:  That’s what it really boiled down to at the end for me, is I’m doing it because one, I want to, and because it’s motivated by love. It’s not by guilt.

John:  That’s beautiful. That’s an inspiring story, and I appreciate it. What about your book? Is there any tie‑in to that, or what inspired you to write your book?

Shaelyn:  There’s a lot of tie‑in into the book. As I’m talking about the guilt, I remember seeing patients who were also believers that have this guilt that they should be doing this or they should be doing that.

They grow up trying to get their parents’ approval. Then they’re also trying to earn God’s approval or earn God’s love and grace. We know that grace is freely given, and there’s absolutely nothing that you can really do to earn God’s love because he already loves you.

That’s part of the inspiration for the book, is learning to recognize that love and also how to love yourself. A lot of times people, you may have heard, that people say you can’t love other people until you love yourself first.

When asked, people get that theory, but when you say OK, you need to start taking the time out, the tangible things, to do something for you, it’s like no, you can’t do that. That’s too selfish. You have to make sacrifices, so it’s really mixed messages.

That’s part of the reason why it led me to write the book, is really to boil down to, in order for you to really love yourself, you have to take care of yourself.

When you’re truly taking care of yourself, then your needs will be met so that when you do things for other people or taking care of them and love them, you’ll be able to do it unconditionally and not just doing it with the hope that it will get reciprocated or unconsciously hoping or expecting that the favor that you’ve done will be returned.

John:  That sounds like a really strong tie‑in. How can people find your book? Do you have a website, and where is it for sale?

Shaelyn:  You can find the book worldwide now, actually. It’s available anywhere, but right now, nowadays, we live in the age of technology. It’s available in e‑format on Amazon, and you can also visit my website at doctorshaelynpham.com or thejoyofme.com.

John:  Well, really nice talking to you today, Shaelyn, and look forward to talking to you again soon. Thank you, everyone, for listening to conversionstories.org podcast.

Shaelyn:  Thank you so much.

John:  See you later.

Shaelyn:  I’ll talk to you later.

John:  Bye.

Matt O’Neil – My New Life Story

Monday, January 30th, 2012

2 Corintthians 5:17

Matt O’Neil – Chaplain
Mississippi County Work Release Prison
Luxora, Ark

My new life story began sometime late May 1974 after leaving my home in Sterling, Illinois and moving here to Blytheville, Arkansas. I had met a girl at a Sterling High School street dance in 1973 and she moved here to Blytheville and I followed her. It did not work out between us and me not having a very good job and not knowing anyone to help me, caused me to have to sleep in my car. I had been born and raised a Roman Catholic attending church and school at St Mary’s Catholic Church and school in Sterling, IL. I graduated from Newman Central Catholic High School, Sterling, IL in 1973. That year, at age 18, I did not feel I needed church anymore so quit. A man that I was working with here in Blytheville, a God changed alcoholic, kept inviting me to his church, the First United Pentecostal Church. One night I did attend with him and what a shock it was to me as the church services were definitely different than what I was used to having grown up Catholic. Being used to very quiet church, they praised the Lord vocally, clapped their hands and sang the songs with all their heart as if, well as if Jesus really meant something to them and come to find out He really did. Needless to say this was pretty unsettling to me being used to quiet church, but I felt something there that I had never felt in church before. Later I learned that this was the Spirit of God that I felt. I never knew you could feel such a presence of God like I felt. They invited me to the altar to pray at the end of the church service and even though I was not used to this type of church service I went forward to pray. When I got to the altar, my then pastor asked me if I wanted to pray with them and I told them that I did not know how to pray. All my life we just repeated memorized prayers and nothing from the heart as they were doing. He then explained to me that praying is just telling the Lord what I felt on my heart. That night I asked the Lord to forgive me of my sins and I still remember to this day the load that was lifted off of me that very first night.

The church showed me they really cared for me despite the shoulder length hair, cigarettes in my pocket and the obvious odor of not having a bath in a few days due to living in my car. They looked past what they saw on the outside and saw a heart that so desperately needed God.

They then explained to me that I needed to be baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus Christ following what Peter said on the day of Pentecost, the very first day of the church. This was after they had received the baptism of the Holy Ghost in Acts 2:38. Up till then I had only been baptized as a baby 18 years earlier by sprinkling and not going under the water as the only way the bible records it to be done. They also explained to me that baptism was only done in the name of Jesus in the bible and not the titles Father, Son and Holy Ghost as most churches today teach. Well I did not understand all this at that time as I had no idea what the bible taught as I grew up not reading the bible as my parents were not taught to read the bible either. But something happened to me at that altar that changed my life so I got baptized by immersion having the name of Jesus called over me.

Also during this time they were telling me how I could receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost as recorded on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4. They were telling me how Acts 2:39 says this is a promise to all believers. One sunday evening, in May 1974, I did receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost, just like they did that very first day, with speaking in tongues. I was laughing and joyously crying all at the same time. I could hardly believe God really loved someone like me so much as to give me the very same experience that he gave to the apostles and Mary the mother of Jesus at Pentecost that very first day of the church and all recorded in Acts chapters 1-2. God gave me this experience even though I had no idea what the bible taught. They then started teaching me a home bible study, explaining the bible to me. Since that very first year I have continued to do the very same thing that they did for me by continuing to teach home bible studies and I have continued to verify that what I received that very first day is in actuality what the bible does really say. Even today I am in awe that not only do I understand the bible but I can teach it. I knew absolutely nothing about the bible before I received His Spirit in my life. I still continue to teach to others that there are so many more things that God is trying to reveal to us that maybe your church does not teach. Acts 17:11 speaks of a people “more noble” because they 1) received the word of God with mind open and just as importantly, 2) searched the scriptures daily
to determine whether these things were so. 2 Timothy 2:15 says to study (the scriptures) so you can” rightly divide the word of truth(God’s word the bible)”. Dear reader, it is your duty to study the scriptures below to see if your experiences and beliefs line up with the word of God. It will be the word of God(bible) that we will be judged by at the judgment day. John 12:48 & Rev. 20:22.

Scriptures referring to water baptism in Jesus name: Compare Matthew 28:19 and Luke 24:47 both in red spoken by Jesus. Acts 2:38, 8:16, 19:5, 22:16, Romans 6:3, 1 Corinthians 1:13-15, Galatians 3:27. Most churches use the Father, Son, Holy Ghost baptism but the only place that it is  found in the entire bible  is Matt. 28:19. This doctrine is built  on only one scripture  and if you study the above scriptures, the apostles only baptized using the name of Jesus. They actually did everything “in His name”, Reference Mark 16:17- 18, John 14:14, Acts 3:6 and 16, 4:7 and 10-12, 10:43, Colossians 3:17, Phillipians 2:9-10 and James 5:14.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus told his disciples that they will  receive power “after” the Holy Ghost  comes upon them. It was fulfilled in Acts 2:1-4 and they knew it by the speaking in tongues much to the utter amazement of those that gathered to see what was going on. Acts 2:17 says He will pour out His Spirit on all flesh and Acts 2:38 says if you will repent of your sins, and be baptized in the name of Jesus, you will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Acts 2:39 says it is a promise to as many as the Lord will call and that includes you dear reader.

Some churches today say this is not for our day but I have literally seen thousands receive this experience since I first received it and some churches also teach that it is not essential to have this experience but why would anyone say they love God with all their heart & not want everything he can have from Him; especially since God promised it to you.

Scriptures on the Holy Ghost with speaking in tongues. Isaiah 28:11-12, Joel 2:28-29, Matt. 3:11, Mark 16:17, Luke 24:49, John 7:38-39, Acts 1:5, 8, 2:1-17, 2:38, 8:14-17, 10:44-46, 19:1-6, 1 Corinthians 12:4-10, all of 1 Corinthians chapter 14, James 3:2-8.

Our God is also interested in your physical well being. James 5:11-15. We do the praying and believe Him for the healing, no matter what the sickness, even cancer.

So many say I need to change my life before God will accept me but Jesus really loves you just as you are and died for you even as for me when I did not even know Him as a long haired lost hippie living in my car. With His Spirit in your life you will be able to overcome the sins and problems in your life. But it all starts with Jesus. I have seen murderers changed, drug addicts, alcoholics, and homosexuals. With God all things are possible/(Matthew 19:26, Mark 9:23, and 10:27, Luke 18:27) But notice it says “with God.” You and God together can do so much. After you receive His Spirit there is “power” to break the bondage of sin in your life and give you a “new life story” just like mine.

My life is so different now. Whereas I came to God a smoking, drinking, cussing, partying hippie living in my car, I now have a wonderful God, a God serving wife and three children that love God also. You know what a miracle that is with young people these days. I still continue to teach home bible studies, adult sunday school, chaplain a the Arkansas Dept of Corrections prison at Luxora, Arkansas and owner of O’Neil Church Furnishing.

Eternity is forever and ever and ever and ever and ever. Did I put enough evers in there cause there is going to be a lot of them in eternity. You only have one life to live and have no idea when it will end. Compared to eternity, the bible says your life is as a vapor of smoke(James 4:14). Do not waste another day. Commit your life to Him, ask Him to forgive you of your sins right now and He will lead and guide you into all truth(John 16:13).

We are now worshipping with the Apostolic Lighthouse United Pentecostal Church in Steele, Missouri.

APOSTOLIC LIGHTHOUSE UNITED PENTECOSTAL
303 SOUTH WALNUT, POB 21
STEELE, MO 63877
PASTOR JEREMY DAMES WORTH

SERVICE SCHEDULE
Sunday School and morning worship 10 am
Sunday evening prayer and worship 6 pm
Thursday evening mid week service 7 pm

CHECK US OUT ON THE WEB:
www.alupcsteele.com is our local web page
www.upci.org is our national web site

Write me at the above address if my story has been a blessing to you or if you need more information on these studies or if you need help in finding a church in your area. Thank-you for reading and be sure and let others read “My New Life Story”. If you cannot pass this onto others you can use it in your garden as my picture will keep your garden completely pest free (HA).

A Southern Baptist Liberty University alumni becomes Catholic

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Every spiritual life is a journey. Mine began in Warner Robins, Georgia in 1971. I was born into a good Methodist family and had a strong Christian foundation laid for me in childhood. But unfortunately, as is all too common, during my teenage years I drifted away somewhat from this good foundation and was lukewarm at best towards Christianity. I still attended weekly church services and youth group activities, but my interests were mainly in having fun with my friends and having a spiritual life was far from my mind.

But at age 17, I had a profound conversion experience that impressed upon me the reality and urgency of Christianity. I gave my heart and life to Jesus and experienced a great sense of meaning and purpose in life. Around this time, my family and I became Southern Baptists, which matched well with my new fervency and devotion.

I ended up going off to college to Jerry Falwell’s well-known Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, which proved to be an ideal place for me at the time to deepen my devotion and learn more about the Faith. It was a great time of spiritual development for me, and by the time I graduated in 1995, I felt energized and excited about where Our Lord would lead me and what He would do through me.

However, with the external support and security of a self-contained Christian environment taken away from me, and being thrust out into “the real world,” I found myself depressed, lonely and struggling to find my place. I had moved back to Georgia, but I could not find a church where I truly felt at home. The usual format of singing a few praise and worship songs and listening to a preacher for 30 to 40 minutes no longer fulfilled my spiritual hunger as it had before. Even my own private devotions of Bible reading and prayer also left me feeling empty. Talking with God became more and more of a struggle and trying to maintain that prior tangible sense of fervent devotion became an oppressive burden. It was a crisis moment in my life.

I was not aware of it at the time, because it was not a teaching that I ever came across in my Protestant circles, but what I was going through is a common stage in spiritual development and growth: After an initial period of zeal and sensible delight in the spiritual life, a period of dryness and seeming darkness is passed through as Our Lord draws souls closer to Him and away from self-seeking in pleasurable spiritual consolations. He leads them through this to teach them to rely more on faith alone, and not on good feelings. But I knew none of this at the time. I only felt like my Christianity was dismantling around me and that there was nothing I could do about it. My strength was as sand and I felt lost in barren darkness. No matter what I did, I could not find those familiar sensible indicators that I was close to God. He seemed very distant, even absent, and my cries out to Him seemed to be ignored.

New light did finally come to me after many months, oddly enough, through the writings of some medieval Catholics such as St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. St. John’s “Dark Night of the Soul” and St. Teresa’s “Interior Castle,” provided me with new spiritual insights and made some sense of what I was going through; they gave me hope. Their writings also ignited in me a strange new sweetness of intimacy with Our Lord that was quite unlike anything I had experienced before: profound and deep, but simple, quiet, peaceful. I discovered that a relationship with God was not always a matter of me thinking about what to say in prayer, or even in always studying Biblical texts for some applicable truths. Those laudable activities are only the means to reach the ultimate goal, which is a real loving experience with the living God. I learned about something called “contemplation,” which was the name given to the simple serene loving intimacy with God that my soul had been craving but had been fighting against in trying to regain some past sensible devotion that I felt I had lost.

I began to embrace this new quietude and sweetness, but after a few months I was again plunged into a deep darkness of spirit, which frightened me greatly. A depressing weight seemed to descend upon me. I felt like I was suffocating and I was desperate to get out from under it. I felt like perhaps moving away from my hometown would be the sort of stimulating change of setting that I needed to expand my horizons and renew my outlook on life.

My foray into the wide world took me initially to New England. One night, I stayed at a Benedictine retreat house in Still River, Massachusetts. I still considered myself firmly Protestant despite the fact that my reading material was at that time mostly written by medieval Catholic saints. I also felt drawn to monastic settings for some reason, and had a handful of retreat houses picked out prior to my trip that were close to where I would be traveling. At St. Benedict Abbey, after a friendly dinnertime debate with some of the monks about Catholic beliefs, a fellow guest gave me a copy of “Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic” by David Currie. She said that she would be praying that I would one day become Catholic. I thought to myself that she could pray all she wants, but I would never become Catholic. I tucked the book into my things and moved on the next morning.

I eventually settled in Louisville, Kentucky where I had friends from college. Over the months that followed, I continued to try to find a Protestant church to suit me, but I was unable to do so. I knew that I needed more than what I was being offered in the typical Baptist service. Occasionally, in my private time of prayer, I would still enter into moments of that certain deep contemplative peace, but I found upon entering a Baptist church service I would be pulled into something much more superficial, with all the songs and preaching and giddy exuberance. I recall on one occasion, I managed through the songs at the beginning of the service, trying unsuccessfully to get into the spirit of the singing, but when we sat down and the pastor got up to preach, I felt compelled to get up and bolt out of the door, which is exactly what I did. I decided that I could not sit there like that anymore and listen to another lengthy talk. Christian worship had to be more than that. But where would I go? I had experienced in years past the extremes of Pentecostalism and I knew that I did not want that. On the other side, the more “reverent” liturgical churches seemed to have, in recent decades, softened into a shapeless liberalism, so I steered clear of them as well. I looked objectively at all the different types of Christian groups, and I began to be very disenchanted with the fractured nature of Protestantism: So many competing groups, all claiming to be following the same Jesus and reading the same Bible. If the Bible was the authority, why did all these Christians disagree on so much regarding doctrine and practice?

I read more on the histories of various denominations and competing theologies and, in the process, my eyes were opened to the fundamental fallacy of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, that the Bible alone is the sole authority for Christian belief. As I later discovered, this issue was the turning point for so many who end up becoming Catholic: The teaching that all Christian teachings must be taught in the Bible is not itself taught in the Bible. When the paradoxical truth of that statement settled into my heart and mind, I realized that I could not remain Protestant anymore. Protestantism was illogical at its very foundation. However, although I could not remain Protestant, I also felt that I could not become Catholic either, since I still felt that with doctrines like Transubstantiation, “worshipping” Mary, praying to saints, the infallibility of the Pope, Purgatory etc. it was a gravely misled religion.

I spent many months in this odd limbo of being between worlds and with the frustrated feeling that I was at an impasse. After wrestling with it from all angles, I decided to “just live” and not drive myself crazy over it. At least I still believed in Jesus, even though He seemed so distant to me. He was real to me by faith and I would trust Him to sort all these things out for me in time. Since I did not know which group to associate with, I actually stopped going to church services for a while, but I did not stop reading the Bible and trying to pray. Praying, at least with words, was like trying to swim upstream, but I tried not to worry too much about it. I eventually gave up trying to pray words at all and would just allot a certain portion of time each day to kneel quietly before Our Lord.

I began making weekly day-trips to the nearby Abbey of Gethsemane in Bardstown, Kentucky (where Thomas Merton had lived) for more intense quiet time with God. These peaceful retreats were the most nourishing times to me during this period, and it was the closest that I felt to a spiritual home. I would often attend Compline, or Night Prayer, in the chapel. Being there with the monks chanting the Psalms was a very peaceful and prayerful experience and it caused my spirit to truly soar. There was a strong sense that my seeking after God had brought me there, and it matched so well with the longing of my spirit. I ceased to try to make everything fit together and make sense. I could gain nourishment from these Catholic resources and places without actually being Catholic. Besides, I was not Protestant anymore. I was not sure exactly what I was except a follower of Jesus, but I was neither a Protestant nor a Catholic. It was a strange time.

My apartment in Louisville was very close to Holy Spirit Catholic Church. I passed by it daily. As an act of reaching out for more avenues of spiritual nourishment, I decided to attend Mass one Sunday evening. I sat there alone, spiritually burdened, exhausted. But here was something new: A worship service that matched my current spiritual climate and answered that unnamed longing. Music and singing there were, but it was peaceful, worshipful, reverent, with a subdued and beautiful joy. There were non-embellished prayers and readings from Scripture, followed by a mini-sermon that touched on a couple good points and then was mercifully over.

This was followed by the Eucharist, and I was prepared then to endure through some strangeness, some glaring vestiges of ancient pagan rituals. However, I was pleasantly surprised: The Eucharistic prayers sounded scriptural, very Christ-centered, and quite rich and meaningful. There was no strangeness, no invoking of pagan deities. The priest, in normal language, was expounding on the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, which I wholeheartedly believed in. Above the altar in that particular church, there was a life-size, very life-like statue of Jesus hanging on the cross. I found myself gazing up throughout Mass at His outstretched arms. He seemed to be reaching out to embrace me, to draw me close to Him, there in that place. I did not quite understand everything, but I knew that I would return the following week.

I started to feel very much at home there at Mass. I still felt strongly that many of the underlying doctrines of the Catholic Church were wrong, but I was finding nourishment there, and as I had not found it elsewhere, I continued to come to Mass. I felt confident that I could glean spiritual nourishment by coming there and still not become Catholic.

Eventually, I was moved to begin reading “Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic,” which had been given to me so many months before at St. Benedict Abbey. The book actually made me angry the first time through, as the author seemed to me to be somewhat arrogant in his absolute certainty of the truths of the Catholic Faith. How could he be so sure? I continued to make the weekly trips to the Abbey of Gethsemane. I read the book again. I read the writings of the Early Church. I came quietly kneeling before Our Lord daily, like a mute beggar.

Then, through continued prayer, reading, study, and attending Mass, a great miracle took place. Nothing else except a miracle could explain the melting away of so many barriers and long-held misconceptions I had about the Catholic Faith. The first doctrine I accepted was that of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I saw then those scriptures like the 6th Chapter of the Gospel of St. John in which Jesus speaks so clearly of the necessity of eating His Body and drinking His Blood. This was confirmed to me by the Early Church writings I was reading that spoke of the Eucharist in ways consistent with the Catholic teaching. The Lord’s Supper in the Baptist always seemed to be a bit lacking to me, and now I saw that it did not match up with either scripture or Early Church practice.

Papal authority and apostolic succession came early on and filled for me the authority gap that Protestants had unsuccessfully sought to fill with Sola Scriptura. Again I found confirmation in the Early Church writings of the authoritative role of the successors of the Apostles and that of the local bishops. After the authority question was settled, the other “problem” doctrines fell into place: Purgatory, Mary and the Saints, Indulgences and so on. Catholic doctrines and practices are so beautifully woven together that once someone begins to accept some of the Church’s teachings, the entire theological system eventually falls into place.

And so, on the 18th of February, 1999, after joining the RCIA program at Holy Spirit parish, at long last I was received into full communion with the Catholic Church. Words cannot express the fire that Christ ignited in me through union with His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, truly a Treasure of Treasures. I could go on for pages and pages about the Eucharist alone, as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Communion of Saints, the Rosary, the Divine Office, the feasts and liturgical cycle of seasons, the myriad of precious devotions, the vast 2000 years of Christ’s Church on earth, and the increased love for Our Lord that He has instilled within me! New vistas and vast oceans of boundless and unspeakable riches have opened up before my eyes as the clear and brilliant light of Truth – O Glorious Truth! – unmuddled, unchanging, shines brightly in the bosom of Holy Mother Church, in the Bride and Body of Christ dispersed yet One throughout the whole earth! I knew Jesus Christ before, yes, but the crumbs and morsels of Him that I tasted and cherished before, I now find laid out in fullness before me upon the richest and most glorious Banquet Table – the Catholic Church! Praised be God Forever!

You can read a more detailed episodic account of my journey at my blog: http://catholicsojourner.blogspot.com

May God bless you in your own journey.

Todd Meade

Famous Catholics

Friday, October 1st, 2010

I am collecting a list of famous Catholics and plan on elaborating on some of their stories. Check back soon for the first of a series of posts on famous Catholics.

Catholic Musicians
Bono – lead singer for Irish rock band U2; humanitarian (father was a lapsed Catholic)
Arlo Guthrie – American folk singer (convert)
Aaron Neville

Catholic Artists
Salvador Dali – Surrealist painter (convert)
Pablo Picasso – (1881-1973) famous painter
Michelangelo  – Michelangelo di Lodovico
Henri Matisse – famous French painter
Pierre-Auguste Renoir – influential French Impressionist painter
Raphael – famous Italian painter
Paul Gauguin – celebrated French painter known for his warm paintings of Polynesian people and scenes (raised Catholic, convert to Theosophy)
Edgar Degas – famous French painter
Francisco De Goya – famous Spanish painter
Leonardo da Vinci – artist, scientist, inventor

Catholic Writers / Film
William Shakespeare – playwright
J.R.R. Tolkien – fantasy writer
Anne Rice – gothic vampire novelist
Jack Kerouac – author (lapsed)
Martin Scorsese – film director
Federico Fellini – influential Italian film director

Catholic Actors / Actresses
Jack Nicholson – actor
Dan Aykroyd – comedian, actor (lapsed)
Nicolas Cage – Oscar-winning actor, Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Al Pacino  – Oscar-winning actor, Scent of a Woman (1992)
Nicole Kidman – actress
Mel Gibson – actor, film director (traditionalist Catholic)
Bing Crosby – actor, singer, movie star
Sean Connery – movie star
Robert De Niro – actor, movie star (non-practicing)

Other Catholics
John F. Kennedy Jr. – 35th U.S. President
Galileo Galilei – influential scientist, astronomer
Rene Descartes – influential philosopher and mathematician
Nicholas Copernicus – astronomer
Augustine – influential Christian philosopher
Lawrence Kudlow – economist-commentator (convert)
Buffalo Bill

What do Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Saint Francis, Saint Augustine and Mother Theresa have in common?

Resources
Post on Famous Catholics:
adherents.com/largecom/fam_catholic.html

Underlying themes of the beat generation:
sfmission.com/famous/lipstick_traces.htm

Another series will be on famous Christians

Famous Christian Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Co-founder of the Grateful Dead

Conversion Story from Dan

Monday, December 7th, 2009

I was a cradle Catholic and grew up in the faith of my parents, went to Religious Education classes but the faith really didn’t belong to me until June 25, 1998.  Our family faced many difficult times, we nearly lost our first born son but a brand new doctor showed up at the last minute with a cure the more experienced doctors didn’t think know about.  We were told he would be retarded and physically handicapped if we tried the treatment.  He graduated with a double major and a BA from a well known university.  Our daughter didn’t have any problems at all.  Little did we think that nineteen years latter on April 26, 1991 our second son would be killed by a drunk driver and the only reason my wife is here is that a high school student that just finished a CPR class gave her life back to us.  Stress was high in the family; we all seemed to go our separate ways in search of meaning.

My wife Betty came home the next year with this crazy idea about a modern day Fatima happening Bosnia.  Anyway my attitude was wonderful.  So what’s for dinner?  My attitude then was if I couldn’t feel it, touch it, smell it, and see it live, then it’s probably not real.

The next year Betty dragged me off to an annual Medjugorje Peace Conference that’s held at UC Irvine, CA.  I was board but felt compelled to stay because of Betty and the fact that we went in one car.

The Sunday morning speaker was Mary Lou Mc Call somebody that worked for I think CNN or NBC.  Anyway she went to Medjugorje to do a story.  You would have to hear the talk.  She was great.  She assumed like any of the better news media people that you knew nothing of Medjugorje and she explained everything in detail; She went as a skeptic and returned as a believer.  She explained the whole experience step by step.  Mary Lou got me interested.

I read every one of Wayne’s books, then another and I decided it was time for a trip.  I had things pretty much set up before talking to Betty about it; you really had to see the look on her face.  “You, Medjugorje?”

A couple of months later we were staying with Ivan’s cousin just two houses down the street from his.  Ivan is one of the visionaries.  We were also right next door to Jakov, another visionary.  Marianna lived across the street.  We had the chance to meet or at least hear each one of the five visionaries speak.  I am still at the “Ya, so prove it to me stage.”

An interesting aside is that Ivan, one of the visionaries (a person that speaks with the Blessed Mother), married a girl from the Back Bay in Boston.  He met her in the states at one of the Medjugorje conferences.

Ivan is very nice to be around.  He invited our tour group to his house so that we could be present for an apparitions (coming of the Blessed Mother) for her daily talk with him.  She appears to him not to anyone else in the room.  There was a pregnant lady with us.  You had to see her unborn baby going wild when the apparition was going on.  When the apparition stopped so did the unborn child.  My first thought was when Mary visited Elizabeth and the baby stirred in her womb.

As part of the trip we took a bus ride to another town to meet Fr. Jozo.  He was the pastor when the children, now 25 years older, began having apparitions.  The church didn’t believe the visionaries, there was a communist government in power, so Fr. Jozo was removed as the pastor of Medjugorje because he did believed and supported the children.

He had a nice talk.  I’m still at the ya, so show me stage.  Fr. Jozo blessed the priests with the power of the Holy Spirit

And then were sent into the crowd to pass on the blessing.  I decided to go to the restroom early so I left the church.  When I returned Betty still hadn’t come out, so I went back in.  What the heck everyone is getting blessed and so I decided to join the line.  One priest came to me, places a cross on my forehead and repeated the blessing.  The power of the Holy Sprit came into me then.  I had this warm and overwhelming feeling of peace and security.  It’s hard to explain.  I had to grab on to the pew to stop myself from falling backward.  I wasn’t the only one that it happened to.

We returned to Medjugorje it was June 25th, our wedding anniversary and the anniversary of the beginning of the apperations.  People started to share, what had happened to them since arriving.  They were bringing out pictures.  I didn’t have much to say because I was still trying to explain away what had happened to me at Fr. Jozo’s.  You know it must have been group hysteria, weak at the knee because of lack of food but I simply couldn’t find a logical explanation for what happened.  Betty was getting a little upset with me because she wanted to talk but I didn’t want to, I wanted to think.

The English Mass is held each day about noon.  On this particular day because it was the anniversary of the apparitions, there was an additional Mass being held outside for about 30,000 people.  This Mass was said in I don’t know how many languages and the homilies went on forever.  Because there was so many people our group we couldn’t sit together.  As it turned out it was a good thing.

At the consecration of the Mass, the sun divided into two distinct suns and they began spinning in opposite directions.

Suddenly the crowd started making ouing and ahhing sounds and turned to look at the sun, so did I.  As you know looking at the sun is not something humans can do for very long.  I this case you could look at it until the two suns rejoined.  Well, that did it for me.  First Fr. Jozo and now two suns, what else do you need?

We went back to the house and shortly after that our group came together for what we affectionately called group therapy.  Nearly everyone in the group saw what I just described.  Guess you can see why I don’t share this with people unless they ask.  You really had to see my daughter Kathleen’s face when I told her about it.  It was the look of what have you been drinking on the plane.

Our local church sent a group and one lady had been having trouble with her knees for sometime.  Her knee problems stopped and have not restarted since the trip.  Another lady had her rosary turn into gold.  There are many more stories about people in our group.

The thing to remember is that you shouldn’t go to Medjugorje looking for a miracle.  You should go looking for inner peace.  Life is much easier for me now.  People that were a pain in the neck have now drifted away from my life.  The new people have come into my life are truly a joy to be around.

My wife of 44 years will tell you I experienced a true conversion in Medjugorje and I would have to agree with her.  It seems God nudges you little by little until you travel the narrow path. I now have a doctorate in divinity and operate the www.SaintPaulMinistries.net website.  All of the materials offered on the site are free and we average 20,000 downloads per month.  Many times people will ask questions, sometimes people will try and attack myself or the faith but it always seems the Holy Spirit is there to give me the patience and the right thing to say.

Dan Mayne
www.SaintPaulMinistries.net

“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”
St. Jerome


Buffalo Bill’s Conversion

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody (February 26, 1846 – January 10, 1917) was a soldier, bison hunter and showman. He was born in the Iowa and was one of the most colorful characters of the American Old West, and was largely famous for the shows he put on with cowboy themes.

“And it’s in my old age I have found God – And realize how easy it is to abandon sin and serve him. When one stops to think how little they have to give up – to serve God. It’s a wonder so many more don’t do it. A person only has to do right. Through this knowledge I have quit drinking entirely. And quit doing rash things simply by controlling my passions and temper when I find myself getting angry.”

Read more on Buffalo Bill’s Conversion Story

Sparks of God

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Twenty years ago you came in a beam of light
shining through the clouds of my youth
carving a cross on my heart

I sat in the library
at green mountain college
on my birthday in December
praying desperately to see the true meaning of life

Is it Buddha
Is it Brahma
Is it native spirituality?
Lord tell me if Jesus is truly the Son of God and the way

Instantly the sun came out from behind a thick wall of clouds
and I knew without any doubt that Jesus would be my savior for life

Two friends in particular when I was young,
Mike and Doug, shared their faith and conversion stories
They planted seeds and sparked a fire
That will burn forever.

After many years of trying different churches of all denominations, I started going to Catholic Masses, where I felt a sense of peace and a powerful presence. I decided to get confirmed and the process made me confident I was at home in the Church that Jesus formed. Since then I have been to Fatima, Lourdes, The Vatican (with Pope John Paul in 2000), Garabandal in Spain and various spiritual places. I believe in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist and continue to read and pray to grow my faith. God sometimes feels distant and life can be dark but often it is in those times, if we push through it prayerfully, that we can experience true graces of the holy spirit that inspire us and renew our faith. When my mother died, too young, of a stroke in her fifties, my faith was put to the test. I got on my knees and prayed (at Mass General Hospital) that she would come out of her coma. I saw in my mind the gates of heaven opening for her and was given a message that it was her time to go and that it was meant to be. That really helped me get through an awful time but also made me realize, if you think your Catholic and have faith, think again! You may not realize how real God is untill such experiences make you question the ultimate facts of life. If she is dying, will I ever see her again? Is heaven real? If I truly have faith I will see her again? This increased my faith when I responed by trusting that my visions were a grace and that God is truly real. Even though I had a powerful conversion 10 years before, my faith needed a reality check. And more tests have come my way than I could have ever dreamed. I believe that God tries the ones he loves but it is for our own benefit and that we grow from it and our suffering has a purpose.  Thank God for the sacraments and the Saints that help us get through it all and bring the spirit into our lives and help us pass it on to others.

John McDougall