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.
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.