Conversion and Confusion

When I was 17, I had what was still probably the most important single experience in my religious life, which ultimately led me to take faith seriously, and then to investigate a feeling of calling to ministry.

Looking back, the whole situation seems a bit silly, and in fact hard for me to define verbally. Essentially, I felt that God spoke to me, whatever that means, at a Christian music festival that I attended in Kentucky. My youth group was listening to a youth speaker, whose name I don't remember, and one of my closest friends was moved by the message to pray for repentance because he was sleeping with his girlfriend. For whatever reason, I was also extremely moved, and felt a real need to take my faith seriously. At the time, it felt like a message from God. Now I'm not sure that it was; I'm not even sure that I believe that genuine messages from God occur in such a direct way.

In any case, however, the experience deeply affected me. My response was to dive fully into the evangelical faith that my church taught. My initial decision was to stop listening to "secular" music, and stop watching television. Neither or those decisions lasted more than a week. However, I also decided to take my personal faith more seriously, and to begin trying to convince my non-Christian friends of their need for an evangelical faith. The personal side of things probably worked out the best. I started a daily regimen of prayer, journaling, and scriptural study that I kept up until my last year of college. I also committed to avoid alcohol, drugs, and premarital sex, and to be committed to attending church and youth group on a regular weekly basis. In some ways I'm still shaped by the pattern of spiritual practice that I set then, because questions of personal discipline and morality are still central to my faith.

My path from there was relatively set. The experience at the youth festival had felt like a call to ministry, though it took me a year and a half to equate that with a call to ordained ministry. I stepped in to a significant leadership role in my youth group, and planned to attend Asbury College, a Christian school in rural Kentucky, near the point of my "divine revelation". My initial idea was to study journalism, but those plans quickly changed in a decision to pursue ordained ministry in the Church of God.

Before moving on to my experiences at Asbury though, I should mention a significant event that occurred in the interim. After I graduated from high school, I went with my youth group on a short-term mission trip to Lima, Peru, which primarily involved painting at a school for the deaf, organizing a Bible school for children who didn't understand the English that we were speaking, and touring the city to experience firsthand the reality of third-world poverty. I might question the validity of much of what was taught by the church of my upbringing, but I have never questioned that I learned an important reality about God in my experiences in Lima, and I would later be attracted to Latin American liberation theology (which in many ways achieved prominence in a university in Lima, as taught by the theologian Gustavo Gutierrez) because of its teaching of God's preferential concern for people like those who I met in the shantytowns that comprise most of that city.