During the first few weeks of the beginning of my sophomore year, I heard several testimonies from fellow Cru-ers about experiences that they had had on summer projects over the summer. These summer projects were mission trips that they had gone on, ranging from places as exotic as Panama City Beach to San Diego and Brazil. As they talked about their experiences sharing the Gospel with people, and participating in intimate small group fellowship, I felt a tug in my heart. I had only been Christian for about nine months (since I had invited Jesus into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior), but I knew that I wanted to share what Jesus had done for me in the hope that others would invite him to do the same for them.
To this day, I will never know exactly what it was that made me choose San Diego as my destination, but I never really considered any other location. It was California or die. I broke the news to my parents, that I was going to spend my summer in San Diego, and they were less than enthused. In fact, my mother was not entirely convinced that I was actually even a Christian since I wasn’t a paragon of joy at all times, which seemed to be her only measuring stick of true faith. It was a point of contention most of the time between her and me. Any fight with my brother or sister, and any sign of lack of any virtue immediately cast doubt in her mind as to me actually being a Christian. So she was skeptical, and not too pleased, to hear that I was apparently going to be a beach bum, Jesus freak, hippy in California for the summer.
Despite this opposition, I was super excited, and though the support raising process was long, tedious, and difficult, I eventually came to within about $100 or so of my $3,200 goal. Not bad at all. So on May 28, 2008, I boarded a plane to San Diego all by my lonesome. When I got there, I was so scared. I had not booked a shuttle or anything. All I had was an address and a phone number of one of the staff members. After picking up my luggage I found a group of students at the airport who looked like they were also a part of project. So I joined them, and yes, they were there for project too. I hopped on their shuttle with them and we wound our way through this unfamiliar city. I just stared up at all the palm trees and strained to catch glimpses of the ocean, both being things I had never seen.
I soon settled into life on summer project. We lived on Mission Beach, with the Pacific ocean one block to the west and Mission Bay one block to the east. It was amazing. I made a lot of new friends, including my soul team guys (Travis, Stavi, and Doug) and my Bible study co-leaders (Brandy, Allen, and Katirose). Each week we would head to San Diego State University and share the Gospel in the morning, and in the afternoon lead a Bible study on the letter to the Romans. On our off days we would approach people on the beach to share the Gospel with them as well.
I shared the Gospel with over 50 individuals that summer, and was part of the Evangelism Team, one of eight ministry teams on project. I helped plan and coordinate outreaches, including a bus/trolley outreach, which was quite fun. Throughout my experiences in outreach, I met a lot of Catholics, including a particularly feisty one named Dave. I didn’t know a lot about Catholics, other than that they worshipped Mary, but I knew that they didn’t truly know Jesus. I confirmed this in my conversations with them, realizing that none of them knew much about the Bible, or didn’t know that you didn’t have to do anything to be saved. They kept adding works into the Biblical notion of Faith Alone. The more Catholics I talked to, the more convinced I became that they knew nothing of Jesus. However, it just so happened that one of my very good friends was Catholic.
I began praying for Megan to be delivered up from the Whore of Babylon and to turn to Christ. When I returned from project, I had a severe case of the anti-Catholics, and within weeks I found myself insulting the crap out Megan on this very blog for believing things I thought were Catholic beliefs. It turned out that they were neither Catholic beliefs nor things that Megan believed. She was a bit miffed, but she took it all in stride and dealt with me mercifully, something I had not shown towards her.
After that incident she offered for me to have beers with her and her brother, and to discuss any issues that I had with Catholicism. I was very reluctant. It felt like a trap. Her brother, I figured, must be some kind of radical apologist with a slick lie ready for any kind of objection I might raise. I politely declined, and decided that I would convert her through sugar, rather than through aggression. Over the next few weeks, things cooled between us and the tension faded, and then one day it happened. I cannot recall the context, but somehow I had accepted a CD from Megan with the testimony of some guy named Scott Hahn on it. I had no idea what to expect, but when I was done listening, I just sat there dumbfounded. Apparently there were people who actually went from Protestant to becoming Catholic. I had never heard of such a thing. What was even crazier was that it almost sounded like it made sense!
The timing was actually perfect because after summer project I was in the midst of trying to find the right church to join. It had been instilled in me during project that going to church and becoming involved in Christian ministry outside of campus ministry was important. The next week or so I scoured the web for the stories of other Catholics who used to be Protestant. It turned out that there were tons of them. I began consuming their stories like my life depended on it. I was still skeptical, but I was intrigued. I had to figure this out, once and for all. Was Catholicism viable and was it what God was calling me to? So I ordered a Catechism,and its compendium, in the middle of the night while I was tossing and turning, mulling over the question. In the mean time I began compiling the beliefs of all the mainline denominations, and organizing them into a chart for comparison.
I waited by the mail each day for my books to arrive. Once they did, I began wolfing down the Catechism. It was pure gold, yet I was looking for the dross, for the impurities which would give me a good solid reason to close the book and never look down that path again. For those who have read the Catechism, you know it isn’t there. It is well backed up by Scripture, history, logic and reason, each of which has God for its author.
By Thanksgiving I was almost done with the Catechism, and was 99.9% sure that I was being called home to Rome. While at home, I was having a conversation with my mom about possibly going to China the next summer with Cru, something I was planning in the midst of all this. Like the previous summer, she was unsupportive, and suggested instead that I enter missions with a church so that I was sure to be preaching a Gospel I believed in. Then she asked where I was going to church. I had been going to Mass with Andy and Megan pretty regularly at this point, and I blurted that out without realizing what I was saying. I was totally not ready to have this conversation, but here it was.
My mother expressed surprise and a little bit of disappointment that I wasn’t going to a Baptist church, but was supportive. She was curious about how I could accept certain things like Mary and Purgatory. I answered them to the best of my ability, but I still wasn’t one hundred percent committed, almost, but not yet. I went back to school for finals and then returned home for semester break. On Christmas Day I finally decided that the choice was final. I was going to become Catholic. Only three months before I hated Catholicism, and now I believed that it was the true, historical Church that was instituted by Christ and protected by his promises. Everything I thought I knew had turned out to be false. Catholics did not worship Mary or the Pope. Their ideas on faith and works for salvation were clearly grounded in Scripture, Scripture I had to ignore in order to hold to faith alone (words which appear in Scripture only once, and in the middle of a passage stating that we aren’t saved by faith alone). I realized that all the things I believed about Confession had been wrong as well. But most importantly Catholics had the Eucharist, and a very convincing claim to be the historical continuity of the Church founded by the Apostles. To turn back at this point would have been to turn away from Christ altogether. It was Christ or nothing. So I told Andy and Megan and they got me into RCIA, and after meeting with the coordinator, she decided that I knew enough already to come into the Church at Easter Vigil rather than wait a whole year until 2010.
Between January and April I went to RCIA and slowly began breaking the news to some of my Cru friends. Of course, once one knew, they all knew, so I figured that I didn’t need to have a conversation with all of them. There was one in particular I did not want to have, so I just didn’t, I let it fester awkwardly. We both knew he knew and that I was avoiding it. If I could redo this, I would have told him personally, but I didn’t want to hurt him or be hurt by him. We might still be close friends today if I had done so (since then we have made amends, but we are still quite distant).
Anyway, on April 11, 2009, the big day came. At the Easter Vigil I crossed the River Tiber and entered the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, what Scripture calls “the pillar and bulwark of truth” of which Christ says he will never allow the gates of hell to prevail against. That night I received the Sacrament of Baptism, followed by Confirmation and reception of Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
The months following the Easter Vigil were an amazing time of continuing to deepen my knowledge of the Church and connecting with the vibrant Catholic community at NDSU that I had no idea even existed. It also became a time of serious prayer and contemplation of the idea of becoming a priest, but I will talk about that in the next part of my story.