This is a personal story of God's love, mercy, and power and how it changed my life.
Growing up in the hills of Kentucky as a very conservative and strictly religious horse-and-buggy Mennonite man, I got baptized into the church and thought I was a good person on my way to heaven as part of God's chosen people.
As a young man I was ordained by lot as a minister several weeks after my wife and I got married. Through the fear of God I took my new responsibility seriously and was careful to preach the whole Bible, (which I knew well) as I understood it, and also serious about holding to the traditions that we had been taught.
Several years later God's Spirit began a work in my heart. I distinctly remember the day I was watching a house burn to the ground and thinking about the fires of hell and not knowing where I would go when I die. This was scary to me and brought a lot of confusion and misery over the next six months, and I didn’t know what to do. My wife started getting concerned about me but didn’t know how to help.
One night I woke up feeling as if a mighty hand was pressing me down, making me feel as if I couldn’t breathe. Not knowing what else to do, I got on my knees and told God I would do anything just to get rid of this misery or burden.
Something happened to me that night that I couldn't explain at the time. (I didn't understand much about the new birth.) For days after that I was so excited I could hardly do my farm chores fast enough so I could get back to reading the Bible. The god of this world had blinded my mind lest the light of the glorious gospel would shine in and I would be saved (2 Cor. 4:4). Then suddenly Jesus opened my eyes and I could see the truth! Hallelujah, Praise the Lord!
But the roots of my religious and legalistic background ran deep and it took years for me to allow God to cleanse this proud and stubborn heart of all the garbage of wrong teaching. One life-changer was when I allowed the truth of Proverbs 3:5 to sink in: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.” This allowed me to let go of wrong teaching that I had considered as foundational to the Christian faith. I was finally able to study the Bible unbiased. I learned that salvation is something that God does (as in Jesus dying for our sins) and we respond by repenting and believing. It is not something that we do (as in good works) and then expect God to respond as if He owes us something.
I also learned that humility is something God works in us, often through a process of hard knocks and experiences, and not something we just decide to do one day and then it happens.
My wife joined me in claiming the shed blood of Jesus for salvation a couple years after my conversion, and later we got baptized on the confession of our faith. What a blessing that was! “Years I spent in vanity and pride . . .” was a hymn we sang that was very fitting in our circumstances. “Mercy there was great and grace was free; Pardon there was multiplied to me; There my burdened soul found liberty, AT CALVARY!” Our favorite song became “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand . . . I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” How true!
For some time after our conversion I was under the impression that everyone would have a dramatic new-birth experience, but with time I realized that some people believe and accept God's Word through simple faith without such drama.
We received much opposition from well-meaning and concerned people, which sometimes left us feeling alone and unsure, but God faithfully provided comfort and assurance through Bible verses and songs that came to our minds at just the right time. I remember one moonlit evening as I was feeling especially oppressed, the song “The Comforter Has Come” came to mind and I could feel his presence.
We still live in the same community and have interactions with the people through business and ministry and most of them treat us with respect and have accepted us for who we are. We continue to pray for those whose minds are still blinded to the truth, realizing they are unable to change without the power of his Spirit.
One issue we struggled with for a while was how to honor our parents, since they disapprove of the direction we are going. We know that honoring them is a command and not an option based on their performance. We found many small ways to do it in spite of our differences, and over the years our relationships improved and we have no regrets for the efforts we put in.
I soon realized that God didn't save us just so we can go to heaven, but also made us partakers of his love, which motivates us to share the gospel with others as ambassadors in his kingdom. We found there are many ways of doing this, but one thing I found especially fulfilling and effective was when God opened the door to teach a parenting class in a jail ministry. A group of us went in for quite a few years till it ended with the Covid days. Recently some of us started going in again for preaching services.
Another effective way I found to reach people is to go knocking on doors in local towns or cities on a weekend and give them a small gift like fruit, vegetables, or flowers, then share the gospel with them. I usually give them a booklet called “What Every Person Needs to Know,” which presents the gospel in a very easy-to-understand way. Most people appreciate this little token of kindness, and it often opens up opportunities for conversations. I found the poor and middle-class people to be the most receptive in this kind of ministry.
In the summertime several neighbors sitting together in their yard often presents a great opportunity to enter the conversation and steer it toward the gospel.
There were two verses that God brought to my attention as a precaution when I first started going out to minister. 1 Tim. 5:8, “But if any provide not for his own, specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” And Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?”
I am amazed that God actually allows us to participate in bringing people to the foot of the cross. BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD! May we shine as lights holding forth the word of life in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation (Phil. 2:15–16).