Lately, I’ve been reading personal accounts of Muslims who have converted to Christ. All the stories I’ve read so far tell of hardship and suffering in their lives as Muslims, and of their difficulties in searching for God. At the end of reading one of these stories – the account of a Muslim woman from the Middle East who found it difficult to reconcile what God should be with what she found in Islam, and who, through reading the Bible, came to faith and salvation and peace after nine years of searching – I realised how privileged and blessed I am. I had no such struggle. These dear Muslim converts, brothers and sisters in Christ, had great struggle over several years, before they found the answers and the peace they were looking for; but for me, my “discovery” of God, happened unexpectedly and in just an hour or so. And I didn’t find God after much struggle and searching; I wasn’t even looking for him; he came to me, unlooked for, uninvited, unexpected, and he opened my heart to believe in his Son, Jesus Christ. But let me go back to the beginning.
Childhood experience prior to conversion
Thanks to my dear mother, I’ve always believed in God. Some of my earliest memories are of when she would put me to bed at night and listen to my prayers. She taught me a simple child’s prayer (Gentle Jesus, meek and mild; look upon a little child; if I should die before I wake; I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take. Amen), and the Lord’s Prayer. She taught me to pray for others, to which I added my cat, and for whatever else my childish mind thought of as important. My prayers were very childish and simple, but they kept me aware that “God is there”, watching me and watching over me. This awareness of God stayed with me all my life, and primed me for the time he entered my reality in saving power. She also made sure that I went to our local Anglican church every Sunday morning to attend Sunday School; I loved doing this, and it didn’t even occur to me that I was doing it alone, that I should have been there with my parents. Neither of my parents came with me to model faith by their own church attendance, and neither of them professed a relationship with God. My father never once mentioned God or religion of any kind, and never encouraged or taught me about it. How could he – he had no faith of his own. And my mother, who, as a child, was quite involved in her church in England, and who loved everything about it, had allowed it all to drop away through the ordinary distractions of life, and had no real relationship with God.
My family are all from England and migrated to Australia in my first year of life, eventually settling in Sydney, to live with my grandmother in her home. My grandmother was a medium, and charged people a fee to read their horoscopes, practiced numerology, and had seances, all in her home; so I was surrounded by it all. I was too young to know about what she was doing and what it meant. She used to read my palms and the tea leaves in my cup, and when I was a teenager, read my future in cards and horoscopes. Little did I know that I was opening the door for demons to enter, and to influence my life. So it’s no wonder that, as a child, although I was happy and mischievous, I also had a dread of something evil that was ever-present. My mother, however, did understand what was happening because she, too, had grown up in this atmosphere, and as a child had witnessed demonic activity in the home, with items being swept off the mantle-piece by unseen hands, and such-like occurrences. The only way she knew to protect me was to put a crucifix on the wall above my bed. It was made of wood, and was about 9 inches long, and had a white plaster figure of Jesus on it. Although I don’t have a crucifix now, being an evangelical Christian, at the time it was always in sight, and it kept me aware of God – and for that I treasured it.
My nights as a child were tormented and filled with fear and dread ever since I had seen a movie with my parents (“Cult of the Cobra”), in which a priestess from an ancient Egyptian cult transformed into a cobra and killed people in their beds at night. This was too much for a little child, and every night I lay in bed, afraid to close my eyes as I watched for a cobra trying to get into my bed and bite me. And as I got older, it didn’t help that I started reading stories of ghosts and Satan-worship, watching ghost and horror movies, and generally delving into anything occult that produced fear.
When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I thought I should become a minister in the Church of England, as it was called then (in Australia the name has been changed to the Anglican Church), and this thought remained with me until I reached adolescence. At the age of about 14 years I decided I didn’t want to be a minister in the church because girls had become too big an attraction for me. I didn’t really want to be a minister anyway, it was just a childhood idea that remained and I felt obligated to follow it through. But abandoning this idea, and with a conscious determination to seek experiences with the opposite sex, I felt I had abandoned God. I delighted in this idea though, and I remember deliberately doing various things to defy him. But now and then I would take my small King James Bible which my grandmother had given me for my 10th birthday (a gift which I had requested) and read from it.
My teenage years were utterly wasted and without any kind of aim except to have a girlfriend. When I was 20 years old, I was with my girlfriend at a friend’s home, and there was another young man there as well. My friend said he had tried doing a séance with his girlfriend on the weekend and it was really cool; and he suggested we all do one. I felt a chill over my soul, as it were, as he suggested this, and I was very afraid. But at the same time, I was fascinated, and, as I didn’t want to be seen as being afraid, I agreed. We did encounter a spirit at that meeting, and although nothing sinister seemed to happen except that the glass on the table was moving and spelling out words to communicate with us, it was terrifying – and I felt an evil fascination with it.
A year later I was living by myself in a rented room in a boarding house; it was the first time in my life I hadn’t lived in my parental home. I remember being really scared when I turned off the lights at night, and I tried to get to sleep as quickly as possible. The boarding house was very old and its corridors were a rabbit warren of guest rooms. Mine was a double room and had a high ceiling, and it felt so spooky that it creeped me out.
A week or two after I had moved into this guest house, I was at work as usual, and I had to train a new employee to do the job of assistant office manager, and to be my boss. I had been warned by someone in the office that he was a member of the Salvation Army, so he might not like me using bad language. Well, we sat together at his desk, and started chatting. He told me that his father had been an archaeologist, and my ears pricked up. I love ancient history, so I asked him some questions about certain nations in the Middle East, but he told me his father wasn’t involved with them, but with the Hebrews. He then deftly guided the discussion to the God of the Hebrews, and thence to telling me about Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation.
As he spoke, my mind was like a sponge and absorbed everything he said. He told me that Jesus is the Son of God, and as he spoke, I received and believed it. Until that time I didn’t have a good opinion of Jesus. But my colleague told me that Jesus loved me and that he died for me. This was very important to me because of the sinful life I had been living and of my conviction that when I died I was going to hell for my sins. I don’t know long he spoke but he told me many wonderful things from the bible, and I received with joy everything he said. I remember he told me what it is to be born again, and consequently, for the first time, I saw the difference between real and hypocritical faith. And as he spoke I had the distinct impression that God, as a Trinity of Persons, was right there with me. It was as if there was only me and God there, with my friend’s voice explaining the Gospel. When he told me about Jesus being the Son of God, it felt as though I saw him within this holy Trinity; and I loved him.
Obviously, I didn’t see God; it was merely an impression in my mind as my friend spoke, not something weird. But the impression was so powerful and real that the only way I could describe or explain that experience was to say, “God spoke to me”. That day, I had gone to work as usual, and it looked to be a normal day. But by mid-morning I had been born from above, become a new creation, and had been adopted by God as his child. My sins were gone, I was clean, and I felt a peace and an elation that God loved me – not just as an undefined person in the vast crowd of humanity, but me! He loved me! This knowledge transformed me totally, and new birth aptly describes what happened to me in that brief time. I was a new creation, and my whole life was changed. In the morning, I had been a rebel against God, and in moments I had become not only his friend, but his adopted child.
The first thing I became aware of was that I no longer feared death and dying, and I no longer feared hell. I also felt at peace with God, and I knew I had a living relationship with him. I repudiated my sins and sinful life and devoted myself to a life of loving and serving God. I was so happy, and I remember that when I went back to my creepy room that night, I was filled with joy.
First acts of repentance
One of the first things I did was to burn all my novels about ghosts and the occult (I remember that one author I particularly liked had been involved in black magic [he said], and he stated that the number 3 is a potent black magic number). I also made a point of visiting the parents of friends and acquaintances I’d had growing up and told them what had happened to me, and to apologise to them for things I’d done – I felt this was an important thing to do because I had had a fairly bad (and undeserved) reputation as a child. I wasn’t a criminal, but I loved pranks, and while these people probably weren’t too concerned, I wanted to make sure they knew about the change in my life.
I also went to my friends and told them I’d become a Christian, and that I was sorry for the wrong and sinful things we’d done together. They all thought I was weird, but I’m glad I told them because I haven’t seen them since. I also went to great lengths to return something of value I had stolen from somebody, but when I went to their house, I discovered that the husband had been killed in a motorcycle accident, and the wife had moved away. Because the item I had stolen was now of no interest to me because I had stolen it, and I couldn’t find the original owners, I didn’t want to keep it, so I gave it to a dealer and collector who was very happy to receive it.
So I did everything I could think of to make sure everybody I knew was aware of the change in my life and of my new relationship with God – in effect, I drew a line under my past and began my new life as a new creation, and a new child of the Father.
I immediately started attending a church, which was the same one I went to as a child. Sunday was now the best day of the week for me, and I lived for it – I couldn’t wait for each Sunday because that was when I could go to church and worship God and be with God’s people. I also started to read the bible – that was my great joy, and I still read it every day with absolute pleasure after 47 years of being saved. I changed the type of books I read and began to read Christian books – one of the first of them was “Pilgrims’ Progress”, and I still love it; I’ve read it several times since then, more times than any other book. I still remember the titles of many of my first Christian books, but there are some that shaped me more than others; for example, “Five English Reformers” by J. C. Ryle opened a new world to me and instilled in me a love of church history which is with me still.
Salvation and deliverance complete
So I had been made free indeed. Jesus had come into my life to redeem and rescue me from the guilt, penalty, and power of sin. At that time he revealed himself and his love for me when I wasn’t even thinking about him. He came again a second time not long afterwards and delivered me from demon oppression. Ever since then he’s continued with me, and I know that when I die I’ll go to be with him for ever in an eternity of joy and peace, rejoicing in the presence of God.