I Was Hungry – My Conversion Story

One warm summer’s day about fifteen years ago I was sitting at my friend Elizabeth’s kitchen table when I saw a small statue on a whatnot in the corner. I inquired as to who the statue portrayed and Elizabeth replied matter-of-factly, “Oh, that’s St. Joseph. We put him out because of the construction men working on our roof.”

As a child raised in evangelical Protestantism, I had no idea what she was talking about. When I got home that evening, my mother explained to me that Catholics weren’t real Christians. They believed in “little gods” they called saints and the Holy Spirit had abandoned them because of things like that. I was so relieved that I’d been born into a real Christian family. Later that summer I was baptized by my pastor in front of a congregation of happy, approving adults. My pastor asked me why I wanted to be baptized and my extemporaneous little speech about taking up my cross and following Jesus earned me a standing ovation. As I climbed out of the baptism tank, dripping and shivering, I ignored the tiny voice in my head that pointed out that I’d simply parroted what my parents had told me when they’d given me the baptism sign-up sheet.

Eight years later, I found myself on my own for the first time. I was in college, miles away from parental supervision, and I was going to make the most of it. This was my chance to really sink my teeth into a church and experience that personal relationship with Jesus that everyone was always telling me about. I believed in God, and I believed that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and I believed He loved me and wanted to know me. But something had been…off for the last few years. Ever since I was baptized there’d been an infinitesimal splinter in my spirit, a disquiet that I couldn’t ignore. I’d concluded that I needed to simply find a church of my own and stop attending whatever church my parents attended. I had to find one that fit my own beliefs.

Over the course of my freshman year I examined my beliefs. I was Protestant, that much was obvious. The Mary-worshipers would never get me. Neither would the other churches that the Holy Spirit had abandoned (according to either my parents or my pastors): Anglicans, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Orthodox (okay, they never really had Him), some Methodists, some Baptists, and any church that congregated according to race, not creed.

I was also fairly conservative in a way that didn’t jive with most evangelical churches. I disliked the theatrical atmosphere of church worship but I couldn’t put my finger on the reason. I definitely didn’t like the way my churches almost encouraged people to dress down. In my mind, church was God’s special time. I knew I was in the minority there, though.

My biggest issue was accountability. I was struggling to accept how every church I attended was run by a pastor who essentially ran an ecclesiastical island. Some churches were parts of loose networks, but those were rarely more than half a dozen. What stopped him from preaching something erroneous? Who was there to say that it was erroneous at all? I was very much aware that the “inspired” interpretation of Scripture often was simply the most popular one.

I knelt one day. “God,” I prayed, “please send me to an evangelical church with reverence, accountability, and serious-minded people.”

I began to attend local student churches and was disappointed again and again. One seemed promising until I suggested at a Bible study that we rebuke a possible foul spirit in someone’s life and the pastor’s wife pulled me aside and said they didn’t believe in that kind of thing. I smiled and nodded and never returned.

My struggles to find a home church took its toll on my life. I fell into sin, partaking in terrible vices that damaged my body and soul. I spent my time with wastrels who took advantage of me. My grades dropped and my emotional health declined sharply. I knew it all was directly connected to my lack of spiritual support. One day I sank to my knees by my bed and lifted my eyes to Heaven.

“God, I’ve been trying to find a church but it’s not working. Please lead me to the church You want me to go to.”

The next day I found a debit card in the student union. I correctly figured it was a student’s so I looked up the name in the student directory, sent him an email, and gave it back to him. We chatted for a few minutes and then I went on my way to the library to get a book for class. On top of the book was a Catechism. I saw it and ignored it.

The next day I logged into my work computer and saw that someone had looked up something in Canon Law before me. I ignored it and logged out.

A few days later I walked through the activity fair and saw a booth giving away free books. Something in my mind went, “Hey! Books! You love books! Go see them!” and I walked toward them until I saw that it was the Catholic Campus Ministry and the books were Catechism. No thanks.

The next week my good friend and ROTC role model Jordann casually mentioned to me that she was Catholic. I was stunned; she was, hands down, the strongest Christian I’d ever met. I’d never heard anyone talk about Jesus Christ the way she did. God’s love simply oozed out of her pores. Unable to explain her Catholic-ness, I left for home utterly shaken.

A few days after the disturbing revelation, I ran out of food and money at the same time. Always faithful in the goodness of God, I prayed a simple prayer: “Lord, I’m going to walk on campus in search of food. If it’s Your will, please lead me to a meal.” I pulled on a sweater and started walking. I crossed the street onto campus and walked past Church Row, the row of houses that housed the student ministries. A young man was standing on the porch of the Catholic Campus Ministry in the middle of hanging a banner. My eyes grew wide when I read what it said.

DINNER AND BIBLE STUDY TONIGHT. ALL ARE WELCOME.

A shiver ran down my spine. I’d tried to ignore all the Catholic boo-hockey over the last couple weeks–Satan! Coincidence!–but this was too blatant. I slowly walked up to the young man, not daring to speak to him. He turned around as I approached and HEY! WHOA!

It was Debit Card Guy. “Hey, I know you,” he said with a grin. “You found my card. Wanna come in for dinner?”

I hesitated, but nodded. A dinner wouldn’t kill me, but if anyone started kowtowing to a statue of Mary I was going to jump out the window. I walked up the creaky steps and into the warm house. A group of young people were milling around and chatting animatedly. Debit Card Guy–Kevin, I reminded myself–introduced me to everyone. They all shook my hand and said hello. A very pleasant man in black introduced himself as Father Mike.

I couldn’t believe how normal they all were. There was even books about Jesus in the corner. I couldn’t see any statues of Mary, but maybe they were upstairs?

After dinner I asked if I could borrow a Catechism. Father Mike gave me one and told me to keep it. When I got home I sat on my bed and opened it up, prepared to see disgusting heresies but somehow endlessly curious about what it had to say.

I’m evangelical, I told myself. I’m Protestant, I told myself. The Catholic Church preaches lies, I told myself. You shouldn’t even be doing this, I told myself.

I was confirmed into the Catholic Church on Easter Vigil 2012. My patron saint is St. Mary Magdalene. The splinter is gone; the disquiet has vanished.

God sent me to the Church in which I was always meant to be.

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