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Darren Hewer, 2006

» My Story ("Testimony")

Early life

MeI grew up without any religious education, and was generally agnostic. I never went to church growing up, and only knew as much about Christianity as I was able to pick up from culture and the media. (Which means, not much!) When I was younger, I had some sort of vague belief in God, but I knew nothing of Christianity, or any other faiths. As I got older, into my teen years, I started to adopt an atheistic attitude, mostly because my friends at the time were atheists, not due to any particular reason or life circumstance.

Something missing?

Halfway through earning my bachelor's degree in Information Systems at university, I started to feel that something was missing in my life. By all accounts I had things pretty good. I generally didn't have to worry about money, I was doing well in school, had a loving family and for the most part didn't have much to worry about. Yet, I felt depressed. I decided to make a list of things I wanted to try, in order to find out what that "missing part" was. One of the items on the list was to investigate religion (and God) for the first time. I figured it was worth a shot and wouldn't cost me anything, so why not?

So I decided to investigate various 'popular' religions to see whether any of them were credible. I can't recall all of the faiths that I looked at, but I definitely spent some time with Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism and Christianity. I wanted a faith that was true, not just 'nice'. Something that made me feel good but was not grounded in reality was not worth considering.

First steps

FootstepsAs far as I can recall, the first religion I looked at was Buddhism not Christianity. I had a positive impression of Buddhism somehow, probably from a generally positive bent towards it in the media. I hardly ever heard Buddhism criticized, and it seemed to me the most "socially acceptable" religion. (Social acceptance is hardly the best test for truth! But such was my thinking at the time.)

Buddhism is generally atheistic; at least, the question of God's existence is said to be peripheral to Buddhist faith. To me, any religion that is atheistic is not a religion at all, it is merely a philosophy, invented by humankind and therefore no better or worse than any other philosophy (at least in terms of potential for error). Certain subgroups of Buddhism claim to believe in God, but if the different subgroups differ so widely on the most central topic of faith (whether or not God exists) it's difficult to even call them the same faith at all. How could Buddha have been so misunderstood that his followers could not agree on the most basic question of whether God exists or not, or whether that matters? (I would say yes God does exist, and yes it does matter!)

No, the right faith had to include belief in a single God, and would not involve reincarnation. It must also be historically credible. I read the about the various leaders of religions; for example, Muhammad of Islam, Joseph Smith of Mormonism and Jesus of Christianity. I was somewhat surprised by what I discovered. All claimed to have the right answer, the "only way", but Jesus was the only one who claimed to BE the only way: he claimed to BE God! Why follow mere men, who would be filled with error, instead of God himself, in whom there would be no error. Moreover, the gospel story really spoke to me in a way that the stories of Islam and Mormonism didn't. If any of these stories were true, I wanted Christianity to be true, so I figured I'd spend more time investigating it. The person of Jesus Christ struck me as being authentic, in a way that the others didn't. And I knew that it was quite impossible for ALL of these faiths to be true. If I accepted the story of Jesus, I would be NOT accepting all of the rest.

What's this "Christianity"?

Now, I in a way wanted Christianity to be true (and in a way I didn't because that might mean making changes in my life that I wasn't exactly thrilled about), but I wasn't willing to just accept anything blindly. I needed to carefully investigate the Christian faith before accepting it. In Biblical terms, Jesus said "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (Jn 20:29) but I was/am more like 'Doubting Thomas' and needed to (metaphorically) see Jesus for myself before I could believe. I had some Christian friends at the time, but I didn't tell any of them that I was reading about Christianity. Why? If I decided that Christianity wasn't true, I didn't want to have to tell them that their religion is a fairytale!

I was still wary of the church, so I didn't feel comfortable going there. I decided to buy myself a copy of the Bible and read it for myself. Not knowing much about the Bible, I started reading at the beginning like any other book I'd read. I wondered when Jesus came into the story, and after flipping around a bit I figured out the difference between the Old and New testaments. (I had assumed they would be the same, except the "Old" would be the old version of the story, and the "New" would be the modern, hip, updated version!)

That's nice, but is it true?

Knock, and ...So I continued reading, and although pretty skeptical about the many miracle stories, I was still interested enough to continue. (I also knew that if God exists, miracles are at least possible; though I had never had much confidence in them being actual before.) Over the course of three months I read most of the New Testament and a large portion of the Old Testament. In that time, I started to question (in part due to the miracles described) the historical reliability of the Bible. If this were true (that is, historically accurate) it certainly would be the "greatest story ever told". But if it weren't, it'd be no better than J.R.R Tolkien or Douglas Adams: fine fiction, but in no sense "holy", nor "history".

During this time I finally admitted to a close Christian friend that I had been studying the Bible, and had questions about its reliability. She gave me a book called Case for Christ which examines hard questions about the reliability of the Bible. I learned to my surprise that yes, there are good reasons for believing that the Bible is reliable in what it records! (My later reading has only confirmed this. The New Testament is the most scrutinized literature in the history of the world, and its reliability is unparalleled compared to all other documents from its time!)

Now I really began to struggle! In a way I wanted this amazing message to be true. But in another way, I really didn't. As unhappy as I was with my life, becoming a follower of Jesus would mean I'd have to make some changes and give up some of the sin that, frankly, I enjoyed. After about four months of daily reading and study I had come to something like an intellectual acceptance, but not an acceptance in my heart. It's one thing to make a mental assent and say "Yes, I believe that this is likely to be true", but it's quite another to make the more real decision to change a person's life course and admit that for the first 20 years of my life that I had been wrong!

Expression of a deep inner need

In early January of 2003 I decided that I'd attend an on-campus "church" service. My reasoning was that I figured this would be like going to church but not quite as weird, and that since church was part of the Christian life that I should at least see what it was like. (I was still wary of going to a "real" church at that point, fearing mainly that they wouldn't want me there! How foolish it turns out that thinking was!) The "Church in the Ring" service wasn't as weird as I thought it would be, although there was a lot of singing which I didn't really enjoy at the time, since for one thing I don't like singing and in the second place I wasn't quite sure I agreed with what they were singing about! (At least, in my heart.) But when the pastor visiting that day gave a short sermon something that he said stuck in my head. He talked about having a "wow moment" with God, an experience where God speaks to you personally. I realized that was what was stopping me from accepting Christ.

I had already rationally accepted the history and Biblical doctrine, but even then I knew that there was more to faith than simple intellectual ascent. I had never had a personal experience of God. So that same night, I prayed for God to personally come to me in some way. I didn't know what to expect, and that night I didn't experience anything.

January 14 2003, 3am

I recall that the next day was busy in terms of classes, projects, etc, but nothing really out of the ordinary happened. That night, I was up late as usual. It was nearly 3am, and I picked up my Bible to do some reading before going to bed. The Bible that I had was a NRSV Student Bible, which includes extra material like commentary and additional stories. The story that I read was as follows:

One raw winter night a farmer heard an irregular thumping sound against his kitchen storm door. He went to a window and watched as tiny, shivering sparrows, attracted to the evident warmth inside, beat in vain against the glass.

Touched, the farmer bundled up and trudged through fresh snow to open the barn door for the struggling birds. He turned on the lights and tossed some hay in the corner. But the sparrows, which had scattered in all directions when he emerged from the house, hid in the darkness, afraid.

The man tried various tactics to get them into the barn. He laid down a trail of Saltine cracker crumbs to direct them. He tried circling behind the birds to drive them to the barn. Nothing worked. He, a huge, alien creature, had terrified them; the birds couldn't comprehend that he actually desired to help. The farmer withdrew to his house and watched the doomed sparrows through a window. As he stared, a thought hit him like lightning from a clear blue sky: If only I could become a bird - one of them - just for a moment. Then I wouldn't frighten them so. I could show them the way to warmth and safety.

At the same moment, another thought dawned on him. He grasped the reason Jesus was born.
(As told by Paul Harvey)

This wasn't the first time that I read this story, but this time was different. Even before I finished reading the second paragraph, I felt emotion welling up inside of me. I didn't think much of it, and kept reading. But by the time I'd read the last sentence, I was crying.

Now, I'm not someone who cries easily. Those who know me well will know that I'm not exactly an "open book" when it comes to emotional subjects. But here I was, alone in my room at 3am, crying! I didn't know what was going on, until I remembered my prayer from the previous night. "This is crazy!" I thought. "Is God really speaking to me this way?" But I kept on crying and couldn't stop. It must've gone on for 20 minutes. During that time, I finally relented, and made a decision that would change my life. I said "Yes" to God.

I prayed, though I didn't really know what to pray for. As best as I can remember, I prayed for forgiveness for my many sins, thanked God for coming near, and asked Him to never leave. And He still hasn't to this day, despite all my missteps and failings along the way.

I eventually fell asleep. When I woke up the next day, I got up, stared out my window for a long time, and wondered what would happen now in my life. I have struggled in my faith since then, but I haven't doubted God's existence, and haven't doubted that something amazingly powerful happened on that day. That doesn't mean that everyone who comes to faith will have an experience like this; I guess God just knew that I was extra skeptical and needed some extra help to overcome my "unbelief"! Note too that my decision wasn't based only on this emotional experience; I had already came to the conclusion that there was reasonable evidence that Christianity was true, it was just this emotional event that made my faith sufficient to overcome my hesitancy, fear and apprehension.

I follow God: I follow Jesus

CrossUpon further reflection, God chose to speak to me in exactly the way that I needed, at the perfect time. God may not always work on our timetable, He isn't a genie in a bottle who performs tricks according to our whims. But His timing is always perfect. And His promises to us always come true. One of those promises is that if you seek Him, you will find Him (Matthew 7:7-8). It is today my humble prayer that you will get to know God via His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and thereby know the intense and life-changing love that God has waiting for you. My road to faith, and since, has not always been easy. But I have never been sorry that I asked God to come near, and He did. In fact, God came nearer than anyone ever expected. He came to us in person, in Jesus.

Curious about Jesus? Please check out True or False? Doubters welcome to learn more, or Paul E. Little's article Beyond Blind Faith! :)

You may also be interested in my blog, Why Faith?, in which I explore many issues related to faith, religion, secularism, philosophy, humanity, etc.

Feel like contacting me?

Please, if you have any comments, questions, or anything you want to talk to me about, please don't hesitate to contact me. Thanks for reading all the way to the end! :)

Suggested links:
Beyond Blind Faith - I'm not at all interested in 'blind faith'. Read this article for more information about why Christians believe what we do!
The Artful Dodger: A Skeptic Confronts Christianity - Several chapters from a classic book where the author confronts Christianity for the first time. (The site is a bit ugly but the content is great. Hit the "Next" button at the bottom of the page to read the next chapter(s).)
What is Christianity? - Rutgers University page which explains some of the major components of Christian faith; this one is in-depth and written in scholarly lingo.

Recommended books: (all books are at an introductory level, perfect for anyone to read!)
Finding Faith - Easy to read, practical and thoughtful introduction to issues about searching for faith.
Next Door Savior - Beautifully written. Wanna know whats so great about Jesus? Read this for a small glimpse!
Case for Christ - Respected scholars answer questions like "Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted?" and "Does Archaeology Confirm or Contradict Jesus' Biographies?".