I was born in Decatur, Texas, to a young couple that had started their lives together at an early age. My grandparents on both my father’s side and my mother’s side were Assemblies of God ministers. At a very early age, I was exposed to the Holy Bible, and life was centered around God and church.
My father and mother began youth pastoring at an Assemblies of God (AG) church when I was very young. Later, they became pastors, as well. This deepened my roots in the AG faith, as all my family members were ministers of the Gospel.
We were obviously active in church; as the pastors and youth pastors, we attended every service on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, and every revival possible. I loved church as a child. It was my favorite place to be. My grandparents on my father’s side had a strong musical background and sang and played the piano at church. We loved to sit around and play and sing gospel music and church hymns while at their house. They would keep my siblings, cousins, and me for weeks at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and during the summer vacation. We loved being with them and attending their church services.
One thing that stands out growing up this church is the “good time” we would have in services if someone was to give a message in tongues or be slain in the spirit. It seemed as though the level of “satisfaction” stemmed from how everyone in the congregation was moved. I did not know it then, but this would be one major hinge much later in life for me.
For all have sinned
My father had fallen prey to a sinful life during his time as a pastor. The flesh seemed to win out over the spirit multiple times throughout his time serving as a leader of God, and ultimately led to his demise as an AG minister. My father was crushed for having his license revoked as an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God. Though very deserved, it seemed as though the “church” was turning their back on someone and was quickly forgetting the message of forgiveness from Matthew 18:21, which was regularly preached. In 2000, my parents began filing for divorce, as the sin had ruined their marriage. Now, what they had preached against for years would manifest itself in their own lives. This was the beginning of a breakdown of “religious” beliefs and practices in our home.
“Shepherd of People” or “People of Shepherds”?
In 1994, when I was four, my paternal grandfather was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Despite being diagnosed with cancer and facing the trials and tribulations that cancer brought out, my grandfather remained a faithful servant of the Lord and his faith remained unshaken. At such an early age, I had no idea how instrumental his walk with God would be in my life. In the year 2000, my grandfather was healed and became cancer free. This was our own little miracle witnessed, and I was so thankful that I was going to have many more years with my “De-dad.” In 2000, despite the great news of my grandfather being pronounced cancer free, it was time for his church in Arkansas to vote on whether they wanted him as their leader or not. The votes came in, and 24 members voted to keep him, 14 members voted to oust him from the church, and two members left their ballots blank. My family was devastated by the results of the election. My grandfather had built this church and continued to suffer through the pain and agony of cancer while still shepherding his flock. Now, the flock was trying to run the shepherd from the church. This bothered me growing up, as I knew it shouldn’t be that way. Little did I know, it would be another issue that would draw me closer to Catholicism. Within the next year, despite the church not being able to vote my grandfather out as pastor, he resigned and moved to Texas where he pastored another Assemblies of God church.
By this time, my parents were divorced and were living separate lives. My parents had fallen away from church, and we were no longer attending anywhere. My mother and father were not raising us in church due to all the hurt and pain they had suffered through their ministry and marriage. I remember thinking multiple times that I would probably never be back in church, since I didn’t feel the need to go, and we were getting along just fine without the “religious” institution in our lives. My father eventually remarried, and we began attending a Church of Christ church when it was convenient, yet not on a faithful basis. I never considered myself a member of the Church of Christ, as I wanted to feel the “Spirit” more at church, like I had been taught to want and desire at such an early age.
While in high school, I began dating this quiet girl who was a Catholic. Our relationship was serious, and we dated all through high school and college. I became very close to her family, as well, because they were a very strong family with good family values, which I respected and loved. Her entire family was raised Catholic. After dating for several years, in 2010 I attended my first Mass on Ash Wednesday. I was shocked at how much the church service resembled that of the Church of Christ, though still different. I didn’t think too much about the service, and left without strong feelings one way or the other.
I attended Mass every so often with my girlfriend’s family, mainly on special holidays and occasional Sundays. I still was less than concerned with the Church, its teachings, or anything related to becoming Catholic. After all, they worshiped Mary and the saints, they had no “Spirit” in their services, and I just couldn’t attend church without any “Spirit.”
In 2011, I graduated from college and knew I was ready to marry my girlfriend. I took a job and began working while she was still finishing college. In 2012, I had asked for her hand in marriage, and we were to be wed the following year. I was actually going to marry a Catholic.
Learning more about the Catholic Faith
I had always known it was important to raise your children in the Christian faith, and I wanted a strong relationship with God in my life to exemplify for my children. Although I had no children and was not even married yet, I knew that the day would come, and I wanted to be open to the idea of different denominations. I remember one day just wanting to learn about Catholicism. I was getting married in the Catholic Church; therefore, I thought I should learn about the Faith to be ready for all my Protestant family’s objections.
I had this unexpected desire to learn the Catholic Faith. I called the priest of a local Catholic Church and told him I wanted to learn more about Catholicism. He told me that he didn’t have an RCIA class at the moment, since there were no new converts at the current time. However, he offered to meet with me one-on-one and I agreed. I remember in our first meeting announcing to him, “I am only here to learn, and I don’t want you thinking I’m becoming Catholic.” He assured me there was no pressure, and he would just answer any questions I might have. He assigned the book Christ Among Us: A Modern Presentation of the Catholic Faith for Adults for me to read and study.
I began reading the very first night he gave me a copy of the book. I read and planned on having weekly meetings with the priest to discuss my readings and my questions. I began to have a clear understandings of all the Catholic teachings. I would write down multiple questions, and the priest would lead me to Scripture and describe each of the Catholic practices/beliefs and how they came to be. I remember him complimenting me in one of our meetings, telling me that he looked forward to my visits every week, as I challenged him. He said he couldn’t wait to see what questions I might have for him. I took great pride in being able to question the priest, and also understand more clearly every time I left his office.
Cancer strikes again
Unfortunately, in 2011 my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer again. This time it was basal cell carcinoma. He had to miss my college graduation, and his life was beginning to change drastically. The cancer spread throughout his body, and he had an operation on his vocal chords so that he could barely speak above a whisper. He was the best man I have ever known, and his walk with God was so admirable and respectable. I remember contemplating multiple times, “How does this happen to such a wonderful and loving man?”
Then I stumbled upon an answer that changed my outlook completely. I began reading about the Catholic Church’s teachings on original sin. In all my years of AG catechism, this was something that had never been explained or taught to me. It seemed as though my family struggled with this issue, as well. Nobody could seem to grasp and understand why such an amazing man was suffering so much for so long. I remember in church when we were anointing the sick, people proclaiming the Scripture, “By his stripes we are healed;” no one seemed to understand why my grandfather wasn’t being healed. I remember a conversation in which one of my relatives stated: “As Christians we are privileged to special treatment and blessings that non-believers aren’t. He is going to be healed because he’s a good man.”
This struck me as odd because if this were the case, everyone that was a Christian would be healed, and there would be no sickness, no pain, no sorrow, no suffering. I began to really pray for the discernment of the Holy Spirit to lead me to an answer. One day, I decided to read the Scripture verses that dealt with healed. I read Isaiah 53:5, which explains that “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.” I remember thinking what better healing is there then to rest for Eternal Life in God’s presence? What a way to end a long and faithful journey. God sent His only Son to die on the cross and to shed His Precious Blood for us, so that we can live with him forever in Eternity. I found a quote from Pope St. Gregory the Great that says: “There the greater shall be our Joy, the more we have suffered here below.”
I had such a peace come over me about my grandfather. I felt like I had answers that I never had before, all due to the explanation of original sin. Man is not born into this world without sin, and because of that we will struggle, and have aches and pains. But one day, through our walk with Christ, those struggles will be no more.
My grandfather passed away May 29, 2013, which was one of the saddest days of my life. However, I am at peace knowing he served his life here on earth trying to build the Kingdom of God. I am so thankful to have been blessed with such a wonderful person in my life, who, not only lead his household, but also lead many others to Christ.
The last steps
I attended Mass more regularly during my conversion process, and another beauty drew me closer to the church. Increasingly, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as everyone knelt during the Eucharistic prayers. I thought to myself, “What reverence for the Body and Blood of Christ!” It was a peaceful feeling as I looked at the Crucifix of Jesus in the church and thought about His suffering and pain, all for people like myself to be saved.
I felt the Real Presence of the Lord in the Catholic Church. At the center of its concentration, was the Eucharist — the real Body and Blood of Christ — respected and upheld like Jesus commanded: “Do this, as often as you do it in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25). I remembered thinking back as a child to all of those “great services” we had where people danced and shouted and sang to the rooftops. It hit me like a ton of bricks that while those gifts of the spirit are wonderful, what more beautiful gift did God give us than His own precious Son? Every Mass, we celebrate the fact that we are saved because of Jesus’s Blood and Body — the ultimate sacrifice. I did not observe any speaking in tongues or people being slain in the Spirit; rather, a participation in Jesus’ perfect sacrifice.
I began to more fully grasp the teachings of the Catholic Church. Through the rest of my conversion, I was seeking answers to some of the typical Protestant questions, which I received from the priest and from Scripture. I learned about the prayers of people in Heaven (Revelation 5:8) and found peace in knowing that God was the God of the living, and not of the dead (Matthew 22:32). I knew that God was providing me with the answers, and that I was learning the faith just as He intended. The more I learned and studied, the more I became a believer in the teachings of the Catholic Church.I was confirmed into the Church at the Easter Vigil in 2013, and we were married September of that year. I am now an active member of St. Michael’s Church in Van Buren, AR, where I reside with my wife, Jessica. We intend to raise our children in the Faith and be very active in our parish as well as the Catholic community.