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If Jules Verne, the author of Around the World in 80 Days, had written the story of my life, the title might have been, Around the Protestant World in 48 Years. I wasn’t a globe-trotter, but I was a church-hopper. For most of my life, I floated through the various denominations, admiring their beauty and puzzling over their differences. I joined church after church, moving from Texas to Tennessee, then to California and back to Texas, trying non-denominational, Presbyterian, Evangelical Free, American Baptist, and Southern Baptist denominations. Finally, at the age of 49, I found what I had been looking for my whole life: the Catholic Church. Strangely enough, it was the Bible that led me there.

I was born in 1961 in Topeka, Kansas, to young parents who, for unknown reasons, were unable to keep me. In July of 1962, I was adopted by an Evangelical United Brethren pastor, Charles, and his schoolteacher wife, Doris, who brought me home to their country parsonage in Camp Creek, Kansas. When I was two, my father took a senior pastorate at the Methodist church in Manhattan, Kansas. This is where I experienced my earliest joyous memories of family and church life. I remember going to church, sitting with my mother in the balcony loft as she directed the choir, and marveling at my dad in his vestments, preaching from the pulpit. We would go home afterward to the fragrant aroma of pot roast, cooking all morning in the oven. As we sat at the kitchen table for Sunday dinner, my father would read aloud from the Bible while I sat in his lap. In my child-like heart, I grasped that this big book was about God, and He loved me, like my father.

In 1969, my father became the Methodist campus minister at Ohio University in Athens. As a family of four (my little sister was adopted in 1964), we moved to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, living happily in a beautiful two-story, Colonial-style parsonage and attending the Methodist church downtown for almost ten years. As I grew up, from a child to a shy teenager, my parents, who had both left behind their Nazarene upbringings, were now questioning their traditional Methodist views. I began hearing phrases for the first time, like “self-esteem,” “feminism,” and “secular humanism.” My dad taught me how to question the religious worldview that he called “Christian Fundamentalism.” He explained that this was the literal interpretation of the Bible, and something to be avoided. Oddly, while my parents were questioning their Christian faith, I was discovering mine.

Every other Christmas we visited my maternal grandparents in Dallas, Texas, gathering with aunts, uncles, and cousins who were all Nazarene. My grandfather was a well-respected Nazarene minister, who pastored a thriving congregation in Dallas. None of my mother’s family questioned the Bible. In fact, it seemed that the Bible was the source of their peace. Theirs was a warm, inviting faith. In contrast, I felt uncertain and insecure about my beliefs. I also felt the ennui of adolescence, which soon turned into constant feelings of depression.

When I was 13, I experienced, for the first time, a supernatural joy that confirmed the presence of a real and living God. I had just finished reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. She believed in the Bible, and at the heart of her Christian faith was this man, Jesus Christ, who was also God. Printed at the end of the book was the “Sinner’s Prayer,” which was an invitation to accept Jesus as your “personal Lord and Savior.” I wanted the joy that Corrie had, so I prayed the prayer; immediately, I felt light-hearted and happy. I shared the good news with my grandparents, who said that I had been “born again.” The following Christmas, my grandfather baptized me and all of my cousins with a flask of water taken from the Jordan River during his trip to Israel.

My parents quietly tolerated my sudden inspiration, as if I would outgrow it one day. They were right — I did. Without anything except my paperback Bible, and no one to help me interpret it, I became overwhelmed by my struggle to be “good.” By the age of 14, I had given up prayer and Bible reading. I decided to experiment with other philosophies. I read pop psychology books and tried Transcendental Meditation. Yet, I could never recapture the joy I had felt after reading Corrie Ten Boom’s book, or the sweet feeling of forgiveness that had swept over me when my grandfather had sprinkled my head with water from the Jordan River.

In 1978, we made our final geographic move as a family. My father took a position as a campus minister at Texas A&I University in Kingsville, Texas. My sister and I joined a small Methodist church, where we were welcomed by a young, magnetic pastor. I had already learned to question the Bible, so I didn’t care much for the sermons or Sunday school. The youth group became the center of our lives. After our youth meetings, we would go out for pizza, movies, and parties. That’s where I fell in love with Dennis. While I still had many doubts, Dennis had a strong faith in Jesus. After I graduated from high school, we began dating. The summer I was 19, we volunteered together to be camp counselors for “troubled kids” at a Methodist campsite in the “hill country” of Texas.

We never made it to the camp. On the way, we were involved in a tragic car accident on a winding, rural road in the darkness of the night. Sadly, Dennis was killed instantly. Besides cuts and bruises, the greatest injury that I received was a bisected quadricep in my left leg, which required major surgery. While recovering from surgery and grieving the loss of Dennis, I decided to apply to Mid-America Nazarene College in Olathe, Kansas, where all of my Nazarene cousins were going. In the midst of my pain, I longed for the familiar comforts of my childhood, and the faith of my grandfather.

In the fall of 1981, with a full leg cast and crutches, I went to Olathe. I was immediately attracted to the joy of the students and faculty. Yet my heart was still rebellious. I skipped mandatory chapel services and argued with other students about the Bible.

It was during one of those cantankerous conversations that I was shaken from my arrogance. After class, I happened to overhear two students discussing the topic of “sin.” I jumped in with my defiant, anti-Christian bias. They quoted Scriptures to back up their arguments, and I ripped apart each one. Finally, the young man asked me, “Do you believe in the Bible?” I said, “No.” Then he said in a gentle voice, “We really don’t have a common foundation for this discussion. We believe the Bible is the Word of God, and you don’t.” With that, they turned and walked away. I was shocked! Never had anyone disengaged like that from an argument with me.

After two semesters, I left Mid-America. The summer after I returned to Texas to live with my parents, I still felt the familiar sorrow and emptiness that had driven me to Olathe. I kept remembering the joy I had seen on the faces of the students at Mid-America, and their faith, which was so certain. I knew they believed in Jesus and the literal interpretation of the Bible. Was it their faith that made them happy? One night, while alone in the house, I cried out to God:

God … you know that I don’t believe in the Bible. Well, maybe parts of the New Testament, but definitely not the Old Testament! Anyway, God … if Jesus is real … if He’s really real … please help me!

Strangely, in my moment of complete honesty and helplessness, the despair lifted. I went to bed feeling happy for the first time since Dennis had died. When I awakened, I was still happy. I must really be a Christian, I thought. What do I do next, I wondered? A Scripture verse came to mind:

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (NRSV Matthew 6:6).

I found a Bible on a bookshelf in the den and sat down on the floor of my bedroom closet. This time, I had the stamina and fortitude to keep reading. I lived with my parents for the next two years and worked at a local radio station. I was a clandestine “Fundamentalist Christian,” reading the Bible in my closet and watching Christian television programming late at night after they went to bed. Sadly, my newfound faith caused tension and many arguments between me and my dad.

Finally, I left Kingsville for the University of Texas in Austin and pursued a degree in Broadcast Journalism. To pay my bills, I got a job at a Christian radio station. There, I met a young man named Paul, who was a Christian rock musician with a quirky sense of humor and a strong faith. He believed that worship music ushered us into the presence of God, causing the Holy Spirit to “fall” upon us. I was curious about these strange new ideas and started attending his non-denominational church. The worship service was different from anything I had ever experienced. People raised their hands and closed their eyes, swaying to the sounds of electric guitars and drums. I felt an emotional connection with Jesus that I had never had before. I kept going back to the non-denominational church with Paul, eager for what they called, “the move of the Holy Spirit.”

During the spring, Paul and I began seriously dating one another, and by mid-summer, he had asked me to marry him. We were wed at the non-denominational church we attended on November 30, 1985, with my grandfather and father officiating. In 1987, our daughter, Evangeline, was born. When my husband was offered a brief tour with a Christian band in 1990, we took a “step of faith” and moved to Nashville, Tennessee.

There, we found a growing non-denominational congregation of 500 people, tucked away among pine forests in the rolling hills of the Tennessee Valley. The music was similar, but more professional, with Nashville musicians and singers performing to perfection; however, the focus was the sermon. The pastor delved methodically into the Scripture, interpreting it line by line, precept by precept. He explained the connections between the Old and New Testaments, weaving the Scripture into a seamless garment of faith and beauty that made sense. The four years we spent at that church were marvelous. I joined several women’s Bible studies, purchased a Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words and the Strong’s Concordance, and plunged into exegesis of the Greek and Hebrew. Through an intellectual pursuit of Scripture knowledge, my faith in Christ grew.

Shortly after our son, Clyde, was born in 1992, we experienced our first church split. I still don’t know what the issues were that caused deacons and elders to disagree, but in the end, almost 200 people left the non-denominational church in the Tennessee Valley, including us. We fled to a tiny non-denominational congregation of about 50 people, meeting in a storefront. This was a church that emphasized physical and emotional healing. Every Sunday there were “healing lines” where people came to the altar for the pastor or others to pray for them with a “laying on of hands.”

Then, in 1995, our daughter, Joy, was born. She was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic and fatal disease. We followed the doctor’s instructions, with medications and hospitalizations. The prognosis was good, but she would require constant medical care. Even though I believed that God would one day heal our daughter, I did not agree with the pastor’s teachings about healing. He taught that if we had enough faith, she would be healed instantly. This didn’t square with my understanding of Scripture, nor did it comport with our reality. That’s when we started visiting a nearby non-denominational church that was 3,000 members strong. I was relieved to be able to “blend in” with the crowd. My husband served on the worship team. I didn’t attend any Bible studies because I was too busy as a stay-at-home mom, raising three beautiful children.

Two years later, we were shocked when this church went through a split. Friends began to leave in droves. By this point, we were tired of church upheavals, so we followed a few of our closest friends to a quiet Reformed Presbyterian church nearby. I was hoping for something more traditional, like the Methodist church I had grown up in. I wasn’t disappointed. The 30-minute sermons were intelligent and biblically sound. We sang from hymnals and followed the roadmap printed in the bulletin. In one hour, we were home, eating dinner.

A few months later, my husband was offered a position as worship pastor at an American Baptist congregation in California, and we moved from Tennessee to the North Bay. My husband led worship at three separate American Baptist congregations. These were happy years of living near Paul’s parents and family, of being a homemaker and homeschool mom. I continued to read the Bible during my morning “quiet times” and grew in my understanding of Scripture through the sermons and Bible studies of the American Baptist congregations.

In 2004, our lives came full circle. We returned to Texas, where my parents and sister’s family still lived. My husband had been offered a worship pastor position at an Assemblies of God church in Austin. Unlike the previous five years of stable church situations, the next six years would be a whirlwind of church hopping. Shortly after we arrived at the Assemblies of God, there was a painful church split. We had unwittingly walked into a contentious situation. As the church crumbled around us and people left, my husband began seeking a new position elsewhere. We were grateful when he was offered a job by a non-denominational church in southeast Texas, which had a dynamic and growing congregation. What we didn’t know until we got there was that the pastor, who was considered an “Apostle,” steered the church based on his personal visions which he believed were from God. This was a new form of church leadership for us, and we were uncomfortable. After a few months, Paul was offered a part-time worship pastor position for an Evangelical Free church, and we moved back to the Central Texas area. In 2007, he secured a full- time position as worship pastor for a very large Southern Baptist congregation in Killeen. We bought our first home in a nearby community, thirty miles away.

In all of the churches we had attended, I found godly people and formed loving friendships. Yet, by the time we began attending the Baptist church in Killeen, I had begun to seriously ponder the discrepancies between Protestant groups. My knowledge of Scripture was my reference for analyzing the differences. What surprised me most was that we all had the same Bible, yet, we couldn’t agree on fundamental issues of doctrine. Was baptism by sprinkling or immersion? Was church government by monarchy or democracy or elder-councils or something else? Were there still Apostles today, or not? Were we, “once saved, always saved,” or could sin affect our salvation?

I began a methodical review of all the churches we had been part of, asking, “How could the Holy Spirit give different interpretations of Scripture to different groups, when Jesus wanted us to be ‘one’?” (Jn 17:11). There wasn’t any authority to whom we could turn to interpret Scripture, except for ourselves. Occasionally, we would find a pastor or church that reflected our views, but as soon as we differed, there was a split. My review brought me to this stunning revelation: without agreement on truth — and a recognized authority to interpret it — there would never be the unity that Jesus promised.

Finally, one day, while washing dishes at the kitchen sink, I prayed the most drastic and dangerous prayer of my entire life.

“Lord,” I said, “I cannot find a church that displays the unity you promised in the Bible. Perhaps that church exists somewhere — maybe in the distant past; maybe in another country, far away; or in the unseen future. Regardless, I can’t find it here and now.”I cannot find a church that displays the unity you promised in the Bible. Perhaps that church exists somewhere — maybe in the distant past; maybe in another country, far away; or in the unseen future. Regardless, I can’t find it here and… Click To Tweet

Then, with fear and trepidation and tears, I whispered these words, “Lord, I am removing my membership from today’s church. I belong to none of them; I only belong to Jesus Christ.”

At my moment of deepest desperation, God began to move in miraculous ways. It was almost as if He had been waiting for me to say those words. Within weeks, Paul and I had reconnected with our dear friends, Phillip and Caroline, meeting with them at their farm, sharing food, fellowship, music, and laughter. Our children enjoyed being with theirs, running through the tall grass and wildflowers, catching fireflies and playing tag. Interestingly, Phillip and Caroline, who had worshipped with us in our younger years in Austin, had recently converted to the Catholic Church. Although they rarely spoke of their conversion when we were with them, their quiet and peaceful manner impressed me. One day, I asked Phillip, “What do Catholics think about us Protestants?” He answered, “We love our Protestant brothers and sisters. We’re sad because we wish that they could experience the fullness in the Catholic Church.” His answer troubled me. What was this “fullness” that I didn’t already have?

In the fall of that year, our daughter, Joy, underwent a lengthy hospitalization. Caroline came to see us, and while her daughter visited with mine in the room, Caroline and I took walks in the gardens outside. Finally, I mustered the courage to ask questions about the Catholic Church. I wanted to know about the “fullness,” which Phillip had alluded to. Caroline said that this was the Eucharist, which she explained as the “Real Presence” — the bread and wine actually becoming the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. This excited me. I asked her about other Catholic doctrines concerning healing, vocations, and discerning the will of God. Her answers mirrored many of my own beliefs, drawn from years of reading Scripture. My heart brimmed with hope. I blurted out to her, “I think I must have always had a Catholic-shaped heart!”I think I must have always had a Catholic-shaped heart! Click To Tweet

After she left, I returned to the hospital room, and while Joy took a shower, I turned on the TV. Earlier, I had seen the face of a nun on one of the channels. The program had seemed boring at the time, but after my conversation with Caroline, I wanted to hear what this nun had to say. I found the channel — EWTN. But instead of the nun, there was a program called The Journey Home, with a host who was a former Protestant pastor, Marcus Grodi. I don’t remember who he was interviewing; I only remember feeling incredulous joy as I heard the guest tell his story about coming home to the Catholic Church. I quickly turned off the channel when Joy entered the room, not wanting to concern her with my personal spiritual struggles. But when I lay down on the cot beside her hospital bed that night, I prayed silently, “Lord, are you calling me to the Catholic Church?” I didn’t hear an audible voice, but I felt a sudden surge of electric energy coursing through my body, as if the Holy Spirit could hardly contain Himself with the joy of confirming my prayer with, “Yes!”

I spent the next year studying the Catholic Church. I discovered that She had the truth contained in the Bible (73 books recognized as the canon of the Catholic Church as compared to the Protestants’ 66) and in Tradition (other writings and practices of early Christians). She also had a recognized authority called the Magisterium, vested in the Pope and bishops, who were charged to protect the truth from heresy, and to interpret it through doctrines, dogmas, and teachings. Because of the truth and authority of the Catholic Church, there was a true unity — all Catholics, worldwide, celebrated Mass together in the same way, and read from the same Catechism (a compendium of Church teachings).

I decided to begin the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at a nearby Catholic parish. My husband was still leading worship at the Southern Baptist church where I played the piano for the worship team. Wednesday nights I went to RCIA and Saturday nights I attended Mass but did not receive the Eucharist. Sunday mornings, I played the piano at the Baptist church. I was a clandestine Catholic-seeker, and we kept it a secret. We faced the real possibility that if I became Catholic, my husband would lose his job. As we got closer to Easter, I became frightened by the great sacrifice that becoming Catholic might require. I begged God to let me just be a “closet Catholic.” After all, couldn’t I just read the Scripture and the Catholic Catechism? Couldn’t I pray the Rosary on my own? What more did I need? Then, I thought about the Eucharist. Only through the Eucharist could I fulfill John 6:56-59. Would I risk it all for that?

I was thinking these thoughts one day while driving alone on the highway. There was a flatbed truck in front of me, carrying a hodge-podge of furniture strapped to the back. All of a sudden, a large table flew off the back of the truck, landing upside down. I slowed my car quickly as it slid towards me, thinking I would hit it. I watched incredulously as it suddenly veered to the right side of the road, coming to land in the gravel. As I passed the upside- down table, I was amazed. I realized that this was God’s sign to me. It was as if He were bringing the “table” to me. In my heart, I knew that Jesus Himself was truly there under the appearance of bread and wine. How could I walk away from Him? If for no other reason than the Eucharist, “the source and summit of our faith,” I would make the decision to risk it all to become Catholic.

Easter of 2010 I was joyously confirmed in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church and received the Eucharist. The Baptists still thought that I was a Baptist, but I was really Catholic! I continued living a double lifestyle, hoping and praying that my husband would join me in the leap of faith. But he did not. In 2011 he asked for a divorce.I lost my husband, home, and many friends to become Catholic. Click To Tweet

I lost my husband, home, and many friends to become Catholic. Yet, I’ve chosen to remain Catholic, and to be faithful to my marriage vows in hope of my husband’s return one day. I wear my wedding ring as an example to our children of the faithfulness of Christ, who never abandons us. I continue to grow in my faith through the sacraments, attending a nearby parish. Thankfully, my parents accepted my Catholic conversion, and my father actually credited the Catholic Church for helping me and our children through my painful divorce. The argumentative relationship my father and I had for many years was healed after I became Catholic, and in the last eight years of his life, we counted one another as the best of friends.

I am thankful for the years of church hopping, because it was those pastors and teachers in various denominations who opened my mind to the Scripture. They gave me a solid Christian foundation. And I still have a few Protestant friends. Yet, it was my deep study of the Bible that finally led me to the “fullness” that Phillip had described. I discovered the Catholic Church, and the Eucharist, the pearl of great price that I had been seeking my entire life.

Kira Cuipek

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, KIRA CIUPEK remembers a happy childhood spent in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in southeastern Ohio. She credits her parents for providing her with a grace-filled Christian upbringing in the Methodist Church, where she was baptized and confirmed. The family moved to Texas in 1978, and after graduating from high school, Kira got her first job as news director at a country music radio station in South Texas. Her radio career led her to pursue a degree in broadcast journalism at the University of Texas in Austin. It was there that she fell in love with a handsome young man, a co-worker, who would later become her husband. In 1985, they were married. Over the next ten years, their family expanded to include three children. Kira has worked from home as a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom. Kira’s journey to- wards the Catholic Church began in 2009, after years of Prot- estant church-hopping with her family, which included cross- country moves from Texas to Tennessee, then to California and back to Texas. Kira was confirmed in the Catholic Church in 2010, and today she is the mother of three grown-ups, and spends her time tutoring college students and writing stories un- der the pen name of Kira Marie McCullough.

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