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The Spiritual Journey

Don Newville January 18, 2011 4 Comments

Ruth and I were born into Protestant families, raised in the church, and “saved” at an early age. Eventually I was ordained as an Assembly of God minister, and we served eight years in missions, five of them in Africa. Our desire has been to please God in all we do.

We have sought Him and served Him wholeheartedly. We never dreamed, therefore, that there would come a time when we would decide that we could no longer continue in the Protestant ministry or even remain Protestant. Even though we were a mere three years short of retirement, we decided to give up our ministry and means of support to join the Catholic Church.

Why would anyone in his right mind want to do that? Let me try to show you that what we did was God’s will for us. My hope is that it will spark your interest to study these matters further.

Early Years

I should have been born in a log cabin, but it burned down the year before I was born. My parents were small-time dairy farmers with lots of kids. The ninth of eleven, I was born on July 9, 1940.

By age fourteen, I was “saved,” baptized, and confirmed. I graduated from high school in May 1958. My career goal was to enter the ministry in our Evangelical United Brethren denomination. I enrolled at Wisconsin State College in Eau Claire because I heard they had a good pre-seminary course, and it was close to home.

In my second year of college I met Ruth. She was American Baptist, a seriously committed Christian, who wanted a good Christian husband. We fell madly in love and were married on May 28, 1960. Before I proposed, however, she had to agree to go with me wherever God would lead us, even to Africa if necessary. She gladly agreed. Forty-two years later, she still agrees.

In June 1968, I graduated with a Master of Science in social work. I had specialized in administration and supervision, and I worked in those kinds of positions for many years thereafter. The first of these was in Milwaukee. There we found our EUB pastor from six years earlier. He had transferred to a small United Methodist church near our new home. The EUB had merged with the Methodist Church to become the United Methodist denomination.

In June 1971, we moved back to our home area, where I took a social work supervisor position in a rural county. We wanted to get our three children away from the evils of the big city. I kept that job for nine years, and we raised our children on a farm.

Joining the Lutherans

A neighbor lady invited us to the nearby Lutheran church, and we became active members. We liked the pastor and the people. One Sunday afternoon, our three children were baptized.

We thought Marie was still too young, but since Lutherans baptize infants, we went along with it. But spiritually, I still didn’t know what to believe. The Lutherans had a liturgy, which was a new experience for us. They read their prayers. We had been taught that prayer should be spontaneous, but their doctrine was biblical enough to satisfy our Evangelical beliefs about Jesus.

Another event, three years later, would seal the deal. Our Lutheran pastor became Spirit-filled and invited another Lutheran to preach in our church. He taught about the Holy Spirit and prayed for people to be baptized in the Spirit.

This was all new to us. But it was in our own Lutheran church, all very orderly, and nothing like what we had heard about Pentecostals. On the last night, Ruth, our teenage son, and I went up for prayer and received the Holy Spirit. It was an event that changed our lives.

After becoming Spirit-filled, my old call to the ministry resurfaced. Could it be we were still supposed to be in ministry? I explored seminaries.

My Lutheran pastor gave me information about Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. I considered the United Methodist seminary. I visited a Pentecostal school in Anaheim. I thought about Oral Roberts University. None of these seemed right.

In June 1980, Ruth and I visited a Bible school in Tulsa and attended its Sunday night service. That night we became convinced that God had called us to missions and that we should attend the school’s two-year missions program. Ruth and I made an application the next morning and a few weeks later, we were accepted. We resigned our jobs and community positions, listed our farm for sale, rented a Ryder truck, and moved to Tulsa.

So now where should we go to church? What could be a reliable guide? We decided that a church pastored by a graduate of our Bible school would be a safe bet.

We found one and started attending. It wasn’t quiet and orderly like our Lutheran church, but they had the Spirit. They were independent and answered to no one. We soon left for another congregation and then another, all the while searching for truth and authority.

Some fellow graduates of the Bible school and members of our church were moving to Hawaii to plant a Faith Church. We had heard that Hawaii, despite its great attraction for tourists, was a very dark place spiritually. They asked us to join them.

So in January 1983, we made our first visit to Hawaii. The couple we followed there made an attempt to start a church, gave up in a few weeks, and soon returned to Oklahoma and got divorced. We were finally cured of independent churches.

I was convinced we needed a church that had some structure and a firm belief system. It could not be everyone making up his own belief system. I thought an older, established church would be better, but not so old that it had grown cold and unspiritual. We started attending the First Assembly of God. The Assemblies of God denomination (AOG) had a history of more than seventy years, a long time in Pentecostal circles.

Over the years, I engaged in many ministries at First Assembly of God, including prison ministry, Communion deacon (the big task here was to fill eighteen hundred little cups with grape juice once a month), van deacon, counselor, teacher, and board member. After our children left home, we spent most of our non-working time in these various ministries.

In 1992, I decided to apply for licensing by the Assemblies of God. The denomination accepted my Bible school courses, much to my surprise. I had to complete a couple of correspondence courses, but in April 1993, I was licensed to preach.

Africa and Home Again

In early 1994, our interim pastor asked me to teach for three months at an AOG Bible school in Uganda. When we returned home, we were asked if we would return for a two-year term. We agreed, and in December 1994, we left our jobs, sold our condo and car, gave away many things, and moved to Uganda.

In Uganda, we were troubled by the great diversity of Christian teachings. Ugandans were struggling so hard to recover from years of civil war. Instead of working together, each Protestant group was promoting its own particular brand of the Gospel.

Some of my Bible school students were United Methodist, and they seemed just as holy as the Assembly of God students. Yet the two church groups could not work together. In April 1999, we felt we had done what we could in Uganda and moved back to First Assembly in Hawaii. The Hawaii District of the Assemblies of God ordained me at its district council the week we arrived. It could have been done a few years earlier, but I was out of the country.

During one of our annual visits to America, in March 1998, I began to read stories by converts to the Catholic Church. Our Lutheran son had joined the Catholic Church after marrying a Catholic. He had studied long and hard before converting, and I was still looking for something more than I was finding in the Assemblies, so I was open to learning why he had switched churches.

We attended Mass with him and his wife. While I knew nothing about Catholic doctrine, other than the usual Protestant misconceptions I had picked up, I was drawn to the liturgy. I thought it was beautiful and full of God.

One of the books in my son’s large collection was Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic by David B. Currie. It was the story of the author’s spiritual journey to the Catholic Church. He carefully explained the doctrines and why he agreed with them. This book unsettled me. Curie’s spiritual background was similar to mine in many ways.

On my next visit, I read Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn. I had never heard of them before, but their book affected me. Surprised by Truth, edited by Patrick Madrid, really did surprise me as I read many conversion stories by people who I thought should have known better. But I was beginning to have serious doubts about my AG faith. Nevertheless, I faithfully continued in my ministry.

EWTN and CHNI

When we returned to the States in 1999, we once again had television and even cable. I discovered Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN, impressed even Ruth, who until this time had ignored my inquiry into the Church. On EWTN, I also discovered the Journey Home program, where Marcus Grodi, a former Protestant pastor and now Catholic convert, interviews other converts.

The first time I saw this program, I knew in my spirit that my Protestantism was in trouble. I don’t remember who his guest was, but those guys had something I needed. I discovered that the Internet had mushroomed while we were in Africa, and I found the website of the Coming Home Network International, an organization established to aid Protestant clergy and laity in their exploration of the Catholic Church.

Posted on its website are many conversion stories, and I read them all. Another feature was an email discussion group, and I soon joined it. After lurking for a while, I dared to ask some questions, but I used my middle name. I wasn’t ready to have my church know about my inquiry, and I didn’t know who might be reading the list.

One of my first questions to the group was about praying to the saints. I had been taught that we cannot, and should not, talk to the earthly dead who are now living in heaven. God is against that. And besides, how could they hear us? There is no telephone hookup.

Someone answered that the Holy Spirit conveys the prayers from us to them. Now, how could a good Pentecostal argue with that? Certainly, if God can hear us, and the Holy Spirit is God, and God is everywhere, then why can’t He tell the residents of heaven what our prayer requests are? And if we can ask believers here on earth to pray for us, as we all do, then why not ask those in heaven to do the same? I thought of it as God’s email system, with the Holy Spirit as the moderator.

This concept of praying to the saints opened the door to understanding requests to Mary. After all, who would be in a better position to intercede for us than the mother of Jesus? Since she was always close to Jesus during His earthly ministry, certainly she would be close to Him now. Just as she asked Him to solve the problem of the wine at the wedding feast, so now she would ask Him to meet our needs. And He would grant His mother’s request just as He did then.

In the spring of 2000, I taught a course at a Bible school in Hawaii. The course was “Twentieth-Century Pentecost.” In studying the Pentecostal movement that I had been involved in for almost twenty-five years, I discovered great instability. Each leader had his or her personal belief system. They fought bitterly while forming hundreds of “nondenominational” denominations. There was great fervor, many conversions, and healing miracles. But it always seemed to end in fights and confusion.

Objections Overcome

Then, in the fall of that year, I taught a course on the nature and character of God. The text we used was quite a theological study and quoted many early Catholic Church writers. I not only learned about the nature and character of God but some history of the Church as well.

It moved me closer to the Catholic faith. Still studying about the Catholic Church, watching EWTN, and participating in the Coming Home Network International discussion list, I was more and more impressed with the doctrinal stability, morality, and authority of Catholics.

Visiting our son again in August 2000, I read and reread some of his books. He and I discussed the issues. Again we attended Mass and the local Catholic charismatic prayer group.

One by one, my objections to the Catholic Church were being overcome. For the first time we discussed converting. Ruth wasn’t in favor of it and said if I converted, I would probably be going to church alone. I was not in favor of that.

In June 2001, we decided to resign our position in Hawaii and return to our home state of Wisconsin. During the weeks between submitting our resignation notice and leaving our church, Ruth went off to our son’s home in Florida for the birth of our second Catholic grandson. While there for one month, she did some Catholic reading for the first time.

She chose Rome Sweet Home. Reading the Hahns’ story, she decided that if I converted, she would also. She didn’t want to be spiritually separated as they had been.

But while I was still finishing up in Hawaii, First Assembly prevailed upon me to return to Uganda for at least six months. I had left there in March 1999 and visited in March 2000 and January 2001. I knew the need was great and no one else was available to go. So after moving the family back to Wisconsin, we somewhat reluctantly returned to foreign missions.

I bought Surprised by Truth 2 by Patrick Madrid and brought it along. While there, I read it through twice, and Ruth read most of it. Fifteen people tell their stories in this book.

Some were former Catholics who returned after years as Protestants. Others were lifelong Protestants. They each tell how God drew them to the Catholic Church and explained many of the doctrinal issues.

To my surprise, the Internet had improved greatly in Uganda, and it was possible to receive the Coming Home Network International email discussion list. It provided daily discussions of issues that concern potential converts. I also brought along the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read it all the way through.

This book contains the official Vatican-approved beliefs of the Church. I had bought it a year earlier and had read parts of it. I was surprised to find that the basis of the teaching was the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds that I had learned way back in Lutheran confirmation and had reaffirmed at the end of my Bible school training.

In Hawaii, I took notes from the Catechism and preached a series of sermons on the creeds. There was nothing that conflicted with our Assembly of God beliefs in the discussion of the Creeds. The material is well-presented and easy to follow. Hearing what Catholics themselves had to say about what they believed was much different from hearing the Protestant version of what the Catholics believed.

Problems With Protestant Teaching and Practice

Settling back in Uganda, I was distressed by the problems in the churches that we had left behind. Without consistent leadership, much of what we had left in place had fallen apart. The other Protestant churches in the area were experiencing many disputes about doctrines, and great error and corruption were rampant.

New little churches were springing up everywhere. Each one in its own eyes was right and better than the others. With my almost-Catholic eyes, I saw a fragmented, confused group of churches all competing with each other for members and money. It was not a pretty sight.

Nevertheless, the Gospel and love of Jesus does go forth, and some souls are saved from the fires of hell. But I could see that there had to be a more lasting, more effective way. I noticed that the Catholics had a large church on each end of our town while there were over sixty little Protestant churches. Now I was beginning to understand why.

During our inquiry into the Catholic Church, we were looking for the whole truth and nothing but the truth. To our dismay, we discovered that Protestants have lost or purposely discarded several major benefits of the New Covenant. What the Catholic Church had recognized as truth was reevaluated by the protesters, who had to make things fit their new “each one is his own authority” belief system.

Who gave them the authority to overrule the Church Fathers? As I studied these, I could see no valid reasons for discarding these truths.

Authority was the biggest issue. From childhood I had witnessed bitter wrangling over doctrines and morals among church members. Once the issue of who has the authority to decide these things is settled, everything else falls into place.

Who should make decisions in the Church? Who can be trusted to do it right? Such questions had plagued me for a long time.

I began to see that Peter and the other Apostles had been given the authority to run the Church, and that they had passed this authority on to their successors. I found great comfort in that. From the very beginning, as shown in the book of Acts, the Apostles made decisions on the issues and sometimes held councils to assist in the process.

I had chosen the Assemblies of God because it was at least seventy years old and well-established. It had wavered little from the views of its founders. Now, however, I had found a Church that was nearly two thousand years old and had still not wavered from the views of its Founder, Jesus.

I had been taught that Communion was a memorial service and that the elements were only symbolic. But now I learned that the Catholics believed what Jesus said about eating His body and drinking His blood (see John chapter 6). They believed that the consecrated elements are literally His body and blood. They call it the Real Presence.

I studied this issue very carefully in the Gospels and Epistles. I could see no reason not to believe what they said. I felt we were missing out on a great deal by not believing it.

As I studied the other six sacraments, I found the same thing. Catholics believe that in Baptism, Confirmation, Communion, Marriage, Anointing of the Sick, Penance (Reconciliation), and Holy Orders, God imparts His grace to us. These powerful gifts had been omitted from my previous belief system, and I could discover no good reason why. I felt cheated by our Protestant forefathers.

Removing books from the Bible was another maneuver the Protestant Reformers had used to ensure that the Bible supported their new beliefs. Although certain books had been approved as part of the Old Testament canon in the Church councils for more than a thousand years, suddenly the Reformers decided that these books were not as inspired as the others and threw them out. Again, on whose authority did they do this?

Trying to understand the role of Mary and the other saints was difficult. However, once I understood the difference between veneration and worship, I had no more trouble. I discovered they are not worshipped but are respected and honored and held in high regard. Only God is worshipped.

The rosary interested me, so I bought a little book and started praying it on occasion. I discovered the rosary was made up of Scripture verses and a prayer request. So in saying it, we are simply reciting Scripture and praying.

During the recitation of the Hail Marys, we are asked to meditate on the life of Jesus and recall what He did for us. Even a good Protestant ought to be able to do that. It is all Scripture. After coming back to Uganda in October 2001, Ruth and I started praying the rosary together every morning.

Purgatory was another thing missing in my Protestant beliefs, so I had to find out what Catholics really believed. I especially liked what the Catechism had to say about it: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (1030).

The idea of purifying made sense to me. I have known many believers who died with major flaws still in their lives. Surely they would want to be purified before coming into the full presence of God — I know I do!

Coming Home

We wanted to attend Mass to become familiar with it, but we felt we couldn’t in Uganda or Hawaii. Explaining it to our church would be a bigger job than we cared to undertake. We didn’t want to bring confusion to an already confused people. So we just shared the Gospel and the love of Jesus with them.

By late November, we were quite certain we would both join the Catholic Church upon our return home from Uganda. We would give up our mission work and my Assemblies of God ordination, which meant giving up our only means of support as well. I informed my church in Hawaii that I would be resigning and that we were “seriously considering joining the Catholic Church.”

I wrote a long letter to them and our close friends and relatives explaining our reasons. We thought the church might relieve us of our duties immediately, but instead they pleaded with us to stay. We agreed to complete our six-month commitment but stood firm in our resolve to move on after that.

God had called us to this mission field, but now He was calling us home. We were eager to see what He had in store for us there.

In 2002, Ruth and I were received into full communion with the Catholic Church with its vastness, unity, and diversity. We knew there was dissent within it. We did not expect to find perfection. The forces of hell have attacked the Church all through the centuries, but Jesus said they would not prevail, and they have not and will not. Therefore, we expected to find the Church that Jesus Himself had founded, and we are grateful to be accepted as a part of it.

Leaving our church and ministry behind was not easy. We served the Lord with gladness in our Protestant churches — at First Assembly for twenty — and have no regrets. We wish to thank our parishioners and God for all they did for us. We gave our time and money, but the church gave much more than that to us in return.

With sadness we left First Assembly and our churches in Uganda. They loved us, and we loved them. And now we thank God for them and pray that He will continue to bless them because they earnestly desire to do His will. May God bless all those who have helped us on our journey.


Don Newville

Don and Ruth Newville founded Trinity Community Aid Network in 2006 to do charitable work in the Ugandan villages where they had served in ministry. Don passed away on December 12, 2010 in Altoona, Wisconsin, after an extended illness. He is survived by Ruth and their three children and several grandchildren.

This story appears in the book Journeys Home, edited by Marcus Grodi (CHResources, rev. ed., 2011). To order the book, click here.


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