Conversion StoriesEvangelicalJewish

I Have Come Home

Janice Lockwood
October 4, 2011 3 Comments

I was born into an ultra-Orthodox Jewish home in Wimbledon, a suburb of London, England, just after World War II. My parents shocked the Jewish community by conning an old priest into baptizing me one July Sunday into the Catholic Church. It happened when I was just eight weeks old.

My dad had been interned in Auschwitz during the latter part of World War II. Should the Nazi menace raise its ugly head again, Mom and Dad could readily deny their Jewishness: After all, they’d had me baptized, hadn’t they?

Following my baptism, no one in the family gave even a thought to attending church ever again. Our lives were always centered on the synagogue, where my maternal grandfather was the cantor rabbi.

Yet even though we virtually forgot all about that baptism, God still had His eye on me. In 1961, I was admitted to a local Catholic hospital as an emergency patient. In the bed next to mine was a thirty-year-old Maltese nun. Sister Helen, like me, had appendicitis; we were sick in unison!

Now and again I could hear her speaking quietly, yet there seemed to be no one around. Maybe, I thought, she was some sort of a nut, talking to herself!

“I am praying,” she told me, a smile across her face. “I am praying to Jesus Christ.”

By 1962, I had discovered Him for myself.

My math teacher, a Protestant and an active member at London’s Westminster Chapel, invited me to attend a service one Sunday. Why she’d singled me out from the other students at my school, I had no idea. I was undecided about taking her up on the offer, so I thought I’d talk it over with my family.

“Have you taken leave of your senses?” asked my mother. “Listen! You’re a good Jewish girl. Don’t get involved, Janice, with this teacher. Why does she want you to go there, anyway, huh?”

I shrugged.

“Well, your father and I don’t want you to go to that church.”

My dad looked surprised to be involved, for he hadn’t uttered a word.

My mother continued as the spokesperson. “We don’t want you to go. In fact, you’re not going, and that’s the end of the matter. Right? Now, we don’t want to hear another word.”

So I went.

When I arrived, I was filled with a momentary wave of dismay: I hadn’t realized the invitation was to a full day’s program! After the two-hour morning service and then lunch, I joined my host and some other women for a Bible study.

They all seemed so old to me, for they were definitely all over thirty. Cups of tea and dainty little sandwiches followed. A prayer meeting led up to the evening service, which was as lengthy as the morning service. I was so glad to return to my Wimbledon home!

When I came through the door, Dad peered at me over his Sunday Times. He was a man of temperate, even indifferent, belief himself. On the whole, he enjoyed synagogue life, for he’d grown up in it.

“Well, Janice,” he said, “I bet you hated the day, eh?”

Gathering myself into a puffed-up importance, I stood bolt upright. Not prepared to admit defeat, I declared: “No. It was great, and I’m going again next week!”

Becoming a Christian

I repeated the morning services, lunches, Bible studies, teas, and evening services Sunday after Sunday. My parents believed I was going only out of rebellion. But my math teacher was encouraged and purchased a Bible for me.

I delved into it, beginning in St. John’s Gospel. I also began to read a book about the conversion of John Wesley, the eighteenth-century English founder of the Methodist movement.

Just as I had unwillingly spent an entire day at Westminster Chapel, John Wesley had unwillingly gone to a society in London’s Aldersgate Street, where someone was preaching from Martin Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter to nine in the morning, while the preacher was describing the change that God works in the heart through faith in Christ, Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed.” John Wesley trusted in Christ. Christ had taken away his sins, he believed, and saved him from the law of sin and death.

What happened to Wesley inspired a longing within me and made me pray with all my might that Christ would come into my life, to “strangely warm” my heart. At 7:22 p.m. on August 22, 1962, He did just that, I believed, for me.

This event took place at Westminster Chapel, London, through the ministry of the well-known preacher and author, Dr. D. Martin Lloyd-Jones. He held strongly Calvinistic positions. Adopting his anti-Catholic doctrines, I was again baptized, this time by total immersion at South Wimbledon Baptist Church in the cold February of 1963.

My parents saw this form of Baptism as an abandonment of my Jewish heritage. Following the ancient Jewish custom of families whose children leave the faith, they refused to allow me into the family home. They observed the traditional rituals surrounding the loss of a loved one: They rent their garments, with buttons popping and dropping to the floor, and a year later, they erected a headstone for me in the Jewish cemetery.

In their eyes, I was dead.

Only seventeen, I was worried about where I would live. But various Christians opened their homes to me, allowing me to complete my education.

Having handed over my life to the Lord, I constantly delved into Scripture, seeking His will for my life. Looking back now, I can declare confidently that all the way my Savior led me.

Believing He was calling me into full-time Christian service, I pursued the rocky path to become a medical missionary. After study at London University and London Bible College, I served in western and southern India, caring for lepers and their babies. Furlough came after four years.

Once home again, I married. I’d met a Methodist minister who preached mostly in West Yorkshire, northern England. Two beautiful sons, Paul and Stephen, were born. Eleven years later, joy of joys, Matthew yelled his way into the world.

During Paul and Stephen’s growing-up years, I returned to London University to complete my Ph.D. in theology. The only good school available for them was a private one in Yorkshire run by Catholics. That worried me, for I certainly did not wish the boys to be influenced by their religious teachings.

I made it clear, abundantly clear, to the Catholic staff that neither my husband nor I wished the boys to attend the school assemblies when their parish priest led them. After all, we did not want Catholic teaching brought into our home and their hearts! Our vulnerable boys would get a good all-round education there, but any Christian teachings would be given to them at home and at our chapel. I was still very much the anti-Catholic Calvinist, and I was not slow in making it known.

Weariness and Illness

In the year 2000, however, my life took a whole new turn. I had been busy lecturing in theology in the U.K. and also in Ohio. In the midst of my busyness, I found myself perpetually tired, as if I were always walking through molasses.

I was running a large home as a minister’s wife, raising the kids, public speaking, and much more. Even so, the intense weariness I was experiencing was more than something that could be shaken off by a few nights of good sleep. I was convinced I was sick, but the nature of the sickness was enigmatic.

My husband, optimistic as usual, refused to believe I could be so unwell. He decided we should fly to Malta for a relaxing vacation in the sun.

“You’ve been working unbelievably hard, Janice,” Eric said. “Get some Mediterranean sun, and I’m sure you’ll feel heaps better. I’m convinced of it. You’ll be fine.”

“Okay,” I said. “Remember the nun I told you about?”

Eric thought for a moment. “A nun?” he asked. “I don’t think so.” Then suddenly his memory was sparked, and he nodded. “Oh, yes. What about her?”

“Well, Sister lives in Malta now and …”

“… and you’d like to look her up?”

I felt quite excited about meeting with her again after so long.

Eric wondered why I was so excited about seeing a Catholic nun. Yet he did not oppose me — nor did he encourage me to show any keen interest in her faith. He just shook his head, for we were then still very much against the Catholic faith, or what we thought it was.

During the vacation, I discovered that my weariness became worse. By the end of the trip, I could no longer walk unaided. I also choked throughout the mealtimes, a development that I found more than a little embarrassing. Looking in the mirror, I noticed that my eyelids seemed heavy, and I could not physically lift them to stop them from drooping.

“I’m seeing double,” I told Eric, who was now quite worried for me. “Maybe I need my eyes to be tested again.”

Back home again, I contacted an eminent consultant neurologist at the Walton Hospital in Liverpool. He was convinced I had a disease known as Myasthenia Gravis. I began a six-year course of aggressive treatments, which made me very sick.

When I did not improve, further tests were performed. A DNA test showed I had never had Myasthenia Gravis, but rather a degenerative condition that was even more rare, and for which there was no known treatment: Oculopharyngeal Muscular Dystrophy (OPMD). I was shocked, especially when I was told I’d soon become much worse.

With a low immune system now, too, I became virtually housebound. Too tired to do much more than sit around and listen to music or watch television, I became an avid viewer of EWTN.

Moving Toward the Catholic Church

I began to watch The Journey Home every Tuesday night. I found it fascinating to hear guests share their conversion stories, describing their personal obstacles, doctrinal objections, and attraction to the Catholic Church. I was lapping up every word, yet at the same time I was confused.

I needed to know how it was that these Catholic converts had a personal relationship with Christ. How could this be if they were Catholic? One Tuesday, when some converts from Pentecostalism were testifying, I beckoned to my husband.

“Come and look at this program, Eric,” I called. “These people are Catholic and …”

He shrugged. “Sure, there are born-again Catholics in the Catholic Church. But, as well you know, the Catholic Church itself, with all the worship of Mary and …”

“I’m not so sure anymore,” I interrupted. “Maybe the Catholic Church, as they are saying, is the one true Church. I dunno.”

Eric tightened his lips and sighed. “You’ve been watching too much EWTN,” he stated, then walked back into the living room.

I think it was the next morning when my telephone rang. It was Sister Helen phoning from Malta.

“Hello, darling,” she began. “I’ve just had a thought. Why don’t you contact a local priest and ask him to pray about your illness — ask him to anoint you?”

Protestant friends had already surrounded me. They strongly believed that our great and wonderful God, who “is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think” (Eph 3:20), could heal me. Quoting Isaiah 53:5, “With his stripes we are healed,” they believed these words to be an unconditional promise to all those who believe.

Nevertheless, it appeared that the Lord wasn’t intervening in the way they would have liked. They blamed me for not having enough faith after they’d anointed me with some cooking oil. They also had the same attitude toward my husband, who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and was growing worse. When they told him that he did not have a good enough faith, he replied with a quote from St. Paul: “Trophimus I left ill at Miletus” (2 Tim 4:20).

Sister Helen told me not to allow myself to be judged in such a way. “Let God be God,” she told me. “Anyway, it can’t do any harm to contact a Catholic priest.”

I decided to put pen to paper to the priest, explaining to him from beginning to end about our circumstances, a little of my background, along with a preamble concerning my OPMD. It was difficult to scribe, not only because I was seeing double, but also because my hands were affected. I found it difficult to make a fist or hold a pen.

I folded the lengthy epistle and placed it in an envelope. Eric said he would mail it to Father Jones, for he’d found the priest’s address.

Eric made for the door, but suddenly I had second thoughts. I shouted to him to bring it back, but he didn’t hear and made off to the mailbox.

In response to my correspondence, the very next day a tall, handsome, white-haired man in his sixties stood in the open doorway of our apartment, a broad smile across his friendly face.

“Hello,” he said. “I am Father Jones. I got your letter. Sorry you’re so unwell with this unusual illness. You’d like me to anoint you?”

“Well, yes, please. I need to tell you, though, that I’m not Catholic. In fact, I’ve not been all that nice in the past about your church. You’d be shocked if I told you how nasty I’d been.”

He responded only with raised eyebrows. He stood over me, praying and quoting from James 5:14–15:

Is any one among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

He anointed me with an oil duly blessed by the bishop. Before he could say any more, I told him that I believed our heavenly Father could heal me in the blinking of an eye.

Father Jones smiled and nodded. “Of course!” he exclaimed, sitting back down on our couch, as if to wait for my reactions. To break the silence, it was then that I told him I had been baptized in the Catholic Church when I was a baby.

“Where was this?” he asked, a frown across his brow.

“Wimbledon. I was brought up near Wimbledon Common.” I told him the full story.

The priest leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped. “Well, Janice, that baptism actually makes you a Catholic,” he stated. “You’re a Roman Catholic!”

Astounded, I found myself repeating: “Oh, wow! Oh, wow!” I babbled on. “Hey! That’s really something, huh?” He chuckled at my response.

I surprised myself, for I’d always been so very anti-Catholic, believing the Church of Rome to be the Antichrist. But here I was excited to be told such news.

“Now listen, Janice. If you really want to go ahead, give me a phone call. Think carefully, very carefully, for it’s a big step, especially for someone like you.”

Before I telephoned the priest to confirm my decision, I thought it wise to talk it over with Eric. I didn’t want to upset him, for he had just been told his prostate cancer had spread to his bones. We thought his old cancer had been contained, yet it distressed us to know his poor prognosis.

Looking at him straight in the eye, I asked him, “Eric, what would you think if I became Catholic? How’d you react, huh?”

“Frankly, I thought something like this would happen,” he replied. “I’m not surprised, not one bit, what with the Coming Home Network, the Maltese nun, and now the priest. So what’s going to happen to my Calvinistic wife, she seeing the Roman Church as the Antichrist, eh?”

“I was watching The Journey Home, and they stated that folk came to the Catholic Church only because of their great love for Christ. I have a great love for Him, too. I have to go ahead with it now.”

I telephoned Father Jones. “Yes, please,” I said, “I really want to go ahead to become a Catholic. When shall you confirm me?”

Mary’s Assistance

During this time, a religious sister in my parish, told me that the Blessed Virgin Mary’s intercession is very powerful. So I put this claim to the test. My husband was no longer eating because his prostate cancer had worsened. Always slender, Eric had now become really skinny.

That night I prayed to Our Blessed Lady. I pleaded with Mary to help Eric eat, even just for one day — to have a breakfast the following morning. I told Eric nothing of my prayer to the Mother of God.

When Eric woke up next day, he said: “I’m so hungry, Janice. Do we have any bacon?”

I stared at him like a cow at a new gate! Mary’s power was something I had needed to discover for myself, not as second-hand knowledge.

I told Eric about my prayer. But like most Protestants of his background, even if our loving, heavenly Father had come down and told him about Our Lady, he could only say, “Are you kidding?”

Meanwhile, an appointment had been sent to me from the Walton Hospital in Liverpool. Although there’s no treatment, only management, for OPMD, the senior neurologist planned on keeping a close eye on how I was coping with my condition.

Since I was unable now to walk by myself, one of the nursing staff helped me into the neurologist’s consulting room. She sat me facing this soft-spoken Scot, whose reading glasses were on the top of his head, hiding the shock of his dark brown hair.

“My, you look different!” he exclaimed. “What have you done to yourself?”

I shrugged. “What do you mean?”

“You’ve changed your hairstyle.”

“Nope. Same as ever.”

“I know what it is. You’ve different glasses. I might be a man, but I notice

these things!”

I shook my head.

“You’ve had a nip ’n’ tuck under your eyebrows without telling me. What did it cost you?”

A second time I shook my head.

“Okay, I give in. Tell me.”

I didn’t know what he was getting at until he tested my vision and discovered I was no longer seeing double. I still required my glasses, but with them I was seeing well.

“What exactly has happened to you? With this degenerative condition you should be worse, not better.”

I gave a burst of rather weak laughter. “My eyelids are still drooped,” I reminded him.

“Dr. Lockwood, I have been a consultant neurologist in this hospital for a number of years, and I’m no fool.”

“A Roman Catholic priest anointed both my forehead and my hands,” I said. I began explaining that, since then, I was no longer seeing double. “If I’m really tired — I mean, very weary indeed — I do occasionally see a little bit of blur. Yet not at all often.”

The neurologist sighed and listened patiently. Although a confessed atheist, this scientist did not challenge my Evangelical standpoint. When I showed him my hands, how my fingers, with the exception of the little finger on my left hand, were normal, how I could rapidly make a fist without pain, he only paused my explanation to say, “Well, I never!”

He asked me to explain about why I’d named my little finger my “Jacob’s hip.” I told him the biblical story of Jacob, and how, when he wrestled God, God touched his hip. Ever after, Jacob was left with a limp as a reminder of his encounter with the Lord (see Gen 32:24–32).

“So, you see, my crooked little finger is a constant reminder of what the other seven fingers and two thumbs were like before the priest anointed me with oil!”

The consultant neurologist replied that my beliefs could never see their way into his life. Even so, he was gracious enough to worm his way out of the situation by saying, “He must be a very special priest.”

Since that time, my medical condition has remained remarkably good, considering the typical consequences of OPMD. Though I haven’t been fully cured, I know that God has shown Himself gracious to me, and He holds me in His hands.

Home at Last

The day I’d waited for, longed for, since the first afternoon I had encountered my priest, finally arrived. I was becoming a Catholic. For this Protestant, it was a miracle! I believed I had truly “come home” because of God’s great love for me, because of mine for Him.

In 1961, I discovered just who Jesus is. A year later I asked Him to come into my life, to become my Savior and Lord, loving Him, loving His Word. No turning back! Then in 2007, I was confirmed a Catholic, deep in faith, deep in Scripture, deep in the Magisterium. And I loved it — every nanosecond.

Following my Confirmation, I telephoned the Coming Home Network International and declared: “I’m a Catholic!”

My husband bought me a surprise gift for the occasion. He purchased The CTS New Catholic Bible, wrapped it in pretty paper, and wrote inside: “Presented to my beloved wife, Janice, by her loving husband, Eric. ‘The God of all grace who called you to the eternal glory in Christ will see that all is well again; he will confirm, strengthen, and support you. His power lasts for ever and ever. Amen’” (1 Pet 5:10–11).

Eric, weighing only eighty-four pounds, struggled on for another eleven months, battling hard against his prostate cancer, which had spread to his boney chest wall, his pelvis, and his legs. Soon he was unable to swallow much more than liquids, and his pain was way out of control. We tried to care for him well at home, but he begged to be admitted to a nearby hospice.

Always declaring he had lived as a Protestant, he would die an Evangelical Methodist. Yet he amazed me by asking: “Do you think Father Jones would visit me, Janice? I’d like him to anoint me.” Father Jones made a number of visits, anointing him on more than one occasion.

In October 2008, Father Jones sat with Eric, having anointed him again. “Would you hear my confession, Father?” Eric asked. “Bless me Father …” he began, with tears streaming down his thin face.

My priest then sat with him for about an hour, helping this frail man to write a note to Matthew and me, telling us how much he loved us.

A few days later, Eric left behind a communication stating he truly wished he’d become a Catholic. Then he slipped away to be with his Lord — the Lord he had loved and served for over fifty years from Japan to the U.K., always as preacher and evangelist.

In the following days, I was thrilled to be Catholic. In the past, I’d rarely found it difficult to take a stand as a Christian, but now I was somewhat apprehensive about telling those truly hardened Evangelical friends that I had come home to the Catholic Church. Was I to be in for a tough time? How would I cope?

Then one evening I turned on The Journey Home. The guest was a former missionary to China and well-known evangelical author. Listening to her story, I realized that if this gracious person, with her Evangelical Protestant background, could take a stand, then so could I. As a result, twelve of my Protestant friends also came home, and in turn, they witnessed to their friends and relatives, too. The effect has snowballed!

So I thank God for her witness, for unknowingly giving me courage to spread the word, to tell others of how, when I asked God for pure gold, He gave me the Catholic faith.


Janice Lockwood

Janice Lockwood, Ph.D., was born into an ultra-Orthodox Jewish home in England and became a Christian as a teenager. She worked for four years as a medical missionary working with leprosy patients in India. After returning home, she married a Methodist pastor, earned a Ph.D. in theology and became a lecturer and speaker in the U.K. and the U.S. She entered the Catholic Church in 2007. Recently widowed, Janice lives in North Wales, where she attends the Catholic Church in Llandudno. She is the author of Costly Roots (under the pseudonym Sarah Cohen).