From Baptist to Rebel
My wife, Angela, and I were raised in Fundamentalist Baptist churches in the Midwest, she in Ohio and I in Indiana. We met at a Fundamentalist Baptist college in Florida. I was pursuing a degree in Theology and she in Early Childhood Education. While my wife followed the Fundamentalist Baptist creed and lifestyle, I was a born questioner. I did not go along with the strict rules of my parents and often landed in trouble.
After being sexually abused by a pastor and otherwise abused by my father, who was a leader in the church, I moved toward a non-religious lifestyle. I still attended church and a Christian high school to make my parents happy, but the overall experience left me with a hatred for authority and a desire to live as far from Christianity as possible. The strange thing was that, even as I rejected them, I still paid attention to the sermons and Sunday school lessons. Nevertheless, I got into the practice of Satan worship, as an act of rebellion more than any deep- held belief. I became violent toward others, suicidal (attempting suicide twice), and my mind became very dark. However, there came a historic day in my life.
Let the Journey Begin
My journey to the Catholic Church began with a friendship with our Protestant pastor’s son. Our church had a fairly new pastor who loved me unconditionally and frequently had me over for dinner. So here I was, sitting at a Baptist pastor’s table, cussing, smelling of tobacco, half-drunk, and hating God. He would just smile at me and tell me that God had good things planned for me. His son had a motorcycle, and we would tinker with it while listening to rock music on the radio. This whole scenario confused me.
That was in 1990 when I was a senior in high school. Here was a Baptist pastor in a Fundamentalist Baptist church who didn’t live by the rules. He didn’t try to convert me. He just wanted me around. He told me how he, too, had questioned many of the beliefs of the church and that it was OK for me to question things.
Then it happened. One Sunday night, after the evening church service, the pastor’s son, with tears in his eyes, confronted me about my relationship with God. He told me that he loved me and could not let me go to hell without saying something. I cussed him out and told him that God was stupid, and I didn’t want anything to do with a brain-dead religion. To my surprise, he dropped to his knees, and for the next 20 minutes tearfully prayed for me. I finally told him that he had to go, that I was OK with going to hell. He went to find his parents for a ride home, but everyone had left the church parking lot. I myself had to take him home — how awkward!
But God was orchestrating my journey. That night, I spent hours yelling, crying, and baring my pain, my hatred, and my emptiness with the pastor and his son. Around midnight, I collapsed and gave my life to Christ — with one condition. I wanted nothing to do with the church.
Off to College
I had a few go-arounds with my parents over where to attend college. Ultimately, they made it clear: I attend the college in Florida that they had chosen, and they pay for it, or I go elsewhere and pay for it myself. Considering the alternatives, I chose Florida.
My college years were difficult. The college held to a King- James-Version-only view of the Scriptures, was ultra-conservative in its rules, and felt more like a prison than a college. Still, I stuck to my questioning ways, challenging my professors and engaging in lively debates with other students. I am a quick learner, so in first-year Greek, while the other students were learning basic Greek grammar, I was reading the New Testament in the original language and challenging my professors on their views. I really loved church history as well, and I challenged my church history professor on the “facts” he was presenting. I gained a small cheering section on campus but mostly met with outrage, and some of my well-written papers received a failing grade due to my conclusions. Somehow, though, I graduated with honors.
My freshman year, I met my future wife. Angela was intrigued by my wonderings and questioning of various things. For her birthday, I bought her a New International Version (NIV) Bible and asked her to read it. She did and excitedly told me how she was growing spiritually because now she could understand the Bible. From that point on, she trusted me and my questioning. I remember how, in the spring semester of my freshman year, I nervously told her that I thought God wanted me to be a pastor and that I needed to get a theology degree. She was excited, while I was confused. It seems that God has a way of calling us out of our comfort zone into places that force a decision to completely die to ourselves. This was the first of many such decisions to which God would call me. Still wondering how a man who rejected the church could be called to be a pastor, I accepted the challenge. Classes went well, and I graduated. Angela and I were married in the summer of 1994 and moved to my hometown of Marion, Indiana. We were there for three years, during which time I pastored a small church.
As a child, I had fostered a desire to live in the western United States. I thought a lot about Colorado, but God revealed to us in 1996 His desire for us to live in Portland, Oregon. In September of 1997, we loaded the moving van and drove to Portland, where we had no job or housing. We had left that in God’s hands. The next day we had an apartment, and the following week I had a job. For the first four years in Oregon I worked in construction, giving me a chance to absorb the culture. During that time, we served in a Southern Baptist church in Oregon City.
After this, a Southern Baptist church in north Portland (the gang-infested, homeless-overrun, and poverty-ridden part of Portland) called me to be their pastor. For the next seven years, I served a poor congregation, and my wife and I took in homeless teens to live with us. We had our daughter by this time, and we eventually “adopted” one of the homeless teen girls we encountered. During our time at that church, two important aspects of the journey took shape for us. One, I was appointed to a committee with the Regional Convention, where I challenged many of the goals and policies of the Convention because they gave preferential treatment to the wealthier churches. That landed me in hot water. But the second aspect of the journey was where God turned up the speed on my journey home to the Catholic Church.
As I studied for my weekly sermons, I saw more and more that there were holes in Protestant theology, pushing me to go deeper into my study of church history. The Catholic Church was not on my radar at this point and wouldn’t be for a few years. However, God was gently showing me the way without my even knowing it. As I began to notice gaps in Baptist theology and Scripture passages that were being overlooked, I would point them out to the congregation. I figured that, as a pastor, I had a responsibility to guide people into the truth. I did not care what the denominational leaders or the influential people in the congregation thought — I had to answer to God, so I taught what I was discovering. Each fall, I dedicated October to the study of faithful Christians of the past, some Protestant and some Catholic, for the congregation to learn from the past. I preached church history to the congregation because I believed that we cannot properly understand how to live in the present unless we understand how faithful Christians lived in the past.
One week, as I was sitting in my office at the church, I was noticing big gaps between what I saw in the church and what was presented in Scripture concerning it. I saw too many conflicts in Protestant theology, and one passage in John 17, where Jesus prays for the Church to live in complete unity, really bothered me. I could not figure out how Jesus could pray for unity in the Church, yet there were thousands of denominations and splinter groups, all claiming Scripture as their authority. I felt despair and prayed, asking the Holy Spirit to erase all my biases and help me see what the Bible actually said. In the following weeks, I was shocked as God revealed truth after truth to me. My belief in the end-times Rapture collapsed. I had to be honest and admit that it wasn’t in the Bible. My belief in Baptist church leadership structure eroded away as I saw bishops and other, more Catholic-style leaders presented to me. As time went on, some in the congregation saw what I saw, while others formed an eviction committee. I was ousted and banned from pastoring in the Southern Baptist Church.
Knowing Me Ministries
The months that followed left my family and me, awkwardly, without a church. From what I had learned in my studies, I thought that maybe house churches might be the answer. We started a house church, but it fell apart. We had lost our housing and income, and our son had been born. I prayed for God to show me the way. I started a delivery business to pay the bills, and a friend rented us a house at an affordable price. One Sunday morning, when we were churchless, as a family we walked over to a local community center. As we approached it, we saw two homeless men sitting on a bench. I sat down and asked them their stories. In turn, they asked me why I was there, and I told them that I had no idea: I was a pastor without a church. The next day, after work, I again stopped by that community center to pray for God to show me the way, and a group of homeless people ran up to me to ask if I was the pastor that the two men had told them about. I admitted I was the one, and they excitedly invited me to their camp.
When we arrived, the people readily welcomed me. I immediately began reaching out to these brothers and sisters who were wandering like sheep without a shepherd. Over time, we observed God delivering and healing people. We baptized some of them and saw God preforming miracles. We defended them against the authorities who were abusing them. Our name spread, and we realized that we needed to give ourselves fully to serving these dear people. We had served the homeless down through the years, beginning in 1991 in Florida. God gave us the name Knowing Me Ministries, inspired by the passage in Jeremiah: “Because he dispensed justice to the weak and the poor, he prospered. Is this not to know me? — oracle of the LORD” (Jer- emiah 22:16 NABRE). We wanted to serve the homeless in a way that honored their dignity and sought not to work toward housing as an ultimate goal, but rather to work toward inspiring these people to reach their full human potential as unique individuals. Our popularity spread, and donors came on board. However, not everyone was enthusiastic, because we tended to be radical. We sensed that the person in front of us should take precedence over policy. Knowing Me Ministries should have a minimal amount of rules to run the organization well yet have the freedom to serve each person according to his needs. The ministry grew and explored various avenues of serving.
Enter Sister Margaret
God has some fascinating ways of accomplishing His purposes. As my family and I connected with other house churches, we became ever more frustrated. They still lacked unity; it was the same old theology in a different setting. We finally just quit church altogether and felt the emptiness of the barren land of serving God without a church.
Soon, out of desperation, I began to go to the Grotto. The Grotto is a Catholic shrine in Portland. It is a place of peace, prayer, and solitude. The Grotto is surrounded by the noise of 82nd Avenue on its west side (an avenue of five crowded lanes, bordered by prostitution and gangs), by Portland International Airport on its north side, and the ever-busy Interstate 205 on its east side. In the middle of this concrete jungle sits the Grotto on beautiful Rocky Butte, an ancient volcano in the middle of the city, now blessed with the tall Douglas fir trees so prevalent in Oregon. The Grotto has a section at the foot of the mountain with a church, a gift shop, the Stations of the Cross, and a number of statues of people I didn’t know. Atop the cliff are a monastery, extensive gardens, and other attractions.
I would escape to the Grotto to regain connection with God. One day, I made the “mistake” of googling the
names of the various statues: St. Peregrine and St. Francis, for example. I was blown away. “How could this be?” I thought. These people were really holy, really in love with Jesus, yet deeply Catholic. What was going on? I dug further and discovered the Catholic saints more in depth. Now my world went into a tail spin!
One day I encountered the story of St. Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower.” I was struck by her deep humility and her total abandonment to God. Then I got a phone call. I had been regularly on the local news and in local newspapers whenever homeless issues arose. One newspaper did a two-page article on our work. The person on the other end of the call was Sr. Margaret Bischoff, a Sister of Providence. That didn’t tell me much since I knew next to nothing about the Catholic Church. She stated that she had seen the newspaper article and wanted my help. Her parish had homeless people sleeping on the property, and she felt it was her Christian duty to love and help them but wasn’t sure what to do.
I went to her house for lunch. I fumbled around for some connection to her and I brought up The Little Flower. She was delighted. Then I asked her why she believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Her response? “Because Jesus said so.” Huh? I was used to a theology that ran circles around the Scriptures to get to some sort of conclusion, and she simply said, “Jesus said, ‘This is my body’” (see Luke 22:19). I was left speechless at such a simple, yet totally accurate, answer. I asked her how she knew that what Jesus said was to be taken literally, and she took me to John 6 and to a place that I had never gone before: the Magisterium and the Church Fathers. I sat in silence. She gave me a book to read, The Protestant’s Dilemma, by Devin Rose, a former Southern Baptist who had become Catholic.
I read it, then began to read other books. I even dared to read books written by Catholic scholars and was dumbfounded at how biblical, how intelligent, and how passionate they were in their love of God and His Church. I even read the Vatican II documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. As I continued to work with Sr. Margaret and Our Lady of Sorrows parish, I could not help but see their loving obedience to Our Lord’s command to love the poor.
But now I had a dilemma. I sensed that God could be leading me to the Catholic Church, but I had a wife to deal with and donors who would be less than enthusiastic about our trajectory. Besides all this, I had my own internal struggles. I couldn’t wrap my mind around Marian doctrine. I read what the Church taught concerning Mary, but it was hard for me to grasp, especially concerning her Immaculate Conception and her sinlessness.
A friend told me that when I struggle with a teaching of the Church, there are three possibilities: 1. The Church is wrong; 2. I am wrong; 3. I just don’t yet understand. I did discover that, rather than the harsh institution that I expected the Catholic Church to be, it was quite the opposite. The Catholic Church is a kind mother who gently guides us and allows us to struggle through our own understanding of doctrine and life. Although in the past I had spoken against what I thought was the silliness of the Catholic Church, I now was at a point to understand that the Church being wrong and me being right was not an option. The Church has 2,000 years of holy and very educated saints to back it up.
After much struggling over the doctrine of Mary, I met people at the parish who had a particular devotion to Mary. I observed how deeply committed to Christ and how full of joy they were. One man in particular, Will, who has since become my best friend, began to teach me about our Blessed Mother. As he taught, I realized that the Church’s teaching was biblical. However, much of the teaching on Mary was also part of Sacred Tradition, which I had come to accept even as a pastor, for the Scriptures make it clear that the tradition of the Apostles was also a valid source of truth.
After months of struggle over Mary, I went through a 33-day consecration to Mary, based purely on faith — I still did not understand, but I was beginning to see in the Scriptures that she is indeed the Queen of Heaven and our Mother. So, by faith I journeyed with Mary. On the day of consecration, nothing magical happened, but what followed in the days since has been grace upon grace. Mary has led me deeper into Christ and deeper into faith.
As the director of a non-profit organization that serves the homeless, I had to live by faith quite often. My faith, though, had always been mixed with anxiety. What I have noticed since con- secrating myself to Mary, however, is an immovable faith. Mary, herself a woman of deep faith, can help us follow Christ in pure faith.
Another issue I grappled with was obedience. As a Protestant, I was used to being independent and free to question everything. Now, however, I needed to bring myself into submission to the Bride of Christ, the Church. Again, I was given room to wrestle with what I did not understand, yet I was asked to do so in a spirit of humility and obedience. As I struggled, the Holy Spirit reminded me of Hebrews 13:17, where we are commanded to obey our leaders. So, with faith, I made the choice to obey the leaders of the Church and trust their wisdom. The graces of God that have come to me through that act of obedience are amaz- ing. I discovered that my priest, archbishop, and other leaders are men of mercy and love and that they only want the best for me — eternal life in Christ!
After struggling through these doctrines, I finally decided to tell my wife, Angela, the journey that God had me
on. I expected shock and anger, but instead, she told me that God had her on the same journey. Relieved, we discussed what we were learning. The one Bible passage that God used more than any other to convince me of the reality that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ established can be found in John 17. In this chapter, Jesus prays that the Church would have the same unity that the Trinity enjoys. It was a passion for me to see unity in the Church. What I couldn’t figure out was why Christ’s prayer would go unanswered since there are thousands of denominations. But when I considered the Catholic Church, I realized that Christ’s prayer had been answered long ago. Here was a Church that was unified under the Pope, a Church that was agreed in its doctrines and practices. What a joyful realization this was! It convinced me that this truly was Christ’s Church. But there was still work that the Holy Spirit needed to do in me.
The Final Decision
God leads us on a journey, but there are points in that journey where He calls us to a moment of decision. One day, while serving on the streets, the Holy Spirit called me to a decision. I was sweating, breathing fast and cold — that feeling you get when God speaks only too clearly. I couldn’t think straight, so I went to the Grotto. It was a warm, sunny day in May. I expected the Grotto to be crowded since it is a tourist hotspot. To my surprise, there was not a single person on the grounds. I figured there must be something going on inside the church. I went in, only to discover that no one was there, either. Since I was alone, I sat up front. I cried; I prayed; I cried some more. Then I asked God to show me there and then what to do. I looked up and gazed at the crucifix. I heard a gentle voice come from the crucifix that said, “Come home.” I looked behind me to see who had said that, but no one was there. I looked back at the crucifix and knew Who was speaking. I dropped to my knees and raised my hands to heaven, praising God for showing me the true Church and the way home that I had sought for so long. My wife, my daughter, and I went through RCIA, and at the Easter Vigil 2015, we were received into the Church. Our 9-year-old son was baptized at that same vigil. One miracle of that night is that our daughter was confirmed. She had been very hurt by the church where I had been pastor and had turned her back on churches in general, but now she was enthusiastically a part of His Church. Oh, the miracle of that night! I will never forget the first time I received Jesus in the Eucharist. Yes, I was home!
The Rest of the Story
Since that night, God has been forming us spiritually. It has not been easy. Some 80 percent of our Protestant donors dropped us. Our entire board resigned. We were devastated, yet full of hope, because God is faithful. We now have a great board of directors, amazing volunteers, and a service to the homeless like never before. God is growing the work of Knowing Me Ministries, and it is all we can do to keep up. As we come to know Him in the midst of our own financial poverty, God has been faithful to provide our needs every step of the way. We now work with the Archdiocese of Portland. They have tasked us with identifying and training leaders in each parish, mobilizing parishioners to serve the poor. The parishes are stepping up, and the homeless are being served and welcomed into His Church, finding love and healing. Once a month, I lead men deeper into contemplation and God’s love. We also have begun doing weekly podcasts on poverty and homelessness. God is taking us places we had never dreamed of. Who can understand how deep the Father’s love is for us? (1 John 3:1).