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Risking It All

Keith Nester
July 7, 2021 No Comments

Raised in the home of a United Methodist pastor in Iowa, I have loved Jesus for as long as I can remember. I gave my heart to Jesus at a church camp when I was 11 years old. Our pastor had warned us that, if we didn’t say this prayer, we could go to hell. I jumped right in and did my best to live for God, though learning about my faith wasn’t my top priority. Eventually, at 19, I made a stronger commitment to put my faith first. But shortly before that happened, I had moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to pursue a career in music. As a drummer, I would play with my band at night and then go to church on Sunday, trying to find my way as a young Christian. But I had a tough time with that without a consistent church home. At length, I began attending a Calvary Chapel congregation while growing to love studying the Bible. I felt reasonably confident that I was leading a faith-centered life.

One night, the pastor preached a sermon challenging all of us to recommit our lives to Christ and sacrifice anything that stood in the way of obedience to God. For me, that obstacle was the band. It had become my life, instead of Jesus. But how could I manage that change?

A few days later, an old pastor friend called to ask me to become youth pastor at his church. I knew God was calling me, so as hard as it was to leave the band — not to mention my girlfriend — I packed up and returned to Iowa to begin my new life as a youth pastor.

At this point, obviously, I had no thought of becoming Catholic. As with many converts, my journey of faith was not a straight line, but a lengthy series of zigs and zags, successes and failures, moments of clarity, but also periods of confusion.

As with many others, I had misconceptions, obstacles, and hangups. The biggest obstacle for me was the fact that my faith/church perspective was also my career. Throughout my 22-year career in ministry, I have held many positions: senior pastor, teaching pastor, worship leader, missions coordinator, etc. The Christian Faith was my career, and the prospect of leaving it all behind to become Catholic was something that I would later on wrestle with greatly. Early on, I was totally intent on being a Protestant minister.

There were no Catholics in my family. Growing up, I had no exposure to the Catholic Faith other than what I had heard from people who hated it. When I met my wife, Estelle, I asked her if she went to church. She said, “I’m Catholic, but I don’t go to church.” I took her to my church, and she loved it! We were married in the United Methodist church where I worked, and never looked back. Until.…

As with others who ultimately convert, my first experience with a Catholic who actually practiced his faith proved to be life changing. His name was Devin Schadt. At the time we met, he was working as a graphic designer. I had hired him to create a logo for our youth ministry, and that led to some interesting conversations about faith and church, and eventually to his Catholic faith. My first impression of him was that he loved Jesus and had a vibrant faith. This seemed strange to me, because as I sat in his dining room looking at the logos he had produced, I was intrigued by the icons, paintings, and other “Catholic looking” stuff he had in his home. Who would do such a thing? What was his deal? I had to press him on this.

I had never actually heard a Catholic talk about Jesus the way Devin did. I had assumed that he just hadn’t read the Bible enough to see how his Catholic faith contradicted the Scriptures. I was licking my chops at the idea of sharing some simple verses with him and explaining the Gospel. Certain that after a few minutes he would be ready to become a “real” Christian, pray the Sinner’s Prayer, and leave all that superstitious hocus pocus behind him, I asked him, “Devin, when were you saved?” I wanted to see how a Catholic would answer this question. I didn’t expect much. Boy, was I wrong!

Not only did Devin have an answer to that question, he had his own questions for me. Questions I was in no way prepared for! For example, “Keith, where did your Bible come from?” “By what authority were the books of the New Testament canonized?” “Why are there so many Protestant denominations?” “How do we know who is accurately teaching the truth of Christianity, when there are so many differences between Protestant denominations?” And many more!

Where were these ideas coming from? As intrigued as I was, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the possibility that the Catholic Church might actually be the one true Church founded by Christ. The very idea that there was a single true Church, founded by Christ Himself, was something new to me. I had always believed that what mattered was a person’s faith and belief in the Scriptures — not any connection to an institution. Devin was helping me to see that the Bible itself shows that Jesus not only founded a Church, but that it still existed today through the handing down of the Faith and authority of the Apostles. However, this was not something I could easily accept.

Devin and I would go on to have many such conversations over the years. We would travel together on a pilgrimage to Rome and Medjugorje. And we would argue passionately, I was trying to make him a Protestant and he was trying to make me a Catholic.

During this time, my ministry and my family were growing. I loved my role in my church. God was moving and things were great. Although there were many things Devin had shown me that challenged my Protestant thinking, I remained aloof, afraid to seriously entertain the idea of converting.

There was one night in particular when God called me out. One of my friends was leading the youth in a communion service at a church camp. It was nothing new to me, but as he worked his way through the service and held up the bread and juice, he said, “this represents Jesus.” I knew that this was not what Jesus had said. I also knew this wasn’t what the Christian Church believed for 1500 years. It was as if God was calling to me to “come home and I’ll show you more.” I broke down and left the room. I called Devin and confessed to him that I was feeling called to become Catholic. I was terrified he would rub it in my face that he was right (because that’s what I would’ve done), but he didn’t. He simply said he was there to help.

I wish this were the part of my story where I converted, but it isn’t. Fear held me back. I bailed out because I couldn’t wrap my mind around how this conversion business could work in my otherwise comfortable life. What would I do for a job? What would my family think?

My wife was raised Catholic, but never went to church. In fact it was through dating and marrying me that Estelle’s journey out of the Catholic Church was completed. I had told her, “the Catholic Church is just a bunch of unbiblical man-made traditions. If you want to experience real Christianity, come with me to my Bible church.” She did, and that was that. She had moved from being a non-practicing Catholic to a person with a passionate relationship with Jesus, and now even a Protestant pastor’s wife! How could I explain this? All these nigglings combined to overpower the conviction I felt, and I put this whole Catholic thing on the shelf for many years. It’s one of the biggest regrets of my life that I did not have the courage to follow through on my conviction.

It would be more than a decade later, after many of life’s ups and downs, that eventually God’s call to come home would become something more than a niggling. I had been the Pastor to Youth and Mission at a medium-sized United Methodist church for a couple years when Greg, a good friend of mine, invited my wife and me to attend a screening of a movie called Apparition Hill. It was a documentary that followed seven strangers on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. I hadn’t thought about that trip I had made to Medjugorje in quite a while, but when Greg called, I figured I’d better go, since he was the one who originally took me on that first all-expenses-paid trip all those years ago. My wife, Estelle, and I had gone with Greg and his wife, Sandi. The movie brought so many things to remembrance that a few times it had me in tears. It’s a great film on many levels, but for me it was clearly used by our Blessed Mother to reach out to me.

I had been in a bit of a storm in my church. Although my local church was great, our denomination as a whole was a mess. It had become clear to me that, without an authoritative voice to interpret both Scripture and history, chaos and schism were inevitable. For the United Methodists, as for many other Protestants in these twenty-first century times, the cultural issues surrounding marriage and Scripture were unraveling what was once a strong denomination. I found myself at odds with many members who wanted the church to change with the times. It didn’t seem to bother them that the Scriptures clearly defined things like marriage and human sexuality. “That’s just one interpretation.” “The church has had it wrong all these years, and we will fix it.” “God doesn’t hate. He/She loves everybody so you can’t judge anyone.” These were just some of the statements I was up against, all the while knowing that I really didn’t have a leg to stand on without some kind of external God-given authority to tell me otherwise. At one point in one of my conversations with an extremely liberal pastor friend, she said to me, “Keith, if you believe all that Church authority stuff, then why aren’t you Catholic?” Good question!

I was beginning to open to that idea again. It seemed that the more I thought about everything Devin and I had argued about, now — all these years later — what he had said was making perfect sense. I was in a different place; the shoe was on the other foot, and I was learning that not listening to God is the worst thing you can do. I still had various objections; I still had my issues. But I had began to feel a new sense of calling, a new presence of truth in my life.

It took me a while to put my finger on it, but it all came together as I was preparing to preach a sermon on the Annunciation (it was Advent, so we Methodists could talk about Mary). As I worked on it in my office, I was overcome with emotion. The more I thought about Mary, the more I was aware not only of how amazing she was, but how connected to the Holy Spirit she continues to be. I actually felt her presence. Then, when I preached that sermon to my congregation, I could feel the Holy Spirit moving. I talked about how Mary was the New Eve and the New Ark of the Covenant. I talked about how amazing she must have been for the angel Gabriel to greet her as “full of grace.” The people were so intrigued by this. One man came forward afterward, in tears confessing that he’d never heard anything like that before. There is so much more I could say about this decisive moment, but the bottom line is: my doctrinal objections were solved, not by arguments, but by the Blessed Mother capturing my heart.

But again, there were the unresolved issues. What changes would my life be confronted with if I converted. I still had no idea how the transition could work. My dad had told me on one occasion, “Keith you can’t just quit your job and become Catholic, there needs to be a way.” He meant that I needed to know how I would feed my family. What would I do for a job? What about my ministry?

The answers to those questions wouldn’t be revealed to me for some time. But my personal moment of truth came one night as I prayed before a crucifix. I was telling Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to become Catholic, but I need you to make a way.” With as much clarity as I have ever received from God, Jesus spoke to me from the crucifix. “I am the way, the truth and the life. You don’t need me to make a way, you just need ME.”

I knew what that meant. I had just received a blessing during the Mass because I couldn’t receive the Eucharist. Jesus was showing me that He was not only truly present in the Eucharist, but also that my primary need was not for God to make things easy or fully revealed, but rather that I was being called upon to step out in faith and just do what He was calling me to do. He was showing me that what I truly needed was not control, or assurance, but Himself.

When I returned home that evening, I told my wife that I needed to convert. I knew she had experienced the same sense of struggle with what was happening in our denomination, but I never expected her to join me in this journey of conversion (or in her case, “reversion”). Her surprising response to me was, “Keith, if this is what God is calling us to, then I am all in.”

The next day, I walked into my senior pastor’s office and told him that I was going to become Catholic. It was a major shock to the congregation; we had been planning so many projects together. In fact, my last Sunday there we had the groundbreaking ceremony for our new $10 million facility.

It was difficult. I loved those people in my former church, and still do. I didn’t want to hurt them; I didn’t want them to feel abandoned. Many were supportive because they loved me, but some thought I had lost my mind, and some were hurt. There were many painful moments in my departure. When you’ve spent your entire life and career in ministry, the connections and roots run deep. It’s important to understand that there will be a cost, sacrifice, and pain. But, there is also much to be gained in such an exchange.

Even if we lose everything we have in this world but gain Jesus, we have won! I had to get to the place where I didn’t need it all to work out perfectly in order to convert. I had to be willing to sacrifice everything for Jesus. Once I was able to take that step, it all became clear. There was no looking back. Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (see Matthew 13:44).

After all those years, I was finally ready to buy that field. I am so happy I did. On October 8th, 2017, I was received into the Catholic Church. My wife was there beside me, returning to the Church, as I made my profession of faith, along with a couple of close friends. It was an incredible moment.

As expected, since becoming Catholic, life has not been easy. I have lost friends, money, security, stability and more. But what I have gained has been more valuable than I could ever have asked for. What I sacrificed does not compare to the blessings I have received. God has been true to his word. I know that no matter what happens in this life, I will never leave the Catholic Church. My life’s mission now is to help others on their journey of faith. I am so humbled that God has allowed me many opportunities to do what my heart most desired.

In 2018, I wrote a book called The Convert’s Guide To Roman Catholicism: Your First Year in the Church. In this book, I try to help converts understand what it will be like to make this transition, not just on the theological level, but also on the practical and personal levels. I am gratified to see how it has helped many people in their journeys, but also in how it has helped cradle Catholics to see the Church through the eyes of a convert. Additionally, I have started a YouTube channel, a live-streamed daily Rosary prayer group, and a podcast called Catholic Feedback. God has also opened the door for me to travel and speak about my faith at parishes and events. The response has been amazing. When you follow the call of God, it doesn’t mean life will become easy, but it does become more meaningful. I am grateful for the grace He has given me, and I wonder about where this journey will take me from here.


Keith Nester

Keith Nester is the Executive Director of Down to Earth Ministry, a teaching ministry that seeks to communicate the truths of the Catholic Faith in a clear, engaging, and impactful manner. Keith is a former Protestant pastor/youth pastor with more than 20 years in full-time ministry. Keith has served in United Methodist, Assemblies of God, and Evangelical Free churches in various roles. In 2017, after a 20-year-long discernment process, Keith resigned his full-time ministry position and entered the Catholic Church. In October of 2018, Keith felt the call of God to write a book about what life is like for converts in their first year. The Convert’s Guide to Roman Catholicism: Your First Year in the Church is a realistic look at the transitions, obstacles, joys and challenges recent converts face. Through the ministry of Down to Earth, Keith continues to use his preaching gifts to speak in churches and events about faith, theology and his journey to Catholicism. Keith is also very active on YouTube, where he makes videos and other content to bring the truths of the Catholic Faith to the world in his own unique style. When not working, Keith loves to ride his Harley and spend time with his family and friends. Keith and his wife, Estelle, have three adult children and live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


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