I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)
As one of five sons of an Assemblies of God pastor, my family was always the first to arrive at the church and the last to leave. I have always understood that Jesus loves me and wants to have a close relationship with me.
To Be a Pastor’s Son
I have a vivid memory from 1963 of being at the Grand Ledge, Michigan, Assemblies of God Church. I was a nine-year-old, and my older brother was twelve. After the sermon, I went up to the kneeling rail with those who “wanted to have more of Jesus in their lives.” It was then that I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, although I barely knew what that meant. My older brother, Dale, had not yet received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I heard him praying and pleading with God that if Terry, his little brother, was loved enough to receive this gift, that he ought to receive it, too.
The Assemblies of God does not believe in infant baptism. The denomination dedicates babies and only baptizes with water much later when one has had a personal encounter with Jesus and has accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. For this reason, I was dedicated to the Lord as an infant.
To Sin or Not to Sin
After receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit at nine years old, I asked my father if I could be baptized with water. He told me that I was too young. My youthful brain reasoned with him that if I was not too young to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, then I wasn’t too young to be baptized with water. I told him that God had accepted me and was living in me. This was an argument my father could not dispute, and he decided to allow me to be baptized with my older brother.
As a member of the Assemblies of God, I was taught that you could tell Christians by their deeds. However, it was not so much what they did that identified them, but rather what they did not do. I was taught that Christians did not go to movie theaters, did not play cards, did not smoke, and did not drink alcohol. Christian women did not use makeup and did not wear pants. Another prohibited activity was dancing of any kind. When I was in 8th grade, I was voted vice president of my class, and I was expected to attend my grade’s school dance. My father reluctantly gave me permission to go after I promised that I would not dance. I would just hang out by the snacks and talk with my friends.
While at the dance, I saw a girl who went to my church that I thought was rather cute. I was really surprised when she walked up to me and invited me to dance with her. I explained that if we danced, it would be a sin, and we would go to hell. She retorted that it wasn’t true, that dancing was not a sin, that it was a lot of fun, and that God hadn’t struck her down for doing it. She was so convincing that I decided to accept her invitation. And it was fun! When the song was over, I was still perfectly alive and did not feel the least bit separated from Jesus nor convicted by the Holy Spirit that I had sinned grievously. I realized then that what I had been taught about dancing was not true.
That experience drove me into a period of trying to figure out what really was a sin and what wasn’t. I concluded that the Assemblies of God did not have all of the answers. I realized other Christians did not believe certain things I had been taught. Rather than causing me to rebel against Christ, my search brought me closer to Him. I studied the Bible more than ever as I tried to figure out what really pleased Christ, as well as what truly displeased Him. I was hungry for the truth!
At that young age, I started to believe that there was no real body of Christ on earth. Rather, this was only a metaphor for a universal group of people who had similar experiences concerning Jesus. While it seemed like Christians espoused different beliefs, since we belonged to different denominations, I realized these variations were like the parable of the three blind men who are trying to describe an elephant. The one who felt the trunk believed that the elephant was like a snake. The one who felt the legs believed that the elephant was like a large tree. The one who felt the tail believed that the elephant was like a rope. I figured that the Holy Spirit would have to sort everything out regarding the full picture.
Around this time, I remember trying to speak to a drunken man about Jesus. He told me that he was a Baptist. He said that the Baptist church was the true church because it was the very first church. This puzzled me since I knew that the Baptist church was formed after the Reformation, so I questioned him about it. He said the Baptist church was formed by John the Baptist, and since John was born before Jesus, the Baptist church was the first and true church. I didn’t argue with the man since he was drunk. Besides, according to my upbringing, being drunk proved he wasn’t a Christian at all. But I did find his reasoning quite amusing.
To Be Loved and to Love
Somewhere along the way I picked up on the teaching of “the total depravity of man,” although at the time I did not understand what it was called. I thought that if this were true, then I was completely incapable of pleasing God. This was depressing. I asked my oldest brother, who had just returned home on a college break, what I should do about my problem. His exact words were, “Man, I don’t know what to tell you. Just read the Bible!” I opened up my Bible and started reading the book of Romans. I will never forget what happened when I got to the passage that said, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). I heard the voice of Jesus speaking in my heart, telling me that He was so powerful that He could make even the wrong things that I did turn out for good if I gave them to Him and asked for forgiveness. I told Him, “If you really are that powerful, then you are my God, and I will serve you the rest of my life.” I finished reading the book of Romans and realized I was completely at peace for the first time in many months.
My church decided to start a study group on cults. I helped teach the class on Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, and Catholics. Why these groups? We believed they were cults and that we needed to know what they believed and how they were different from us. These groups believed that Jesus had started each of their churches, rather than our supposition that Jesus had formed the idea of people coming together and creating communities of faith. I was taught that the Church of Rome was the whore of Babylon and that the Pope was the Antichrist, and I then taught these misconceptions to others. My grandfather used to call the tail end of a turkey “the Pope’s nose,” and when a cousin, whom I loved dearly, told us she was marrying a Catholic, my grandmother told her she would rather see her dead. We had all inherited a bias against Catholics.
One Sunday, when I was 16, I was reading the religion section of the newspaper. There was an article about a group of Catholic charismatics that were meeting at a place that eventually grew to become Christ the King Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This completely puzzled me because, as I shared earlier, I had been taught that the Catholic Church was a cult. I felt convicted that I needed to see what was going on there for myself. My father gave me permission to drive to Ann Arbor, which was only about 45 minutes away from where we lived, on one condition: that a board member from our church accompany me. The board member that my dad chose was a former Catholic who had been “saved” from the Catholic Church. When we arrived at the meeting place, I could not believe my eyes and ears. I saw priests and nuns and men in monks’ habits. I saw guys with beards and blue jeans and girls with long hair and love beads. Everyone was singing the same praise music that I sang in my own church. They were worshiping Jesus just like I did. This was a Cornelius experience in reverse for me. I knew in my heart and spirit that these people loved Jesus, and I also understood that the Presence of Jesus was in the Catholic Church, in a thing that looked like a little box.
I came home from Ann Arbor and reported what I had seen and heard to my parents. They became very excited, believing that all of these people could now leave the Catholic Church and be free from the “cult” — since they had obviously truly experienced Jesus. My response was quite different. I realized, once again, that I had been taught things that were not true. I concluded that Christianity did not begin at the Azusa Street Revival in the early 1900s, but that it started in 33 AD on the day of Pentecost and continues to this present day.I became acutely aware that Christians who loved Jesus and claimed to hear from the Holy Spirit were interpreting passages from the Scriptures very differently from the way I had been taught. Click To Tweet
After my encounter with the Catholic charismatics, my worldview changed completely. I became acutely aware that Christians who loved Jesus and claimed to hear from the Holy Spirit were interpreting passages from the Scriptures very differently from the way I had been taught. How could we both be right? How did I know whose understanding was correct?
To Be Deep in History
Consequently, I became a student of Church history and the early Church Fathers and was introduced to Marian theology, the treating of the Theotokos, Mary, the Mother of God. I discovered that the Theotokos was accepted by all Christians even before the theology of the Trinity was formulated. I also realized that, in the beginning, all Christians believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It has been said that if you do not want to be led into the Catholic Church, then you should not study the history of the early Church. Of course, I didn’t know that when I started studying the early Church Fathers, but I quickly discovered that this statement is true. A serious, open-minded, open-hearted study of the early Church will eventually bring you to the Catholic Faith. For 40 years, I wandered in the wilderness, searching to find the Promised Land, the Church that Jesus said He would build, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16).A serious, open-minded, open-hearted study of the early Church will eventually bring you to the Catholic Faith. Click To Tweet
In the church I grew up in, we had a memorial communion service. They did not teach the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine. In my reading, I discovered that the early Church believed in the Real Presence of Christ — the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus — in the Holy Eucharist, from the very beginning. So, now, called to the Church as an adult, I began to sneak into Catholic Masses on Sunday mornings before my wife and children were ready to go to our Protestant church. This went on for a long time.I thought, any girl with guts enough to wear that kind of dress to an Assemblies’ tent revival was a girl I had to get to know! Click To Tweet
I had met my wife, Renee, at a revival meeting when she was almost fifteen. She had sauntered into the revival tent wearing a polka-dot halter dress. That was a bit scandalous for the Assemblies of God; however, her long hair made it almost impossible to detect her problematic clothing. I thought, any girl with guts enough to wear that kind of dress to an Assemblies’ tent revival was a girl I had to get to know! We became childhood sweethearts and, eventually, husband and wife.
To Serve Abroad and at Home
Renee and I became medical missionaries in Kazakhstan in 1997. After three years of ministering in Kazakhstan, I became the missionary medical director based in the US (Michigan), traveling frequently around the world. We worked in missions for a total of seven years, and afterwards, I returned to practicing internal medicine in Michigan. This time, I was offered a position in a Catholic hospital. I soon became the primary doctor for a group of retired nuns, some of the active priests, and even the bishops of the diocese. This gave me wonderful opportunities to talk with them about the Catholic Church. I would often listen to EWTN and, in particular, The Journey Home program with Marcus Grodi.
One day, Bishop Paul Bradley, the diocesan bishop and one of my patients, point blank asked me what was keeping me from becoming Catholic. I explained to him that the obstacle was my family. It would be especially devastating to my 80-year-old father, who was a high-ranking Assemblies of God minister. I told him that Jesus knew my heart, but I felt I couldn’t come into the Catholic Church while my father was still alive. Bishop Bradley agreed that, out of respect for my father, I should wait until he passed away. As my father aged, he never gave up his ministry, and until the very end of his life, he was still teaching Bible classes to older adults. After my father’s death, I went to Bishop Bradley and told him I was ready to enter the Catholic Church.
To Be Ready When Your Wife is Not
My dear Renee was not ready to enter the Church with me, nor was she even interested in learning about it. Bishop Bradley assured me that I could attend Mass on Sundays and could also continue going with her to our Protestant church so that we could worship together. He then assigned me a spiritual director who would be my mentor. At one point, my spiritual director asked me, “Why do you really want to enter the Catholic Church?” I explained, “It’s not because you have better preaching. It’s not because you have more lively music. But where else can I go to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist?” Then he said to me, “You’re ready. Welcome!” After that, I was joyously able to go to my first Reconciliation and receive my first Holy Communion and Confirmation.
The year I came into the Catholic Church was the year that Easter landed on my birthday. When my mother asked me what gift she could give me, I told her I would like her to attend the Easter Sunday morning Mass at our cathedral with me. To my great surprise and joy, she did so. When Mass was over, my mother was amazed. She didn’t understand exactly what had happened, but she thought it was beautiful. She had a definite “softening of the heart” toward Catholics after her experience of the Mass. Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s famous quote sums it up well: “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing” (Rumble and Carty, Radio Replies. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, “Preface”, 2015). I am thankful that my mother had a glimpse of the beauty within the Catholic Church.
My coming into the Catholic Church would have been even more joyful if Renee had joined me, but she was not even close to being ready. She insisted I attend Mass out of town so nobody would recognize me. She did not want my conversion to the Catholic Church to fuel gossip in the rumor mill. Occasionally, she would attend Mass with me, and I would try to make her “cheat sheets” so she could follow along. I eventually discovered a wonderful publication called Magnificat, which made it easier for her to understand what was going on during the Mass. To the eyes of many Protestants, Catholic worship appears foreign and exclusive. Protestant culture places a high emphasis on welcoming the unchurched, while Catholic culture is focused on the members they already have. Catholics are not expecting non-Catholics to attend Mass. My observation is that this results in the Protestants excelling in evangelization, but not in discipleship, and the Catholics excelling in wisdom and sound teaching, but not evangelization. Many, especially converts, are working to fulfill the New Evangelization, the call by Pope St. John Paul II and others to begin a new approach to sharing the Faith with those outside the Church, as well as those who may be asleep inside the Church.
As for Renee, I knew it would have to be the Holy Spirit that drew her to the Catholic Church. I focused my efforts on simply praying for her. While practicing medicine, it became a habit to relax in my hot tub at the end of a busy day. I would spend up to an hour in prayer as I let the cares of the day melt away. After becoming Catholic, I would spend my “hot-tub time” praying the Rosary for my wife, asking the Holy Spirit to lead her to the Catholic Church.
Eventually, the news began to get around that “Dr. Terry has become a Catholic!” So Renee and I decided we should probably meet with the pastor of our Protestant church to explain our situation to him in person. I told him that I was, indeed, now Catholic and attending Mass. Yet I was also attending the Protestant church with my wife so that we could worship God together. He was so completely taken aback that he exclaimed, “… I don’t have any idea what to do about this!”
To Be Rejected in Order to Be Accepted
A few weeks later, the pastor decided that I was no longer welcome to participate in worship with my wife at their church. This shocked Renee and our friends at the church. This pastor was eventually dismissed from his position, perhaps in part due to his mishandling of my situation.
I’ll let Renee pick up what happened from here:
I had understood for quite a long time that Terry had an interest in and, eventually, a real love for the Catholic Church. This was very foreign to me because it went against what I had been taught growing up. However, I knew that God was in this situation. For nearly forty years, I had trusted my husband as a wonderful partner and guide, and now I had a hard decision to make. Could I continue to trust him? It was at this point that I had an understanding, while praying, that not to follow Terry and not being united with him in this decision would be displeasing to Jesus. That understanding made a real impact on me! I prayed, “Lord, if this is really you encouraging me to come along with Terry, please make it very clear. Please, Jesus, make my eyes see what I have never seen before, make my ears hear things I’ve never heard before, and may it all be the truth!”
I then called St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Richland, Michigan, where Terry was a member, and asked when their next RCIA classes were. The woman who answered the phone said they would start next week! That was my first sign. I asked her to put my name on the list, and she was very happy to do so. I found out at my first class that there was only one other person in the class besides me. That made for an intense, almost one-on-one, learning experience with an amazing RCIA teacher. I then discovered that my classmate was a woman who raised alpacas. Terry and I had also once raised a herd of 22 llamas (before we left to become medical missionaries to Kazakhstan), so my new friend and I had much to discuss: llamas and Jesus!
But God wasn’t through with my surprises! When I had a chance to get to know the priest at St. Ann’s, I discovered that he had been baptized a Catholic as an infant, but then his family left the Catholic Church and joined the Assemblies of God! He had even attended an Assemblies of God school. But after his graduation, God led him back to the Catholic Church. From there, he eventually discovered his vocation as a Catholic priest, and his family also returned to the Catholic Faith. The Lord, in His goodness, had “hand-picked” this priest just for me! Father understood my background and was a real comfort to me.
And then I found out that the deacon assigned to St. Ann’s was a man that I had been on a double date with many years ago! My best friend had gone with him, and I had gone with his younger brother. What a small world! He and I were both surprised, and delighted, to reconnect.
Another surprise was the moment I remembered I had been a bridesmaid in a wedding at St. Ann’s some 40 years earlier. Terry and I had been looking through some old photo albums, and he found a picture of me wearing a bridesmaid’s dress at a church wedding, standing next to a statue of Mary. “That’s the same statue at St. Ann’s!” he exclaimed. When I saw the picture, it all came back to me. That wedding at St. Ann’s was the one and only time in my life that I had set foot inside a Catholic Church… until I first went to Mass with Terry.God had many such surprises planned out just for me. He perfectly tailored every single detail of my journey into the Catholic Church. Click To Tweet
God had many such surprises planned out just for me. He perfectly tailored every single detail of my journey into the Catholic Church. I guess you can say I have come full circle in my worship. I never understood how someone could worship God quietly. Worship to me had always meant praising God with my hands raised high and singing lively, heartfelt songs. While that is good and pleasing to the Lord, there is another way that is the highest form of worship. It is in the context of the Mass or in quiet Adoration. When I walk into the Catholic Church in the town where I now live, I experience a sense of great reverence. The quiet lends itself to my anticipation of receiving my Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. He is worth everything that I have ever given up. He is the Pearl of great price.The quiet lends itself to my anticipation of receiving my Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. He is worth everything that I have ever given up. He is the Pearl of great price. Click To Tweet