This past month at church, as they do every now and then, someone was asked to give their testimony.
Its systematic and of more interest, it’s personal because everyone’s journey to faith is different and individual. A testimony is a compelling account of how a person came to be a Christian.
This latest testimony at church got me wondering what I would say if I were to be asked to deliver it to the congregation. It’s vaguely entertaining to me because it is my story told from my point of view and if nothing else, I do find myself entertaining sometimes.
One of my earliest memories is attending what I think was some kind of youth service at Montclair Methodist church. I looked it up and to my pleasant surprise, the church is still in ministry. There was an altar call (to come forward to accept Christ), and we were siphoned into the kitchen, off the hall, where I remember my sister was there too and I sat on a kitchen counter. There we did business with God. It was long ago and I only remember snippets but I remember it all the same.
Time passed and I found myself in high school, not having carried that initial commitment into being deliberate and consistent in living as a Christian.
I got an invite to watch the ‘Power Team’ at The Lord’s Place in Brickhill road (now Sylvester Ntuli Road) in Durban central. It was 11 October 1991.
Yes, I’m one of those guys who remember dates. Those annoying date nerds.
The hairstyles were big, the Soviet Union was dismantling. The Power Team were pumping iron, punishing telephone books, wooden beams and handcuffs, and preaching.
I remember that the place was a former cinema with a floor sloping down to where the screen used to be. They had taken out the cinema seats and packed it with rows of regular plastic and metal chairs. Actually, all these years later I don’t remember the feats of strength but I remember the syllogism that the speaker used from C.S. Lewis; that Christ could not have been a moral teacher but that he made deeper claims (namely being God) and that given that He could only have been one of three things: liar, Lord or lunatic.
I chose Lord and the rest is history. Actually, I rather like movies. Movies have a language that I understand: a beginning, middle and end; plot devices like MacGuffins that move the story forward; Flashbacks that pause the action and give context to broaden the viewer’s emotional connection to the protagonist (the main character). It strikes me as neatly ironic that my faith story starts in a cinema.
Actually, I’m not the protagonist in this movie, God is. I’m merely a supporting character (if small) in this ensemble in which God is the director of this Meta-narrative.
Other MacGuffins have moved my story along at vital points.
In 1997, I joined a year-of-your-life program called Ambassadors that selected young adults to attend Theology classes and journey around Sothern Africa as missionary trainees, doing ministry. I remember thinking that this would provoke my spiritual maturity into the stratosphere, but it didn’t quite turn out like that as I had a fellow Ambassador on my mind, and she and I were complicated.
In spite of this distraction, we did some good and made memories. It was actually a dry season for me but it taught me that we should just focus on the task, the mission and keep going. Looking back on it, it looks better than going through it at the time.
I remember being in London on a working holiday in 1999 and seeing everyone else paired up and me still single, but receiving a verse which I believed was meant for me, from Joshua 24:15, … “as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD”. I had to wait almost a Biblical 7 year period like Jacob before I met my wife. We married in 2007. This time taught me to wait, although I was not happy in my patience, I had to learn to wait.
A major point in my life was 11 June 2011 when my sister died. I had been a presumptuous Christian, believing that God knew how important my family was to me, that He would save them all and we would be raptured simultaneously. This is obviously not what happened.
Since that day at Montclair Methodist where we did business with God, my sister had backslidden somewhat but I remember when our congregation was still in the school hall in D’Urbanvale and Bishop Frank Retief had preached and she had gone up afterward to collect a ‘Meet Your New Manager’ booklet.
This was after she had already gotten ill in 2009. In one of the long spells in hospital, she told us how he had a dream, more a phrase in a dream, Onward Christian Soldiers. Which is the testament to her that me and my brother now work on: a blog called Onward Christian Soldier.
I was very simplistic in my faith when I was younger. Flashback to early 1990s when my Dad was not saved and I had Scripture verses stuck up all over my room and one morning he delivered my morning coffee and read out loud one of the notes on my wall, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and immediately I thought of the verse in Romans 10 where it says that those who confess Jesus with their mouths (and believe in their hearts) will be saved. Around that same time, I remember praying for my unsaved family and once I got so burdened I wept like a crazy chick during a Rom-com, and I realized that God had given me a glimpse of his passion for the lost and his burden for them.
Following my sister’s passing, my brother got more serious with God and my parents got saved and went Baptist.
I learned that the rapture was not an escape hatch from the troubles of this life. Jesus promised trouble. I confess I developed a nasty habit of f-bombs in the stress of that time, the coming to terms with it and the grieving. I learned that He is still there, that the mission is still on and that holy living is hard.
I have flashbacks that remind me of His long-term presence, I suppose you could say His abiding presence in my life. Memories of times when I was not a happy camper and weighed down and then something unexpected and pleasant would happen in the midst of an uncomfortable situation.
I remember once I went back to Durban on holiday and wanted to visit with some old school friends. Me mate Angus and I went to find our mate, Lee, this crazy Welshman with a glass eye, but he wasn’t home. We then went to find our mate Clinton and drove out to his house only to find he wasn’t home and had gotten married and didn’t tell us. But Clinton’s brother Wade was there. We were all unemployed and Wade had cabin fever and a guitar and we just hung out and sang worship songs. It taught me that we are family and we need each other deeply.
I remember being in a banana plantation in White River while on Ambassadors, alone and feeling down. The missionary aviators were taking off in their silver bird with the other Ambassadors inside it except me and Craig. They couldn’t find me and I missed out on a flight, but I was actually meeting with God in that plantation and more importantly He met with me, as real as anything. I had the better deal. I learned that God is close to His children.
I remember being in London on a Saturday morning, alone in the apartment, watching Little House on the Prairie and seeing God’s grace manifest in a simple story about adoption. I learned something of how God sees His adopted children, namely us.
God is better than a writer, a filmmaker, and an artist all rolled into one creative mind and I couldn’t make up a story like this.