Ray East, one of our elders, recently wrote this account of his conversion to share with his sons. It's a powerful testimony to the transformation offered in Christ, and we're so glad he was willing to share it with all of us, too. Here's Ray's story in Ray's words:
I was raised going to church, including bible class, infant baptism, confirmation, and heavily participating in the youth group. That said, I never understood Christianity. The classes didn't make any sense and church worship was boring and ritualized. I mostly viewed going to church as something that people who believed in a God and as a place to socialize.
The scriptures I read made no sense to me. My Mom would privately read her Bible, which I found interesting, but we never talked about God in our family or socially. God was only talked about in Sunday School (not called Bible Class) and by the Minister. The youth group had young couples that helped out, and occasionally we had a devo, but we mostly did stuff for fun.
The only friends my parents had were in the church, so that's interesting as I reflect back on it. The church was our social group. God had no impact on my Dad, but in reflection, God had an impact with my Mom and probably the reason she was able to stay married to him, although she didn't voice it. I'm pretty sure the only reason we went to church was because of my Mom. To my Dad's credit, he went virtually every week even though I'm pretty sure he barely believed or cared.
I saw a lot of hypocrisy in those at church, not just my Dad. For example, my parents threw several parties where everyone got drunk. As a family, I don't recall ever doing anything to help anyone. We never visited anyone sick or in need, we never cooked a meal for anyone, and never went on any service projects.
So by the time I got to college, I was ready to stop going to church and get away from the hypocrisy. I professed, if asked, that I was an atheist. I was not going to pretend. I was not the kind of atheist that was out to convince others that there was no God nor worried that people prayed at games and other things. In fact, I was opening to listen to any Christian that had a reason to give me that there was a God. I started drinking as a Freshman, but oddly, or maybe not so oddly, I still enjoyed hanging with Christians, whether they drank or not (most did). After my first semester, I moved in with a friend that went to church every week and except for drinking, was an extremely moral, kind, compassionate (and fun) person. Really, the only difference between him and me was that he went to church (he probably was nicer then me, too). I went once or twice, but his church was Presbyterian and reminded me too much of the Methodist church.
There was an all girls college, Agnes Scott, near by that all the Georgia Tech guys would try to meet. They would have socials and I met a girl that I was pretty interested in. She wanted to date me but struggled that I was a professed atheist. She invited me on a retreat. We went canoeing that weekend and she tried to witness to me. I listened and said ok, but I don't understand why God had to sacrifice his son. She didn't know, either. I was thoroughly convinced that she did not know why she believed in God/Jesus, another mindless Christian.
I have more stories, but basically, nothing impressed me and I was an atheist through my Junior year of college. Before Junior year ended, I noticed a big change in my closest friend, Georgine Hill. I asked her out to lunch - I think we went to the Varsity - and asked her what was up. She began to tell me her story of going to a Bible study with Amy and Randy Ballard (those friends we visited in Atlanta one evening). She had realized that although she had grown up in the Catholic church, she had never really opened the Bible as they were doing at this Bible study, and she realized that she needed to make some changes in her life and had been baptized. I told her that I respected that decision and asked a lot of questions. I recall she was nervous to tell me, maybe thinking it would change our relationship. I assured her that it did not.
She went off for the summer, as I did, and we kept in touch until Fall. I need to say that the fact that I respected your Mom so much, and probably already in love with her deep down, I was extremely open to listening. Your Mom had a lot of answers but recognized she was learning, so I didn't have a problem with her not knowing everything. Our relationship allowed me to give her the benefit of the doubt. I don't remember what exactly transpired, but I think I asked about going to her Bible Study. I think she was surprised. I probably went to the Bible Study partially because of my interest in her, but I was definitely earnestly interested because of her testimony and how it was changing her.
At the Bible Study (with about 10 other college students), we were studying one of the Gospels, I think. One of my hang ups about God's existence was that people relied on words written by men. As we systematically read and discussed the words, I realized that the preacher, Jim Norville, actually understood the words, the history, and could articulate them simply to us. But what really began to sink in after a few meetings is that there was no way that a man, without God's guidance, could have written those words. The power of the words cut deep into my heart. I fully realized God wrote those words and that there was a God. Of course, as we studied, I realized that baptism was a necessary response to my faith. During this time, I started going to church with Georgine. Once, Georgine went out of town and I went to church without her. I think I shocked her and our friends. I was nervous about being the center of attention of a baptism, but fortunately I learned that it could be done before Wed night church. Before I made the decision, I counted the costs. Would you have expected less from your intentional Dad? I was gravely concerned about being perceived as one of those weird Christians that I thought were stupid. I want to stress how huge of a decision this was for me. I did not like being different in any way and singled out for it. I had worked hard to have friends in college and I didn't want them to stop liking me. And I would have to stop cussing, drinking, etc, too, but that was minor compared to knowing that others would look at me now as I looked at most of them in the past. I even talked to your Mom about these things. I told her that for me, it was a one way decision. I'm not into committing and then changing my mind. After that discussion, I decided the benefit of committing my life to God was more important than those costs. I think at the end of the semester or first of next semester, I was baptized. I know. I know. I should know my baptism date but I didn't write it down and at the time, I didn't know people tried to remember their baptism day. I think I might have a piece of paper somewhere that the church gave me. But your Mom drove with me to the church and she and our friends, and some of the older adults who acted like our parents away from home, were there to witness the baptism.
So in a nutshell - a dear friend and later wonderful wife dared to witness to me, and the power of the words of God given to us through the Bible is what convinced me that God is alive and to commit my life to him.
I would also like to point out that many, many people influenced me over the 20 years leading up to my commitment. I am sure 100% that my Mother's faith and her desire for us to attend church was a positive influence on me - if not only in the sense that I learned that I liked being around good, moral people. I am sure 100% seeing my Mom read her Bible helped leave the door open in my heart. I am 100% sure having a Christian roommate helped leave the door open. Even my encounter with the girl from Agnes Scott impacted me. Although in a way, it was negative, I did respect her for not wanting to date me since I wasn't a Christian. I'm often amazed at leaders that expect results over night. It can take countless events and interactions to bring someone to Christ. Sure, it can be overnight, too, as with Paul, but since God uses us to seed and water, it can take a really long time, especially for us stubborn ones.
I want to say a little about my spiritual growth. I would have to say that there has been many key things to help me. First, a year after my baptism, I still didn't understand a lot of what I read in the Bible. I didn't understand the history behind the Jews and Gentiles (I.e. what were Gentiles?). My preacher friend in Florida, Rod Myers, walked me through Romans and all the history behind it. That was a huge awakening for me. Much of the Bible was opened up to me at that point. Second, we attended a small local church in Florida, which forced me into leading prayers and I got a taste of church leadership. Third, I forced myself to start teaching. First it was being a life guard. Looking back, I was probably horrible at it. I forced myself to teach because I knew that with my leadership tendencies and skills that I needed to be able to use my gifts. Teaching - forcing me to study - was the only sure way to develop my Biblical knowledge. It seemed obvious to me that I should also prepare myself for the eldership and teaching was key. I subsequently taught elementary school, middle school, teenagers, adult small groups, and then adult classes. I had to take breaks here and there, but it was very intentional. I accepted being a deacon and the two committee chairman roles for the same reason. To serve but to develop myself. The other key development came from your mother. She was adamant that we attend every church event, social or purely spiritual, help in every way that we could, and she always set the example of dedicated Bible study, prayer, and reading books that challenged her to grow. Basically, I am a follower of Christ and deep into the word because of your mother's witness and example - from the beginning to now. I'm the slow one. She's always a step, or two or three, ahead of me.
The way God thru Jesus Christ has worked in my life has been how he's shaped my temperament. I used to be a very angry person. Most people view me as fairly patient and calm now. It took me years and years to get to where I am now.
Another way that God thru Jesus Christ has worked on me is in serving. If you had told me 20 years ago that I would go to Croatia to do Champs Camp, I would have laughed and said you are crazy. But about 10 years ago, I realized I need to serve others and so I started to go on mission trips to force myself. I look for the 'good works' that God has put here for me to do. I don't always see them, but I'm getting better.
Another way that God thru Jesus Christ has worked on me is my perspective of what my priorities in life should be. Without God, I would have solely worked to make more money. While I work hard to do a good job, my priority is God. Thru Jesus, I find peace and contentment with what I have.