Last night at the Christian Life and Witness Course, which we are running as preparation for Come Together next month, it was suggested that we write down the story of our faith journey. “You can blog it,” the presenter, Rodney Trinidad said amongst other options.
Unexpectedly finding myself with a spare half hour, I thought that might be a good idea. I have talked about my conversion experience on many occasions, but it has been a long time since I wrote it down.
The story starts with my birth in 1958, in Wolverhampton, England, to a working class couple. My school years were at a Catholic school, and Mum used to take my brother and me to Mass most Sundays.
I guess that time of my childhood would be like that of most children in England at the time. My parents rented an ordinary Council house and made sure we had enough to eat and were dressed warmly.
In the late 1960’s the UK began a long process of transition from the unionised industrial era to a much more modern economy, and as companies were trying to become more competitive there were increasing strikes in all parts of the country. As a result Mum and Dad saw some brochures about how wonderful life in Australia was- backed up by letters from my Aunt who had moved to Sydney years before.
So it was that in February 1969, the Bates family became 10 pound poms and moved to Sydney.
As I grew through my teen years, I became a bit of an atheist. I loved to bait the christians in my year. But I was also very depressed.
In May 1976, during the first year of my degree in Chemical Engineering, I was staying at my friend’s place. His family had gone on holidays, and the plan was that after we had finished our end of term exams we would join them.
As I was lying in bed one night just before going to sleep, I had a vision as clear as if it were real life. In this vision I saw myself climbing a mountain. It was so steep that I was literally dragging myself up the side of the mountain. As I climbed I could see that there was an intense light shining from behind the mountain, but I couldn’t see the source. As I climbed the light got brighter.
Finally, I reached the top and saw that the source of the light was Jesus. As I saw Him I felt love, joy and peace such as I had never experienced before.
So what do you do with an experience like that? God literally dropped on a self-proclaimed atheist and said “Here I am.”
I said to the God who only minutes before I would have said I didn’t believe in, “I will go to church next Sunday and if it’s good I will follow you.”
The following Sunday, I didn’t go to church because I was away with my friend’s family. But the Sunday after, I went to the night service at Wesley Methodist Church Castle Hill. The service, although it was a traditional 4 hymn service, was so full of the presence of God.
Since that time, I have obviously grown in my knowledge of who God is. There have been times when life has been very challenging. There have even been times when the old depression has threatened to come back and overwhelm me.
But God has given me such purpose in my life, and that initial feeling of love, joy and peace has always remained with me.
Walking with Jesus is just the best life there is.