Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Story of Conversion

Is conversion a process or a point action event? When I was growing up the teaching I received at church left no doubt in our minds: conversion is a point action event! The conversion stories of Acts were absolute patterns, down to "at that hour of the night" (Acts 16:31-33). Coming from our believers’ church background, this point action conversion perspective made sense. It also fit the conversion model of the mid-twentieth century: hear, believe, convert (baptism) and join the community of faith.

Last Sunday I met a young woman at the Agape (http://missionagape.com) church in downtown Portland: 38 yrs. old, single, fourth time at Agape and we were praying for her healing since on Thursday she was diagnosed with cancer.

During the meet and greet time I sat down with her to get to know her. Here’s her story:

Three months ago she “didn’t know if I wanted to be here.” Was that at Agape, in Portland, or what? Her answer: living. As she wrestled with her thoughts and despair she felt an inner compulsion to see an old high school friend living in another state. They made contact and this young woman flew out for a week. Her friend and she talked about spiritual life, faith, and Jesus. Back in Portland my new friend came into contact with Agape and, as I said, this Sunday was her fourth visit.

I asked her whether she was a believer, if she had any experience with religion or church. She told me that in the last twenty years, there were maybe three years where she connected anything approaching regularly with a body of Jesus followers. This was new territory for her. Yet here she was, sharing her faith journey with pretty much a total stranger. Her parting remark was, “I can look back over my life and I know that as far back as twenty years ago God was working in my life to bring me here, to this church, at this time in my life.”

It was time to re-gather and I asked her if I could make a strange request of her and take a picture of her and I on my iPhone. “You’re not normal,” she said. Yes, I agreed, but I told her I wanted to pray for this following week and having a picture of us together would help. Meet my new friend:

I would say my early understanding of conversion was naive. Conversion is much more dynamic and processual than I realized then, yet it is also sprinkled with points of concrete action. Something happened in this woman’s life that took her to the edge, which drove her to search for something else. She decided to visit a friend, to go to church, to ask a church body to pray for her, to let a stranger interview her. One day, I pray, she will confess Jesus as Lord in baptism. These are all points of action in the conversion process. Each one is critical to developing a life of active faith as a follower of Jesus. Together they are part of the conversion process.

The classic study on conversion in America is Understanding Religious Conversion by Lewis Rambo. Yale Press, 1993.

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