Chains of Grace: A Conversion Story

by David Apple March 4, 2014

I became a Christian in my first year of college through the ministry of an inner-city church plant in Paterson, NJ (Northside Chapel CRC). The pastor who discipled me, Stan Vander Klay, later wrote a memoir which I recently read. I was surprised to see in the book the following story about my conversion. I hope and pray you find this account to be an encouragement.

At the first New Year's Eve watch night service in our new church [Northside Chapel], the night that ‘64 became ‘65, Jim Thompson brought a friend to church, David Apple. David was Jewish, living at home and attending his first year at a nearby college. He and Jim had become acquainted because Jim worked after school and on Saturdays in David's father's print shop. Harry, David's father, deeply believed the rightness of the civil rights struggle, and wanted to do something to help. Jim began telling David about his church and the wonderful interracial fellowship there, and David got curious enough to come that night. Because he loved the fellowship among the young people, he kept coming to church with Jim. After about a month he told me that he just didn't see the point of what I was teaching about Jesus. It wasn't that it antagonized him, but his response was rather, "So what?" Still, sitting through an hour of weekly irrelevance was a trade-off he was willing to make, so he continued to attend.

It was sometime later, when I heard that David had come to put his faith in Christ. At an early point in every Sunday evening service, we would stand and recite the Apostles' Creed in unison. David would arise with the rest of the congregation, but stand silently. He told me on that particular Sunday evening, standing silently with his friend Jim, somewhere in the middle of the creed he began saying it with all the rest, for he had come to realize in his heart that he now believed.

Not too long afterward I received a call from his mother, Mimi. It was a friendly call with an invitation to come over to her house and talk. She explained that she and Harry were quite nonreligious in their Jewishness. They would occasionally go to the Reform synagogue because they were short on transcendence and long on social relevance and ethical reflection. She and Harry were part of various groups in the city working for civil rights and other dimensions of social justice, and she wanted to learn a little bit more about me. She began to pick my brain about what we believed spiritually and socially. She had heard clearly enough that I was evangelical in my theology, but I seemed to be miles away from her idea of an evangelical in my social outlook. She was surprised to learn in answer to one of her questions that I was not enamored with Richard Nixon. "You have destroyed all of my stereotypes," she said to me before I left.

That began a friendship with Mimi and Harry lasting for many years and including some searching but cordial discussions about the claims of Christ. Both of them, as well as her older son, would attend church on the day that David was baptized. Harry told me that day that his advice to his younger son had gone something like this: "Since this is where you are right now in your search for truth, I support you. I hope that on the day you outgrow it you will have the courage and the honesty to move on." He did not understand that there was nothing beyond and that what he hoped for would never happen. Mimi, some years later began attending Northside on Sunday mornings and going to Mrs. Vogel's "mothers club." She grew ill and died while still comparatively young. As the physical debilitation of Parkinson's disease spread, she told me often that she also now believed in Christ. Meanwhile, her son David had long had the nickname of "David Apple from the Chapel." After a few years he went to Calvin College, graduated, and came back to Paterson. When we organized in ‘73, he became a deacon at Northside and later an elder. He worked for some years for a city social agency and for a time as Director of the Eastern Diaconate of the Christian Reformed Church. For more than a decade now David has had an outreach ministry to the poor and homeless for the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia where the late James Montgomery Boice was pastor.

It all took place because an African-American teenaged Christian brought a socially conscious Jewish boy to a church where people were learning to live out the racial and social implications of the gospel.

Excerpted from Stanley Vander Klay's Chains of Grace.