Last week, I recounted the first part of my conversion story. I left off somewhere in the depths—I had been brought low by a series of unimaginable life circumstances, and this had left me broken, bitter, and hopeless. Here is the rest of my story.
As a pre-teen and teenager, my only escapes were baseball and bowling. I followed my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers and my heroes Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella (if they could make it, so could I). As for bowling, this sport requires only one hand, and for many years I excelled and became a champion bowler.
At age sixteen I had fully recovered from surgery to lengthen my Achilles tendon. It was the first time since being hit by the car that I could stand upright and walk straight and run without tripping. My bowling had never been better.
Following a January snow storm the next year, I was on my way to participate in the finals of the state bowling championship. Driving my dad’s Volkswagen minibus, this vehicle with the engine in the back suddenly hit an icy patch, spun around and sped across the three lane highway.
Looking ahead I see the rail, and fear I’m about to die. Just then my minibus was hit by another car. It spun around again, and threw me to the ground. Everything goes black. Soon after, I open my eyes where I lay on the shoulder of the highway, just inches away from the rear tire of the minibus. With the help of the other driver, I get up and as there were no serious injuries—I am just scratched, after all—get back in the car, which is running just fine, and drive home. Suffering only minor cuts and bruises, I say to myself, “Boy, I am lucky.”
Around that time and for the next few years, several African American Christians befriended me. We had a mutual friend, Jimmy, with whom I worked. It wasn’t like I was their “project,” a sinner to be saved. No, they just loved me and cared about me. They told me some crazy stuff about their savior, Jesus—how he had lifted them out of the “ash heap and the dung pile,” and richly clothed them in robes of splendor. I repeatedly responded, “Go away with that. I have no hope. There is no God. Leave me alone with this Jesus.” But, then one day I met a man who was old, poor, blind, crippled, and lived in a rat and roach infested apartment, who said that he was rich, whole, and well. More and more, God brought me into contact with people who, though poor, said that they were rich. After years of fighting them off, finally I said, “These people may be crazy, but they have what I want.”
I studied the Bible in the company of poor people and worshipped together with them at Northside Community Chapel, an inner-city Christian Reformed church plant. I remember reading the Bible for the first time and believing that this was God’s Word. This was after years of denying his existence and being totally ignorant of the truths contained in Scripture. I remember the first time I read the Exodus story. I knew the story but thought it was something the film director Cecil B. DeMille had made up for his film The Ten Commandments. It was an “Aha!” moment for me as a new believer, to read the Bible and see that historically God had a plan to deliver his people and to save them from their sin, going all the way back to Genesis 3. I was beginning to believe what my new friends said about God—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Yet, I still had some doubts.
Driving down a narrow one way street on my way to speak to the minister about my belief in scripture, baptism, and my interest in church membership, suddenly a child dashed out in front of my car. Before I could step on the brakes, I hit him, sending the three year old boy skidding and rolling down the road before he stopped—motionless. I buried my head in my hands, horrified. I heard the mother scream and visualized my own accident many years before: me running into the street, getting hit by the car, people screaming.
The police and paramedics came, and I followed them to the hospital. I waited in a state of shock and disbelief, asking myself, “Did I kill him? Oh no, Lord. Don’t let him die.” Finally the doctor came out and said, “I have good news. Edwin is okay. He is badly bruised, but he has no internal bleeding, no breaks or injuries. He’ll go home in about an hour and he should be fine.”
That news was such a relief. And at that moment, without a doubt, I knew that Jesus Christ was my savior, and as God had saved Edwin’s life just then, I knew he had saved me from physical death many years before. More importantly, I also knew that God had saved me from eternal death as well. At that moment I knew that God had used a unique process of suffering to get my attention. He brought to me people who had suffered in a variety of ways, yet were victorious in Jesus Christ. I knew that I was saved for all eternity.
God got my attention and soon after I was baptized and made my public profession of faith. At that worship service, my pastor used the text from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…” I took that verse to heart—the Spirit of the Lord had anointed me to do something. He called me to bring the good news to the poor, and to give spiritual sight to the blind. He called me to release the captives. Hallelujah!