The story of God’s grace and mercy in bringing me to faith in Jesus is very ordinary. Ordinary in the sense that mine is not a spectacular conversion story. God used ordinary means. He used ordinary people. And thus, mine is an ordinary story. And yet, every work of God in a person’s heart to bring them to himself is a miracle of new creation. And when I look back on how God has worked through a number of what seems to be ordinary human means, putting all the pieces together reveals an extraordinary work of God! I praise God that I stand in Jesus Christ as a son of the heavenly Father. It is a mark of his extraordinary grace and mercy in my life. Here is my story as I look back at God’s work in my life.
I was born in a small town in the north of France called Tourcoing. It’s a small industrial city that you don’t really stop in unless you have a reason to. However, if you did happen to stop there the only tourist attraction is a massive neo-gothic Roman Catholic church. The church itself is huge, but the attendance numbers are very much the opposite. In many ways, the church stands as a true symbol of Christianity in France. There is cultural evidence of traditional Christianity throughout France’s landscape and people, but no real faith in God. This was my experience. I was baptised as a baby in the Roman Catholic church, but such baptisms (along with weddings and funerals) were the only reason my parents or extended family would ever visit a church. Sadly, my large extended family back in France continue to practice these traditional rituals, yet still do not have any real faith in Christ.
My story of coming to Christ really begins with my parents’ decision to move to Sydney, Australia. Dad had a couple of brothers who had already moved to Australia, so he decided to move us (my mum, sister, and I) there. Dad still can’t quite articulate why we moved. Perhaps he just got sick of the dreary weather of northern France! Ultimately, it was a work of God’s grace towards me to hear the gospel. I do not think I ever would have heard the gospel had we remained in Tourcoing. Humanly speaking, I believe I would have perished without Jesus.
Growing up in Sydney involved minimal church interactions for me and my family. My mum at times felt convicted to take us to ‘mass’ – but I could count on my hand how many times that happened. Also, being ‘Roman Catholic’, as we traditionally were, I was in Roman Catholic SRE Scripture at school, and so fulfilled my Roman Catholic duties of celebrating my Holy Communion. I had no idea what it was all about at the time, but I loved it! Our family and friends had a party for me, I got gifts, and there was cake! What else could an 8-year-old boy want? My only other memories of ‘church’ growing up were of attending a Protestant church (St Mark’s Anglican Brighton-le-Sands) on Wednesday afternoons for a year or so (but, that was because my parents got free after-school care!), and my short-lived stint as an ‘altar boy’ as a 10-year-old at my local Catholic church (I wanted to be the ‘bell-ringer’, but the novelty wore off after 2 weeks…). As I think back on those church experiences I did have, I truly cannot remember learning anything about Jesus. I’m not sure if Roman Catholic Scripture classes and my catechism for my Holy Communion failed in teaching me anything about Jesus, or if I was too busy mucking around and failed to listen (though I do remember having to recite The Hail Mary!). Even my days at St Mark’s Anglican bring back memories of the food I got to eat (I really looked forward to the hotdogs!), but nothing of learning about Jesus. I suspect God had not yet opened my ears to his gospel.
It wasn’t until my teenage years that I began to hear the gospel clearly. I was 16 and a mate from school invited me along to the local youth group. The attraction for going along however had very little to do with the gospel. There were three main reasons why I went. The first was due to a few of my mates attending. The second was due to the fact that I was a 16-year-old boy and I liked girls, and there were girls there. And the third was in light of my parents being happy for me to be at some church on a Friday night, rather than roaming the streets.
I never expected what happened. For the first couple of months, it was all about the fun of youth group. But as I sat there and heard the talks and sat in the Bible studies, I started to listen. God began to open my ears. I heard of God’s love for me and what he did in Jesus his Son for my forgiveness. I began to realise that sin is a huge problem, and I have sin! And I realised for the first time that God is worthy to be worshipped. That we are created to follow him and give our lives to him.
The whole process for me took a good 18 months or so. It involved many Bible talks. Many Bible studies. And many conversations with my friends who were already following Jesus. Praise God for such ordinary work and ordinary means. Praise God for those ordinary youth leaders who gave up their Friday evenings to share the gospel with ratbag kids like me (and trust me, I was one of those ratbag kids! But that’s a story for another time). Praise God for those peers who were bold enough to share their faith with me. And praise God for the small and ordinary church I became a part of once I gave my life to Jesus. Through such people God worked by his Spirit to bring me to himself.
I want to highlight however two extraordinary, ordinary men whom God used to save me. The first man was (and still is) a youth leader. This man is not a church minister. He is a man who loves the gospel and loves seeing young people hear and accept Jesus. Even though he was a very busy man, and a very successful man in his professional sphere (and still is!), he always made time to share Jesus with me. As a young man, I was constantly struck that he would give me the time that he did. Only the power of the gospel and the glory of God could have driven a person to give such time and effort to young ratbags like me. This brother of mine is now 55 and has been leading, or a leader, of that same youth ministry for 35 years. What an extraordinary work under God.
The other man is now a full-time minister of the gospel. But at the time of my conversion, he was a Moore College student minister at the church. Part of his role was assisting in the youth ministry on a Friday night. More specifically, he would take the ‘non-Christian’ kids for the Bible study time. This is where the gospel was explained to me. However, this man went above and beyond, because what he would do every Thursday afternoon is travel to my high school to take me and one other for a Bible study. And it wasn’t close! He lived in Newtown (where Moore College is), and my school was in Caringbah – which at that time of day was up to 45 minutes away. It wasn’t a formal part of his role. He didn’t have to do it. But, yet again, such was his love for me and the glory of our Lord Jesus, that he did it. And because of that, I learnt about my sin and my great need for the forgiveness won for me in Jesus.
My story in many ways is very ordinary. No epiphany. No supernatural event or experience. Just the ordinary, extraordinary work of God in my life. Praise God that he brought me to Sydney to hear the gospel. Praise God for the men and women who bothered to share Jesus with me. Praise God for his grace and mercy towards me in Jesus his Son.