How I came to have saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a story of generations. A single day brought with it new life in me for eternity. Yet, details of how that came to be started many years earlier.
As teens, my maternal grandmother’s parents came from the “old country,” Finland in the case of my great-grandma Vendla and in the case of my great grandfather, Gustov, Sweden. They grew to become farmers, and I have memories of visiting their farmland in Stillman Valley, Illinois for a family reunion. There was some clear country and clean rooflines on homes with pristine white trim, and everything else farmhouses should be. I went home that day desiring one day to live on a farm for the view and the sense of simplicity that lingered.
Gustov and Vendla met in America after becoming naturalized citizens. When they came to America they were already Christians. They married while young and started their family. Their eighth child, Rich, was killed in a car accident when he was sixteen. I can remember my grandmother telling me that story when I was a child, probably while making a pie or bread together in the kitchen or while playing a game, like Monopoly, together at the gathering table in their northern Wisconsin home. I thought about him, gone seemingly “too soon,” who would be among the ranks of family members. He went from seen and known to only spoken of. Gustov and Vendla are with him now; they were Christians until the days they died.
My grandmother, Gertrude, became a Christian on the farm. She watched the example of her parents whose faith passed to her while listening to a Christian children’s radio program at the age of seven or eight. The host asked how many listening children wanted to become Christians. She did and prayed with them. One simply sows and sows while another reaps.
My maternal grandfather also became a Christian through his parents. His parents became Christians not as children, but as adults when a protégé of Paul Rader—a 20th century evangelist and the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago—planted a church in Wisconsin. This man, Pastor Sproule, invited my great-grandparents, Selma and Roy, to a church gathering when the church was still meeting in homes. The church, called Gospel Tabernacle, was in Baraboo, Wisconsin on the north side of town by the river, right next to the Ringling Bros. Circus home.
The year was 1932, during the time of the Great Depression. The future of the circus was pending, as one of the Ringling brothers could no longer make payment on his debts. But Gospel Tabernacle grew. In the home, Selma took the lead spiritually. Because of both parents, but especially Selma, my grandfather, David, became a Christian in 1932 at age eight. He and his mother prayed together every night, and the night he became a Christian was one of them. His debts of sin were paid in full.
My grandparents married in 1944 and in 1952 gave birth to their only daughter, Sheryl, my mother. When she was ten or eleven, the family returned from the mission field in Japan. My grandfather spoke at a camp that summer. A children’s camp paralleled it. There, during one of the camp talks, my mom became a Christian. Although, she would say that she took her faith more seriously when she was fourteen in 1963, the year President Kennedy was assassinated. As a fourteen-year-old, the grave news made her sense that life is fleeting and, in the end, there is no one to whom a person can turn but the Lord.
Years later in 1977, she and my dad, Martin, met on Sunday morning at what is now called Village Church of Lincolnshire near Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where my dad was pursuing his Master of Divinity. My dad, the initial person in his family to become a Christian, was first introduced to true Christianity the summer after his sophomore year in high school. My dad had been confirmed at a Methodist church years earlier, but learned through the confirmation classes virtually nothing about the Lord or Scripture—only about doing good works, like feeding the poor. One of his best friends, a fellow football player named Ron, invitation him to a Youth for Christ camp. Ron asked him to come, enjoy, and added, “You could use a little religion.” From the camp speaker, an invitation was made on the last day to come forward and receive Christ. My dad prayed to received the Lord with Jay Kesler, a leader who went on to become the President of Youth for Christ. His life was changed, as were the lives of family members around him who noted the differences.
Mine is an inherited faith, as with all who believe. God sovereignly wove a history of people and circumstances together to call my great-grandparents to His name, my grandparents to His name, and my parents to His name. Now I now bear His name as a Christian. Think of it—God has powerfully woven a history of people and circumstances together to call many to faith in Him. Praise be to God!
Being raised in a Christian home and in the church as a child, I had been given consistent context about the truths of the Person of Jesus Christ, heaven, hell, sin, and the gift of salvation from my parents and Sunday School teachers. My parents, people faithful to the Lord in word and conduct, were sincere in their expressions of belief and were clear about right and wrong. I knew when I was wrong, I knew what sin meant, and I knew that to trust Jesus was to leave sin, death, and eternity without Him behind in order to gain Him forever. That was what I dearly wanted—to have Jesus Christ forever.
My dad prayed with me every night as a child. One of those nights in particular, at around the age of five, I prayed and felt I had to tell someone what had happened to me; I felt alive. I went out into the hall as my dad was leaving and told him that I prayed to know the Lord Jesus. I felt like a completely new person; I knew that I understood all of life differently that day. I do not have many memories from this age, as one could guess. But I have this one. I had been born again into a living hope, a hope that providentially passes through the cumulative testimony of generations to give more and more people who are called to His name knowledge of this great salvation. “To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever” (Eph. 3:21).