…nearly 40 years ago, in the year of our Lord 1973, I became a Christian.
You’d think I’d have more to show for it. It’s sheer grace that God is so patient with me.
I was 16 years old. It was my very first day on the campus of the University of California, in Berkeley. Yes, Berkeley: home of the anti-establishment free-speech radicalism that made the city famous in the 60s. Being a nerdy Asian kid who grew up in a middle-class suburb, I knew little of the Berkeley subculture, and by that time, the reactionary tone of the campus had mellowed anyway. But there were still plenty of interesting things going on.
On any given day, you could go out onto the administrative plaza and be treated to a veritable parade of colorful characters and religions. “Holy Hubert” would hold forth from the steps of the Student Union building, spewing hellfire, damnation, and the occasional projectile of spit for emphasis. Pig-tailed and orange-robed Hare Krishna devotees would hop and dance around the plaza, to the constant ching-ching-ching of their finger cymbals. The Moon Man, bedecked in his sparkling cape and turban, would stand atop the fountain hawking lunar real estate. And through it all, the Bubble Lady would gently weave her way, strewing soap bubbles in her wake.
I’m not making any of this up. And those are just the highlights.
I had spent the morning going from building to building trying to register for classes. By the afternoon, feeling tired and overwhelmed, I sat down on a bench outside the building that housed the Art Department. Two clean-cut young men named Steve and John approached me with a religious survey that ended with the question, “If you could know and experience God personally, would you be interested?”
“Sure,” I said, a bit disinterestedly. They produced a copy of the Four Spiritual Laws and walked me through it. At the end of the tract, I prayed the prayer to receive Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, and that was that.
I had no idea what I was doing.
Part of me would like to have a more interesting story to tell. You should have known me back then. I was a hard-drinking party animal with a string of broken relationships. I was at the end of my rope. Then I heard about Jesus–and suddenly a light shone all around me. I called upon his name, and that moment I knew I was saved from hell and destruction. Hallelujah!
Nope. My biggest problem at the time (or so I thought) was that I wasn’t able to get into the art class I wanted. When the two guys from Campus Crusade asked if I wanted to know God, I said yes because, well, it sounded reasonable and relatively harmless. I did know a little about Christianity; I had been to church occasionally with my grandparents, and a friend in high school had talked me into going to a Bible study–once. So I figured, hey, what could it hurt? and prayed the prayer. There was no warm glow, no sudden sense of an enormous burden being lifted from my shoulders, no voice from heaven. Just me and a couple of guys in rugby shirts.
Later, when I told my mother about it, she thought I had joined a cult.
But God knows best.
I don’t consider myself a five-point Calvinist. But it’s hard for me to imagine the story as being all about my full and free choice to receive Jesus. It feels more like God’s decision than mine. Nor can I imagine God looking down from heaven one day and suddenly saying: “Hey, I didn’t realize that he was out there! Man, I’ve got to go right down and recruit him for the team.”
Hardly. No, God has his reasons, and I’m still learning to trust his wisdom, and to be grateful for the opportunity to partner in his work these many years.
Even on the days when I’m sure he should’ve picked someone else for the job.