This page in brief
It is well known that in most secular western countries the number of christians and churchgoers is falling. However statistics also indicate that the changes in belief are not all one way – many people are also converting out of a non-believing background (see note 1 below).
Here are a few of their stories.
The people and their stories
Healing of memories
Lisa suffered the tragic deaths of her brother and mother before she turned 21, leaving her
full of guilt, anger, pain, sorrow and frustration. The effect was catastrophic:
These losses left me desperate for love but led me to a roller-coaster ride of self-destruction and criminal behaviour. This eventually lead to several prosecutions and a number of short spells in prison.
Looking for love, she entered into a series of relationships, leaving her a single parent of 3 children with a history of abuse, violence and drugs. At 33 she was
broken and empty
One day, walking home from work, she stopped to chat with a lady arranging flowers in the local church. She was invited to church and from there to a series of meetings explaining the christian faith. Later, she sought prayer for her past, and
God set my heart on fire and his love, patience, kindness, grace and mercy poured into my life repairing all the damage that fear, guilt and being chained to my past behaviour had caused.
From drug addict to pastor
Richard was a drug addict in remand for aggravated burglary, with 30 previous offences. To help cope with feelings of guilt, he began atending prison chapel, and found it made him feel much better, while he was there. The pastor offered him a Bible, but he already had one – the prisoners found the thin pages useful for rolling their own cigarettes.
One day he tore out a page to have a smoke, but an ‘inner voice’ told him he should read the page. It was from the Gospel of John, and he found it ‘captivating’ – and it allowed him to go to sleep in peace that night.
The next day he read more, and tried to visualise what this Jesus looked like. The only image which came to mind was of a statue of Jesus on the cross, in a nearby church. The image seemed to come alive in his mind, and Jesus seemed to look at him and say:
Richard, I did this for you.
Richard was deeply affected by this, offered his life to Jesus, and began to experience, slowly, day-by-day, a healing of his addiction, until he was completely free of his craving.
Today Richard is the pastor of a church in Wales, and is the director of a program which helps rehabilitate addicts and former prisoners.
Good news for Nicky
Nicky was not brought up christian, and when she was old enough to decide, she chose to be an atheist. Her disbelief, at least in part, stemmed from her brother requiring chemo and radiotherapy for cancer.
She had a christian friend at school, but wasn’t interested. However when she was 13, she was found to have a cancerous lump on her knee. She was so worried about what had been an ongoing problem, that she decided to pray, telling the God she didn’t believe in that if he took away the cancer, she would look seriously into christianity.
When she was finally cleared of cancer, without any extensive treatment, she started to challenge her christian friend for answers to difficult questions. She found the answers to be
Then a second lump formed, this time in her wrist. This time she went to her friend’s family for help, and, after prayer, the lump and the pain disappeared. She understands this isn’t proof of God, but found it convincing enough to choose to believe.
She doesn’t pretend to have all the answers.
But I kind of think God is a little like Dumbledore she writes,
as in has all the answers.
Getting a right perspective on life
Gary was a young man with very clear aims in life – he wanted to be a millionaire, have a beautiful wife, and many other girlfriends as well. One evening Gary went to a local pub with his friend. Up his sleeve was some pornography he’d stolen earlier that day.
Unexpectedly, while still in the pub carpark, his friend followed two girls across the road into a church instead. Gary followed. Even more unexpected, the preacher said in the middle of his talk:
So you came to the church for the first time. You have been lying and stealing and looking at your pornography.
The preacher went on preaching and explaining the christian faith. Somewhat shaken, Gary thought that perhaps there was ‘something in this Jesus thing’, and resolved to read the Bible and go to a safer church, but definitely never become a christian.
But strange things kept happening. While having a beer with mates on New Year’s Eve, they said that christianity was ‘bollocks’. Gary felt a voice say:
Speak for me. He refused , but the voice was insistent:
Just say ‘that’s not fair’.
Reluctantly, Gary began to speak these words when he felt something as powerful as electricity go through his body and he fell to the floor. His friends left him there.
Gary felt he needed to understand what had happened to him, so he spoke to a christian mate about his experience.
When did this happen? his friend asked, and they worked out that at that time, his friend had been praying for him, and the same thing happened to him.
Gary pondered this for some time, and eventually decided that these events were signs that God was real, and so he decided to follow Jesus. Gary achieved two of his life aims: he became a successful businessman, married a beautful woman, but never cheated on her. He uses the profits from his business to fund youth work in his local church.
Other stories in brief
- Kevin, whose marriage broke up, leaving him a mess, until one night he had a nightmare, interrupted by a feeling of overwhelming love from a person in the dream he came to believe was Jesus.
- Tony, a recovering alcoholic who visited a church with a friend and experienced an unusual sense of peace that led to him being baptised.
- Sandra, who felt deprived of love in childhood, sought it in sexual relationships with a series of men, leaving her on anti-depressants. She found peace and faith through prayer.
- Amy, suffering from schizophrenia, walked out of the psychiatric unit and into a church where prayer started her on a journey to complete healing and faith.
All of these 8 people were convinced to change from unbelief to belief through their experience of God, often through healing, but sometimes in other experiences that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to regard as coincidences. Our experiences, which come to us through our senses, are primary information, and will general outweigh any arguments that people may present to us. It is therefore not surprising that these 8 people made the choice they did.
For the rest of us, hearing these experiences as outsiders, the stories may be less convincing. But these stories are only the tip of the iceberg – I have recounted other similar stories on this website, and there are many more. It would take a robust disbelief to argue, contrary to the evidence, that all these experiences have been misunderstood. I hope they encourage us all to believe that there is hope and there is a God who cares and heals.
Note 1: statistics on changes in religious beliefs
In most western countries, church attendance is on the decline, and non-belief is increasing. However non-church spirituality (which may include non-denominational christians as well as less defined beliefs) is also growing – see data for USA, Australia and a range of (mostly European) countries.
Some of these studies show a significant difference in the ‘conversion’ and ‘deconversion’ rates – e.g. in the USA, 11% of people have left their religion and only 4% have moved from unbelief to belief.
In Europe, there is wide diversity. In most western European countries, the gap between the numbers of those who have stopped believing in God and those who have started believing is typically about 5-10% of the total population (i.e. if 15% of the population have stopped believing, 5-10% have started). However in many other European countries (mostly Eastern Europe), conversions to belief in God are greater than to non-belief.
Finally, a study in the UK found a very narrow gap – 8.3% of the population had stopped believing and 7.8% had started.
Stories were obtained from The Word on the Wind by Alison Morgan. I have used this source because I regard Alison as a trustworthy source, and I think most of the people are personally known to her. Some of the stories are available online:
Photos were taken from the references above; Gary’s photo from Oakhill Methodist Church.