A man well over two times my height, four times my size and six times my age looked down into my tiny 5-year-old, upturned face and asked, “Do you want to believe in Jesus?” We were standing on the cement steps of the newly built brick church where my father was the pastor in the suburbs of New York City.
That was exactly what I wanted! I knew my parents were good because they were always helping others. Homeless men often showed up in our living room asking my father for money and my father would try to wrangle some of our food money away from my mother’s tight fist to help them.
I was sure my parents were so good because they were Christians. I also knew I wasn’t good. My sister always told me that. Every Saturday I got up at 6 in the morning before anyone else was up, crept out of the house and stayed away for the whole day so my sister couldn’t catch me and make me help clean our room. Maybe believing in Jesus would fix everything.
“Yes, I want that! How do I do it?”
“Kneel down here and pray this prayer …”
I immediately plopped onto my knees, golden curls flying, and I prayed.
But in the weeks that followed, I was still the same naughty little girl I had been. I knew there was no Jesus inside me.
Time and again, I tried to become a Christian by “praying the prayer,” but I later realized I was just mouthing words that didn’t come from my heart. By seventh grade I didn’t care anymore. Having fun and outsmarting authorities were the driving forces of my life. I loved lighting fires in the science lab and causing trouble for my French teacher.
Then, in ninth grade, two things happened. My older brother, Steve, and my best friend, Jeannette, became Christians. A month or so later, I decided I needed to turn my life around, too. The problem was that all day long at school I spotted opportunities to orchestrate chaos. I tried to be well-behaved, but I couldn’t! At the end of ninth grade, I lay prostrate on the floor of my bedroom, crying, begging Jesus to change me.
Then I went to college—and I picked up a copy of The Communist Manifesto. That book shook me to the core. It made me question my presuppositions. Then, during the course of my biology studies, I reached a point where I didn’t think it was possible that God existed. I felt like my world had just collapsed.
If God didn’t exist, there wasn’t any meaning in life. I wanted my life connected to something greater than myself. Some atheists talk about being brave and facing life without meaning. I couldn’t do it. Hopelessness and meaninglessness made me so depressed that all I wanted to do was end my life.
I was so desperate for answers that when I met someone new, the first question out of my mouth was, “Do you believe in God?” Whether they answered yes or no, I fired at them, “Why?” If they couldn’t give me a good answer, I walked away, disappointed and disgusted.
I read every scripture from every religion I could get my hands on. The Bible was richer than any of the others, and although I still wasn’t convinced, it did give direction to my search. The summer before my junior year I worked in Long Island cleaning house for a very cranky old woman. There were afternoons of swimming, water skiing and lying on the sand in the sun. However, I had little interest in anything except the shelf full of Christian apologetics books I had brought along to see if I could find some reason to believe, some reason to live.
One of the books was from my mom. She had handled the situation well. She hadn’t looked shocked or hurt, nor did she sit down with me and try to argue about God. But she did give me an old book, Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison. Morison was a lawyer who thought the resurrection of Jesus was ridiculous, and he set out to prove it never happened.
By the time he finished writing the book, Morison had become a Christian, and after reading it, I was also teetering on the edge of faith. At the end of the summer, my brother Larry called from the Chicago area where he was attending seminary at Trinity International University. He was taking a course in apologetics and wondered if I’d like to live at his apartment and sit in on the class.
The next day I boarded a train from New York City to Chicago for the 18-hour ride. During the trip I thought about Jeremiah 29:13—that if someone seeks God with their whole heart, they will find Him. I told the Christian God, “You promised in the Bible that if I search for You with all my heart I will find You. I have searched for You for two years with every ounce of my being, but I have not found You. If I do not find You during this apologetics course, then I will know that You do not exist.”
I didn’t see any point in living if God didn’t exist, so I brought extra money with me to go somewhere—anywhere—to have a fling and then kill myself. I was done with a life without meaning and without hope, and I was done with pretense and hypocrisy.
I sat in on two weeks of the three-week master’s level course. The instructor took us through various cosmological arguments for the existence of God. I poured over the textbook every waking hour when I wasn’t in class. After class I often went to the front and argued with the professor.
In the end, the instructor made a compelling defense for the existence of God, and that was what I needed. God finally made sense to me! At the end of the course, sprawled on my brother’s couch, it suddenly hit me that I had come to faith. Now I had a decision to make. Would I follow God or go my own way? It was not a hard decision. I had wanted God all along. I repented of my sin and gave myself to the Lord, and I have never regretted it. Getting to know Him has been so beyond anything I have ever dreamed of.
I went on to attend Trinity International University for my master’s degree, and that’s where I met my husband. In 1986, we became missionaries to China, where atheism has a stronghold. And for almost three decades, God used my two years of doubting to make me an effective evangelist. While my husband taught English, I led discussion groups for college students with the purpose of evangelism. Most of the students who came to the discussion groups thought God was a myth.
In July, we moved back to the U.S., and God has allowed me to share my testimony many times. When people question God’s existence, I say: “Don’t stop seeking. I sought the Lord with all of my heart. And I found Him—just like He promised I would.” ©The Author
Grace Jacob* is a former missionary to China. She is using a pen name for security purposes.