In early September, 1983, an Engineering student at the University of Missouri decided to invite 100 people, in his dormitory, to a Bible study. It was 35 years ago when he began knocking 100 doors that evening. The last door he came to at the end of the hall on the first floor was mine. I had transferred from Central Missouri State University to Mizzou’s School of Veterinary Medicine. It had become clear to me, even at that early stage, that I was in over my head and that I might be dismissed from the program due to failing grades. This was the only time I had failed at anything. My two great loves were running college cross country and track and becoming a Vet.
Mark invited me to the Bible study and I came that week. He later told me that I was the only one to respond to his invite. On October 24, 1983 I was baptized into Christ at the Stadium Blvd Church of Christ in Columbia, MO. It was a Monday night. The sermon the day before really hit me hard and I decided then to be baptized, but instead of the large church I preferred a small group (like the Ethiopian guy in Acts). That night it was Mark, the campus minister (Kevin Younger), and 4 other guys. After Mark immersed me I came up thinking I would hear a “heavenly chorus,” but instead it was 4 guys singing off key—I remember the song went something like, “Free, free, free, I am free…” It wasn’t the chorus I expected but I loved it and was pumped. They all reminded me that this was only the beginning.
Over the next 6 months I:
- Struggled and finally ended a relationship with my “girlfriend”
- Flunked out of Vet School
- Went into a depression over the Holidays and the next three months
- Returned to Central Missouri
- Ran the worst times of my college career in track and cross country
- Had my worst grades that semester as well
- Started a Bible study in the dorms
- Baptized my 3 best friends from the team
- Helped to start a campus group at the church
- My dad (who was atheist/agnostic) pretty much cut me off
Today I spent time praying and reminiscing over the past 35 years. The early days were extremely hard. Sometimes I felt that becoming a Christian made my life miserable, but actually it just became more difficult. Other times God taught me that I was becoming a different person with other passions. I seemed to wrestle and fight emotionally and physically to step forward, only to feel that I went backwards two steps. However, I always knew that Jesus was there with me. I never felt abandoned—just weak. The verse that led me to the decision to be baptized was still in front of me during this time. “If anyone wants to come behind me, they must deny themselves, lift up their cross daily, and follow me…” (Luke 9:23-27). The first year (and maybe two) was a daily grind. I sometimes felt that there was little progress. I didn’t have a long term plan or view—I just knew what I needed to do, and that I could talk to God about it.
It was a time well before the hundreds of sermons, the degrees, the books and articles, speaking engagements, mission trips, performing baptisms and marriages, and counseling sessions with others. It was long before taking the steps of faith in ministry, church planting, and social justice issues. It was a time before I even met my best friend and wife Lori. I had planned to marry someone like her even before I met her—but it seemed far off.
Now, it seemed like a simpler time because it was just me and Jesus, no responsibility but my own, and no pressure to lead others. But it wasn’t just me and Jesus. There was the engineering student who persistently knocked doors and with that same persistence patiently studied with me, prayed for me, and tried to hold me accountable with love. There were the campus ministry students who prayed for me, encouraged me, and asked me to pray for them in their struggles. There were the many churches, Christian leaders, and teachers who taught me and welcomed me into community. They showed me that no one ever does this alone, while expressing the value of community.
Today I did my usual Wednesday routine meeting with our downtown study group at Coffee Time. I also was struck with the realization that the one decision on October 23, 1983 not only opened the door to a new way of life—it has also affected countless lives, most importantly Lori and our boys. I forget the awesome power that one decision makes for all of our futures, and present, and past.
One guy decided to knock the 100th door (rather than quitting at 99) and my life was given opportunity to change. Now that’s humbling. What if Mark would have gone home early? Where would I be today? If I were even alive today…
I am also struck with the realization that what the old timers taught me is so relevant. Discipleship is a long-distance run—not a race. It’s not important who wins its only important that we keep running until time is up. Since my baptism I have seen many Christians, leaders, and teachers come and go. Some ran until their time was called, others quit. Those who run have inspired me to continue with persistence, stubbornness, and the awareness that it’s a group run. I plan to keep running until my time has ended. I make no apologies for that decision—I cannot quit. I know what it means to be “called.”
This week I hope you thank God for the people who made a choice that has led you to where you are today. Be thankful that they stuck it out so that you can do the same for others.
I sent an email to Mark and Karen yesterday thanking them for what they did for me. It’s been a few years, but I felt he needed to hear a thank you. He emailed me today. They have raised their children and are still active in a church network with home communities outside of Boston. He wrote that he follows us through our website and their church continues to grow. He is still running—and that continues to inspire me as well.
To Jesus All Glory