August 1997, International Christian Fellowship, Frankfurt
So what am I doing here, waiting to be baptised. I was never that sort of Christian. In fact, to be brutal, I “was” in most ways never a Christian at all. Rather, I was a rational, intellectual, liberal humanist who happened to feel at home going to Church on Sundays.
Let me try to explain the path I have followed, whereby God has drawn me to him . Looking back, God has been influencing me, and calling me to him, for a long time. But only now am I aware of – and proudly acknowledge – his presence in my heart.
I started going to church in 1981; more or less to keep Claire happy. I was also influenced by my mother, a devout Christian woman who had never however insisted that the children should attend church. Claire and I were very shy; we only went to the evening service and left as quickly as possible lest someone should talk to us.
This went on till 1985 when my mother died and I had a first truly spiritual experience. I had always dreaded my mother dying; she had brought me up alone since my father died in 1960. In August she suffered a stroke which made her unable to talk or move. But when I saw her lying in the hospital bed I knew she was aware of my presence. I was the last member of the family to see her before she died. I felt an overwhelming compulsion to pray aloud and recite hymns to her. When I learnt that she had died that night, I found, rather than grief, an overwhelming sense of joy. She had gone to see Jesus, in whom she believed fervently, and he had answered the prayer, that she might die quickly and not be a burden on others. It is clear to me now that the Holy Spirit was present in all his glory in that hospital room. But although this event made a strong impression on me it was not the trigger for rebirth as a Christian.
Since then I have gone consistently to church and have increasingly appreciated the Christian view of the world. But until I arrived in Frankfurt three years ago I was always unwilling to take an active part in the Christian community, also my interest in the deeper ideas of Christianity was dormant. I was the sort of church-goer who becomes a fervent man of prayer only when my plane is about to take off, and at similarly stressful times.
In the meantime Claire had taken the leap of faith in 1989, but it is fair to say that I barely registered or understood what had happened to her. Equally, I realise that my own ambition as an economist and a central banker was pushing me into using a lot of family time for my own work. My life was becoming unbalanced.
Arrival in Frankfurt did not change me from a Sunday Christian to a true Christian of the heart. But it did make me become much more aware of the richness of the Scriptures, and I began to understand in my head what being a Christian really meant. I nonetheless did not find myself bitterly regretting my lack of true contact with God. For one thing I knew nothing better. For another I was at least making progress for the first time since my mother died. I was increasingly taking part in church activities, and was starting to read Christian literature, albeit in a purely intellectual manner. Martin’s preaching, the very warm and open congregation of ICF And the prayers of my close friends and relatives are clearly responsible for my development .
However the final push came rather recently. Along with other members of ICF, I attended the European Baptist Convention in Interlaken. There I was highly impressed by the teaching, in particular lectures on the way Satan seeks to distract Christians from God. Thereafter my family and I went camping but, as you may be aware, I encountered an injury which made me unable to use my arms for several weeks. This I see in retrospect as part of God’s plan. We abandoned our holiday half way through and I spent a great deal of time in bed. With my new Bible. On Saturday the 19th I read the Gospels and Acts. I also read another book which made me appreciate the fundamental ideas of evangelical Christianity; only Jesus, only faith, only grace, only Scriptures.
But then, that night, I was invaded by a sense of panic. It was extremely disagreeable, a feeling of powerlessness before mighty forces. My heart rate was at least twice normal, as if I had been running. At one stage I woke Claire and she hardly recognised me. One thing I said, though was “I must stop reading the Bible”. But the torment was resolved triumphantly. I appealed to Jesus to save me from the invasion. And the unpleasant manifestation rapidly disappeared, to be replaced by a white light and a very real sense of His presence. On the next night; evil thoughts kept invading my mind. Strange urges came to me, to harm others. This time I just said “Begone, I am with Jesus”, and the thoughts went immediately. Having experienced Jesus’s saving power I wished him to enter my life. Still, for a time I felt restrained from telling others. Finally on the following morning I had a sense of disorientation, and a desire to harm myself by jumping from a height. It only went when I told Claire of my new-found faith, after which we prayed together. I later told Martin. In retrospect, it is clear that a major effort was made to dissuade me from my chosen course. But it failed.
Life has changed already. Many of the things I considered of major importance I no longer do. I realise how important it is to be with my wife and children more. My children even say how much they like the new daddy. And for Claire and myself it is like being newlyweds. I find a compulsion to pray often and am reading the Bible passionately. I find myself often in tears as the Holy Spirit shows me the deeper meaning of a line of the Word. I realised I still have far to go. I am still a child. But I am both joyful and grateful to acknowledge in my baptism the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
As he states in Matthew’s Gospel “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. With all of us, as we find if we only reach out to Him.