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Updated: Jun 28, 2023

When reading the account of how the Apostle Paul became a follower of Jesus, he starts out as “Saul”, the persecutor of The Way (now referred to as “Christianity”). Saul, a Roman Jewish Pharisee with a Greek education sought to exterminate Christianity by coordinating the persecution of Christians wherever he could find them. He vehemently hated them and had permission from the High Priest of the Jewish State to persecute, imprison, and execute followers of Jesus. It is notable that Stephen, one of the believers who was stoned to death by the orchestrated persecution that Saul was leading, was the one who prayed for God to forgive his persecutors right before he died…including Saul. Saul’s conversion is highlighted in 3 places in the book of Acts and was dramatic. This moment in history was the pivotal point for the future of the Christian church. How does one go from being so anti-Jesus to so pro-Jesus? Through true conversion. I’ve seen true conversion take place, but not so quickly as Paul’s.

My father was raised in a traditional, Christian church. He thought he was a “Christian” because he attended this church through his childhood and early teen years before going off into World War II when he joined the Navy at age 18. While on a submarine in the South Pacific he lost some of his good buddies in battle. He went to the chaplain on board to ask him for help and the chaplain was too drunk to advise my dad, or to perform his clerical duties.

My dad saw a lot more of the war before he came home to marry my mom and start a family. War memories got shoved to the back of his memory but the effects of them remained in the forefront. One day when my brother came home from one of his baseball games, he recounted to my father how their minister had shouted some very angry words about my brother, as the minister was rooting for the other team. He unknowingly disparaged one of his young parishioners, hurting my then 9-year-old brother with his anger. My dad never went back to that church. He was done with anything “Christian”. This was 5 years before I was born, and my dad didn’t start going to church again until after I was married (which happened over 30 years later).

What changed? For twenty years that I can remember my mom would raise her hand at every Wednesday night prayer meeting and ask for prayer for dad’s salvation. Dad’s demeanor changed over the years, and he seemed to get worse as life knocked him around. He was fun at social functions, but he began to drink more and more, and experienced some long years of anger, bitterness, alcoholism, and living in ways that hurt our family…especially my mom. Mom had become a Christian when I was six years old, and she prayed fervently for my father and lived out her faith while he railed against God and the Church and the hypocrisy he saw in “Christian” men.

Things got so bad in New Jersey where he had lived almost all his life (other than his Navy years) that he and mom moved to Florida. It was there that God began to work on his heart. He met true Christian men who took an interest in being friends with him. These men showed Dad the love of Christ and he began to open up with his questions and doubts. They loved him through his alcoholism which had followed him from New Jersey. Mom continued to love my dad and to pray for him.

When I got married, Dad was still not a believer, but he was a softer man than the man I had grown up with. Soon after that, at age 65, he surrendered his resistance to the work of the Lord in his life and was able to admit he was a sinner who needed a savior. He was such a proud and stubborn, self-reliant man that it was very difficult for him to humble himself and declare dependence on Christ, but he did it.

With friends and family in Florida watching, he publicly committed his life to Christ through baptism. This was a man who used the name of the Lord in vain with a vengeance, and who could cuss up a storm as only a former Navy sailor could do. The name of the Lord was now precious on his tongue, and he only said it with gratefulness and respect…never with anger and distain.

At first, I wondered if his conversion was real. I had lived so long with him being very resistant to the Bible and very mocking of believers. I waited to see if he would live out his new-found faith and grow. Two years after he became a Christian, he was diagnosed with cancer. I feared he would become angry and that this would make him lose his young faith. It in fact did the opposite.

Dad lived until he was 88. He ended up needing a permanent catheter from the cancer treatment side-effects, he gradually lost his ability to walk, going from cane, to walker, to wheelchair in a matter of years, he then battled many serious infections until he finally had his leg amputated and eventually became bed-ridden. Amazingly his faith GREW, and he lived to share the hope of Jesus to anyone who came to take care of him or to visit, if they were open to talking about it. Dad truly loved Jesus more than anything after his conversion.

When I would go to visit him in Florida, he would now be the one to pray before we ate dinner. This had never happened in my prior experience…he allowed us to pray a blessing, but he never said it. I would tear up every time I heard him pray because his faith was so real and so opposite his unbelief of my growing up years.

OH…and even more amazing was the fact that when Dad became a believer, he was able to never abuse alcohol again! That seemed most miraculous to us, because we really thought he was going to need to seek help for it, but instead he replaced his addiction to alcohol with something far better…a true relationship with Jesus Christ.

Dad didn’t need to drown out his memories from the past, seek approval from men any longer, or attraction from women, or importance from position. He found all he needed internally in Jesus and knew exactly where he was going when he left this world. I share his story because to me, it is the longest request I ever prayed for, the biggest miracle I ever saw, and the deepest desire of my heart for many years…the true conversion of my father.

Maybe you needed to hear these conversion stories because YOU have someone who you’ve been praying for and you need encouragement to continue, or maybe YOU are the person whom God has been working on, and you need that example of someone fiercely proud humbling themselves to receive the one and only Savior…the Jesus who unjustly died on a cruel cross for you, for me, for Saul/Paul, for Irwin Hendricks, and for all…and who rose again to show he had the power to conquer sin and death. True conversions aren’t always dramatic, but they are real and powerful, nonetheless. I hope you have a conversion story of your own.

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