“Tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear;
Things I would ask him to tell me If he were here;
Scenes by the wayside, Tales of the sea,
Stories of Jesus, Tell them to me.”
As a young boy I was regularly taken to church on Sundays. For me it was what you did. My parents went, as their parents had gone before them. I was part of the Sunday School, where I was taught the stories in the Bible and every so often we would have an exam to test our knowledge.
Everything revolved around the Bible and its stories – as the words in the hymn by W.H. Parker, which we regularly sung, made clear and which sums up my experience at that time. The Church was Wesley Methodist Church in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
However as a teenager I began to realise that going to church Sunday after Sunday did not make me a Christian, just as simply going to the stadium does not make you an athlete.
I began to ask questions about God and faith. For me going to church had more to do with meeting up with friends than it had to do with God. Some of the words used by preachers were not words I could understand, nor did they make much sense to me.
I directed these questions at Sunday School teachers who gave me answers that didn’t satisfy my curiosity. I then talked with my peers but all they seemed interested in was the next disco or the next opportunity for fun. Yet there was something that kept me in church and kept me searching for answers.
I wanted more than just the stories of the Bible – I didn’t really believe them and had no faith. I wanted to but they were just other people’s stories.
A friend of mine in secondary school was a “born again Christian” and a member of the school Scripture Union group. I wasn’t a member – the last thing I wanted was to be seen with the “born agains” as we called them. This friend was always looking for people to talk to the group.
He knew I went to church regularly and therefore assumed I was a Christian so he asked me to share my testimony with the group. I tried to find a way to get out of it. I thought I could get him off my back by vaguely agreeing to go one day, only to receive a formal invite to speak to the group – commiting me to a time and date.
The talk happened – I lied about my faith, telling the group I was Christian when I knew that I wasn’t. All that did for me was to make my search even more desperate. I was now associated with the Scripture Union and the “born agains” but I didn’t share their beliefs. I knew that I was living a lie.
This search for answers would eventually turn my life around. One of my friends (one who was not a part of the Scripture Union group but who went to my church) had heard about an evangelical rally taking place in Freetown.
He wanted to go because he thought it would be fun and asked me to go with him. Out of curiosity I went.
At the rally I recall the preacher saying that “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans).
Through this and what he said I was made aware of my sin and my need for God. He spoke of a God of love who loved me so much that he gave his only Son for me. There was an overwhelming sense of a love I could not understand but a love that I wanted.
Suddenly the questions I had been asking seemed to have one answer – and that answer was Jesus Christ. By accepting him into my life Christianity made sense, the Bible stories I had read made sense, going to church made sense.
Faith was being explained to me in clear child-like language and in a way that I could engage with and understand for the first time. Towards the end of that rally I was so sure of my need for Jesus that I made a personal commitment accepting him into my life.
From that moment on Jesus became my saviour and I became a true Christian. The faith I was baptised into as a baby was now a faith that I truly confessed. I was now about 17 years old.
Becoming a Christian was only the start, the start of a very exciting pilgrimage that still goes on today. I still want to know more, and questions of faith still exercise my mind. But I’m now ok with that as my faith continues to grow stronger.
Now I read my Bible not simply to pass an exam but because I want to know more about the God whose love I have discovered. No longer is it solely about other people’s stories, but also about mine.