leo's testimony - long version
I grew up in a good Dutch Reformed home. As was the custom in many such homes, our family was faithfully in church every Sunday, and it was our practice to read a chapter from the Bible after every family meal. This was very good, and I had a fair knowledge of what was in the Bible from the time I was a young boy. I was always ready to answer the questions in Sunday School and even ended up singing in a boys quartet for a short time at our church.
However, this knowledge of Biblical things did not mean that I really loved God. In fact, by the time I was six or seven years old, I was already becoming very quick at finding ways to be in trouble - most times I was not found out, but I knew very well within that things were not going down the right path. A year or two later I became friends with a neighbour boy whose home was a place where beer bottles and adult magazines were commonly laying around. This atmosphere had its bad effect on my friend and I was also being influenced toward wrong. Thankfully, my Dad recognized this after awhile and no longer allowed me to play with this boy. However, out of this and many other experiences as a young boy, I became aware of the fact that I did not love God and that I was a sinner, to use the Biblical term. (To be a sinner means to be short of God's standard, to have "missed the mark," and thus to be separated from God).
When I was 10, my parents took me with them on a trip to their home country, The Netherlands. While I was there, I was exposed to a whole other world, which really changed my perspectives on life. I also met God-fearing relatives who had some influence on me, mainly in causing me to want to be like them - there seemed to be a peace and different spirit about them than what I had. Later that year, back in Canada, I remember reading books on the life of Jesus and being very attracted to it. At school that year, I also received a small Gideon New Testament, and sometime after that filled in the response in the rear cover indicating my decision to believe on and follow Jesus Christ. From that time on, there was some change inside of me, although I did not live as a true Christian should for quite a number of years after that. Nevertheless, I did experience a time of real contentment about that time as I came to some understanding about the message of the gospel.
Through the next three or four years, I carried on with school and with friends, but I did have a more keen sense of right and wrong. That is not to say that I always chose to do the right things, but my conscience was speaking very loudly to me when I did choose to do the wrong things. For example, when I was about 14, I was with a few other guys who broke into a ballpark and stole a few baseballs. We split the loot and I went home with one or two of the balls. Those balls I had became a tremendous burden as the guilt of it all weighed on me, and after a few days I just had to get rid of them. I threw them away while biking down a street, hoping that I would not be seen by anyone!
By age 15, an interesting turn of events started a major change in my life. While on a short weekend trip to the US with my older brother, we found ourselves in a thunderstorm near Great Falls, MT. The only thing that we could get on the radio was the radio program "The World Tomorrow" featuring Garner Ted Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God. We had heard this program quite often before but never had paid close attention to it. Now we did. What GTA said seemed to make a lot of sense. The program that day impacted my brother and I in a unique way, and we wrote for the free literature that was offered. The well-written, glossy booklets that were sent to us, together with many other pamphlets and booklets that we requested afterwards were most intriguing! We had never seen Biblical things made so interesting. The more we read and the more we listened to the radio broadcasts that summer, the more my brother and I began to believe what was being taught by this church. The results of this were a mixture of both good and bad.
The main good effect of this new interest in Biblical things was that I did start reading my Bible, and did gain a better understanding of what was in there, especially in the Old Testament. I also became very aware of the Ten Commandments and the need to keep them. I resolved to follow what I was learning through all this, and it probably kept me from getting into trouble with drugs or other such problems. However, there were some negative effects as well. Firstly, in trying to share our new knowledge with my parents, we ran into a problem as they believed that the teachings of the Worldwide Church were in error and that the whole organization was therefore a cult. Since I was only 15, my parents main concern was to protect me from going any further into this wrong teaching. They therefore asked that I no longer receive the Worldwide Church literature, hoping that I would lose interest. Actually, the opposite occurred and I became more determined to follow what I thought was right. I even ran away from home for about a week, getting a job pumping gas in Calgary, but then I returned home. The other negative effect of following the Worldwide Church teaching is that my understanding of Christianity became very law-oriented instead of grace-oriented (they taught that we must observe the Jewish Sabbath, the Feast days, as well as the rest of the laws and ordinances, e.g. dietary laws, tithing, etc.).
Eventually, as I grew older, the quest to be free to pursue my own life and to be able to practice what I believed was right resulted in my moving to Edmonton at age 19. My oldest brother dropped me off in a city where I basically knew no one and I made my way from there. I got a job as an Assistant Division Manager at Sears Bonnie Doon within a day or two (I had worked for Sears in Lethbridge before), found a place to stay, and within a few weeks had bought a car. Now I could live as I wished.
The first few months were quite idealistic as I set high goals for myself in pursuing a successful career. However, I soon came down to earth as I found myself unable to cope with the pressures of my management job. I switched to become a purchasing agent in an industrial company. Within a few months I began to attend the Sabbath services of the Worldwide Church in Edmonton, and I did so for several months. After some time, though, I started to notice inconsistencies in the lives of the church leaders and lost faith in them. As time went on, major flaws also showed up in the lives of the top leaders of the church headquartered in Pasadena, CA as well. Not only that, but I was not able to find a relationship with God that I was looking for - only a pursuit of blessing through law-keeping. I later understood why this is a hopeless pursuit. From that point on I no longer followed the Worldwide Church. I also no longer pursued any other Christian teaching as the Worldwide Church had, it seemed, discredited the teachings and practices of all other churches.
I was left in no man's land, not knowing who was right. I decided to forget about it and just try to live a "normal" life and take advantage of my freedom to enjoy myself. I could go where I wished, I could have a TV if I wanted to (we had grown up without one), could go to a movie, could drink a beer, or smoke a cigar - it would affect no one. And so I did all of those things. I drove all over, sometimes taking weekend trips, sometimes just driving around Edmonton and area at night. I went to the bar with some of the others from work. I went to a lot of movies - sometimes went two or three times to those I liked. But I did most of these things on my own, and deep down was lonely. I had no real purpose in life - nothing to live for.
After two years went by, I decided to look for a job as a travelling salesman, and gave my notice to my employer in Edmonton. While waiting to see what job would open up, I was back in Lethbridge on holidays, and found out about a sales opening with Moore Business Forms. I applied for the job and got it, which also resulted in my move back to Lethbridge. By then I had tired of the big city and the loneliness. I rented my own apartment in order to maintain my freedoms, but at least I was near to family again. My job went well and I soon was earning a very decent income. Then my parents asked me if I would like to move home and live with them with total freedoms, just like a boarder would - I could reduce my rent costs, they would have someone around again, and through this they would be able to buy a newer home. We agreed and I was given a nice large office area and bedroom in the new house. Mom did my laundry and cooking, and I could come and go as I pleased. From most people's perspective, I was set-up and should have no worries.
However, I still felt a void in my life. I still did not really have a clear purpose or meaning in view. About a year later I found a book on a newsstand called "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill. I once again found myself intrigued as Mr. Hill's research into the lives of many successful people resulted in his writing on the principles by which anyone could be successful. It was a matter of setting a clear goal for one's self and then relentlessly pursuing it, believing that the forces in the universe would respond to our faith until the goal was reached. This sounded good to me, but what goal would I set? Which goal and which result would bring true success in this life? I decided to try Mr. Hill's principles, but my goal to begin with was to determine what my real goal should be! After six months of trying to work through this, I was no further ahead.
By now it was 1978. Two other factors had come into my life. The first was a love for country music. I listened to country music on the radio as I traveled around Southern Alberta on my sales calls, and I began to know who all the artists were. I read the autobiographies of some, including Johnny Cash, the "Man in Black," where I read about his conversion to become a Christian. I also became aware of many of the other Christian influences that are in the roots of country music, and it started to have some impact on me. I also started listening to Billy Graham specials on radio and TV, especially when he featured Johnny Cash and June Carter as his special music. My need to find a reason for living was becoming greater and a longing for a real answer grew.
The second factor that had grown in me was an interest in becoming an independent businessman rather than working for a large corporation all of my life. In the spring of 1978, I was offered a selling job with a small photocopier/furniture dealer in Lethbridge, and I quit my secure job with Moore in order to have the opportunity to learn what small business was all about. This position did not work out as expected, and by August I needed to make a change. At that time the only opening I was aware of was to manage a stationery store in Brooks, a town of 10,000 between Medicine Hat and Calgary. I didn't want to move there, but the owner of the store kept on asking me to come. With no other options in sight, I moved to Brooks on September 1st, 1978. Unfortunately my parents were away on holidays in the US, so I could not tell them about my move - they had quite a shock when they returned home!
Now I was back on my own again, in a small town, with not much to do. After a few weeks of settling in, and still wondering about life, I watched the life story of Norman Vincent Peale on TV. His story inspired me somehow, and I determined that night that I had to find out what the true purpose of life really was. By now I had come to realize that the answer I was looking for would end up being a spiritual answer as it had to do with values and morality. The problem I faced was that many people in the world with conflicting ideas think they are right. Most people believed what they had grown up with, but did that make them right? Who really was right then? If one group was right, think of how many others there are in the world that still think they are right, but are actually deceived. I could be like them, coming to my own conclusion as to what truth was, and also be deceived. How would I be able to know for sure - I might not judge correctly? Eventually, I determined that the only way to really know for sure would be to pray and ask God to show me what was true. Every religion in the world says that, in order to talk to God, you should pray. So I decided to pray and, if God was real, he would answer me and show me what was true.
I started to pray and did so every day from that time on. I asked God to show me what was true, and I committed myself to following whatever it was that God would show me. I didn't know what to expect - perhaps a UFO would arrive and a little messenger would come out to show me what was true. I was wide open to whatever, putting aside all presuppositions on what was true. How would God answer my prayer?
The first possible answer came up in about two weeks when the guitar teachers I was taking lessons from started to share with me about the Bahai faith. I wasn't familiar with it, but wondered whether this could be the answer to my prayers. I borrowed some literature and began to read on the background and teachings of the Bahai faith. I soon discovered that they teach that all roads lead to heaven - Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc. are different ways of reaching the same destination. As I considered this, I realized that there was a contradiction in that teaching as Christianity, at least, itself claims to be the only way. If Christianity is true, then the others cannot also be true. Therefore, it is illogical to say that all paths are true. I kept praying.
The next possible answer came two weeks later as a businessman I called on began to discuss Biblical prophecies and end-time events with me. We were able to have interesting visits as I had become quite familiar with the end-time prophecies through the teaching of the Worldwide Church. My question for him was, "How do you know these things are true?" That led to many conversations and invitations to his home where we discussed all these things. It also put me in contact with a small Bible study group from the Brooks Baptist Church. As I continued to search, others were now praying for me as well.
Over the next few weeks as my friend and I discussed the various reasons for believing and disbelieving, something was happening inside of me. First, I had prayed and now this was happening - why? Second, as much as I argued on the side of why I should not just believe that the Bible is true, I found myself more and more believing that it was true. I had read of the many proofs of the Bible's truthfulness many times before, but was very leery of becoming deceived. However, as the Bible itself says, the Spirit of God is what causes us to understand and believe spiritual truths (see 1 Cor. 2:11-14), and the Spirit of God was working on me. After some days had passed, my friend's pastor came over one evening and asked me whether I believed that the Bible was true. As much as I wished to deny it, I had to admit that I did believe that it was true. He then went to the next logical step - since I believed that it was true, then I must also believe Romans 10:13 where it says "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Again I was stuck. I could not deny it, but I didn't want to do that just then! I came up with a number more "What about this?" and "What about that?" questions, but the pastor kept coming back to the question, "Since you believe the Bible, why don't you call on the name of the Lord?" After an hour and a half, I knew that the moment of truth had arrived. I could not deny that I believed, because I did. I had asked God to show me the truth so that I could follow it. It was now up to me to do what I had said. Early in the morning hours of Nov. 21, 1978 I prayed, calling on the Lord, and giving my life to Him.
From that point on, I no longer had doubts or questions about what was true. Faith is an assurance, a conviction that God places within His people, and I have had that assurance since that time. I don't wonder or merely hope, I now know because I have personally experienced the convicting work of the Holy Spirit within. (Heb. 11:1-4; Romans 8:14-16).
After my commitment to follow the Lord, I began to attend the Brooks Baptist Church. A few months later, I began to teach Sunday School classes and have been doing so since then.
In May 1979, I met a fascinating young lady - Donna Olney. It was only a few days after we met that I knew that God had brought us together. We were both in our twenties and were engaged after only 10 days! This was very fast - we don't recommend it for everyone, but we had that conviction that this was of God. We were married five months later.
After a few years of work in real estate development and print sales, during which time we also moved to Medicine Hat, AB and became parents of two boys, I again felt that my life could be fulfilling a greater purpose. I was now a Christian, but were my daily activities productive in the work of God's kingdom? I began to pray for direction in how I should spend my life, and a few months later we felt directed by God to go to school at Briercrest Bible College at Caronport, SK (near Moose Jaw). The only problem with going was that we had no money, but again we believed that God was leading us - where He was leading, He would also supply (Phil. 4:19). This indeed became reality, as we ran out of funds in Dec. 1983 four months after starting school. From that point on, we saw the miraculous provision of God through various means. Donna taught piano lessons, we did receive some scholarships, and the low-income family subsidy from the Province of Saskatchewan helped, but these did not cover our expenses. It was then that we received money in the mail, sometimes from friends, sometimes anonymously, and sometimes from people that we hardly knew, but just when we were in need. At one particular time we were short $150 to renew our car insurance. All we could do was park the car and pray. Within two days, a neighbour whom we had hardly talked with before came over. She felt the Lord had sent her to see how she could help us. Without telling her how much we were in need of, she gave us exactly $150! I graduated in April 1986, having completed a four-year program in Biblical Studies, and we completed debt-free!
After a year of graduate studies, we moved to Winnipeg, MB where I became the pastor of a small church-plant in northeast Winnipeg - the Valley Gardens Evangelical Free Church which met in a school. My desire was to serve the Lord, and here was the opportunity to do so full-time. However, after serving the church for a year, I realized that the pastorate was not my niche. I felt like a square peg in a round hole. I wondered whether I should pursue a full-time teaching career in a Bible college, so took additional studies at Providence Seminary, thereby completing an M.A. in Old Testament. As I completed those studies, we searched for a teaching position, but none were available. As we inquired about a teaching position at various Bible colleges, it became clear that God was closing the door and that he had other plans. What were we to do?
Right at that time, a Winnipeg businessman with open space in his mall development asked us to open a store in his mall. He would provide the financing if we would set it up and operate it. I agreed to do it for a year. We opened August 1, 1989 as Pen and Paper, and are still operating to this day. Through this business we have been able to be in contact with many of the people in our community and have actually had many opportunities to minister that would never have been there if I was still pastoring a church or teaching in a school. God has purpose and a place for everyone. We have had to learn to be faithful wherever it is that God places us and to just do everything for Him.
In the years since I have continued to serve in the church as a layperson, mainly in teaching and leadership. I served as the Board Chairman at the East Kildonan Baptist Church for many years. I continue to teach classes, and serve on the Missions Committee as well as in other roles at Rowandale Baptist Church in Winnipeg, MB.