As I explained in my previous blog, I experienced God’s presence very powerfully during my childhood, and I had decided that when I grew up I would follow the path which God called me onto. I didn’t have a particularly clear idea, however, of what this could actually mean.
When I reached the age of 16, I decided that now I’m pretty big already and it is time to do something. One thing I certainly didn’t want was to be passive and just to let life slip through my fingers. The problem was that the religious world seemed so strange. I poked my head one time through the door of a free church and saw there are a whole group of people that was sat listening to someone who was speaking with a serious, rather strange tone of voice. I closed the door carefully and walked away. I felt confused. I was longing for something which I couldn’t clearly define, but it at least involved connection and being heard and understood by others. The whole situation felt very difficult.
Since I couldn’t think of anything else to do, I went to the office of the local Lutheran Church and knocked on the door of the on-duty priest. I had to spend quite a lot of time picking up the courage to do this, and I remember that when I stepped inside, I wasn’t able to give any sensible reason for why I had knocked on the door. It may well be that the priest himself was a bit taken aback and puzzled, wondering why a shy, teenage boy had knocked on his door. I was probably there for no more than a few minutes, and I don’t remember really discussing anything with him. I properly just said something briefly and then left. I felt, nevertheless, that I had taken a step, I had managed to get over some invisible barrier. So I tried again about a week later, and that was when a new chapter began in my life, one which would bring a lot of change, even to my own personality.
When I knocked on the door the second time, the priest who was there was younger and more radical. I had probably succeeded in meeting the most radical and love-filled priest within at least a hundred-kilometre radius. He knew how to get alongside me, and we quickly became close friends, even though he was 30 years older than me. I often accompanied him as he went about his work, and at the same time we talked about all kinds of things to do with faith and life. We went together to give communion to old people. We shared the gospel with the young and the old. Through our connection, he was discipling me, though I didn’t understand at the time that this is what it was. I was just thinking that I had a lot of questions, and I was getting answers to my questions and also connection, love and a lot of new things to think about.
I believed in the charismatic gifts, and I wrote down my dreams of ideal communities where people could freely move between different Christian communes, where they loved one another, and where they could win the whole world for God’s Kingdom through the power of God’s love and their shared connection. My own emotional life, however, was a constant rollercoaster, because I was going through adolescence at the same time. In the morning, I might be floating on the clouds, yet by the evening I could be deep in the gutter. But I was living to the full, which is what I had wanted.
To begin with, however, it felt like a big step to share my faith publicly. Although there was a wilder, even extroverted side to me, I had been quite lonely for all of my years at school and had ended up outside of the different circles of friends there. My self-confidence was low, and my communication skills were poor. I decided, however, that I didn’t want to be a coward. If I had already come this far, then it would be foolish to act based on fear.
I remember walking through the streets of my home town and wondering if I could find someone to whom it would be as easy as possible to speak about Jesus. In the end, after hours of walking around, I found myself out on the edge of the city, where I saw a group of alcoholics. From among them, I chose one who was separate from the others and who seemed like the most dejected out of all of them. I went up to him and asked him if I could tell him about God. He said that he hated his own life, hated everyone, and was also dissatisfied with God because his life was so miserable. I responded that I also feel very miserable and lonely, and that I am so bad at speaking with other people that he is the only person that I dared to approach. His attitude changed suddenly, and he began to wonder if we were perhaps two of a kind, two lonely wretches talking with each other out on the edge of a small city. Then he asked me to tell him something about this God, and I told him that God loves us two unhappy losers regardless of how wretched we are. He thanked me, and I walked away. At the same time, it felt as if some unseen, thick, oppressive blanket had been lifted off of me. My whole personality changed, I became much more sociable, and it was no longer difficult for me to speak about my faith. After that experience, it was also in other ways easier for me to connect with other people. It was as if some kind of plug had been opened up within me. I felt more confident, and even the sun seemed to shine more brightly.
It wasn’t many months before I found myself sharing the gospel in the Soviet Union on the streets of Leningrad and broadcasting a morning devotional time at school once a week through the school’s central radio. I started up a prayer group at the school which met together every day. Now at last there was connection and deep relationships in my life. In the spring, we would even go around visiting other schools and speaking in the school classes about Jesus.
My college years continued in the same fashion, and I also felt that God began speaking to me, sometimes through the Bible and sometimes just so that I suddenly understood what kind of plans He had for me or for others. I prayed a lot and I dreamt of a way of life in which Christians who all love one another would live in commune-like communities, sharing what they have with one another and loving also other people so that they also would turn to Jesus. So I was, to a great extent, a young idealist, and one who had made quite a long journey in just three years.
Then I hit a crisis, and I ended up for a long time in a spiritual wilderness. But more about that in my next blog post.
I am praying that you who are reading this will also receive from God the courage and strength to take the initiative and do the things in your life that God is calling you to do. I am also praying that you too will receive the courage to face your fears, safe in God’s gentle care, and to make the right choice. Have a blessed day.