Who would have thought I would have to leave my country to find a church that existed in my own city? This experience took me to Africa and back. And I returned home with two sweet rewards.
Have you ever wondered, "Why did God choose me?" Or if you are not yet baptized, "How do I really know that this is my calling?" Let me tell you a little story that may help you to think about both of these questions in a slightly different way. This story takes place in the far-off land of Burkina Faso!
First, where in the world is Burkina Faso? That's what I said eight years ago when I was sent an invitation to join the Peace Corps. I looked at a globe and, to my amazement, Burkina Faso did not even appear to exist! How could I go to a place for the next two years that didn't even exist? I called my recruiter and she calmly explained to me that the name of the country had changed from Upper Volta in 1987.
Burkina Faso is located in West Africa. It's a landlocked country of 12 million people bordering Niger, Mali, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Benin and Togo. This little country was where I first heard about the Church of God. I met the one woman out of 12 million people who was part of the Church there, and she later became my wife. What are the odds? Clearly, to me, God made this happen.
I left my home in Boston, Massachusetts, in June of 1997 to join the Peace Corps. At the time, my spiritual life was in shambles. I was a member of a major Christian denomination but was not a good "practicing" Christian.
Growing up, I had attended church every Sunday with my family. On graduating from high school, however, I was spiritually thirsting for more. A few years passed, and I decided that I wanted to be a priest. I know, pretty crazy, huh? After deciding against the priesthood (since I wanted to get married and have kids), I still didn't know what to do with my life.
In the fall of 1996 I heard about the Peace Corps. I would have a chance to travel the world, learn about a new culture, live with this new culture for two years and truly get to know a different people. How was I to know that God was steering me halfway across the world to learn of the true faith? In fact, it was also available in my own backyard, but God has a sense of humor.
Meeting my future wife
Six months into my service I met a wonderful lady. Up to that time I had been attending the church I grew up in almost every Sunday. I felt I was connecting with God somehow. It was kind of like getting a fix or trying to satisfy a need.
After a few weeks of getting to know each other, my future wife started showing me the Bible. It was a new revelation for me! I think I may have opened a Bible maybe one other time in my life!
She continued to tell me about things her father had learned through a magazine he had received back in 1970 through a Reader's Digest ad. He was baptized in 1972 and remains to this day the only known baptized member of the Church of God in the entire country! Again, how incredible it was that I was led to this particular woman in Burkina Faso who knew God's truth!
God knows each and every one of us. He gave us all the power of choice right from the beginning. When God calls us, we have two choices: We can live our lives according to His Word or we can ignore His admonitions and live our lives according to the ways of this world.
Deuteronomy 30:19 tells us that we will live if we choose God: "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live."
Filling the emptiness
If we follow God, we cannot go wrong. I didn't realize that the need and emptiness I was feeling in my youth was a craving for God's true Word.
I was gradually made aware of teachings I had no idea existed. Some of these included the fact that God's Ten Commandments are what makes life work and that He really expects us to live by them. And that God has special Holy Days He wants us to keep, special times that do a wonderful job of explaining why mankind exists in the first place and what's in store for us all. And that He has other laws, like tithing (this was a tough one for me, but I eventually came around!), that He expects us to obey.
If you'd like to learn about these instructions, simply request, download or read online our free booklets The Ten Commandments and Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Keep?
I started following God when I learned of His expectations. Looking back now, it feels as if I just kind of slipped into His way of life. But I know better. I know that all the time when I was groping around for something I didn't know existed, He was working with me. I believe He even had this crazy plan to send me to Africa to find Him!
How about you? Do you find yourself feeling there has to be something more meaningful or fulfilling in your life? Are you thinking of being baptized? Many of you reading this magazine have grown up in the United Church of God (publisher of Vertical Thought ), so your experiences have been very different from mine. Others reading this magazine are learning for the first time about the biblical Christianity practiced by the first-century Church, which is the same Christianity that God expects of us today.
For those of us responding to God's call, 1 Peter 2:9 explains that He is calling us "out of darkness into His marvelous light" so that we will become His "chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people." How great is that?
I believe that if you are reading this magazine, you are thirsting for the answers to big questions, like "Why are we here?," "Who is God?" and "What makes this Church different from all other churches?" My advice to you is to keep thirsting for that truth and never stop until you have found it!
Remember, God works in mysterious ways. He did with me, and He may be doing the same with you right now. He is an awesome God who can make anything happen for anyone. VT