Napoleon Kaufman knew there was more to life than football, but it took a teammate calling him out in public to wake him up. Greg Surratt was raised in a loving, Christian atmosphere, but it took a book by Josh McDowell he read later in life for Jesus to become real to him.
For either, the path to salvation didn’t come easily. Like all people—including pastors and ministry leaders—Kaufman and Surratt needed someone to share the Good News with them. Someone had to plant the seed of the gospel message; another had to water it. But whether through a tragic event, an unexpected book or the reluctant acceptance of an invitation to church, the seeds were planted for a future bountiful harvest.
The following testimonies from well-known leaders in ministry demonstrate the simplicity and power of Christ’s gospel—which, at some point, has to relay.
I was raised in a religious home. I grew up going to dead and dry churches in California, not really understanding what it meant to be a follower of Christ. When I was 15, I ran away from home to go find my dad, as my parents had been divorced since I was a kid.
The first night I stayed with my dad, he said to me, “If you’re going to try any of that pot stuff, you should bring it home so we can all try it together.” I thought I had the coolest dad in the world. I remember the Bible said you were supposed to obey your parents, so I thought I was obligated. I became a party animal for about a year, thinking I was living the greatest life, not knowing I was destroying myself.
When I was 16, a friend invited me to church. I thought, “Sure. I’m cool. God’s cool. We’ll get along.”
When we arrived at church, we found about 200 people crammed into this little white church, and they were singing loud and happy. This was really new to me. I always felt like going to church was like going to prison and doing hard time for something I had done wrong. But this church was passionate.
The pastor got up and delivered his sermon, and it was really the first sermon I heard in a plain, normal vernacular that a teenage kid could understand. I thought, “This is the greatest thing in the world. I’m in.” Because it was such a refreshing atmosphere—and because no one got in my face and pointed their finger at me—I gave my life to Jesus that day.
I felt like I had found the cure to cancer. I went back to school and told everybody. Of course, my friends would want me to party, but I invited them to the real party. That was right at the end of my junior year in high school.
One day, I came home to my dad’s house and all my stuff was on the front porch, and the door was locked. My younger brother came to the door and told me, “Dad said I can’t let you in.” My stepmother said I was too much of a Jesus freak and that I had to go.
I was only 16, so I picked up my stuff and put it in my beat-up car. I drove down the road crying, not knowing where to go. I never got in trouble at all for being a party animal, and now, when trying to do the right thing, I found myself without a place to live.
For a couple of weeks, I stayed with some college-age guys I met at church. When my pastor found out, he invited me over for a birthday dinner with his family when I turned 17. It felt weird. It was a real family, and it freaked me out. They gave me a little present and made me feel special.
The next day, while I was at work, I got a message that my pastor wanted to see me in his office. I thought, “What did I do? What did I say?” I got to his office that night, and it was then and there that pastor Michael Craft invited me to live with him and his family.
I was moved beyond words. You could tell this was a man of great faith. He had three beautiful teenage daughters and he invited me to come live with him. Being a part of his family was the most incredible experience of my Christian growth.
I thank God for the older generation that takes a risk on behalf of the younger generation. And really, that’s what it takes to reach the younger generation. His generosity set me up for success and ultimately helped me make a decision to go on to Oral Roberts University and then into ministry to try to help the younger generation too.
I figured if God could reach me and rescue me—as pathetic and messed up as I was—He can reach anybody or any young person.
Ron Luce is the co-founder and president of Teen Mania Ministries.
Barbara J. Yoder
Many times I have wished my coming to know Christ was easier.
I was born into the middle of an evangelical revival center. I grew up sitting in sawdust on the floor of the tabernacle, listening to and living by the greats in the faith. As a small child, Billy Sunday’s widow was our next-door neighbor.
Being raised in a Christian environment and home, I was “Christianized” from birth. My mother taught me to pray and memorize Scripture. Sundays were dedicated to church and family. When I was 11, a godly woman prophesied to my family about who I was to become, and it was spot on. The catch was that I never seemed to feel connected to God. And the faith I had was fear-based. I was tormented by the thought of going to hell.
I was two people—one who would lead several hundred to the Lord in a meeting one day at high school, and one who would do just the opposite the next day. I longed to know God but couldn’t seem to find Him in a way that “stuck.”
My environment became toxic because of the church I had been raised in and the one I attended in high school. Actions by a member of our church scarred my mother, who eventually committed suicide. My family was torn apart by grief. The church eventually suffered when the pastor and several members committed adultery.
I left the church, becoming a temporary atheist while in college. I was embittered by religion. God didn’t seem to work in the private lives of people in the church, and He certainly didn’t feel very caring to me. So I moved on.
Living the life of an intellectual and professor at a major university, I became desperate. I could never seem to leave behind the questions: Is God really real, and if so, is He a personal God whom I need to know? If I don’t know Him, will I end up in hell?
I immersed myself in reading both non-Christian and Christian philosophers. I closed myself off to most Christians because of their seemingly lack of authentic faith. Nothing touched the vacuum in my heart until I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship. He talked about taking the leap of faith.
While reading his book, I said to God, “If You exist, I have a few things to talk over with You.” At that moment, Jesus walked into my room. I was overcome with liquid love and wept my way back to God. From that moment on, I knew Jesus was real.
It wasn’t, however, until a year later that I moved to Detroit, where I found myself in one of the largest churches in the nation at the time—a charismatic church, where I began to be discipled and eventually entered the ministry. I began to learn how to believe God, walk with God, overcome obstacles and know who I am in Christ.
Barbara J. Yoder is the founding apostle and senior pastor of Shekinah Regional Equipping and Revival Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Mine was not a dramatic or radical conversion. But since neither of my parents were Christians, it was something that was new to me.
I must have been about 6, and I was invited to come to First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., for Vacation Bible School. What I remember most about it was that there was a teacher there named Margaret Tucker. I remember always thinking to myself, “She really smells good.” But the biggest thing I remember is that she always said to me, “Ronny, Jesus loves you so much.” You don’t ever forget something like that. I remember her love and passion for us. Years later, she wound up in an assisted living facility, and I was able to reacquaint myself with her because she was in the same complex where my mother lived.
I’ll never forget Margaret Tucker because not only does it take a witness to get you see the truth, but it also takes somebody that has a heart for you to receive that message. She was one of those people.
But it really wasn’t until a couple of years later when I was 8 that I received my salvation. We had a teacher of evangelism come to our church, C.E. Awtrey, and I remember that he was so powerful and so bold in his teaching that it scared me. I remember I was nervous and started crying, and I ran out of the church and to our car. An adult from our church named Trent came out and sat in the front seat of the car with me and talked to me and calmed me down. He taught me a prayer that impacted my life.
Two nights later, while sitting in the backyard, I remember looking up at the stars and that prayer came to the back of my mind. I prayed it, and God spoke to me. The next Sunday, I went forward—still scared—and made the profession in church. Weeks later, I got baptized.
Ron Phillips is senior pastor of Abba’s House in Chattanooga, Tenn. His weekly television and daily radio programs are broadcast worldwide.
I came from a great family with a great profession of faith, and my parents were godly people. But our theology while I was growing up was that you could lose your salvation for any of a number of transgressions. I probably did most of them.
With the faith I grew up in, you could drop in and out pretty easily. I certainly was a wild teenager, and that made it even easier. There was a time we had a revival in our church, and I can remember hiding out under the grand piano. I remember saying to God, “If You can get me out of this place, I’ll do anything to serve You.” Of course, I didn’t follow up on that right away.
As a kid, I was always in church and had mostly good experiences there. But it wasn’t until after I was in college that I began to re-examine what I believed. I believe a lot of college students do that.
I began to question a lot of things about my faith and my beliefs at that time. Interestingly enough, it was a book by Josh McDowell called Evidence That Demands a Verdict that turned my life around. I decided that before I chucked everything, I was going to read it.
It’s not the kind of book that lends itself to an easy read. But I read it, and logically it all made sense and reaffirmed what I really believed in my heart. The thing about that book was that the Lord revealed to me through it that Jesus was, in fact, who He said He was, and if He was who He said He was, then I had better take His Word seriously. That meant the Bible was a real document.
I dedicated myself at that point to following the Lord wherever it took me, and here I am.
Greg Surratt is founding pastor of Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant, S.C., and a founding board member and president of the Association of Related Churches (ARC).
Going into my senior year of college, I really started getting the sense that my life was changing. A lot of people would send me Scriptures and give me tracts and other things. I got this sense that God was calling me. It wasn’t clearly articulated, but I knew I needed a change in my life.
So I thought getting drafted and playing in the NFL and earning big money was what I was really missing in my life. I ended up getting drafted in the first round by the Raiders and went through a successful first season. I bought a big house in Seattle, and in the eyes of most people, I had made it.
But I kept asking myself, “Is this it? This can’t be it. Something’s wrong with my life.” Some people come to Christ when they are down and out, but for me, I had money and all of this other stuff. Still, something was wrong.
Going into my second year in the NFL, I was still going through this tug of war in my heart and in my mind. During a practice session at training camp, I was out there on the field, cussing and acting crazy with some of my friends. It was then that one of my teammates came up to me and said, “Hey, Napoleon, you don’t really look like the type of guy that would be out here acting like this. Man, don’t you know that God can use your life?”
When he said that in front of my other teammates, I immediately justified myself. But I can remember going back to my hotel room and continually hearing those words: “Don’t you know that God can use your life?”
It was at that moment that I got on my knees with nobody around and asked the Lord to forgive me of my sins and to change my life.
I accepted the Lord, asked Him to come into my life and, from that moment on, have never been the same. I repented of my sins, started reading my Bible and started going through the discipleship process.
It wasn’t until my sixth year in the NFL that I realized football was only a means to an end. What I was born to do was preach the gospel. I had just signed a two-year contract worth $6 million the year before. However, after some counseling with my pastor and my wife, I walked away from the game to serve God and to serve people—without any regrets.
Napoleon Kaufman is a former running back with the Oakland Raiders. He is now senior pastor of The Well Church in Livermore, Calif.
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