As a teenager, I was raised an evangelical and attended a small Asian Pentecostal church in Vancouver. I remember wondering to myself in Sunday school class if God was real. The teacher was talking like God was real but I had not yet experienced God for myself. I said to myself that if God was real, I needed to know more of God.
That day came. It was at a Pentecostal summer teen camp somewhere between Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta. I was about 15 years old. I remember distinctly being filled with the Holy Spirit. This was my coming to faith in Christ. This cannot be fully explained or understood using words. It was a spiritual experience–an existential moment that I will never forget. God poured his Spirit into this teenage boy.
At summer camp, I witnessed teenagers on their knees. They were praying. Seriously praying. There was no kidding around with them. No looking down at their Nintendos and pretending to pray. They were praying like they knew God was real. I had seen adults praying in church, but never young people like this. It was the first time I had seen teenagers and young people praying in one large group. A totally new thing to me.
It caused me to wonder and ponder if I was missing something in my life. I remember telling God:
“God, if you are real, please make yourself real to me. I want to know that you are real…that you really exist…and that you care about me.”
I looked up to see if anyone stopped praying. No one stopped praying. So I continued to pray and asked God to show me something. Give me sign that you want to make yourself known to me in a personal way.
Then I began to feel a tingling sensation come over my body. It was like 10,000 volts of electricity. This sensation started in my hands. It spread to my arms, then covered my entire body. I was covered with God’s presence and filled to the brim. It was an electrifying experience–literally. How can I describe this? It felt like a warm sensation, like as if I was set on fire. I now knew that Acts 2 was real.
The summer camp speaker, a pastor, spoke prophetically and authoritatively. He said that God is here in this place and is making himself real to you. He can make himself known to you in a variety of ways. That was God’s way of making himself known to me that left me without any doubt about his existence in this universe, and in my life.
I knew then and there that God was real. He satisfied my doubts, filled me with his love and presence. I was weeping and sobbing with tears of joy. I was oblivious to everything else around me because now, it was just me and God… together. I told God that I would serve him. I didn’t know how this service would look like though–until many years later.
God gifted me with a real presence that day. He poured faith into me. Where I once questioned God’s existence, I no longer doubted. He became very personal and tangible to me. Simultaneously, I also realized the severity of my own sins, and experienced God’s love and kindness toward me, and of his mercy and forgiveness.
I had already learned all this stuff in church and Sunday school but it had never really sunk in until that day. The revelation of God culminated in one moment on a single day at church teen camp.
Another experience. I was 16 years old when evangelist Rev. Billy Graham came to BC Place Stadium in Vancouver for a series of evangelistic meetings. Each night, he would give an invitation to come down to the front–an old-fashioned evangelical altar call. I still remember Rev Graham quoting from Matt 10:33, “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”
That was enough to motivate me to want to acknowledge Jesus in front of thousands in the stadium. I decided to publicly acknowledge Christ. Upon mustering some courage, I walked down to the front. I typify this as is a sort of combined evangelical version of a ‘confession of faith’, plus a personal commitment to walk with Christ.
Later, as a university student, I attended a Christian & Missionary Alliance church and decided to get baptized there too. I remained engaged in Christian student clubs on campus (e.g., IVCF, Power to Change, etc.). As a young adult, I continued worshiping at various denominational or non-denominational community churches.
After finishing my studies at Regent University, I packed my things and moved to Toronto. I lived there for a number of years and found work in the financial field.
During this time, God led me into lay ministry by using my spare time to serve as a lay-pastoral leader in a small local ethnic Pentecostal church (English-speaking congregation). I did this for almost one year and did not have any expectation of ever being called to ministry. This experience gave me a taste of what pastoral ministry was like.
While in Toronto, I began attending a large charismatic church for a few years. It expanded my experience of worship and my understanding of how the Holy Spirit worked in people, in the church and in the world. Worship became more intimate for me. I felt I could almost touch the presence of God. Years later, my experience of worship would be shaped by structured worship with liturgy and comprehensive theology. My charismatic experience played a huge part in shaping my theology of the Holy Spirit.
While in Toronto, I began sensing and contemplating God’s Call. I reassessed my life and asked myself if I could do anything for the rest of my life, and money wasn’t a factor, what would I want to do? My answer: pastoral ministry.
I began to explore the idea of pursuing some theological education in order to prepare myself for the challenges of vocational ministry. I returned to Saskatchewan. I began inquiring with seminaries in nearby local provinces.
My parents were attending a small bible study started by a local Lutheran seminarian and I visited the open house at Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS). This intern-seminarian also recommended this place.
I prayed that the Lord would show me the way. I had a dream during the night. In this dream, I saw a white dove perched on top of the letters ‘LTS’. This bird flew off, swirled around a few times, then very quickly, landed under my left arm. It jarred me awake. Both legs shot up. I became fully awake.
I asked myself, “Was this a nightmare or a sign from God? If it’s a nightmare, I have nothing to worry about. But if it is a sign from God, I better pay attention.”
That very next morning, I decided to visit the seminary a second time. I had some questions to ask. I spoke with one fine professor who cared about ministry (who returned to parish ministry). After our conversation, he encouraged me to apply and see where it would take me.
Throughout seminary and my discernment process, I had some enlightened ‘aha’ moments and also countless moments of doubt. I asked myself, “Do I belong here? Why don’t I just leave? I don’t know anything about liturgy or theology.”
I was not a born and bred Lutheran. Most Lutherans are just born into the church and cannot recall a specific point in time when they had an existential spiritual experience in coming to faith. This is a different approach to the ‘born again’ experience where a person usually can recall a point in time when they consciously know when they came to faith.
I do believe that God still gives us signs. God works in different ways in different people. Some receive subtle signs. Some are lightening-struck. God’s calling comes to each of us in different ways and will be different for you.
For me personally, this sign of the white dove was a constant reminder of God’s calling to me. It kept me from veering off the path whenever I had doubts about whether to stay in seminary.
The rest is now history. I thank the Lord for his direction, and for the guidance I received from God’s servants.
Later, I would serve in Lutheran congregations and in Baptist congregations. Today, I continue in my vocation serving as a chaplain. My experience, theology, and approach to ministry has expanded and grown in ways I never expected.