We hear every day about all sorts of people converting from one religion to another: Christians converting to Islam, Muslims converting to Christianity, Atheists becoming Buddhists. Even within the same groups, some movements are likely to occur: Sunnites converting to Shia’s faith, Catholics or Orthodox becoming Protestants or the other way round. What can ever prove that one group is right and the other group is wrong? Most converts seem to have good reasons and some kind of story to tell. But, can they all be correct? So, why bother changing a belief system if they all work, especially that persecution and rejection often follow converts.
The truth is that the mind can play tricks and any experience even if it looks tangible can be deceptive sometimes. A temporary experience of Jubilation is not the answer to an existentialist dilemma because drugs and alcohol can provide that kind of temporary relief. Sometimes a testimony is real only to the person who lives it but not to the ones around. Besides, a bad experience in the church, in the mosque or in the temple may push someone to renounce a belief and resort to something else. Mohamed Ali Clay, the American Boxer, became a Muslim mainly because of racism. Ghandi was impressed by Jesus but turned off by the behavior of Christians he met; therefore, he rejected Christianity in full force. Cat’s Steven, the talented English singer of the 70s, known today as Youssef Islam converted from Christianity to Islam because he couldn’t see Jesus as more than a statue. He supported Ayatollah’s Fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie’s execution because of his book The Satanic Verses which caused the author to hide for years. Salman Rushdie commented in one of his interviews on CBC Stroumboulopoulos, 2010: “Cat’s Steven hasn’t been the same person for a long time”. In other words, Cat’s Steven is no longer the gentle-spirited artist he used to be. A great testimony doesn’t include hatred, misconceptions or strife.
A spiritual experience is authentic as long as a life- changing experience follows. For instance, a burglar repenting, an angry person becoming loving, a criminal leaving a life of crime and turning his life around. This kind of change is possible only through Jesus Christ. Religion or ideologies has never and will never change anyone on the inside. It is only a relationship with Jesus Christ that can transform lives and change hearts. Saint Augustin, the North African Christian Theologian of the 4th century, was living a life of sexual immorality and worldly pleasure until he realised it was a dead- end, accepted Jesus as his Saviour and started a life of holiness, pursuing wisdom and righteousness. He impacted Western literature, philosophy and theology. The American Christian singer, Michael W Smith was a Rock star involved in drugs. Finally, he had had enough and asked God to help him. After a near death experience, he wept and asked Jesus to come into his life and since then his life has never been the same. Michael W Smith became one of the most successful Christian writer/singers in the Christian scene. The writer of Amazing Grace, John Newton, who was involved in the slave trade had an encounter with Jesus and gave his life to Him. He wrote the hymn Amazing Grace which describes the transformation he experienced from a misspent life to a fruitful one. A good illustration of what a great testimony looks like is in the Bible (Mathew 13:45-46) about the merchant who finds a pearl of great value and sold everything to buy it.
We can hear today on Christian Channels numerous testimonies of people from different backgrounds accepting Jesus as their Savior. These testimonies may be very different, but they all have nearly the same basic structure: an ordinary life, then a crisis and a radical resolution by the divine intervention of Jesus Christ. Great testimonies move hearts and prove that the salvation experience is real. A metamorphosis happens from the inside out that is so authentic that it can’t be hidden or denied. Jesus Christ is indeed behind these extraordinary testimonies.
By Lilia Warunky