Another Conversion Story

“How I Solved the Catholic Problem”
by Kristine L. Franklin

Guatemala is at a turning point. Historically it’s been a 100% Catholic country – but that’s changing – rapidly. Demographers predict that early in the next century Guatemala will become the first mostly-Protestant Latin American country.

The jet made a careful descent between the three volcanoes that ring the sprawl of Guatemala City. It was April 19th, 1992. My husband, Marty, and I had reached the end of eight years of preparation to be Evangelical Protestant missionaries.

We were finally here, excited and eager to settle in Guatemala. We knew our faith would be challenged and stretched, but we were more than ready for it because above all else, we desired to serve God with everything we could offer. Our new life as missionaries had just begun.

I didn’t feel even a twinge of regret over what we’d left behind in the States: family, friends, a familiar language and culture, and amenities like clean water and good roads we Americans so often take for granted. In spite of the unknowns ahead, I knew we were being obedient, regardless of the cost. We were living smack in the middle of God’s will, and it gave us a great feeling of security. We had given ourselves fully to bringing Christ’s light to the darkness of this impoverished, Catholic country.

As the jet touched down onto the bumpy runway, tears welled in my eyes. “Thank you, Jesus,” I whispered as I reached over to squeeze my husband’s hand. Marty and I had come to the end of a long journey, but we were also beginning a new one. “Some day, Lord,” I prayed silently, “I hope this foreign place will feel like home.”

I was elated as we walked down the exit ramp from the plane and began the long-awaited adventure of being Protestant missionaries – missionaries sent to “rescue” Catholics from the darkness of their religion’s superstition and man-made traditions and bring them into the light of Protestantism.

There’s no way I could have known that three years later, almost to the day, my husband and my two children and I would stand holding hands again, elated again, waiting to be received into the Catholic Church. Let me explain what happened that led me, a staunch Evangelical, to become Catholic.

In the Beginning

I was raised in a devout Fundamentalist home. When I was 5 years old I asked Jesus to be my Savior. I was watching cartoons and it was time for a commercial. I figured that was as good a time as any to get saved. I’d been told many times by my folks that all I had to do was “open up a little door in my heart and let Jesus come in, and I would be a true Christian.”

That was it. Once Jesus was in, He would never go away. And when I died, I would go to heaven. It was a sure thing, the best deal in life, the free gift of eternal life. I couldn’t earn it, I could only ask for it, and as soon as I asked (if I really meant it), then it was a done deal! One minute I was a little sinner on the way to hell, the next minute I was a Christian.

When I told my mom I’d become a Christian, she wept for joy. I didn’t feel any different, but I knew my black heart was now as white as snow. No matter how bad I was, no matter what naughty things I did, when God looked at my heart from now on, all He would see was white, because Jesus was my personal Savior. As I grew up and found myself involved in sins of one kind or another, I doubted the sincerity of my “conversion” at age 5 and, just in case, I got “born-again” at least on two other occasions (just to be sure).

This is the Catch-22 of the typical “born-again” theology taught by many Evangelical and Fundamentalist denominations: Although we were taught that “faith alone” saved a person, the assumption was that right away the convert would exhibit a changed life and would continue growing in holiness out of sheer gratefulness to God for the gift of salvation. Under this system, the whole conversion event was completely subjective and valid only with the right measure of sincerity and true repentance – what Evangelicals call “saving faith.”

On the other hand, if a person known to be “born again” falls away from Christ, it’s said that he had “never really been born again.” In other words, the possibility always exists that you might not actually be a Christian, though you might be completely convinced that you are. (Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants would never say it that way, nor do they even like to think about it, but they do recognize that this is so.)

The “Catholic Problem”…

Just as I knew for certain I was a Christian at 5 years old, I knew with equal certainty that there were others who were not Christians. I had been taught that some of these non-Christian people lived in places like Africa and Asia. Missionaries were frequent visitors at our little church and we listened with awe to their stories. Once some missionaries came from Mexico, where, tragically enough, the people thought they were Christians, even though they weren’t. The Mexicans, we were reminded, were a lot worse off than the heathens in Africa. At least the heathens knew they worshipped demons and false gods. But the poor Mexicans were Catholics. They had been deceived into thinking they were real Christians, and this made them a lot harder to convert.

But it wasn’t just the Mexicans we worried about and prayed for.

Most of our neighbors weren’t Christian either. Most were Roman Catholics. Their kids went to Sacred Heart school, where nuns and priests taught them to worship statues and pray to Mary whom – we were repeatedly warned – Catholics thought was more powerful than God Himself. I was taught to feel sorry for Catholics, because they were members of a cult, and they didn’t even know it. They were like Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had been deceived into thinking that their good works would get them to heaven.

All of my father’s relatives were Catholic. I remember when one of them died, my mother cried bitterly because he was in hell, not because he was a great sinner, but because he was Catholic. And there was no way a Catholic could be a “born again” Christian. In fact, as far as we were concerned, being Catholic was far worse than being simply unchurched. Being Catholic was to live a lie, a lie which would only be exposed at death, when the unsuspecting person ended up in hell for believing he could work himself to heaven by good deeds. This was the way Catholics and their theology was explained to me.

I was not allowed to go to the funerals of any of my Catholic relatives. It was too sad, my Mom told me. Funerals were supposed to be happy because the person who had died (if he had been “born again”) was with Jesus, free from suffering and pain. Catholic funerals weren’t happy at all. A lot of people cried because they didn’t know for sure if their loved one was in heaven. But we would know, Mom assured us. That was the great thing about being real Christians.

These prejudices and misconceptions about Catholicism were reinforced continually throughout my childhood. Not only did I hear strong opinions against Catholicism, but also against most other Protestants, those in other denominations.

We were taught that only in our church, or a church which shared our Dispensational interpretive system,1 could a person find the complete truth about the Bible. The big denominations, the “mainline churches,” were all apostate we were warned. Those churches were best avoided, for in them, a person would hear error taught and might be deceived into believing it. Errors included things such as infant baptism, amillennialism, speaking in tongues, faith healing or, worst of all, that a Christian could lose his salvation through serious sin.

We had the truth at our church, period. Anyone who wanted the whole story about God would have to come to our church and study the Bible the way we did. When meeting someone from another denomination for the first time, we were taught to view with suspicion that person’s claim to being a Christian. If they didn’t believe pretty much what we did, there was a good chance they weren’t really “born again.” We were constantly reminded by our pastor that we were obligated to share the real truth with them, especially if they were Catholics. We had Jesus, they didn’t. It was that simple.

Over the years I came to know many “true Christians” from these other “erroneous” churches. This had an effect on me. I gradually loosened my Fundamentalist views on truth and adopted the typical, somewhat vague belief of contemporary evangelicalism that as long as one has a “personal relationship with Christ,” that’s all that matters. To my shock, I even met a few Catholics whom I judged to be “born again,” (though I could only wonder how they could possibly grow spiritually within the Catholic Church, and I had no idea why they remained in it). As their friend, I saw it as my duty to urge those “Christian” Catholics to find a better church, a Bible-believing church. And some of them took my advice and left the Catholic Church. Some however, stuck with Catholicism, which only made me question the validity of their commitment to Christ.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ To continue…..
I read Kristen’s story during my journey to the Catholic Church. It was one of the best. The Protestant view of Catholicism was so accurate. For the rest of Kristen’s Conversion Story click —>Kristen Franklin

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