Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Search

After the Good Friday earthquake that devastated South Central Alaska, I used my "earthquake relatedness" scholarship from the Ford Foundation ( see previous post, "In a Matter of Minutes") to enroll at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. The first week of classes, I attended an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship meeting. There, I met the man who would become my husband three years later.

Bob had come to Alaska in 1959 with his father, a colonel in the United States Air Force, assigned to Eielson Air Force Base, near Fairbanks, as the base engineer. When Bob graduated from high school, his parents were transferred, but Bob stayed in Alaska to attend the university.

Bob's family did not go to church. When Bob was eight years old, his father was stationed in Greece for three years, and the family accompanied him. Another American wife who lived nearby often visited the Conti family. "I haven't been to church in years," she often lamented. "God must hate me!"

Overhearing her, young Bob thought, "I've never even gone to church. God must really hate me."

Early one Sunday morning Bob climbed a tree near their house on the road just outside of Athens. A unit of Greek soldiers often marched by on their way to the Greek Orthodox Church nearby. Lustily, they sang hymns as they marched. Hearing them, eight-year-old Bob felt very guilty because he never went to church.

As he sat in that tree, a warm Presence suddenly enveloped him, as though God had put His loving arms around him. "It's all right, Bobby. I love you, " He seemed to say. And thus began Bob's search for God.

The first thing Bob did was to go to the Orthodox Church. He opened the door and peeked in. The two-dimensional icons frightened him. Then a priest with an upside-down stovepipe hat chased him away. Bob quickly decided that he would wait until the family returned to the States to look for a church.

Bob was eleven years old when they returned to America. That's when he learned that as a baby he had been baptized a Roman Catholic. A school friend took him to church and introduced him to the priest, who enrolled him in special catechism classes to prepare him for confirmation.

Bob faithfully followed the teachings of the Catholic Church. When the priest discovered Bob had an excellent singing voice, he enlisted him to sing the responses in the Mass. But Bob's favorite part of the Mass was the reading from the Gospels. At the base chapel at Eielson, the chaplain-priest gave Bob a copy of God's Word for Modern Man. He loved reading the stories about Jesus, but soon he had many questions.

"Just trust the teachings of the Church," the priest told him. "The layman can't understand the Bible."

But that didn't satisfy Bob. When he graduated from high school, he left the Catholic Church. Working as a surveyor for the State of Alaska Highway Department, he spent his free time out in the woods by himself, singing all the music he had learned in the Mass and praying, longing to know God.

That fall at the university he met a Christian girl who invited him to church. That evening, a visiting evangelist spoke on Jesus' words in John 10:9, "I am the door. If any one enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture." Bob realized he'd found what he'd been searching for. That night, he walked through that Door.

*This story is an excerpt from my nonfiction book, Frontiers of Faith, available on or from For more information, see my website,

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