“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:” —-Joel 2:28
As any former fundamentalist will tell you, there isn’t a time that they can remember not being Christian. Oftentimes your first memories occur in the church or are in some way completely enveloped by the church. My story is no different.
I was born into a low middle class family. My mother was a homemaker and my father was a deputy sheriff for the county we lived in. While I didn’t see much of my dad when I was young, because he worked nights and would oftentimes be asleep while I was awake, what i did see of him was always fun and happy. My mother might be called today a helicopter parent, she was always there, which was fine since I suffered from bad eyesight and occasional convulsions as a child. My parents were both good and loving, I was spanked when I misbehaved but so was everyone else my age at the time so it wasn’t considered abusive by any means. I led a pretty common place life at the time.
One aspect that was different though was that my parents were Pentecostals. The Pentecostal faith had been in our family for at least three generations. My grandfather and Great Grandfather on my mother’s side were both Pentecostal ministers and my parents, along with my aunt, were in a traveling Pentecostal singing group. My birth was especially central to our faith since it actually brought my Grandfather back to the ministry.
At a year and a half, I was rushed to the hospital, after I had gone into convulsions and stopped breathing. My grandfather, who had been backslidden for the decade prior, was said to have gotten down on his knees and prayed to god, promising to return to the ministry if god saved my life. I lived, he re-entered the ministry, and the families faith in Pentecostalism was completely rejuvenated. I was a miracle walking.
So by the time that memories started to develop, we were in church at least three to five times per week. At one point, during the 1980’s, our church held a revival that was set to last a week and ended up going for nearly a month. We were there for every single service and I remember falling asleep underneath a pew almost nightly during this time. Services oftentimes lasted until well after midnight, and even then there was the “afterglow,” a prayer meeting after the service that could by itself last another few hours.
At three years old, I remember my first taste of the ministry. My mother had prepared a simple rhyme for me to say in front of the church. “I’m only half past three, you see, but I love Jesus and he loves me.” Somehow I got it into my mind that this was in the same vein as the pledge of allegiance. So when I spoke, I said “I’m only half past three, you see, but I love Jesus and he loves me, by the United States of American.” The church roared with laughter and applause and I was left with a sense of accomplishment.
Just before the age that I would be starting school, another revival started at my grandfathers church. Though it didn’t last as long, it was marked with an occurrence that would follow me throughout the rest of my life. During the prayer service my mother brought me up to have my grandfather pray for my eyesight. I would soon get glasses and see for the first time how man could succeed in fixing an issue where god had seemingly failed. Anyway, my Grandfather began praying and then he started prophesying, or telling the church a message that God had directly told him to give.
That message was this…
“Matthew is being called to the ministry, he will fulfill the promises of Joel and be a prophet and minister in the same vein as Elijah.”
Those words would follow me throughout my childhood, at times haunt me, sometimes torture me, but they never left me. Even today as I write this I am reminded of the feeling of pride and awe that I felt that night. I honestly had no idea at the time what my grandfather was talking about but I remember clearly the weeping of the people around, the praises, and the respect that the adults in the church showed me that night. It was a feeling that I would search after, many years later, once I had joined the ministry.
This marks the beginning of my jouney. Thank you for reading and I look forward to writing part 2 soon.
An Atheist In Iowa
Continue on to part 2 here.