I have been asked many times to put down on paper the story of how I came into the Roman Catholic Church. Here is my story.
I was born into a Southern Baptist family in the Los Angeles suburb of Lakewood in 1960. My Father was a deacon in the church, my Mother sang in the choir. My paternal great grandfather was a circuit riding preacher for the Methodist Church in the Oklahoma Territory during the last part of the 19th century, so I come by my Christian Heritage naturally. We, my sister, brother and I, were raised in the love and admonition of the Lord. We went to Sunday School and morning worship, Training Union and evening worship every Sunday (even if I had preferred to stay home Sunday nights to watch Wonderful World of Disney), and Wednesday night prayer meetings. On most Saturdays, my Dad and I would go to the church to mow the lawn and clean up for Sunday worship. We would go to the Rescue Missions on Skidrow in Los Angeles once a month or so to sing, preach and help feed the men (in those days it was mainly men on skidrow). I was shown, by the life of my parents, that this was how you showed your love for Christ. You went to Church, prayed, and shared the Gospel with those around you. I memorized many verses from the King James Bible as a child, and as a high school student moved up to the New American Standard Bible (Ryrie Study Bible Edition), since it was so much easier to read and we actually spoke the same language....it had been a few hundred years since anyone spoke like Shakespeare, except in Drama Class. To say that my parents brought me to a saving knowledge of Christ by their example of life would be an understatement. I owe them a debt of gratitude I could only hope to repay by being the same example of a loving Christian to my wife and family and those around me.
I was baptized when I was eight years old, it was a decision I had made because I saw myself as one who needed Jesus in my life as my Savior, so I asked Jesus into my heart at that young age and was baptized at Bellwood Baptist (SBC) church a few weeks later. I was one who was not afraid to share my faith. Jesus was real to me (he still is) and I wanted others to know to love that I knew because of what Jesus did for me, for all of us. This lead to a lot of bullying when I was in Junior High, because the bullies knew I would not fight back....that is not what Jesus would want. My friends at that time can bear witness to the fact that I talked my way out of many a fight, I also out ran many a bully too. (Sometimes I wish I could get into a DeLorean and fire up the flux capacitor and go back to the mid 70's with the knowledge of my second degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and teach those bullies a lesson! But as Mr. Miyagi would say, "Karate for defense only"). I digress. In high school I was fairly well known on campus (I did not realize this at the time, but found out years later from alumni who I had not known at school, since we were 3000 in the school, and they came up to me and introduced themselves. I had to go back to the yearbook to verify who they were, and I still didn't know them!). I was part of a student led lunchtime Bible study group and in the Shutterbug (photography) club, I loved to take pics of the Friday Night Football games (ok, I took more pics of the cheer squad than the game, but this was high school for crying out loud.). I also played waterpolo and was probably in the best shape of my life during those years. I also had a very good friend with whom I forged a great friendship....he was also a committed Catholic. Randy Laya and I would have many talks about our respective faiths, and while I was never Anti-Catholic, I never really knew what to think about the Catholic Church. I knew they were Christians by their profession/creed, but it was too "high" church for me I guess.
It was during high school that I heard the call of the Lord to what I thought was a full time Christian Ministry. I knew that God wanted me to follow him, I was working in our youth group at First So. Baptist in Long Beach, and helped with many other ministries in the church, along with my best friends Ken Cunningham and Bryan Richardson (Bryan would later "jump ship" and come into full communion with the Catholic Church years before I did, unfortunately I have lost contact with Ken). It was during this time that I had made friends with a kid that I met while visiting my sister and her husband in El Cajon, California. I was a junior in high school, and I went to a skateboard park to ride. I had all kinds of Christian Stickers on my helmet and was not ashamed to share my story with anyone who wanted to listen. One kid thought the stickers were cool and we started up a conversation, so started a friendship that would change my life. David Sciacca was a student at Christian High in El Cajon, his parents lived in the upper class neighborhood of Mount Helix (those who live in San Diego know that Mt. Helix is not a subdivision, but and actual Mount, a very large hill that is even used as a landmark by pilots at nearby Gillespie Field.) Frank and Connie Sciacca took a liking to me and invited me into their family. soon I was driving to San Diego, not to visit my sister, but to visit David and his family. Frank was into land development, and in the late 70's, San Diego was smoking! They knew of my desire to go to a Christian College and become a minister, they also knew of our limited finances in my family. One afternoon, after I had already finished high school and had enrolled at the local JC, I was talking with Frank on the phone. He asked me what I was going to do with my life. I responded by telling me I had started talking a few classes at LBCC until I could save up money to go to BIOLA and start my Bible degree. He told me I would never finish college by taking two classes at a time, and that he and Connie and been talking and praying about it and decided to give me a year at Christian Heritage College if I wanted it, Room, Board, Books...a full ride! (That one year turned into all 4 years, to which I am forever grateful to the faith they had in me). I told my parents, who were absolutely thrilled! I went to my boss, where I had just started working for a Christian company and his reaction was, "GO, just GO, this is God's call! Son in the Spring semester of 1979, I was enrolled at Christian Heritage College in El Cajon, California. This is a college that was founded, in part, by Tim LaHaye, famous preacher and author of many Christian books including the "Left Behind" series.
In college, I started to learn so much more about my faith. I learned that there were other ways of looking at the same event or problem or Bible verse for that matter. Much of my head butting at college had to do more with the "practice" of my faith rather than the substance of it. We had "rules" we had to follow, the school consider themselves as "en Parentis loco" or as they would say, in "place of parents". This was a new concept for me, since we were in college, all over the age of 18 and were paying for the privilege of going to this school. Most of the rules were easy to follow and pretty common sense, curfew at such and such time, etc. But the music rules and radio station rules were way too strict. The administration wanted to micro manage our lives and many of us (me included) secretly rebelled.
It was during this time of my life that I experienced bigotry against my beliefs, but not by Catholics, but by my own college classmates. I also learned what the term "fundamentalist" meant. We had some fundamentalists at Heritage who basically told me that because I didn't go to their church, believed what they believed, that I was damned and going to Hell! So much for the love of God! Here I was, a student at a Christian College, studying to be a Missionary pilot, to bring the Gospel to the heathens in Africa, or New Guinea or wherever, and I was told it wasn't good enough, I had to believe a different way, dress in a suit and tie, cross my t's and dot my i's. It was a brutal introduction to Legalism, and I rejected it as Jesus rejected the Pharisees' legalism.