Part 2 – From Meathead to Missionary

The good thing about being rock bottom is that you can only go up and I started to see things headed in that direction.   Jesus heard the cry of His child and was running to my rescue.  I started having a desire to go to Church and reading scripture more.  I found myself wanting to listen to Christian music, and Jesus was bringing people into my path that would lead me closer to Him.  A friend invited me to start attending a protestant church and bible study, and I loved it.  I loved the music, the message and the community, and the seed was beginning to grow.

From Boston to L.A.

Unfortunately my time in Boston was up and I was due for a new assignment in the Air Force.  I hoped and prayed that I would go somewhere in the middle of America, or somewhere in the South by the Bible belt with a strong Christian presence and influence, but God had other plans.  So He sent me to Los Angeles.  On one hand, I was so upset.  I thought, L.A., really God, this is where You want to help me grow spiritually?  On the other hand though, some of my closest friends from the Academy were all living there, and I missed them a ton.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9) And so, the sunny city of Angels it was.  And that was just what His seed needed to grow.

What is Truth?

Arriving in L.A I was pleasantly surprised.  My buddies invited me to an awesome men’s bible study, their young adult community at their church was amazing, and I quickly began helping out with a youth outreach program called Young Life.  It didn’t hurt that I lived two blocks from the beach either. Things were looking up.  I was growing deeper in God’s word, was surrounded by an amazing community, but the more I learned, the more questions I had.  I began questioning the differences between the Protestant and Catholic Church, and the more I questioned, the more confused I became.  Unfortunately I had limited knowledge on what the Catholic Church actually taught, but I knew that both could not be true on certain issues like the Eucharist.  How does one know which is true?

I had an hour commute each way to work, so I began listening to Protestant and Catholic debates.   Again, both sounded true, so I prayed hard, “Jesus, You said ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’ please lead me to the Truth.”  This became my anthem.  I started studying the early Church, the disciples of the disciples. How did the Church function before there was a Bible?  How did we get the Bible?  Jesus didn’t just hand us a Bible.  There were so many writings during that time, who decided what went in the Bible we now have and why are Protestant and Catholic Bibles different?  The more I studied the more I was leaning toward the Catholic Church.

Two things sealed the deal for me.  I picked up a book called Surprised by Truth.  It was the story of Protestant converts who became Catholic.  I knew why Catholics were becoming Protestant, but why would a Protestant want to become Catholic?  What convicted me the most was their understanding of the Eucharist and what Jesus really meant in John chapter 6.  I started to go to Mass with a buddy of mine and got introduced to Life Teen, similar to Young Life, but with the focus of leading teens closer to Christ through the teachings and the Sacraments of the Catholic Church.  So at this time I was going to a Baptist Church in the morning, a Catholic Church in the evening, helping out with both youth groups and still searching for truth.

How Baghdad Changed Everything

Everything was going well.  I was learning a ton, surrounded by amazing community and then I got deployed to Baghdad, Iraq for 6 months.  This was another one of those moments when I questioned the Lord.  Everything was going so well, why do You want to remove me from this?  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  My time in Iraq was probably the highlight of my military career, but it was also what sealed the deal for my reversion back to the Catholic Church.  My friends and the little community at the Baptist church were not in Iraq.  So I found myself just going to Mass.  I remember looking around one Sunday and seeing all of these different nations being represented, most did not speak English, but peculiarly even though the Mass was in English, they were still participating in their own language to all of the responses.  I thought about the Baptist church back home and whether or not they would be able to fully participate in that without speaking the language.  For the first time I encountered the “Catholic” or Universal Church.

His Thoughts are Still Not My Thoughts

I came back from Iraq and knew that I had to focus on being Catholic.  Unfortunately that meant not going to the same church with all my friends anymore and no longer helping out with Young Life.  I dove into serving with Life Teen, began dating a girl who also was on the core team, but it was here that Jesus began asking me the question “Will you give me everything?” and thoughts of the priesthood began entering my mind. I didn’t want to be a priest.  I wanted to be married and have a family, but I couldn’t shake these thoughts.  My assignment in L.A. was coming to an end, and I was hoping to get a follow-on assignment and stay there, but once again His thoughts are not our thoughts and so, to Montgomery, Alabama I went.

No More Running

As soon as I got to Alabama I looked for a Catholic Church with a Life Teen program and began volunteering.  While helping out with the Youth, I couldn’t escape the thoughts I was having about the priesthood.  I was invited to a young adult retreat and agreed to go at the last minute.    “Stop fighting it, He’s calling you. I don’t know what He is calling you to, but He is calling you.”  These were the exact words out of the Priest’s mouth as he placed his hand on my shoulder and prayed over me during Adoration, a time of intense prayer the first night of the retreat.  I had never met nor spoken to this priest before.  I knew I couldn’t run anymore.  I had to pursue this, but now what?  With plans to get out of the Air Force in 4 months and go back to school where my girlfriend was attending to get my masters, Jesus was saying, “Leave everything and follow me.”

The next day of the retreat, I called and told my girlfriend everything and painfully ended our relationship.  As Jesus closed one door, He opened another.  It was there that I heard the invitation to become a Life Teen Missionary, spend a year in prayer in community, discern the call to the priesthood and learn what it means to be a missionary.  After serving 7 years, I got out of the Air Force and made my way to Tiger, GA, home of Life Teen’s Mission Base, Summer Camp and Retreat Center, Covecrest.  I became a Life Teen Missionary having no clue what that meant or where my life was headed.

Will You Give Me Everything

The main reason I went to Covecrest was to be in a prayerful environment where I could intentionally discern God’s will for my life, specifically in regards to becoming a priest.  As we studied the life of St. Therese I was struck by her complete confidence in God the Father and her total abandonment to His will.  I felt the Lord continuing to ask me, “Will you give me everything?”.  In my head I was thinking, “I’ve given you a lot, what more do You want from me?”  Jesus continued to say, “I don’t want more, I want ALL.  I gave you ALL of me, I want to know that you will do anything for me.”  I finally came to a place of abandonment, where I was open to becoming a priest.  I realized that if God knew how to give good gifts to His children and if He is the author of life, ultimately whatever He wants for my life will bring me the most joy.  “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him.” (Matt 7:11)

My Vocation at Last

I still struggled with what the Lord wanted me to do.  I would go back and forth each week.  I was tired of not knowing.  I knew that I loved being a missionary and in St. Therese’s autobiography I remembered reading her say, “O Jesus my Love…my vocation, at last I have found it… my vocation is Love!” and that stuck with me.  It was the only thing I knew that was true.  I was called to Love, that was my main vocation, and so in the midst of confusion, I was going to live fully into what I knew was true.  I am called to Love. I remember returning from our first mission trip to Mexico, and I knew that this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life.  Whether it was as a priest, single or married, I was going to spend the rest of my life loving radically as a missionary, sharing the love I had experienced with all.

 Jesus I Trust In You

For the next couple of years, I continued to love and serve at Covecrest. I began leading mission trips to Mexico and Ghana, Africa each year and really reaching out to the community around Covecrest in Tiger and Clayton, Georgia.  Still unsure of whether I was going to be single the rest of my life, eventually get married or become a priest, I remembered getting a picture of Divine Mercy Jesus from either my Grandma or my Mom, and at the bottom it read, Jesus I Trust in You! This became my anthem those three years of unknowing, “Jesus I have no clue what you are doing, but I Trust in You!”

Divine-Mercy-Sunday

 Our God is Faithful

In the Spring of my third year at Covecrest, I met my wife, Bridget.  She came to the camp with a mutual friend to the annual Women’s Retreat held at Covecrest.  All the men of the community were working behind the scenes, while the women participated and helped put on the retreat.  She had been a missionary for nine years with Family Missions Company, and had always wanted to go to Africa.  I jokingly invited her to come with us to Ghana that summer, and after returning home and praying about it, she said yes.  Although we didn’t talk with each other much on the trip, (she says I was avoiding her), we each fell in love with one another’s missionary heart.  We came back home and finally talked about what Jesus had been dong in our hearts, and 8 months later we were married! We wanted to have our reception at Covecrest and the only open weekend, as God would have it, was on Divine Mercy weekend.  Our God is faithful and worthy to be trusted!

Missions is the Greatest Life

After spending a couple of blessed years as Life Teen Missionaries as a family, we felt the Lord calling us back to Family Missions Company into full time foreign missions.  The 2nd Vatican Council stated that Missionary activity is the greatest and holiest duty of the Church, and I would go even further to state that it is the greatest and most fulfilling life.  Ministering to youth, the poor and the marginalized, I have seen the transforming love of Christ at work in and through us.  Each time I am reminded of my own conversion from darkness and despair to light and hope.  I want everyone to encounter the Love and Mercy, the Joy and abundance of life that I have encountered as a result of following Christ.

A New Tree

When I was a cadet at the Academy, one of the first things we had to memorize were the articles of the Code of Conduct.  Article 1 states that “I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life.  I am prepared to give my life in their defense.”  As a missionary I have discovered an infinitely greater battle that is on-going, one for souls.  In 1 Peter 5:8 it says, “Your adversary the devil prowls like a roaring lion seeking some one to devour,” and it’s true.  I’ve seen it in my own life, my family, friends, the lives of teens; he does not discriminate.  He sends his army to every home, every town, every office, every school, every country, to inflict pain, suffering, and the destruction of souls.

It’s been my direct contact with these people that has driven home the conviction in my heart for the urgency of missions.  WHAT PEOPLE NEED IS JESUS! And my family is prepared to give our lives for His name to be known, loved and adored throughout all the earth.  In Matthew 7:19 it says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” PRAISE JESUS, for His mercy and grace to give me a second chance, to create me into a new tree that bears good fruit!  “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  This World Mission Sunday PRAY! Pray that the Lord will send out an army of little missionaries to fight for His love to be known, to spread the seeds of truth to the ends of the earth.  Until the whole world knows…

ALL FOR LOVE,

Erik

 “He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people and God Himself will be with them, He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away. And He who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold I make all things new.’” – Rev 21:3-5

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~ by martinsonmission on October 18, 2013.

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