I was born into a Christian home. As the youngest of four children, I have no memory of my parents before they knew Jesus Christ as their personal Savior (John 3:16). We lived right around the corner from Fifteen Street Baptist Church in East St. Louis, Illinois, and if the doors were open, we were there. Daddy was a deacon. Mother taught children’s Sunday School and Vacation Bible School and served in the Women’s Missionary Society. My older siblings sang in the choir.
When I was nine years old, I went forward after a Sunday evening service and asked to attend the class our pastor, Reverend Leininger, taught for those wishing to be baptized. Pastor Leininger took baptism seriously, and he didn’t perform the rite for anyone unless he’d taken them through a few sessions of Bible teaching regarding the gospel. (He was known to refuse baptism if he didn’t feel comfortable with someone’s spiritual understanding of the commitment they were making to Christ when baptized.)
While my understanding of the gospel includes the belief that there is a moment in time when a person crosses over from “lost” to “saved,” I don’t honestly know when that moment in time occurred in my young life. I do know that when I was standing in the baptismal next to Pastor Leininger and he asked me to speak my name aloud, I knew that I was a sinner and that only Jesus death on the cross could cancel my sin debt (Romans 3:23), pay the wages of death (Romans 6:23), and close the gap between me and a holy God. I believed in that moment (and probably had believed for a while) that only the blood of Jesus shed on the cross could wash away my sin and enable me to stand forgiven before God and become His child. I remember that when I spoke my name, I was consciously offering myself and my future to God because of what Jesus had done for me on the cross.
My faith wasn’t really challenged until I went to college (Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville campus), but during those four years I had many opportunities to decide whether I believed the Bible because I had been taught to believe it or whether I believed it because I personally thought it was true. I went through a time of serious questioning. By God’s grace I clung to my simple faith in the message of the Bible.
As an active part of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at SIUE, I joined in praying for one of our members’ roommates. His name was Bob Whitson. I remember the day Bob first said “Greetings” to the group of believers gathered in the Student Union. He and I were married soon after graduating (Bob with an MBA and me with a BA in French). His first job soon transferred us from Arlington Heights, Illinois, to Lincoln, Nebraska.
It was 1975, and after a summer of visiting many different churches, Bob and I settled in at what was then called Indian Hills Community Church of the Mennonite Brethren. We were drawn there by the young pastor’s commitment to teaching the Bible to his congregation. Neither of us had ever heard a preacher who methodically taught through the Bible verse by verse, but we were hungry to learn. Learning God’s Word alongside a community of the faithful changed our lives.
My family has not been spared difficulty. Over the years we’ve encountered financial stress, grave illness, death (Bob died of cancer in 2001), and more. We’ve survived by God’s grace. Bob died in God’s grace. By God’s grace I remarried (that’s Dan and me in our biker gear on the right). If I have thrived in this life, it is a testimony to the living and powerful Word of God (Hebrews 4:12) taught by a faithful servant and lived out in the lives of the community of believers God led me to forty years ago. I have been blessed to experience “joy in the journey,” and I believe the promise that God will be faithful to complete the good work He began in me when I was only nine years old. (Philippians 1:6).