The following story appeared in the April 28 Idaho Catholic Register.
Jakob Christiansen, left, and Valentin Gonzalez. Christiansen was studying to become a pastor for an evangelical church, but had anti-Catholic views challenged by Gonzalez, his co-worker. Christiansen was received into the Church at Risen Christ Parish. Gonzalez is parishioner at St. Paul’s Parish in Nampa.
(Courtesy photo/Jakob Christiansen)
Editor’s note: As has been our Easter Season tradition, this issue of the Idaho Catholic Register profiles in our series, “He Left the 99 to Rescue Me,” a number of converts who received the Easter sacraments this year.
By Gene Fadness
BOISE – Jakob Christiansen was taking night courses at Life Bible College, preparing to become a minister. The college is part of the ministry of Life Bible Church, a charismatic evangelical megachurch on Eagle Road.
He was eager to share what he was learning with his co-worker at his day job working on commercial air conditioning units. He was especially eager to share his views of Catholicism. “I talked about Mary, praying to the saints, how the Catholic Church is the pillar of evil in the world and the pope is the anti-Christ.”
His workmate was having none of it. He defended his Catholic faith. “During the course of this debate, I came to realize I didn’t understand the position I was arguing,” Christiansen said. “This revelation humbled me quickly, and I ended the argument. He said, ‘I’m not going to be able to help you, God has to help you figure it out.’ ”
To help him figure it out, his co-worker, Valentin Gonzalez, invited Christiansen to attend his parish, St. Paul’s in Nampa.
“I was not raised with a positive view of the Catholic faith,” Christiansen said. Born in Boise, he did not come from a religious home. His mom was a Christian, but not a church-goer.
“I had no faithful Catholics around me and everything the world says about the Church was ingrained in my mind. I became a devout anti-Catholic and a vocal one at that.”
However, to his surprise, there was one faithful Catholic around him: his workmate. Unlike many Catholics, Gonzales was not afraid to speak up for his faith.
“I didn’t accept his (Gonzalez’) invitation to attend church for a couple of months,” Christiansen said. “But I started slowly researching Catholic belief.”
He eventually decided to attend a Mass at Risen Christ Parish in Boise. “I remember I was kind of sick that day, but I really enjoyed the Mass. It was comforting and reverent,” Christiansen said. “I could see that these people do care about Jesus and have a relationship with Him.”
That experience raised more questions, “but this time they were good questions,” he said. He told himself, “I need to really understand what this is because there is something real here.”
He sent an email to Risen Christ asking about the Church. “A couple of days later I got a response that there was a class that weekend. That sent me down an even bigger rabbit hole looking at all the arguments, especially if the early Church was the Catholic Church.”
It wasn’t long, he said, before what he was learning was “connecting my heart to what my mind knew. And that was hard because I was attending Bible college to get a degree and become a pastor and, now, all this was hitting me.”
A second-cousin had introduced Christiansen to Life Bible Church and it was there that he decided to become a Christian. “I believed in Christ, in the resurrection and in the Bible. I was ready to quit my trade school and quit job and for it,” he said, referring to the ministry.
But now his plan, his future, had considerably more uncertainty.
“As I moved forward, there slowly came to be more faithful Catholic influences in my life. I started to see the power of true faith through the Catholic faith. The beautiful stories of the saints and martyrs stirred up within me a fire for learning the faith.
I thirsted for the life-giving water; I thirsted for Christ.”
He had anticipated, he said, that his study into the Catholic Church would “strengthen me in my pre-conceptions.” But just the opposite was happening. “For the first time, I truly started to feel the Holy Spirit moving within me... By submitting myself to the pursuit of truth, God was able to reveal Himself through His church.”
“Once I was able to see the truth and understand what I had for so long denied, it brought me to a dilemma,” he said. What was he going to do about Bible school and his career plans? “I wanted to become a pastor. I wanted to live out the Great Commission that Christ commanded us, but I could not see how I could do that outside of the Catholic Church. I did what I thought best; I prayed.”
It did not take long for his prayers to be answered, he said. “I was shown the true faith, and I could not deny the Lord Jesus Christ. I wanted to pick up my cross and follow Him. I realized I must do it as a Catholic.”
His OCIA class, taught by Deacon Ted and Ludee Vermaas, was also an answer to prayer, he said. “My life has never been so filled with so much love for God and for my neighbor. Being Confirmed and taking First Holy Communion was truly a beautiful and wonderful experience. It was the completion of the first stage of the rest of my life. It’s been an amazing journey, and I can only be thankful for what I have been given. God has called me home.”
And Valentin Gonzalez, that man who first defended the faith to Jakob Christiansen? He became his Confirmation sponsor.
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