Chris Wilkinson is a member of our tech team and he was interviewed on Radio Sheffield to share his story from Atheist to Christian. The interview can be found by following the link; https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08s3tbl?fbclid=IwAR2UH1Xe_yJdo4-ydLOquiesMqvxt6LYDOQ39TenaA83bNNw8xgIZaP-ptE
It starts around 37 minutes. In preparation for the interview he wrote down his story as there wasn’t time to share everything so he has included the long-form version in this post for if anyone is interested!
Full story (ish):
I grew up in Sheffield, in a non religious home. I’d say for most of my early life religion was not really much of a thought for me. As a teenager I would have probably argued that we (as a society) had moved on from the need for religion. In fact in my teens I was quite anti-religion, which is something we could get into but for now I’ll just leave it as that.
For work, I moved to Nashville, TN in 2011 (deep in the American Bible Belt). At 21 years old I still had a few hang-ups regarding religion in general and especially American Christianity.
A couple years passed and my only response to religion was the occasional eye-roll to well-meaning but often tactless evangelists. That was however until I began to question what I was doing with my life. I had been extremely fortunate in my work and achievements that seemed far beyond reach a short time ago had come and past. I had given my life to my work (I still love my work very much) but ultimately I was no happier than when I began and I felt little fulfilment from my achievements.
In response to this I began attending a Buddhist temple. I wasn’t assuming that Buddhism would definitely have the answers I was looking for but it was a way of opening up my mind and I had always felt quite comfortable with Buddhism. The experience of going to temple really humbled me as for the first time in my life I truly began to understand the depth of what I didn’t know and had never questioned. Also around this time I had started to date Allison. Allison had recently left the position of youth minister at a church and was on the lookout for a new church to attend. I often joined Allison on her quest for a new church family so many Sundays I would go to temple in the morning followed by an evening Christian church service with Allison.
I noticed that my enthusiasm for Buddhist teaching and an all-in attitude towards participation in the services was in stark contrast for my distant, pity and/or lack of interest to the Christian services.
I can’t remember exactly when but there was a specific day when everything began to really weigh on me. I was at work alone and I had a panic attack. I was overcome with a storm of emotion, suddenly feeling very far away from home and very alone. It was like all at once I could see and feel the cracks and holes in my understanding. I was questioning why I was even in America and I was question what I was doing dating Allison when we had such different core beliefs. (This wasn’t a new thought, I was actually breaking a rule I self-imposed, which was that I wouldn’t date someone I couldn’t one way see marrying. As Allison was a Christian that ruled her out for me). Anyway in an emotional state I went to see Allison and explained to her that we must break up so that I could find out what I was doing with my life and what I believed. I really wanted to deal with my prejudice towards Christianity and give it a fair shot like I was giving Buddhism but I knew Allison couldn’t be the prize at the end of the tunnel if I chose one way.
This began a 9 month journey of exploration into faith for me. My journey began very academically. I’m not an academic, I’ve only every studied music... but reading Christian apologetics really opened my eyes. It was less what I was learning about Christianity and more about what I was learning about myself. I had never understood the depth and density of the belief system I had. I thought I didn’t really believe much at all but I began to understand the blind faith I had put in the world and universe being what I wanted it to be. A book that helped me see this was Tim Keller’s “Reason For God” and I still love reading it today.
Even though we were broken up I often went to church with Allison, who had settled on a regular one to attend. I began downloading every sermon from this church and listening to them while I worked. I was in a season of technical work refurbishing some equipment in a wearhouse alone for 10 hours a day. I burnt though almost 5 years of Sunday services during this project and I would pause to take notes so I could meet with the pastor for further explanation. Looking back now I can only imagine what it would have been like for Dave (the pastor) to sit down with me and I’d say something like ; “okay, three years ago you said this ...... what did your mean?” Hahaha.
I remember a few things for my meetings with Dave during this time:
1, I think it shocked me a little that the questions I had were questions Dave also had.
2, He was able to say that he didn’t know the answer to some of my questions. But that didn’t alter his faith.
3, Most importantly I remember walking away feeling heard and loved even though we really disagreed with each other.
Furthermore the Christians I began to know were not pretending to have all the answers, but still their belief in God was much greater than I anticipated. And for me the answers mattered less when God began to feel real. What I had mis-understood prior to this is that God was not an idea, philosophy or argument my Christian friends had decided to agree with. He was (to them) as real and tangible as anything we can touch or see. As I begun to openly put Jesus’ teachings into practice and experience God move I started to share this reality with my Christian friends. It was specifically Jesus’ teaching about loving those in need and the “least” of society that opened me up to not only live our a teaching but to meet God in those places.
I was finally opening up to the teaching of Jesus and putting them into practise. Realising that I had nothing to loose, literally nothing. Even if I never became a Christian, what I was learning was good and it was making me a more compassionate person. Things like seeing a man or woman standing at a stop sign asking for food were having huge emotional impacts on me. I’d always wanted to help but now I felt like weeping for them. The world I was seeing around me felt broken and Jesus’ teaching seemed (still does!) like how we should be responding.
I was never okay with seeing injustice but all of a sudden I was lamenting about the pain and suffering of the world. Jesus teaches not only that we should care for the marginalised but that He is in those places as well.
Gradually I allowed myself to take Jesus and the church more seriously and I opened my heart to what I was learning although I was yet to commit or even admit what was going on with me. I didn’t know it right away but I was genuinely terrified about how my friends and family would react my me becoming a Christian. When I’d realised it was this that was holding me back I knew that wasn’t enough. Easter Sunday 2014 I surprised Allison and Dave by asking to be baptised.
After the service Allison share with me a huge part of my story I didn’t know. The day I had the panic attack and broken up with her was the first time she had prayed for me. She had taken herself on a long walk in a state park and prayed I would be overcome with a storm of emotion. She told me how when I came to see her that day I was literally repeating the words she had prayed to God just a couple hours before. She had kept quiet as she felt the spirit tell her I had to go on the journey alone. I am so thankful she was strong enough to do so.
The following Sept Allison and I were engaged and the April after that we were married. We continued to live in Nashville until June of 2018 when we moved to Sheffield to be close to our friends and family here. We see our lives as missionaries-meaning we truly desire to live lives that share Christs’ love everywhere we are and in whatever we are doing. We have regular jobs but we will follow God wherever he wants to take us and we pray for the strength to always put His will ahead of our own.