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“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

-John 8:12

From Protestant Missionaries to Catholic Advocates – Tom & Beth’s Story

Beth and I grew up together in the Presbyterian Church. It was a wonderful experience. We grew up Protestant with a Reformed theology background, and we we learned to love Scripture and church on Sundays. We got our first Bibles in second grade, and knew each other early on from handbell choir.

We started dating in high school, and then I started feeling a pull to serve the Lord going into college. At the end of my high school year, we had a renewal service, and I remember praying “You know Lord, I want to serve you, just don’t make me go to seminary.”

Well, as God would have it, as I was approaching graduation, the first phone call I got was to a private Christian school offering a position for an orchestra teacher. I learned that one of my college professors knew I was Christian and it was an answered prayer, that I could work full-time in a Christian vocation and teach music and not have to go to seminary.

Beth started working at Lily at that point as an analyst chemist, and since then we’ve been married 26 years. I got my job right out of school, and before I graduated, I joined an evangelical missionary organization where I started teaching English in Russia we would go for about 3 weeks in the summer.

Call to Missionary Work

Just as I’m starting full-time teaching, I remember blurting out in the interview about how the Lord might be calling me to full-time international mission. One of the most one of the most wonderful things that ever happened was was my you meeting that principal Mary Jane English and and she said do this for 5 years and while you’re doing this for 5 years pray and will pray and we’ll ask that you discern you know what God wants to do.

Five years later first day of school I walked into her office and she just burst into tears cuz she knew that I would be resigning at the end of that year. Then we made the move to work full-time in international missions, helping teach English but using that as a vehicle to teach the Gospel. This work brought us into contact with countries that were predominantly Catholic or Orthodox.

We had to explain why we wanted them to be part of our Evangelical Church as opposed to their national church. During this time, I became sort of anti-Catholic. I had talking points of why someone should be Protestant Evangelical instead of Orthodox or Catholic. I set out to prove the Catholic Church wrong, as there were some good theological differences. Challenged by these other Christian faiths, my interest in theology grew.

Having grown up in a world where we had to memorize and devote ourselves to Scripture, a philosophical reasoning behind why we believed seemed like a logical next step in our faith. However, I began to understand that I needed more training, which led into working on a Master’s degree in Seminary.

Eventually, we settled back here in Greenwood and I got a job at an Evangelical church as a music director while taking classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Beth secured a job at Eli Lily.

Encountering Different Beliefs

We also at the time had agreed to host a couple exchange students. Due to our connections from missionary work in Russia, we were able to host a Russian-speaking kid from Ukraine. Then we also hosted another student named Pedro. He was from Brazil and a Catholic.

We started sending him to a private Evangelical school and he came home one day with some interesting questions. “Do you Christians believe in being good people?” he asked. “Of course we do!” I responded. He explained that someone asked him if he knew he was saved or if he died that day, where would he go. Pedro said “Well I’m a good person” and was told that’s the wrong answer. He was told that he should say “I’ve been saved I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.”

This was very confusing, and it got me thinking differently about the terminology that that we use as as Protestants. How do we express the fullness of salvation? I wanted to seek out the Catholic answer to Pedro’s hypothetical question. The only people I reached out to were ex-Catholics in our church, and they all said that Catholics believe you have to work your way into heaven. I was determined to find out the real answer.

Questioning Catholicism

I dove into Church history to seek answers. As Beth and I were reading about and studying the early Church, one of the books I still go back to is a little book called the “Documents of the Christian Church.” It contains the Didache, the early instructions written by the Apostles themselves, along with other parts of early treatises that the Christians were writing against various heresies. They talked about the Eucharist in a very specific way, and I started finding that bit fascinating. We had a particular exchange student during this time, a Catholic boy named David from Spain, who missed going to Mass while we attended our Evangelical Church service.

One day he asked if I could take him to Mass, so after our church service finished, we drove to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, in downtown Indianapolis, for Mass. We would sneak in the back and I hoped that no one would see us. It’s funny, the first couple Sundays I was like everyone’s going to know I’m not Catholic because I’m not going to stand at the right time or say the right thing. The first sermon left me surprised. I heard Fr Rick talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus. Here was a Catholic priest talking, at least from my point of view, like an Evangelical!

“He’s in the wrong church” I thought. I’d never heard a Catholic talk like that. The next time we went, Beth came, and Fr Rick’s homily was about how the Lord brought him back into a relationship with the Church.

It was not what we expected at all. Since my seminary class in Church history made us visit a different denominational church, I once again decided to go back to the same church, St. John’s in downtown Indianapolis.

The Eucharist was especially interesting to us. We had communion in the Presbyterian church, but the way that Fr Rick presented and talked about it was very different than what we grew up with. It left a lasting impression that made us consider the truth of the Eucharist.

Shortly after our exchange student, David, got us a book by Bishop Robert Barron called “Catholicism.” I started underlining passages, once again because so much of it was about a personal relationship with Jesus. Do Catholics really believe in having a personal relationship with Jesus?

The answer was a resounding yes. And, no greater personal relationship could come then through the Holy Eucharist — the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus.

Challenging Protestant Assumptions

I’m sitting in my office at church and one of the associate pastors pops in. He helps to do our membership class, and shared a question he received. “What do we believe about the nature of communion?” I knew we didn’t have the Catholic or Lutheran belief, but what were the other viewpoints? Evangelicalism had different branches with different viewpoints, but it made me seriously question why we didn’t agree with the Catholic position. It was another one of those Providential nudges, with people being placed in our lives and questions being asked that made us consider Catholicism.

Our church believed that communion was completely symbolic, done out of obedience because Jesus told us to. This led us to see that there were multiple views on the nature of the Eucharist. Later than evening, Beth and I started discussing these questions. Beth recalled her struggle, saying

“I’m an analytical chemist, and don’t tolerate two things that are mutually exclusive, both being true. That’s not something that can happen, it’s logically not possible. So if there are four views of communion, one of them has to be right and the others have to be wrong because they don’t agree.”

We lived with this diversity of thought for awhile — it’s everywhere in the Protestant world. But living with something with multiple truths became intolerable. We started studying our tradition and wanted to confirm its validity.

Challenging Catholic Belief on the Eucharist

First, I wanted to debunk Catholic transubstantiation. I was sure that it was a medieval, made-up concept to fool the masses. I thought it was a way the Church could control the peasants and make them loyal to the Church. I also thought Thomas Aquinas made up the term “transubstantiation”, so I ignored his writings and went further back than him to the early Church. I read the writings of the early Christians, and found them talking about the bread and the wine as the actual Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.

Within the first two centuries of the Church, I wasn’t seeing the word “transubstantiation,” but the meaning of that was everywhere, that the bread and wine were truly Jesus. When Beth and I realized this, we had a difficult decision to make.

If this was true, I’d have to quit my job as a Protestant pastor.

Being a pastor after my seminary education had been my identity. For a lot of people, I was I was Pastor Tom. Additionally, I was going to lose my livelihood, my identity almost really as a Christian. When we decided to start RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), I had to talk with my senior pastor and break the news. I told him that Beth and I wanted to take some RCIA classes, and if it would be a conflict of interest. He was actually very kind, and said if that was where God was leading us, we should follow it.

Now being Catholic, receiving Jesus fully — Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — is the most intimate connection with Jesus not only do I have him in my heart but I’m taking him into my soul.

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve come into church with a particular prayer burden or even just feeling sick, and after receiving the Eucharist and spending time in prayer, that burden or ailment just evaporates. It’s Jesus being like “Hey I’m going to work this out, I’m going to take care of this.”

One of my favorite early Church Fathers, St Justin Martyr, has this beautiful writing where he says that when we consume normal food in our body, we metabolize it to become part of us. But when we receive the Eucharist, it’s in fact Jesus who metabolizes us, and we become more like Him. That’s exactly why the Eucharist is such a gift.

A piece of advice I’d say to those who choose to stay away from Catholicism, or those who aren’t convinced by it, is to simply come to Mass.

Obviously you shouldn’t go up and receive the Eucharist, but just start coming, and simply ask the Lord to help guide you. He’s there in the altar, and as you spend time asking the Lord to reveal that question to you, the Holy Spirit will draw you in and start putting people in your life to help encourage you.

If you’ve fallen away from the Catholic faith, just find a church that has Adoration and pray before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He will come to you — and the Scriptures promise this — if you seek, you will find. Finally, read and meditate on John Chapter 6, which is the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist.

As the disciples say in John 6:68 “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Disclaimer: This is a revised and condensed version of the original podcast transcript for storytelling purposes. You can listen to the full podcast to hear the complete, unedited conversation and story here.