The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:14
Conversion June-July 1976
My brother’s wedding invitation came to Petersburg Alaska sometime in the spring of 1976. My husband, our two daughters, aged 2 and 6, and I had been living on a boat in the harbor in Petersburg for the past year. We had been fishing commercially in the summers for several years, but this had been our first winter in Alaska. Eric’s invitation was like a breath of fresh air. The card had a picture of Eric and his fiance standing under a flowering tree in California. After 18 months in Alaska a flowering tree looked like a beacon of light in the darkness.
I somehow convinced my husband to let me go. I still have no explanation for why he allowed me go except that God had planned for me to be at Eric’s wedding.
I took the girls to California in June.
I was the oldest of the six children in my family. We were not raised in a Christian home even though my mother’s parents had been missionaries in China and my mother had been born and raised there. Several years before my brother’s wedding my sister Janie, two years younger than I, had become a Christian. One by one my other siblings had followed suit–all but Christy and me. Christy had become a Mormon. I mocked them all.
Eric’s wedding was lovely. The church even impressed me. I had been surprised to find that the people quite nice, thoughtful and intelligent. In my previous mocking of Christians I joined my husband in thinking that Christians had stopped thinking for themselves—blindly following some ancient ritual.
The week I was there, the Pastor’s son was giving a series of lectures comparing various religions. Every night my brothers and sister would take off for church to hear Ron Carlson. They always asked me if I would like to go along, but of course I was much too stubborn, and prideful, to join them. But the night before my return to Alaska, Ron Carlson would be talking about Mormonism. Again, my family asked me to go along. This time I thought, “What the heck. I might as well try to find out why everyone is so upset that Christy is a Mormon.
I don’t remember now much about Ron’s talk, but having done a lot of studying since then I can well imagine what he talked about. The thing that impressed me was the intelligence of the lecture. Ron Carlson had done his research. These were well educated people who taught and listened to this stuff.
At the end of the lecture I asked my sister, Janie, if I could meet Pastor Carlson, Ron’s dad, and tell him how much I had enjoyed his church.
I suppose my sister was more than delighted to introduce her pre-believing sister to her pastor!
I told Pastor Carlson that I had been impressed with his church and asked him if he could give me a book or something that I could take back to Alaska with me.
He invited me into his office for a private conversation.
“What do you think a Christian is, Jonni?” He asked me.
I really didn’t know the right answer. I wanted to say, “Someone who is born in America,” but I knew that wasn’t right, so I said, “Someone who can love unconditionally.”
“That’s a pretty good answer,” he said, but do you know what the Bible says a Christian is? Have you ever read the Bible?
I told him that I had tried a couple of times but it had never made sense to me.
He showed me the verses from 1 Corinthians 2 that tell us that the things of the Spirit of the Lord cannot be understood except if that same Spirit helps us.
Then he did a very wise thing. He asked me if I would be willing to pray this kind of prayer, “Spirit of God, if you have the truth, teach it to me. I want to know the truth.”
There was no danger in this prayer. If there was nothing there, nothing would happen and I would continue as before, but if the Holy Spirit was there and truth to be known, then I should know it. I agreed to pray.
We got on our knees. I prayed that prayer with him. There were no explosions of light; I didn’t feel anything different; the world went on as before; we got up from our knees.
Then he gave me a Living Bible and a bible study on the book of John. He also gave me the whole lecture series that his son had been teaching on cassette tapes.
The last thing I said to Pastor Carlson as I walked away from his office with all those materials was, “Now I have to go back to Alaska and defend myself to my husband.” That was like a word of prophecy, but I didn’t know it.
When I got back to the boat I started going through the cassette tapes and reading the things I had brought back with me. But I had to read and listen at times when my husband was not on the boat. I had to hide the Bible and the cassettes from him because he went absolutely nuts!
So I listened in secret and I read in secret.
One by one the questions that I had, and questions that I didn’t even know I had, were answered.
The first one was “Is there a God?”
As I listened to Ron Carlson’s lectures I realized that we could not have gotten here by chance. There had to be a creator.
The second was, “Is Jesus God?”
I had never heard anyone say that before. I had heard “son of God” before but it didn’t mean anything to me.
Again, as I listened to Ron Carlson I realized that God, in order to communicate with us, could have become a man and come to earth to teach us who God is. OK. I could accept that, but the next question was a big one.
What about this “sinner” business. I wasn’t such a bad person. How could God claim that I was a “sinner” and needed to be “saved”?
Up to this point I had been listening to the tapes in what I though was random order. I had gone through “How we know the Bible is the word of God,” and the lectures on the other major religions of the world. There was only one tape left. It was on the Occult. The date was July 4, 1976—the 200th birthday of the United States. We had been fishing in Taku inlet. We had tied up the boat in Juneau, Alaska for the holiday. My husband went up to town to celebrate. I put the girls to bed and pulled out that last tape.
I don’t remember what Ron Carlson said about the occult, but at the end of the tape he started talking about my sister, Janie. I was shocked! This was a lecture series that he had been delivering all over the world and here he was talking about my sister! I know it was my sister. He said, “When Janie walked into my intervarsity Bible study and Diablo Valley College . . . “ There was no question. That was my sister. Janie had been “saved” in that intervarsity Bible study. But the rest of Ron Carlson’s statement cut me to the heart.
He said, “When Janie walked into my intervarsity Bible study at Diablo Valley College she said she could feel nothing. She felt no pain, no joy, nothing.”
I knew that was true about Janie. I knew it was my fault.
I had been so wicked to Janie while we were growing up that I could almost pinpoint the day when she had shut off her feelings so I couldn’t hurt her anymore. I had beaten her, insulted her, excluded her, humiliated her and ignored her.
I fell on my face on the floor (deck) of the boat. I wept uncontrollably. “Oh, yes, Lord, I am a dirty rotten sinner. Please forgive me.” I cried and pleaded with Lord.
When I got up, I was a new person.
There is no way to explain the joy and relief that I felt. I had been radically born again!
As my tears turned to laughter I spent the next hour writing a letter to Janie.
Here is what I wrote:
July 4, 1976
How can I express on plain paper with mere pen what is happening to me tonight. Janie—I prayed tonight, all my myself I spoke to God for the 1st time on my own. I thanked him for you. I thanked him for your prayers for me. I told him I loved you and I asked him to bless you.
A couple of weeks ago in Pastor Carlson’s office I opened the door for Jesus. He came to me then, but he didn’t fill me up until tonight. He’s been guiding me—teaching and gently showing the way to learn. Tonight, after several weeks of lessons, he felt I was ready to hear—learn (I’m not able to find the right word). He arranged for me to be alone on the boat and I listed to more of Ron’s tapes. I’ve been listening to them in a rather hap-hazard order. I kind of thumb through and listen to one that sounds/looks interesting. Never before have I listened to more than one in one evening. Tonight I listened to one—and then He had me hear another. He has been preparing me for it for several years, maybe all my life, I don’t know that for sure, but I do know that my learning has followed a definite pattern than cannot have been accidental.
The second tape I heard tonight was Ron’s occult one. The closing thoughts were about you. I wept as he was speaking and I realized that he was weeping, too, If you haven’t heard that tape you should. There can be no doubt in hearing it that Ron loves you—that Jesus, that God love you and me, too.
I had been holding back something—not letting myself all the way open—not telling all—and then you and Ron and Jesus showed me.
I don’t know what else to say, Janie. I hope you can read what I have said already. I’m scribbling, I know, but tonight is our last night in town before we go fishing.
Bob will be home in a few minutes—when he gets here I want to go mail this tonight before we leave.
Please speak to Pastor Carlson for me. I don’t have his address—maybe you can send it to me, and Ron’s too. Please tell both of them how grateful I am. And tell yourself that, too!
Janie, I wish I could hug you. I am so grateful for your prayers for me. I will be praying for you, now.
I’m not going to have time tonight to write this story again for Mom—so if you would, she might want to read this letter, too. She is one of the most important people in my life. Most people’s mother’s are—but ours is special.
God bless you, Janie, and all of us,
On the back of the envelop it said “The 1st thing I read after writing this letter was Romans 8, verses 1,2,3,4
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the Law could not do weak as it was through the flesh, God did, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, he condemned sin the flesh so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
In reading the letter I wrote to Janie, now as a much more mature Christian, I wish I had been more clear in my confession to her, but I know that she wept with joy when she received this letter. I didn’t know that she had saved that letter until after her death 9 years later. But that is another story for a later chapter.