taking the words of Jesus seriously

Being a Christian author and speaker, you often get asked the question, “How did you become a Christian?” Over the years I have had this question asked to me more frequently than I eat. However, I have heard this question asked to people, and have asked it to them myself, more frequently than I breathe. People like this question, people like to hear the stories of how other people come to be a Christian. For whatever reason, whether it be a form of affirmation or a time of reflection, the question never fails to be asked.

Given the multitude of responses I have heard over the years I often forget the individual stories and begin to pile them up into groups of sorts remembering similarities between stories over the story individually. But there is one story that has always stuck out in my mind and I have a feeling that it always will:

My son Bart is a “pied piper” when it comes to teenagers. He can get them to follow him and to do so with great enthusiasm. In his work with inner-city kids, he has been very effective.

Not too long ago, he scheduled a weekend retreat for several hundred inner-city kids from a very tough neighborhood. Bart ran into some last-minute complications that delayed his travel up into the Pocono Mountains where the retreat was being held. Most of the boys were already at the camp and, unfortunately, there were only two counselors on hand.

Bart was doing his best to get there, but he was running very late. In a van full of teenage boys that was loaded down with piles of luggage, he was hurtling up the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike when he received a phone call that let him know that he was desperately needed at the camp to bring order to the boys. With just two counselors and two hundred excited teenagers, things were getting out of hand. Bart was doing his best to get there quickly when suddenly one of his rear tires blew out.

Bart got the van off to the side of the road, and he and the boys unloaded all the luggage so that they could get to the spare tire. Bart jacked up the van and was changing the tire when the van slipped off the jack and smashed to the pavement. At that point, Bart blurted out a “religious statement that had no theological content.” It was several more hours before the group arrived at the retreat.

When the weekend was over and Bart was heading home with his load of campers, the young man sitting next to him said, “It was a great weekend. I decided to become a Christian this weekend and that’s really important.”

Bart, really pleased with that comment, asked the young man, “What changed you? What caused you to become a Christian? Was it the speakers or the Bible study programs, or did someone personally talk to you about Jesus?”

“Nah, none of those things, ” said the young man. “It was when the van fell off the jack and smashed to the ground and you let loose with those words that you shouldn’t have said. I figured then, ‘If he can be a Christian, anybody can be a Christian.'”

Sometimes Christians present themselves as so unrealistically pious and above human shortcomings that others feel that becoming a Christian is beyond them. Bart did much to change that impression with that particular young man.

About The Author


Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.

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