Don’t ever underestimate the one-two punch of God’s word and God’s Spirit.
- Ed Vitagliano
Invest in a teenager’s life (Truth For Youth Bible Week)
I did not grow up in a Christian home. My dad was Catholic and my mom was Greek Orthodox, so as a result I wasn't raised either one. In my entire childhood, I probably went to church three or four times for Easter Communion at the Greek Orthodox church in Nashua, New Hampshire, where my mother’s cousin was the priest.
I grew up in a moral, middle class home that stressed hard work, respect for family, and love of country. That’s not enough to get someone into heaven, of course, but it was a pretty good upbringing as upbringings go.
However, I do remember a handful of moments when the truth of God invaded my life in powerful ways. It makes me truly believe in the power of God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit to touch a spiritually blind young man and open his heart in preparation for salvation.
When I was a young boy, my mom read a handful of Bible stories to my two sisters and me. They were about Adam and Eve in the garden, and about the serpent, and then Cain and Abel.
The Bible from which she read seemed mysterious to me. It had a black cover and the sides of the pages facing outward were red. We loved these stories, but my dad told her to stop. Still, I never forgot them.
On two occasions when my mom, my sisters, and I went to church at Easter, I went to Sunday school. I remember being embarrassed because the teacher asked me if I knew who Abraham was. When I said no, the other kids laughed. But then we sang the song, “Jesus loves me,” and I never forgot it. I didn’t know who He was, but I learned that He loved me. That stuck with me, and to this day I can remember the classroom and the chairs and the sound of that song.
The Greek Orthodox church was exciting. There were fascinating images everywhere and pleasant smells from the incense. I even enjoyed the warm wine during communion and the way the priest said my name when he gave it to me. He would ask me if I wanted to be an altar boy and I said yes. I didn’t know what it meant but I was in a holy place and I wanted to make God happy. On the way home I asked my mother what an altar boy was. She encouraged me that, if I wanted to, I could become one and I would help the priest at the church. I think my dad said no, because my mom never brought it up again.
When I was in junior high school, one of the local Catholic churches had youth nights on Fridays. It was held in a gymnasium and a priest would sing songs on a guitar and then a speaker would talk about Jesus Christ. My heart was captured by what transpired in these few meetings we attended, but for some reason we stopped going.
The only other memory I have was at the all boys Catholic high school I attended. We were allowed to take an elective during my sophomore year and I took this class taught by my Spanish teacher, Mr. Barrett. It was a class about the Gospels and it only lasted a semester. But there was something about the stories and parables he taught that mesmerized me. I was pained when the course ended and nothing about the Bible was offered in its place.
I became a Christian when I was almost 20 years old after one of my sisters, who had become a born again Christian, became the first person to explicitly preach the gospel to me. As I considered her words, these earlier encounters with God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit brought conviction and a hunger for more.
It’s Truth For Youth Bible Week here at AFA, and I am proud that each year AFA partners with Revival Fire ministries to get a copy of the New Testament into the hands of teens across the country. I am convinced this is a powerful outreach that can change young lives. Please go to AFA.net and learn more.
Don’t ever underestimate the one-two punch of God’s word and God’s Spirit. Some young person out there might be a candidate to discover what I did as a young man – that Jesus loves him or Jesus loves her.
Someone should share that truth. It might as well be you.