A Biographical Sketch of My Conversion Experience (Part 5) by Joe Lamay
On my twentieth birthday, September 5, 1981, after a day of drinking a couple of six packs of Budweiser while listening to rock and roll and painting my parents’ house, the next door neighbor, Ammon Trainer, came over to shoot the breeze. He said he wanted to talk about Christianity. It scared me because I thought he was going to try to convince me that Jesus and all that stuff was just a farce. His main message ended up being about the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. I had no idea what he was talking about, but at least I knew he was on the side of Jesus. What a relief! He went on to tell me that his brother Angelo was now a believer in Jesus. Growing up, Angelo had been a close family friend. This was the guy who was also raised in the Roman Catholic Church but became a proclaimed atheist by age eleven. He had become an alcoholic, a drug addict, and had been deeply involved in the occult. He ended up in a drug program and now “he loves Jesus?” This blew my mind! The last person on earth I thought would ever become a Bible-reading, church-going lover of Jesus was Angelo Trainer. But now he believes that a first century traveling preacher was the one predicted in the Hebrew Scriptures. But more than that, he also was convinced that Jesus died for his sins and was physically raised from the dead. He had my attention!
Then six weeks later came one of the most pivotal days of my life. On Sunday, October 18, 1981, while enjoying a few beers and watching a football game on TV, Ammon called me on the phone and asked if I would like to attend the Sunday night church service with Angelo and him. I said, “yes.”
After that night, my life was forever changed. As the service began and the forty or so people stood to lift their hands and sing with all their hearts, I was overcome with a deep hope that maybe there really are people in the world who are as desperate for deliverance as I was. It is hard to express how exhilarating it was to be in that atmosphere of deep heartfelt worship. Of course, I did not know what to call it at the time. Having been raised in the Roman Catholic Church, I was stunned at a sixty-minute sermon (which felt like three minutes). I cannot remember the content of the message, but I do know I was encountered by God in a powerful way.
At the end of the service, I was inwardly compelled to respond to the altar call. Two pastors laid their hands on me and prayed. There was no drug-induced experience that could come close to the overwhelmingly intoxicating encounter I had with the Spirit of God that night. I left the church grounds in childlike wonder…hoping that if all this was a dream, I would never wake up.
Not only did I wake up the next morning and the next realizing that it was not a dream, but I had made contact with other crazy (or sane) people who also believed that Jesus Christ is the one true God who became human in order to die for hopeless sinners like me. My life was now on a radically different path from which there was no looking back. Meaning and purpose for my life was becoming real.
I bought my first Bible. It was the most valuable possession I owned. I devoured its pages like a starving man at a banquet. I would show up to Sunday morning, and Sunday and Thursday evening services at this little church on Praire Blvd. in Torrance, CA every week. The thrill of sitting in Roger and Joan’s home on Wednesday nights discussing the Bible still gives me chills 29 years later. This was more happiness-producing than any drug I had ever tried. This little community of people would become my church family for the next ten years.
During these first few months of being in a real Christ-centered church community, my love for Jesus and his sacrificial death on the cross revolutionized my life and hope. Through teaching, hanging out with other believers, and feeding on the Bible day in and day out, my mind was being renewed to the truth. The effect of this was that I was slowly gaining control over the horrid panic attacks and flashbacks. Yet there were still times when I would lie in bed at night and suddenly sense the creeping up of another flashback.
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