Pat Johnston

When Real Life Began

Real life began for me at the age of 24, while at a seaside resort in Southern Ireland.

Born and bred in a strict Roman Catholic church, but by the time I was in my twenties, life had become such a problem that I had lost the desire for prayer.  Then came April 1969, and with it came a drastic change.  I met a young Protestant boy named Bertie, who asked me to go out with him.  I meant it to be for only one evening, but in the providence of God it developed into courtship.  Naturally my parents were disappointed and did their best to discourage my friendship with Bertie.  I must admit that I was quite angry when my family suggested that he would rope me into being a Protestant.

I was staunch in my religion, often keeping Bertie waiting while I worshipped in my church.  As far as I was concerned there was no true church but mine.

Although my friends were worried about my future, Bertie and I, the two people most concerned, were not in the least perturbed.

The time came when both of us realised that we had to discuss religion.

My strong views impressed Bertie to such an extent that he even accompanied me to Mass and Benediction.

But I felt sorry as I watched him, he looked so lost among us.  Little did I realise then that we were all lost!

In further talks about Roman Catholicism I discovered that I knew little about my faith.  So much of it was mere routine.

What had I been thinking about when Mass was being offered?  Certainly not the Crucifixion of Christ.  And what were my thoughts about Confession?  Surely if God had forgiven all my sins I was not to go on committing them and confessing them again and again?

Something was happening within me.  I looked deeper into my faith and my church.

For a while I kept all my doubts and fears to myself:  but eventually I spilled them out to my mother one evening – she was horrified.  She said “Pat you are thinking too deeply.  the Lord doesn’t like you to question things.  Say three ‘Hail Mary’s’ to our lady and she will help you.”  But the ‘Hail Mary’s’ did not relieve me; in fact, things became worse.  I began to lose interest in prayer; and noticing the change my mother pleaded with me to see a priest.  I was scared as I had been taught always to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to a priest.

I arranged to see a Jesuit priest in a monastery.  He was a big man, about sixty years of age, and he gave me a sympathetic welcome.  “Well, my child, what is troubling you?” he began.  I told him of my doubts and worries, and also of my courthsip with Bertie.  Suddenly he stopped me and said quite sharply “That is the cause of your trouble.”  He then asked me what I was doing to make Bertie a Roman Catholic.  I replied, “Nothing, I told him I don’t want him to become a Roman Catholic for my sake.  He must do it for himself”.  In a sorrowful voice the priest said “you had the ball at your feet and you didn’t use it.  Maybe you could persuade him to come and see me.”  He finished our conversation by asking me to return and collect a book which would answer all my doubts about my faith.  It was a relief when the interview was over.  I was thoroughly disillusioned, and bitterly resented the accusation of failing to produce another member of the Roman Catholic church.  I gave up completely and ceased to care.  To please my mother I still attended church, but lighting candles and saying masses were empty ritual to me now.

I wanted something to satisfy the deeper hunger of my heart.

Bertie was aware that something was happening to me but he remained silent.  No longer did I insist on my own religious views.  There was an emptiness within, and I knew I could not go through life in such a state.  Once or twice I asked Bertie to take me to a Protestant service, but his answer was not helpful.

“Pat” he said, “if you didn’t find the answer in your own church, then certainly you will not find it in mine.”  He had ceased church going when leaving Sunday school.  He was as emtpy as I was, and, like me, he was seeking for something better.  Then came that unforgettable Sunday evening in May 1970 Bertie and I were at a seaside resort trying to pass away a few hours before the sing-song began in the pub which we used to frequent.  I reminded Bertie about his promise to take me to a Protestant service.  Why not now, if we could find such a church?  Althought he did not think much of the idea.  Bertie agreed, and off we went on a hunt for what was available.

Walking along a street we came to the only Methodist Church in town.  On its Notice Board was the announcenment of an IEB Convention being held inside.  It was the last night and the speaker was Rev. Sydney Martin from Glasgow.

Almost before we realised what had happened, we were sitting in the back seat of that church.

Just think of what had taken place!

Here we were; I a Roman Catholic and Bertie almost one; both of us at the seadide for a night’s entertainment of drinking and dancing.  Yet we were now sitting in the back seat at a Christian Convention.  Surely God was at work in a wonderful manner.  I had gone in out of curiousity, and Bertie had accompainied me to keep me happy!

That night God spoke directly to me through the preacher.  He spoke about a certain Roman Catholic who had felt just as I did.  And how she got an answer to all her problems by asking God, in the name of Jesus Christ, to forgive all her sin.  I began to ‘sit up’ for the first time in my life.

I could feel God’s presence in the service, and I knew that in God’s sight, I was a sinner, and that all I had to do was come in true repentance and simple faith to Christ and ask Him to come into my heart.  I could hold back no longer.  This was my chance – and I grasped it eagerly.

God wonderfully saved me that night.  Oh, the relief that came to my heart! The tension and frustration ceased, and I realised afterwards the truth of that Scripture which says that if anyone is in Christ then ‘Old things have passed away, and all things have become new’.

The next day Bertie, too, gave himself to Christ and was gloriously transformed.

Later on, Berie and I married.  Together we serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

God has worked wonders, my parents, who had objected to our courtship and marriage, are now beginning to ‘come round’.  This is a great comfort to me and is a stimulus to my faith as I pray each night for thier salvation.  I am sure that one day they, too, will receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour.

To any person reading this Testimony, whether they are Protestants or Catholics – but without the knowledge of salvation through Jesus Christ – I would say:

“Jesus Christ loves you and died in your stead.  He is willing to settle the problem of sin if only you will let Him into your heart.  DO IT JUST NOW.”