The foundation of my faith came through a small church I went to when when I was a little girl. My sister and I attended with our neighbors across the street. As we got older church attendance stopped but I never quit believing. When I went to college I wanted to find a church youth group to participate in for fun. I met a guy in my speech class who invited me to his church youth group.
I learned about Christianity through the pastor’s sermons, the kids in the youth group, and the Bible. I learned that Christianity was more than just believing that God and Jesus Christ existed, but that I needed a personal relationship with Him.
I remember the Sunday morning on November 10, 1968 when I made my decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior. The title of the pastor’s sermon was “The Last Call.” At the end of the sermon he gave an altar call for anyone wanting to know Jesus. My heart was pounding and I was scared to go forward. Inside I said, “If someone else goes forward first, then I’ll go down.” I looked up and someone else was walking to the front. So, I stood up and went forward too.
A lady took me to a prayer room where she asked me if I wanted to accept Jesus as my Savior. She said, “OK, let’s pray.” I hesitatingly asked, “Out loud?” To which she responded, “Yes! Out loud!” I agreed, and we prayed, out loud. I asked Jesus to forgive my sins and to come into my heart. It was the most wonderful day of my life! I walked all the way home singing the hymn. “Now I belong to Jesus.”
I shared what happened to me with my mom and dad when I got home. And I’ve never stopped sharing my faith since!
Long before Julie Andrews starred in the beautiful musical “The Sound of Music,” twins were born to Franz and Maria Wagner in Enns, Austria. A little boy and a little girl. I was the little boy. I was gravely ill and spent the first few months of my life in and out of the hospital. The doctors gave me little hope of surviving. But I did survive. Although, through a strange twist of fate, my sister did not. She later died of the same malady that afflicted me.
My mother and father emigrated to the United States of America in 1956 when I was 4 years old. They belonged to the Lutheran Church in Austria, and were sponsored to the United States by St. John’s Lutheran Church in Des Moines, Iowa. I spent the next fourteen years of my life there. Following my graduation from high school, I enlisted in the United States Navy.
I chose to go to boot camp in San Diego, California, knowing that winter was coming to the Midwest. During boot liberty in downtown San Diego three friends and I visited a Christian Servicemen’s Center. We were offered free coffee and donuts. Little did we realize we were also going to be listening to a preacher!
Being polite young men, and having received the free food, we decided to at least hear what he had to say. At the end of his talk he asked if anyone wanted to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. All four of us raised our hands (yes, I peeked). We went into a back room, said a prayer, and filled out a card. That was the end of that. None of us went back to the center. And none of us ever heard from the people from the center.
I got orders to Treasure Island, California for Electronics Technician “A” school after boot camp. One weekend a friend and I went into San Francisco to have some fun. We were looking for something to do, when we met a young woman and another sailor who invited us to a party. The invitation included free food, a place to stay over the weekend, and girls. Wow, what a combination!
We arrived at our destination, a place called the ‘Port O Call’, after a twenty-five minute bus ride to Castro Valley. We worried all the way there how we would ever get back. I felt relieved when I spotted a bus stop! Our way back!
Then I saw a marquee with one word written on it: ‘Friends’. My first thought was “Oh no! They’re Quakers!”
We were driven through an eight foot tall chain link fence to an ominous looking, plain concrete building. After entering the building, the first thing that caught my attention was a huge picture of Jesus Christ over a fireplace! I said, “I knew it, a bunch of religious fanatics!”
The party started and after about twenty minutes I had enough. I told my friend I wanted to leave because these people were all ‘plastic’. No one smiles all the time like these people were! But my friend was having a good time and said he wanted to give it some more time. Twenty minutes later he came to me and said, “You were right these people are all plastic, let’s go.” But by that time I had started enjoying myself. So we stayed. During part of the evening there was a big home cooked dinner, singing, people sharing their testimonies, and talk about faith in Jesus Christ.
At the end of the evening’s activities my friend went back to the base on the ‘Port’ bus. I stayed and spent the weekend at the servicemen’s center.
We were fed breakfast Sunday morning, and then everyone went to the church service (in the big concrete building). Afterward, there was more food. The ‘Port’ hosts and hostesses came during the afternoon and we all went to a local park and played softball. They took us all back to our bases after the day’s activities. I had a really good time; and went back to the Port O Call the next weekend, and regularly after that.
I began noticing the people at the ‘Port’ were genuinely happy! They weren’t ‘plastic’ at all. I called myself a Christian. But I sensed they had something I did not, but I didn’t know what it was.
Later, I met Yvonne, one of the hostesses at the ‘Port.’ I asked her for a date, but she turned me down. When I asked her why, she said it was because I wasn’t a Christian! I argued that I was a Christian, having been raised Lutheran and attending church almost every Sunday of my life!
Then she asked me two questions that I had no idea how to answer. First, she asked me if I had ever been born again? And then she asked me if I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? When I couldn’t answer either of those questions and stood there with a deer in the headlights expression on my face, she said, “See, you’re not a Christian!”
I would drive into San Francisco a few times a week and give Yvonne a ride home from work. In the car we would talk about faith, God, and the Bible. We continued this for several weeks. Attending the Saturday night parties, and doing some real soul searching, I realized that what Yvonne and the people at the Port had, that I did not, was a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
So, on August 10, 1970, in the privacy of my barracks room, I prayed and asked God, “If what these people were telling me was true, I want it too.” So I opened my heart and invited Jesus Christ to come into my life.
I didn’t notice anything different about me after that. There were no bells and whistles, no fireworks, but friends of mine noticed a difference in me. They said I had stopped cursing; even though I hadn’t made a conscious effort to do that. Later, when I invited another friend to one of the Saturday evening parties, he looked at me, and out of the blue, asked, “Are you a Christian?” I stopped for a moment, thought, and said, “Yes, yes I am.” And for the first time I really knew what that meant! I had goose bumps from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet.