Stepping through salvation's gate

Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew­—“small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life”—may explain the misperception in some quarters that salvation is a one-size-fits-all experience. However, as the stories that follow illustrate, the events that bring someone to salvation’s small gate are unique to each individual, as is the journey on the narrow road that lies beyond.

By Lynne Cosby

At the entrance

PHOTO: Matthew Lester
“Being saved as a child or being saved from a life in the gutter—it’s the grace of God that saves us either way.” —Nate Yoder

Some people are reared in the faith and meet Christ at an early age, as was Nate Yoder, the son of a Mennonite pastor. When Nate was 10 years old, he attended a weeklong, old-fashioned tent revival. Though just a boy, he knew that he was a sinner; but each night, Nate was afraid to go forward to make a profession of faith. The last night, he thought, “How long am I going to say ‘no’ to God?”

Others grow up around the faith, yet don’t make that faith personal until later on in life. Elise Robitaille was raised in the church. But when she was in college, she realized that, although all her years of Sunday school had given her a good biblical foundation, she didn’t really know God.

Still others journey to faith from totally unchurched backgrounds. Paul Burns did not grow up in a church-going family, and after he was married, he and his wife, Cathy, rarely went to church. Over the years, whenever they did attend a worship service, Paul never felt he belonged. And when his wife, who was already a Christian, would ask him if he believed in Jesus, he would respond that he wasn’t sure what he believed.

Setting out

Nate Yoder views his coming to Christ at an early age as no less important than the salvation of someone older who has lived a life of many vices. “Being saved as a child or being saved from a life in the gutter—it’s the grace of God that saves us either way,” he says. He believes it was God’s grace that kept him from having to go through some of the devastating things others experience before God’s grace reaches them.

During Elise Robitaille’s college years, she met some charismatic Catholics who spoke of Jesus as a real person they actually knew. “It just floored me that I had known about Jesus all this time but didn’t know anyone who talked to Him like He was a real person,” she relates. “Within a few hours, they introduced me to this person named Jesus.” She had been calling herself a Christian all along, but she knew that her life was different from this point on, because she now had a relationship with Christ.

A few years ago, friends invited Paul and Cathy Burns’ two children to a program at their church, Westheights Community Church in Kitchener, ON. “Both our kids had great things to say about Westheights,” says Paul. When Paul and Cathy accompanied their children to a corn roast sponsored by the church, the couple was not prepared for how welcoming everyone would be. “They were so friendly, we thought it was odd,” says Paul, laughing. “But we thought it was great, too.”

PHOTO: Tomasz Adamski
“. . . I had known about Jesus all this time but didn’t know anyone who talked to Him like He was a real person.” —Elise Robitaille

The Burnses decided to attend the Sunday morning service the next day. “The service was totally different from what we’d seen before,” recalls Paul. “And the sermon really related to our everyday lives.” The family started attending Sunday school classes, and Paul began to study the Bible at home. He sees now that even the difficulties he had experienced at work helped to lead him toward Christ. “All these things were steps that got me where I am today. On Christmas Eve 2006, I opened my heart to Jesus Christ,” Paul says joyfully.

On the road

As ten-year-old Nate Yoder grew into adulthood, God led him to become a pastor, like his father. Now, Nate is the senior pastor of Palmyra (Pa.) BIC and the nominee for Atlantic Conference bishop. Over the years since his conversion, he has come to view salvation and life as an ongoing journey. “God is asking me to expand His kingdom in my heart and in the world,” Nate says. “When that happens, I’m experiencing salvation—I’m still being saved.”

He’s quick to quote one of his favorite authors, Dallas Willard, who asks in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines , “Why is it that we look upon salvation as a moment that began our religious life instead of [as] the daily life we receive from God?”

After making her own personal commitment to the Lord, Elise married and had five children. Seventeen years into her marriage, her spiritual journey reached a crisis point when her husband, Robert, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. “My passion for my spiritual growth had waned over the years,” she admits. “But with Robert’s diagnosis, my faith came into play in a big way.”

As she and Robert explored the topic of life after death, she began to understand that, although he had gone to church every week, he didn’t know whether he was going to heaven. “I realized he didn’t know Christ,” she says. She dusted off her Bible, and the two of them began to search the Scriptures for answers.

A month before he died, Robert had a very dramatic conversion experience. Elise awoke one morning to hear him weeping in the next room. Hurrying to him, she asked what was wrong. “I’m saved!” he answered. “After that, he witnessed to everyone who came to see him,” Elise relates. “He wasn’t happy to be dying, but he was at peace.” A week before he died, Robert told Elise that his greatest wish was that all his kids would be saved. “They all made professions of faith within a few months of their dad’s death,” she shares.

PHOTO: Tomasz Adamski
“Getting baptized with my family made my commitment to faith stronger.” —Paul Burns

Robert’s death reignited Elise’s faith. She felt she needed to seek out a church where her own faith could be lived out in a practical, day-to-day way. In her previous church experiences, people were reluctant even to speak the name of Jesus. But at Covenant Christian Community BIC in Penetanguishene, ON, she says, “Christ’s name was on their lips. He was their center.” She and her children began attending there, and she’s still there after ten years.

Elise’s spiritual journey did not stop when she found a church where she felt she belonged, however. She got involved as an assistant in the church’s ministry program, and after four years she became associate pastor of the church. She still searches for where God will lead her on this lifelong spiritual journey.

Accepting the challenge of his pastor, Paul Burns read the entire Bible last year. “The rewarding thing for me is that now my wife and my son have both started reading it through,” says Paul. And his daughter has asked her parents for her own Bible as well.

In June 2007, Paul and his whole family made the decision to be baptized. “That was a really special thing,” says Paul. “Getting baptized with my family made my commitment to faith stronger.” Paul also recognizes that he’s more humble than he was before meeting Christ. “I was always a person who said I could take care of myself,” he says. Now he knows he needs God in his everyday life as he walks the narrow way.

The journey continues

For Nate, Elise, and Paul, the decision to step through salvation’s gate, though a life-changing moment, was just the beginning. From that point on, it’s been all about the journey and the assurance that Jesus Himself is with them on the road.

This article originally appeared in the spring 2008 issue of In Part magazine.
Lynne Cosby

Lynne Cosby is a freelance writer and a member of the Grantham (Pa.) BIC Church. She lives in Grantham with her husband and two sons.

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