I’ve shared this story many times before, but every time I tell it, the story is slightly different.

I “gave my life to Christ” sometime in late 2005, in my first year of college. The preacher, Pastor Pete Odera, was talking about gifts and how God has gifted us to make much of Him.

I don’t really remember the much about the sermon. I don’t even remember if Pastor Pete shared the gospel during that sermon. All I remember is wanting to “give my gift to God”, that is, my talent in writing prose and poetry.

Giving my life to Christ

So I walked to the front of the room when the pastor made the invitation. I gave my life to Christ, and my gift too. From that day on, I self-identified as a born-again Christian, although whether I gave up my life of sin is a story for another day.

I’ve been thinking about how Christians share their conversion stories. Our testimonies, if you like. Depending on which church you grew up in, you have either “welcomed Jesus into your heart” or “given your life to Jesus” or “surrendered to Christ” or “allowed God’s story to become your story” or many other ways different Christians have attempted to articulate that mystical moment.

Years down the line, I learnt more about God and the Bible and discovered that there are different “doctrines” that describe the Christian conversion experience. For example, I learnt that salvation is the initiative and work of God and I do not really “give” my life or “welcome” Jesus anywhere. The more accurate description is that God “took” my life and He “welcomed” me.

Invalid conversion

But does this later realization mean that the conversion I experienced years before was invalid? Am I less Ngare Kariuki if I cannot spell those names correctly? There was a time I thought being a Christian meant being born into a family that goes to church instead of a mosque. There are many things we have uncritically believed for years and decades until someone asks you a direct question about them.

Many Christian experiences tend to be like that. For instance, there was once a time when someone would say something “God told them” and I never even wondered how exactly that “telling” happened. Was it in a dream? Was it a hunch? Did they hear a voice from the void? Did the message come through a pastor? Or was it just a feeling, a hunch, a thought in their head?

At such times, I never really wondered whether to believe or doubt what the person said they heard from God. It is not like they demanded a decision from me. They were just reporting what “God told them” and I was under no obligation but to listen and understand what they were talking about.

Until they came to me with something God told them about me. Then I would begin to grow uncomfortable, and would begin wondering how exactly that “telling” happened.

Multifaceted story

My point in this little monologue is that life is a multifaceted story. No, this is not a call to relativism or even a denial of the existence of absolute truth. It is merely a recognition of the fact that different people believe in different stories, are living out different stories, and even those who believe and live the same story are at different points of that story.

Tomorrow someone will approach you and tell you something God told them. Unless you can read their motives, you would be quite ungracious to judge them based on your experience with “people who talk like that”. Some people “gave their lives to Christ” when they got born again. Others “welcomed Jesus into their hearts”. Yet only God knows whether all these different accounts refer to the same experience.

I no longer say I “made Jesus the Lord of my life” in 2005. I now say something along the lines of “I entrusted my life to God through Jesus Christ”. This does not change what happened in 2005, but it does reflect a change in my understanding of what happened on that day.

Just because a child cannot yet explain where babies come from, doesn’t change the fact that he is a child and was once born.

A call to keep learning

This is not a treatise on the irrelevancy of right doctrine. Right doctrine is important, and we should never neglect the pursuit of true knowledge about God and the gospel. But this is a reminder that right doctrine is indeed learned, and this learning takes time. May we be patient with one another at our different points of this long and treacherous journey of faith.

That is what “disciple-making” is partly, yet truly about.