PART ONE – Darkness to Light (cont.)
After seven evenings, each with hours of instruction, I began to believe that Jesus Christ was The Answer for me. I knew I was not right with God, I was not able to make myself right with Him, and I wanted so much to be right with Him. Here George told me exactly how it was possible, and the only way possible.
Finally, somewhat sheepishly, I said, “George, can we pray?” There I was, a proud, stuffy, stogie-sucking salesman, at a crossroad of life. He was out of his chair and on his knees in a flash, and I got down on mine.
Almost instantly, I was surprised. I didn’t know what to say or how to pray. I thought if anyone knew how to pray, it would be a Catholic! I was silent, stumped. It didn’t even occur to me to pray an “Our Father” or a “Hail Mary.”
“Speak respectfully to God as you would to a loving Father, a respected person,” George quietly advised. “Tell Him your thoughts and what you want.”
Awkwardly, yet desperately and sincerely, I asked Jesus Christ to forgive me for my sins and to take over my life, which I confessed I could not manage or change on my own. George also prayed, he shared some Scriptures with me to assure me God had heard my prayer, and we rose from the floor. I did not feel, hear, or see anything. A little disappointed, yet somehow at peace, I went home.
In the days to follow, changes occurred in me over which I had no control and for which I could take no credit whatsoever. The vices and bad habits I had tried and failed to overcome began to be removed from me. It was like chains had turned to cooked noodles – all I had to do was clean them off.
I suddenly found myself with new interests and desires, a take on life and joy and peace I had never known. In the days following, I had satisfaction, fulfillment, direction, and purpose. My load of guilt was lifted. At 27, I had something I could call life for the first time! Wow!
A wonder – the Bible became a new book to me! As I said earlier, I had red it through before from cover to cover – every word – and understood absolutely nothing. Now I was amazed at what I found! It was alive and full of meaning. God was real! I had finally found Him! More accurately, He had finally revealed Himself to me!
Something startled me within days after this happening. Lloyd Johnson, a rough and tumble truck driver from Homes Canada, drove into the lot with a new home. As he proceeded to hastily back it into its parking spot, he dinged an adjacent home, which ruined a corner and some panels on both homes. I had very little inventory for sale, and I was suddenly exasperated because it could take weeks to order parts and repair the homes before they were saleable.
I lost it and used the Lord’s Name to curse. I was shocked. What’s this? I thought I had changed! Hadn’t I? I thought I could never do anything like that again. Why had I done it? How?
“George, what about this? How do you explain it? Am I changed or not?” With George’s counsel, I realized that not very long before, I was accustomed to using the Lord’s Name in vain without guilt or remorse. Now, for the first time, it bothered me terribly. My shock and remorse were sure indications that something had changed after all. By God’s grace, and not by any virtue of my own (I know and assure you), I have never used His Name in that manner again.
Let me be quite candid so that you may appreciate what kind of change occurred in my life at that time. As a Catholic, I had been an altar boy, president of the youth club, and soloist in the choir. I took communion, prayed the rosary, and attended a minor seminary for a year. At the same time, I was a great fool, liar, thief, cheat, drunk, fraud, chintz, pervert, coward, traitor, hypocrite, fornicator, adulterer, masturbator, blasphemer, idolater, drunkard, glutton, smoker, and more. I was self-destruction on two legs frantically looking for a place to happen.
I occasionally went to confession and continually sinned. I did not do so cynically, but with guilt, helplessness, frustration, and fear. I was smiles, jokes, and laughter on the outside, but troubled within because in constant sin and guilt. Since puberty I had masturbated, and when I earnestly tried to quit, I found myself a slave to it, unable to stop. From all these things God graciously delivered me, and for them all He has forgiven me.
This is one of the first things my family and friends said to me about my conversion to Christ: “You were in Amway and it wasn’t long before you gave it up. Then you got into Concept-Therapy, got all fired up, and soon you forgot about that. You’ve always got some wacky idea. This is just another fad. Those didn’t last and neither will this.”
I thought: “No, whereas I was the one doing those things in the past, this time something happened to me, and I don’t ever want to lose it or give it up!”
When the Lord delivered me of my sins and took over my life, turning it right side up, division came between me and my family, friends, and associates. The Catholic parish priest, and all Catholics I knew and spoke to, condemned what had happened to me. My family’s attitude drastically changed toward me. They were very displeased. You will see how my sister threw me out of her house, and much of my family shunned me.
Even though I, as a Catholic, was full of all the evils mentioned above (and many were aware of these things), nobody in my family or in the Catholic Church had a problem with my vices and lifestyle. Truly, I was one of them, likely the worst of all. But the moment I confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and was delivered of those vile sins, vices, and lifestyle, I was condemned as a traitor, an ignorant dupe of some zealous non-Catholic, “Bible-thumping” zealots.
When I tried to talk to the Dauphin parish priest, Gregory Oucharyk, about the Bible, the Lord, and how He made such a difference in my life, all he could do was pull rank on me. “It’s impossible to understand the Bible unless you have been reading it for at least three years,” he said. “Besides, the Holy Roman Apostolic Catholic Church is the first, the largest, oldest, and only true Church, the Mother Church. It is the one Jesus Christ founded, starting with Peter.”
I differed with him on many points until he arose from his desk, tried in his spiritual way to be friendly (yet visibly upset), took my hand as if to shake it, grabbed it firmly, and physically “guided” me to the door. Out I was. It was a peculiar move I often thought about later. Nobody would be able to say he kicked me out. He could say he simply shook my hand and kindly dismissed me.
Uncle Bill Hafichuk was my father’s older brother. I shared the Gospel with his youngest son, Ronald. I gave him a Chick Publications tract, which he gave to his father, who took it to the priest, Gregory Oucharyk, who said it was garbage. Uncle Bill readily believed him and tossed the tract away. This was the general attitude and stance of the family. In later years, I had heard that Ron was quite scornful of faith in Christ.
At a social gathering at the 11th Ave Ukrainian Catholic Hall in Dauphin, I shared the Gospel with Gordon Toomey, my cousin Theresa Hafichuk’s husband. He kept looking past me and smiling. I looked back to see my father playfully jesting and mocking. Gordon shyly rejected what I was sharing.
Was that a wise decision? Gord Toomey later became an alcoholic, and he and Theresa divorced. People think they can ignore or reject the fact that Jesus Christ died for their sins and that they are not permitted to live in them any longer. Like it or not, He calls them into account. Not responding, they suffer, often big time. Gordon is an example of many I have known.
I very much appreciated Aunt Lucy, one of my mother’s eleven sisters, and I had some admiration for her husband, Ernie Mouck, who was handsome and rather “cool.” Their children, my cousins, Butch and Arleigh, were cute kids, though I did not get to see them much; we were close to a generation apart, and they lived miles away.
It was a bit of a shock to me when my father boisterously reported Ernie declaring that if anyone ever came to his house to “talk religion,” he would literally throw them out. I supposed that my father received “immoral support,” which helped justify his own opposition to me. He likely thought I would be more likely to reconsider my position, seeing Ernie felt that way about “people like me.”
The eventual tragedies that came to Ernie Mouck’s house were more than many households have had to bear. In the years to come, it was reported that his firstborn, Gerald “Butch,” became an alcoholic in his early teens (or earlier). Thankfully, I understand that he was eventually able to not only control his addiction, but also do well – occupationally, and perhaps maritally and socially as well.
I was told their daughter, Arleigh, was severely injured in her later teens in an automobile collision. Thankfully, she was also able to overcome and do well. These are not accidental tragedies or events without cause, however. Those who refuse truth and God suffer the consequences and bring them on their entire house.
Sadly, there would be even more and worse to come.
Cy Puls (Sweet Cy) once told me he rebuked my father for his stance against me, telling him he ought to be thankful I was living an upright and moral life, when I could have turned out so differently. Dad had been complaining to him about how I had turned my back on him and his church, and how he couldn’t reason with me.
“What?! Would you rather he was an alcoholic or drug addict?” Cy replied in his characteristically aggressive manner. “How about a drug pusher or some criminal behind bars? You have nothing to complain about, Nick! He’s healthy, and he’s behaving himself!”
Years before, Mr. Puls had a child with whom he had problems, she being notoriously, openly promiscuous in her youth. He also had a son-in-law, Pete Munson, who was a raging alcoholic. Sweet Cy had a perspective of appreciation, relatively speaking. Did my father ever tell me of Cy’s comments? Of course not – it wouldn’t have served his ends!
Backing up several months, while Homes Canada was waiting for inventory to send up to my empty lot in Prince Albert, Terry Johnston asked me to come to his Esterhazy branch and help with an open house, which I did. I stayed with him and his wife Julie for a week or so.
I met some people there and was invited to a party. Terry lent me his car. I got drunk and sideswiped it against something, leaving a small bit of damage. When Terry asked about it, I lied, saying I had no idea how it happened.
Now it was time for me to fess up. I called Terry and told him I had damaged his car the summer before. Bob Vail later told me that when Terry got off the phone, he exploded with a volley of expletives, furious at having been “had.” Bob was entertained and had a good laugh about it. I was surprised to hear it because, relatively speaking, Terry had acted rather calmly when I confessed to him by phone. He never did say anything more to me, good or bad.
How I wished for my family to experience my newfound life! One day, I approached my sister and her husband, Ron, whom I appreciated very much, and spoke to them about turning to the Lord. We spoke of several matters – the Catholic Church and the Bible – but when I tried to persuade them to quit smoking, to my surprise, Ron began to cry. I would have pursued why, but Barbara immediately exclaimed, “See what you’ve done?!” and expelled me from her house, along with Cathie, my brother Archie’s wife, who was with me. Ron didn’t say a word.
I so wanted to share with them the great treasure I had found. I was taken aback that they found a problem with my deliverance. “You know what, Victor?” my sister sarcastically declared one day, “I don’t like the ‘new you’!”
I lost all that I had, but I was quite willing to have it that way for the fulfillment I enjoyed, for the first time in my life. My gains far outweighed my losses.
Uncle Don Hafichuk also took offence at my change of life. “You think you’re a little Jesus or something!” he scornfully blurted. In later years, I realized that a genuine Christian is exactly that – “a little Jesus,” born of Him, in the process of being transformed into His image, even as the Bible declares:
“Do not lie to one another, for you have put off the old self with its habits and have put on the new self. This is the new being which God, its Creator, is constantly renewing in His own image, in order to bring you to a full knowledge of Himself” (Colossians 3:9-10 GNB).
As long as I was Catholic, my sins were not an issue, but when my sins were cleaned up in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, outside of the Catholic Church, suddenly I was a heretic, and as a leper to them. “Why aren’t they thankful?” I wondered.
The truth is that if I had been delivered within the Catholic Church (if that is possible), they would not have appreciated it any more, although they would not have been “shown up” by any other denomination, which they consider to be in darkness.
Not all members of my family were negative about my conversion to Christ. My mother’s sister, Delores Molnar, and her husband, Fred, were overjoyed at the news. Delores had been converted to Christ several years earlier and suffered much contempt from the rest of the family for it. She and Fred attended evangelical churches (Fred didn’t seem to have quite the same interest or commitment). When hearing of my conversion to Christ, Aunt Delores said, “Victor is the sacrificial lamb for the family.”
Those words seemed prophetic and stayed with me. I suspected they were true, but I had little, if any, understanding of what they meant or what the implications would be. In future, Delores would be speaking other words of great import to me.
You will recall my telling you of the wrestling match with Uncle Fred at a celebration years before. Was Aunt Delores a believer back then? I don’t remember. If she wasn’t, things had changed for them since that time. (There is more to come with Fred and Delores.)
Here is another interesting coincidence: Consider that just before we met, George Lynn was working at Northwest Mobile Homes in Fort Macleod, Alberta, a town several hundred miles away from where I was. George was laid off due to a plant closure, and he was consequently hired by Homes Canada in Calgary as a serviceman.
George’s first stop of Homes Canada sales lots was mine, only a few miles from Weldon, where he had lived in his youth. George hadn’t been there for several decades, but he knew old friends there who professed faith in Christ – the Nelsons.
Upon our meeting and my repentance, George felt I needed Christian company to whom he could entrust his new convert. He said to me, “You need a Bible-believing church now.” He introduced me to the people he had known, who were attending the Alliance Church, and they undertook to befriend a babe in Christ.
How is it George was sent decades later to his former home turf where he could talk to me about the Gospel and introduce me to companions when I needed them? God had been arranging people and circumstances for my sake decades earlier; George Lynn was His chosen messenger, and Prince Albert His chosen tryst, where He first appeared to me by dream.
(By the way, after traveling far and wide for years, it so happens we now live but a fifteen-minute drive away from Fort Macleod, where George Lynn had been working just before we met.)
I remember people from the Alliance Church, my first non-Catholic church home. They were Les and Delores Nelson (my first Christian friends next to George), Abe Friesen (who had tried to speak to me of God and the Bible previously at my office), Tim and Verna Friesen, Nelson and Cylvia Reimer, Dale and Peggy Gordon, Dick and Donna Friesen, Ernest Regier (the pastor), Dr. Lorne Rabuka, Lyle Shapansky, Hilda Pirie, and a few others who shared their lives to encourage me along my spiritual path.
Hilda Pirie was quite receptive and zealous. She tried to witness to everyone, including boarders she kept in her big house to make ends meet. One day she made some remarks to me about the Catholic Church and how nuns were reported to have babies by priests and dispose of those babies in various ways when born.
I got angry with her, asking her if she knew beyond any doubt that those things were true. She admitted that she didn’t have undeniable true knowledge in what she was saying. When I pressed and rebuked her, she confessed her knowledge was hearsay and apologized.
I was still quite defensive of the Catholic Church. In other words, at that point, though I was a convert to Christ, I was still Catholic, or I was at least attached in some significant way.
The pastor, Ernest Regier, labored patiently with me after I believed, visiting me at my office, especially when I was struggling with Catholicism. He was highly diplomatic about it, and I got somewhat impatient with him, expecting him to speak up if he had something to say. He told me that a church might get large and old, and from it would spring up something new, leaving the old behind (to die, one would presume). Discreetly, he was speaking of the wisdom, necessity, and validity of my leaving the Catholic Church and not returning to it.
Tim Friesen was a young married man fresh out of Bible school from Nipawin, Saskatchewan. He and his wife began attending the Alliance Church and I hired him as a salesman. In the following days, he shared much with me in the office and, once or twice, he and Verna invited me to their home for dinner.
I recall my first impressions as a Catholic in an evangelical church building. I was taken aback by its stark atmosphere.
In the Ukrainian Catholic, Byzantine church, the only one to which I had ever belonged, every square inch of the multi-domed ceiling and ornate walls was intricately painted, accompanied with pictures and statues of God, Jesus, the apostles, saints, and angels, as well as crucifixes, designs, candles, a large chandelier, and other objects.
There were also the ceremony and ritual, the bell ringing, making the sign of the cross, constant kneeling, sitting, and standing during services, chanting, parading around the altar, and singing.
There was the all-important altar and all the paraphernalia – fancy cloth coverings, candlestick holders, a little model church building on the altar, complete with door and key for “the host” (the golden chalice with or without its contents of bread and wine administered in the Mass). “What is a church without an altar?” I wondered.
The priest wore ornate vestments, and all was formal and precisely orchestrated. He sang the words of the Mass and was often accompanied by anywhere from two to six altar boys, dressed in their ornate vestments, answering scripted and timely words. Often there was a “dyak,” a man who would answer the priest throughout the ceremony.
All I saw at the Alliance were bare white walls and plain wooden cathedral ceiling, plain pews, and a simple pulpit at the front – no altar. The pastor wore a plain suit, was accompanied by nobody else, led in prayer, and preached a simple sermon. Some persons might sing a special number, and there may be a choir singing a few hymns. It was all very different in decor and decorum, and it took some adjusting.
But the people were also very different, and that made an impression on me. I was quite willing to give up an ornate church full of dead people for a simple one with a few friendly, smiling, gracious people, young and old.
About a week after my conversion, the evangelist Ken Campbell, with music director Jim Reese, visited Prince Albert and preached at a school gym. They recruited me to sing in the choir. Several times, I could hardly sing for the joy welling up within me; I choked back the lump in my throat while tears flowed – I should have let myself go and freely bawled.
Only a week earlier I was smoking cigars, proud and miserable, and now I was happily hoping to see people come forward to accept the invitation to receive the Lord their Savior. When they did, I was moved to tears. I was a different person, no doubt.
One Sunday morning when Ken Campbell gave an altar call after his sermon at the Alliance Church, I felt compelled to go forward, but I resisted. As four women came forward, he mentioned that while there were four women at the cross, there was only one man. That did it – I was going to be that man. I loosed my grip from the pew in front of me and went forward.
There were seven of us in all, including the evangelist and the pastor directing us to a room in the back. We all cried and cried. I never saw so many tissues used at once! None of us could stop crying for some time. Why were we all crying so? I didn’t know then (I thought I knew), but I know now and will tell you later.
It was then that I told Ken I wanted to preach. He said, “Wait a few years.” I was surprised. “A few years? That is a long time! How about now, in the next few months?”
The impatience and presumption of youth! I had no idea what was ahead of me, and how long it would be before I would be taken by the Lord to serve Him. It was to be many more years than I thought Ken meant, or than he was even thinking.
The surprising spirit and significance of this event would be revealed to me some years later. I discovered that the going forward that day, which I thought to be God’s stirring in me, was something very different, though God was in full control all along.
I tried to quit smoking and found it difficult. George gave me some advice: “Ask the Lord to take away the desire for smoking, and you won’t have to quit!” I did ask the Lord, and within a month, smoking was history. God has been faithful – to this day.
Though I had successfully quit smoking years before and relapsed, this time the quitting was for good.
How did my smoking start? I had picked it up in my mid teens, out of curiosity and wanting to be “cool.” I would not listen to those who cared, to those who knew better. Etched in my memory was an image of a cool, tough guy, like James Dean, with jacket slung over his shoulder and a cigarette hanging from his mouth, playing on a pinball machine, an image I thought desirable.
I also believed, contrary to my father’s warning, that I could quit any time I wanted, which was true. The problem was that as I continued, the less I wanted to quit, until I could not want to quit even if I wanted to! Yes, I think that’s how it works.
As I see young people light up today, in spite of the common public admonitions and regulations, I shake my head. “People, why?” I ask. “If you only knew!”
I think of the manufacturers who prey on the young, callously profiting by the smoker’s self-inflicted process of demise, for which the supplier is as much, if not more, to blame than the smoker.
The world is full of evils, smoking not being the greatest of them. Humankind, trying to please itself, is bent on self-destruction. It is succeeding.
I smoked, ignoring my father’s and mother’s admonitions. Moreover, my father was a smoker, and I thought, “He’s a hypocrite. He tells me not to smoke and there he is, smoking. Who is he to preach to me?” However, he admitted that he was hooked and if he could, he would quit or turn back the clock and not start. He was concerned the same would happen to me. There is no hypocrisy in that; his was the voice of bitter experience, speaking to someone he cared about.