Meet Neil Knudsen
In modern Evangelical parlance, to "give your testimony" usually means to give the story of your conversion. Now, for some, that's fairly easy to do as there is a definite line of demarcation in their life. At one time they were clearly living in darkness and rebellion toward God and the things of God. Then, at a clearly defined time, they repented of their sins and cast themselves on the mercy of God as found in Christ and His finished work on our behalf. From that time on, their lives are wonderfully transformed. I love to hear stories like that and rejoice in them!
For some people however, coming to Christ is a bit less dramatic and clearly defined (but no less wonderful). That's my story.
I was raised in a borough of Haddam on the east side of the Connecticut River called, Haddam Neck. The household I grew up in was pretty thoroughly secular. Although my mother was brought up in a religious home - her father was an Episcopal Priest - my father was an agnostic and took a somewhat skeptical, indifferent stance toward Christianity. He would give my mother quite a hard time if she attended church. As such, I only remember attending a church service with both parents once in my life - on Easter Sunday in 1976. That's it.
I will say however, that my mother did often read narratives from the bible to me - usually from one of those children's bible story books - the kind where each story is contained in its own little book. So I did have some idea as to who Jesus was (is) and the basics surrounding his life, death and resurrection. I did not however, clearly understand the implications of the person and work of Christ for me - especially in regard to sin and salvation.
Now, at that time (in the early 70s), there was a teenage girl in our neighborhood named Ruthie, who truly radiated a love for God and the gospel. This girl had quite a bit of interaction with my older sister Betsy, as they were around the same age. It was in part through this girl - whom my sister at the time would mockingly call a "holy roller" that she came to know Christ in a gloriously fresh and powerful way. At that same time there were also a couple of families in our neighborhood who like-wise had a zeal for Christ and the gospel. Those families also had a big impact on my sister's life, and in turn - mine.
After Betsy came to Christ, she very much wanted the same for her little brother - me. One time when our parents were away for the evening (she was 17 or 18 at the time and I was around 9), she invited the pastor of the church she was attending, along with a few other people, over for a bible study. I think it was sort of a set-up though, with the intention that the pastor would talk to me about Christ. Somehow I ended up playing checkers with him at our kitchen table. Somewhere in the middle of the game, he came right out and said, "Did you know that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins"? It was like a wave had hit me. I remember my palms getting sweaty and my heart starting to pound, but I just played it cool and said, "Yeah, I know all that stuff." I don't remember what happened after that but it didn't really go much further. The next day my sister was probing me about my conversation with the pastor and was gently urging me to say a version of the "sinner's prayer". I wouldn't. As I think about it though, it's possible that I did, but if so, it was more to placate her than anything.
Remember how I mentioned a couple of faithful, Christ honoring families in the area near where I grew up? Well, the head of one of those families was the pastor of the very small start-up church where my sister was attending. (That pastor was the one who talked to me about Christ while playing checkers). Even though I had not had any definitive conversion experience at that point, I would often go with her to church, which was taking place in a basement. (That church by the way, later went on to become East Hampton Bible Church, which has now morphed into Hope Church). I would listen to the sermons and then play pool (in another part of that same cellar) with the pastor's son who was about my age and with whom I became best friends. After the service we would all go upstairs and have a nice meal together sitting around a long table. These were godly families who had about them the sweet fragrance of Christ. They were the real deal. In addition to the prayer, before each meal we would all sing a portion a hymn...
"Thank you Lord for saving my soul.
Thank you Lord for making me whole.
Thank you Lord for giving to me,
Thy great salvation so rich and free."
So you see, it was through these people - being with them, seeing them beautifully living in submission to Christ, and hearing the Word proclaimed each week - that I eventually came to a saving knowledge of Christ; trusting Him alone for my salvation from the wrath of God for my sin. They, along with my sister, would faithfully see to it that I came to church each week - with me often giving lame excuses as to why I couldn't go. Never-the-less, they were steadfast in trying to get me to church.
Truth be told, I can't point to a specific date for my conversion. I will say however there were several times in my childhood and teen years when I prayed in such a way as to leave no doubt that I was grateful to receive the free (but costly) gift of salvation as offered to us in Christ. (I did have one occasion at a Christian camp where I was unwittingly shuffled into a situation that involved repeating a "sinner's prayer" with someone. Many around me viewed that as when I really "got saved," but I'm not so sure. I think I was already truly a believer by that time, so I don't usually point to that as my conversion - though it would be convenient to do.
So, in the midst of all this, my upbringing was kind of unusual in that I was being raised in a secular household, while at the same time attending an evangelical church most every Sunday (morning and night) and then Wednesday night, youth group etc.
By God's grace I was redeemed by Christ at a young enough age that I did not get involved in some of the activities or take on some of the attitudes that many who come to Christ later in life understandably fall into. Make no mistake though, I most certainly would have. I am a sinner who was born spiritually dead and under just condemnation before a holy God. I have a bent toward sin that would have most assuredly born very bitter fruit and eventual damnation. Christ is the Author and Finisher of my salvation. Even my very faith is a gift from Him.
Ultimately, from a human perspective, much of my story can be traced back to a faithful teenage girl in a small, central Connecticut town in the early 1970s who wasn't afraid to proclaim her love for Jesus and the truth of the Gospel; and also those precious families living boldly for Christ. They will always hold a special place in my heart. I must also express profound appreciation and love for my sister Betsy, who took me under her wing and helped see to it that I started out on the right track spiritually. For that I am forever grateful!
By God's providence I am now married to a wonderful woman named Iraida (whom I met while she was volunteering for Faith Sharing here at the station about 12 years ago). She is originally from Puerto Rico. We have two beautiful young Children, Ian and Daniela, ages 6 and 4 respectively.
Updated: April 02, 2014