ROTWThis Sunday I will speak about Atheism. This topic is much more than an academic exercise for me. Here is my story.

I grew up in a very strong Christian family. My dad is 85 and he has been a pastor almost as long as I’ve existed. I went to seminary, pastored overseas, became a missionary in the U.S., and served for 12 years with a ministry to internationals. So you can imagine the shock when my teenage son announced to the world via social media that he didn’t believe anything he had been taught about Christianity and didn’t want to have anything to do with it from that point on.

Saying I was in shock would not even come close. Here I was, traveling across the world (I was in Asia when he made that announcement), helping people understand the truth of Christ while in fact I was, so to speak, sleeping with the “enemy” in my own household!

Like a storm irrupting through the bright summer sky, I quickly learned that for years my son had been drinking at the fountain of secularism and he was intoxicated with it. His church was in YouTube and his “gurus” were the various incarnations of a new and virulent form of atheism which has captivated the minds of so many young people of his generation.

In the weeks, months, and years that followed, he would accuse me of a form of child abuse for “indoctrinating” him with Christian teachings, which he found hard to extirpate from his conscience. He would call my wife and me delusional and proclaim the superiority of his position, often with angry words, in the many conversations about faith we began to have.

Soon I discovered that the absence of a father who was out to save the world had driven my son away from God. I learned that church experience that had no room for doubts or dissenting voices had shown him the door which he gladly took and vowed never to enter again.

I had to start over with my son. My wife and I had to love our son like we never had before. We learned to bite our tongues, fetter our passions, and swallow our pride. And worst of all, we had to suffer alone. People in church can tolerate the son of a pastor who gets a girl pregnant, is caught for D.U.I. or steals a couple of computers from the local Wal-Mart. But not too many can put up with a “black sheep” who jumped to the other side. In one of my job interviews for senior pastor, one of the elders claimed that I didn’t have my house under control because of my son’s behavior. And I had just stated that my son was having a vigorous intellectual debate with God!

Little by little, though, my son started to let us back into his life again. My wife gets the credit here for calling him to task on a lot of issues where she saw inconsistencies. I sometimes would sit in the family room and pretend I was not there listening to the spirited debates they were having. “You pride yourself of not listening to the ‘garbage’ we are exposed to in church, but I’ve been listening to these guys on this video for half an hour and they are just talking non-sense; how’s that different from church non-sense?”  “At least these guys are not appealing to some higher authority or a book that is thousands of years old and full of scientific blunders, Mom!”

And back and forth they went, into the wee hours of the morning, until I would fall asleep on the couch, partly from physical exhaustion, partly from the kind of agony that only those who have been disappointed with God can feel. Our tears were too many, our prayers too ineffective, our words too inadequate. We were losing the battle.

But then something extraordinary happened. Our son agreed to go to a retreat hosted by the college group in the church my youngest daughter attended, Xenos Christian Fellowship in Columbus, OH. That retreat planted the seeds of hope in his heart. There, he found some people who, like him, were looking for answers, and an environment where they were not discouraged from expressing their doubts.

That experience, coupled with some robust conversations and an overdose of genuine Christian love, I believe, brought my son back into the loving arms of His Father. Today, he is all in with Jesus Christ and my wife and I rejoice at God’s faithfulness in this situation.

There is a lot more to this story, and I hope someday my son will tell it himself. For now, he has given me permission to share this much. His story illustrates how real and potentially devastating the issue of secularism is in the life of our young people. If we love them, we must prepare them to do battle with a world out there which is intent on taking them from the fold of faith to that of nothingness. Let’s not allow that to happen.

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade