Radical Conversions

God still uses radically converted people ? people who once ignored, opposed and ran from God ? to spread the gospel. People like this are living testimonies that God doesn?t give up on anyone, that He has the power to look beyond sin and see the potential of the heart. Here are four stories of well-known individuals who were apprehended by God and have dedicated their lives to helping others find salvation through Jesus Christ.

by Joel Kilpatrick

Chuck Colson was a familiar face to many Americans during the Watergate trials of the 1970?s. As one of President Nixon?s closest confidants, Colson went to great lengths to advance himself beyond his peers. He was the architect of Nixon?s 1972 reelection campaign, a relentless fighter who earned a reputation as the "White House hatchet man." Time called him "tough, wily, nasty and tenaciously loyal to Richard Nixon."

But when a cloud of scandal settled over the presidency, Colson?s brilliant career fell to earth. He was the subject of a criminal investigation and eventually pleaded guilty to a charge that landed him in prison for seven months. But in the tumultuous days before his conviction, Colson experienced a radical conversion.

One night at the house of a friend who had recently come to Christ, Colson?s pride began to break. As he drove away, his emotions poured forth. "The tears were flowing uncontrollably," he wrote later. "I remembered hoping that Tom and Gert wouldn?t hear my sobbing. With my face cupped in my hands, head leaning forward against the wheel, I forgot about machismo, about pretenses, about fears of being weak. And as I did, I began to experience a wonderful feeling of being released ?And then I prayed my first prayer. ?God, I don?t know how to find You, but I?m going to try!? I didn?t know how to say more, so I repeated over and over the words: Take me."

Colson accepted Christ days later at an inn on the coast of Maine. After an intense period of reading and soul-searching, during which he filled a yellow legal pad with pros and cons to the existence of God, he gave in to the Holy Spirit.

"Was Christ to change my view of life so drastically? My mind was whirling ? Deep down I knew forces were at work which were demanding that I rethink every facet of my life ? I could not sidestep the central question (God) had placed squarely before me. Was I to accept without reservation Jesus Christ as Lord of my life??While I sat alone staring at the sea, words I had not been certain I could understand or say fell naturally from my lips: ?Lord Jesus, I believe You. I accept You. Please come into my life. I commit it to You.? With these few words that morning came a sureness of mind that matched the depth of feeling in my heart ? I was coming alive to things I?d never seen before; as if God was filling the barren void I?d known for so many months."

After serving his prison term, Colson founded Prison Fellowship, now the largest prison ministry in the world, to bring the gospel to inmates. Colson has written several books, hosts a radio program and is one of the most well-known leaders and social commentators in the evangelical church.

Halfway around the world, and several decades earlier, David Yonggi Cho, a young Buddhist living in Seoul, South Korea, was transformed into a powerful soul-winner after God snatched him from the brink of death.

"I lay there in a shack, covered by a dirty, torn blanket, waiting to die," he wrote later. "From childhood I had prayed to Buddha, but now Buddha offered me no help."

The doctor showed Cho X-rays of his lungs, half-destroyed by tuberculosis, and told him he had less than a month to live. His father reassured him by saying, "There is no life or death, no joy and no sorrow?only in Buddha is their reality. Forget about life and death and have peace."

But Cho was not satisfied. One day, in desperation, he cried out, "If there is anyone called God in the universe, please come and help me. I want to be made ready to die."

A little while later, God answered his prayer by sending a young Christian girl to his door. "I can see that you are dying," she said. "I want to tell you about Christ Jesus, my Savior." Cho, angry at this perceived arrogance, drove her away, but she returned, sang songs and read from the Bible. On the fifth day, Cho broke.

"Your Jesus I want to know," he said. He began reading the Bible. "Slowly, the realization came that although I was a great sinner, Jesus Christ would receive me," he wrote. Later, as he prayed with a missionary, Cho experienced God?s miraculous touch. "As I prayed, a great peace showered down upon me. Every cell in my body seemed charged with new life. Something began to bubble up inside, and I thought I was going to vomit blood, but I found it was joy."

Though disowned by his family, Cho continued on and was healed of tuberculosis and baptized in the Holy Spirit. He began preaching door to door, then in a vacant lot. The congregation he built has grown into Yoido Full Gospel Church, the largest church in the world with 700,000 congregants.

Dale Evans was Hollywood?s "Queen of the West" in the 1940s, ?50s and ?60s. As an actress and singer, her career ascended; but she went through two divorces and an illness that almost claimed the life of her son. At each turn, she made half-hearted promises to God, but never kept them.

"I held Christ like an ace up my sleeve against the possibility of future punishment," she said.

Finally, just before her marriage to Roy Rogers, Dale attended church with a sincere interest in giving her life to God. The sermon that day addressed her situation so directly that she thought her son, Tom, had conspired with the pastor. She felt a pull to the altar, but resisted. Upon returning home, Dale cried out to God, telling Him she would make a public confession the following Sunday.

"My whole past stood up before my eyes, revealing all the lost years," she said. "I shuddered at what I saw ? sin, sin, sin ? and all because I had refused to know and follow Christ."

When the invitation to accept Christ was given the following Sunday in the spring of 1948, she rushed forward. "An indescribable peace washed over my heart, and washed me clean," she said. "As I got up from my knees, I felt like a crushing burden had fallen from my back and shoulders, and I felt as free as though I were walking on clouds. I left that church a new woman."

Dale and Roy became part of a group of celebrities who regularly met for prayer and fellowship. Dale?s light has continued to shine through the years as she has hosted television shows, spoken in churches and written more than 30 books.

"My career never satisfied me," she said. "Until I had Him I didn?t have satisfaction. Nothing in my life satisfies like the Lord."

Nicky Cruz was one of the most dangerous gang leaders in New York City in the mid-1950s. His gang, the Mau Maus, terrorized the streets of Brooklyn with robberies, rumbles and killings. Cruz?s life was consumed by drugs, sex and violence. A court-ordered psychiatrist said he was "headed to prison, the electric chair and hell."

But God had prepared Cruz for a different kind of life. When David Wilkerson came to New York to hold a crusade, Nicky steadfastly refused to respond to the street preacher?s invitations ? even cursing, hitting and spitting at him. But God was persistent. One night when Cruz agreed to go to service, the Holy Spirit moved over a roomful of gang members.

"Something was happening to me," Cruz recounted. "I remembered the first days in New York when I ran like a wild animal set free from a cage. I saw the girls, the lust, the stabbings, the hurt. I was afraid to open my eyes for fear someone would look inside and see what I was seeing. It was repulsive ? Behind me I heard people crying. Something was sweeping through that massive arena like the wind moving through the tops of the trees. Even the curtains on the side of the auditorium began to move and rustle as if stirred by a mysterious breath."

Cruz and the rest of the Mau Maus answered the call to salvation. In a room behind the platform Cruz "felt the tears welling up in my eyes ? It was an indescribably exotic feeling. I was happy, yet I was crying ? All the sadistic thrills of a million lifetimes put together could not begin to equal what I felt. I was literally baptized in love."

The young thug became one of the most visible evangelists in the church. His autobiography, Run Baby Run, has been translated into 43 languages. The Cross and the Switchblade, a book about Cruz and David Wilkerson, was made into a film that had worldwide distribution.

Reprinted by permission of the Pentecostal Evangel.