by SARAH OBERST — My college experience was an intellectual awakening but not the kind I had anticipated. I grew up believing in God and called myself a Christian, but in reality, I knew little about Christianity or what it claimed. When intellectual questions about faith arose in college, it seemed that I was being forced to pick either reason or faith. Eventually, I abandoned my Christian faith and made (what I thought to be) the intelligent choice. It was in a Southeast Asian slum many months later that I began to find my way back to Christ.
Three weeks after my graduation, I moved to Cagayan de Oro, a congested and chaotic city in the southern Philippines. There, I lived between a highway and a slum so I could work for a nonprofit doing microfinance research. Six months into this new life, a close family friend died in a freak car accident in my hometown. A friend challenged me a few days later about my faith, so I explained that I couldn’t comprehend a God who allowed this much pain in the world. It seemed that I was no more grounded in my unbelief than I had been in my faith. However, this friend’s question prompted a few months of intense exploration.
__In reality, I knew little about Christianity — not enough to mount even a feeble defense.
Fast forward a year, and I had moved up to the sprawling capital city of Manila. A series of chance meetings — in a coffee shop, on a street corner — led a friend of a friend to casually invite me to church. I surprised myself by agreeing, and again by accepting an invitation to a small group. My second week, after nearly deciding not to go back, I met a girl who — against all odds — had attended the same tiny college as I had back in the U.S.
We spent the next six weeks walking through One2One (an Every Nation Bible study) together. Each week I would arrive with a laundry list of reasons as to why I couldn’t believe in God, and she would patiently sit with me as I wrestled through my doubts. The night before I was baptized, I recall sitting at dinner with my small group and quietly observing the ease with which they exhibited such unbreakable faith. In that moment, the faith that had been hovering just outside my grasp finally took root in my heart. I had finally come home.
__It seemed that I was no more grounded in my unbelief than I had been in my faith.
Two weeks from that night, I literally came home to Boston. My first Sunday back I walked into Aletheia Church (the Every Nation church) and nearly burst into tears at the opening chords to the same worship songs that I had sung in Manila. For now, I’m learning to live with a totally new faith in the city where I grew up. I am also learning to love those around me with the same humility and patience that I experienced with my friends. Most of all, I am learning to walk in faith with the God in whom I had tried to not to believe.
Sarah Oberst attends Aletheia Church in Cambridge, MA.