|About Bill Griswold
Bill grew up in northern New Jersey and became a Christian in 1973 through the ministry of Christian Service Brigade at Bethlehem Church in Randolph, New Jersey. He attended Northeastern Bible College during the late '70s. In the 80's & 90's he served as a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators for several years.
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|How I became a Christian
by Bill Griswold
I didn't grow up in a Christian home - nobody in my family believed in God, including me - I just didn't see any sense in believing in something or somebody for which there was no earthly evidence. Such belief seemed inexcusable to me.
By the time I was 13 years old, I'd only had two contacts with churchy things. One was when I was taken to Sunday School for a couple of Sundays while our family was staying with my Aunt & Uncle in NJ. I don't remember much about it as I was in kindergarten at the time. The other contact I had was while browsing around at the Horseshoe Lake fair. Someone handed me a little pamphlet bearing the title "Religion is a drag". As I went on to read it, it talked about how although religion is a drag, a relationship with God is not. Seemed a strange concept to me, as I thought the two were one in the same. The pamphlet said something about John 10:10. I asked my mom about this curious little John 10:10 inscription and she explained that it was a "reference" to something in the Bible. So I dragged my mom's ancient Bible off the shelf to read this John 10:10. Having no idea that "10:10" meant "chapter 10, verse 10", I never could find the place in the Bible that said what that pamphlet said. My casual interest was lost and I never thought any more about it. Looking back, it seems interesting to me that a pamphlet obviously designed for non-church goers presumed that the reader knew what "John 10:10" meant.
Morning after morning I would trudge down to the bus stop to await the school bus. About 3 or 4 of us huddled under the overhang of the local tavern, closed at this early hour, to shield ourselves from the stiff fall breezes that blew around us. Each Monday morning, my good friend Dean Tuttle would tell me of his weekend ventures. Seemed he was always going camping, cave exploring, playing football or doing other things with a group of guys that met every Friday night at a local church for some sort of meeting. Sounded like a really neat thing to me. Week after week he told me of the neat things he always did in this group.
I became very much interested in this group. Not knowing anything of church culture, it never occurred to me I could attend without being invited - that this group was an 'all welcome' type of deal. Dean, who was quite familiar with the 'all welcome' thing never thought to invite me - until one day in November of '72 when he finally asked me if I was interested in coming up some Friday night. I snapped up his invitation while thinking "I thought you'd never ask!".
Anyway, to make a long story short, I spent the next year with this group. I had myself a ball. The two dozen guys who met on Friday nights had a lot of fun together. Yes, it was true that at each meeting we spent about 20 minutes in "devotions". This strangely named activity consisted of reading some short passage in the Bible and then answering some written questions about what you had read. Seemed easy enough to do. I remember thinking it was interesting to read something in the Bible that actually meant something. Anything I'd ever heard about the Bible made no sense to me whatsoever. Not only did such things not seem relevant, but they didn't make any sense. But these "devotions" sessions were a bit interesting. It was the first time I ever heard anything about God that didn't sound like a bunch of drivel. That's not to say that I believed any of it, but for the first time it didn't sound like someone had just tossed a Bible in a blender and then pasted the sentences back and that they were all mixed up so as not to make any sense.
The summer of '73 rolled around and about ten of us went on an exciting, week-long canoe trip on the St. Croix river bordering Maine and Canada. We were accompanied on that trip by two adults and a deacon from the church at which we met.
(Standing) Rainer Hunninghaus, Tim Blasko (the deacon), Bill Wood, George Westerman, Drew Moffat, Dave Westerman, Steve Dalrymple, Tim Oliver (seated) Joe Taraska, J Whiting, John Wojtowicz, Bill Griswold, Bill Erhardt, Bill Wood
During that canoe trip, the deacon lead us in a campfire devotional at which he invited anyone who had never "received Christ as their savior" to do so. In fact, he said, anyone interested in so doing should see him after we left the campfire to return to our tents. I still recall the light from the flames flickering across his face as he gave us this warm but routine invitation.
On the way back to my tent, he approached me.
"Billy, may I speak with you a minute?" he asked. I knew what was coming. "Have you ever received Christ as your savior?" he inquired, sparing him the time and me the agony of beating around the bush.
"No", I responded weakly.
"Would you like to?" came the offer.
Now one thing I'd come to understand during my time with these people was that this "receiving Christ as savior" was Christiandom's very treasured experience - the ultimate experience, as the story went.
Well here I was being asked if I'd like to experience this ultimate experience and receive this great prize. How could I say no? Although I didn't believe in it one bit, how could I say no? I was a nice enough guy that if you told me that you really, really liked turtle cream pie and would I like to try some, I just wouldn't be able to turn you down.
"Yes", was the word that escaped from my lips.
"Well that's great! We can pray right here and do it now.", he chirped.
I don't remember precisely what happened next, but I do remember stumbling through some brief prayer that I thought would sound right. With a slap on the back and a congratulations for joining the club, I was off to my tent.
"Hmmmm,..." I thought as I wiggled down into my sleeping bag. "No big deal. I'll just have to act like a Christian now. The only difference between someone who's a Christian and someone who's not is that Christians go to church. I ought to be able to handle that simple act." My intent would not be to deceive so much as to 'go along'. With that thought I went off to sleep.
Well, a few weeks later I found myself sitting in a Sunday School room with my mother's ancient Bible on my lap. The Sunday School teacher seemed pretty cool. He had short cropped hair that shouted out he was definitely not a teenager (remember, teenagers in the '70s were wearing long hair) and that he was definitely a church goer. But everything else about him was quite down to earth. In particular, his intellectual honesty impressed me. It would be interesting to ask him some of my "gotcha stumped" questions.
After the class was over, I tossed a few of my bombs his way under the guise of genuine personal perplexity.
"Sir," I said, approaching him, "How come in Genesis chapter 1, verse 3 God creates light but doesn't create the sun until verse 16?" I figured I had him on this one. Any idiot could see that you have to make a sun before you can have light. This passage and countless others proved to me that the Bible was written by idiots who weren't really thinking about what they wrote. Either that or they figured that whoever read it would be stupid.
An interesting thing is that neither that question nor the next one I asked him were questions that were really my own. I had picked them up from somewhere, and since they sounded like pretty cool questions, I hung onto them (I had not yet heard the "Can God make a rock so big..." question).
"And another thing," I went on. "If Moses supposedly wrote the first 5 books of the Bible, how come Moses' death is recorded in the end of the 5th book?
I had an interesting view of things. You see, I knew that God didn't really exist. And I figured that the higher ups in religion had to know that - that they were covering up for something they had to know wasn't true. And in my mind, a Sunday School teacher was one of the higher ups. It would be interesting to see him struggle with these two questions.
"Well," he responded, "about your Genesis question - I don't know the answer to that." His complete honesty shocked me. I wasn't expecting it. "It could be that in verse 3 God just created light and that in verse 16 he created the sun to sustain that light."
Impressed, I listened to his second answer. "...and about Moses' death being recorded in the 5th book of the Bible, it could be that God told Moses ahead of time that he was going to die and Moses wrote it down. Another possibility is that Joshua, Moses' right hand man just finished up the book after Moses died. Personally I kind of think it was Joshua that finished up the book, but I really don't know."
Well I remember being amazed. Amazed not so much that I'd heard a clever comeback to my clever question - that didn't matter at all. What struck me was the this guy really believed what he was saying. Not only that, but he was thinking through what he believed. Hmmmmm. That was definitely something to think about.
It was sometime during the next week that I sat down to think about everything. I had always been pretty sure that God didn't exist - I mean, I had done the classic experiment that most people have done at some point in their lives. I had held up a pencil about 5 feet above the ground and said, "Alright God, if you really are there, I know you can keep this pencil from hitting the ground when I let it go." I wasn't trying to be smart, I was just trying to be open to believing in God if in fact he really existed.
"Here's you're big chance," I told him. "If, when I let go of this pencil, it hovers in the air, then I'll know you really exist, and by golly, I'll believe in you."
Did the pencil hover in the air when I let it go? Of course it didn't. "That proves you don't exist." I concluded. And that had been the extent of my foray into this intriguing question.
I think many of us have done our own version of the hovering pencil experiment. Sometimes it's more like, "God, if you get me out of this jam...", or "God, if you can bring back this relationship..." that serves as our pencil. The minute our situation strikes the ground we conclude that God must not exist because he "had his chance".
But I began to wonder if instead of asking God to jump through my hoops whether a fairer test would be for me to try jumping through his hoops. This seemed reasonable enough. "OK, God," I began. "I'll just believe you're there. Period. No pencil, no nothing. I'll do whatever I think you want me to do."
To be perfectly honest with you, I can't tell you what happened in the next couple of weeks. Gosh, I wish I'd kept a diary. All I remember is that I knew I'd made the right decision. God was there, and it wasn't any pretending or illusion on my part.
Looking back, I consider this occasion to have been my conversion. I asked God to forgive through Christ the things I'd done wrong in life. And the neat thing is, this time in my life was not the end of a journey, but the beginning of one. There's so much more that has happened since and it's exciting stuff.
Wanna hear more? E-mail me at BGriswold @Griswold.com. I'd love to tell you some of the truly exciting things that have happened over the years that cumulatively have more than compensated for the pencil that didn't hover in the air.