HOW I BECAME A CHRISTIAN AND
ENTERED THE MINISTRY
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
Pastor of the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
P. O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Jesus said, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Again He said, "Ye must be born again" (John 3:7). This is how I became a born again Christian and was called to the ministry. Perhaps my story can help you learn about the new birth.
At seven years old I went to church for the first time in my life. I got all dressed up and went to Mass. Nobody took me. I went to the Catholic Church down the street all by myself that Sunday morning.
I thought, "Itís Easter. Youíre supposed to go to church." I had never been to church before in my life. I had never been taught the Bible. The only religious background I had was learning the Rosary from an uncle who later became a monk in a Catholic monastery. I knew how to pray the Lordís Prayer. Thatís all I knew.
That Easter morning I got up and said, "Iím going to go to church, and I have never been to church in my life, but youíre supposed to go to church on Easter. I donít know why youíre supposed to go to church on Easter, but Iím going to go." I put on my best clothes and walked down the street to St. Teresaís Catholic Church. Itís still right there on the corner of Fargo Street and Glendale Boulevard, in Echo Park, near downtown Los Angeles. The building looks the same as it did that Sunday back in 1948. They didnít use English back then in the Mass. The service was all in Latin. I sat down and listened to it. Though it was Latin, it was all "Greek" to me! I couldnít figure out what they were doing. Pretty soon a man came out in a white robe. He did this and that. He had his back facing the people. It all seemed very nice to me, although I didnít know what he was talking about. Then a bell rang, "ding-a-ling-a-ling," three times. Something else happened, and all the people got up, row by row and began to go down to the front of the church.
I thought to myself, "Iíve never been to church. Iím going to have the full experience." I got up and went to the front. The man in the white robe put a wafer in my mouth. I chewed it with my mouth open. Some people looked at me out of the corner of their eyes. I guess you werenít supposed to chew it. I was a real heathen! I didnít know anything about religion. I was a seven-year-old boy who had never been to church in his life.
"Well," I thought, "thatís a good experience." So I went again and again to Mass! I always chewed down the wafer. I had no idea what I was doing, but I enjoyed it. It was quiet in that church, and I would go there alone when there wasnít anyone else around. Iíd go in and look at the pictures and the statues. I didnít know what it was all about, but I liked it. It was quiet there, and I would go there and pray the Our Father. That was the only prayer I knew. Iíd pray the Lordís Prayer three or four times, and then I would go out. I went there many times like that.
One day, when I was thirteen years old, the people who lived next door invited me to go with them to the First Baptist Church of Huntington Park, California. If it hadnít been for the kindness and example of Dr. and Mrs. Henry M. McGowan, I doubt if I would ever have become a real Christian. They invited me to church with their daughter and son who was about my age. I said, "Thatís good. Iíll go." So I went with them and their son to church.
When we went in, I noticed it wasnít like the other church. There werenít any statues or pictures. They sang a few songs and I sat way up in the balcony. There were hundreds of people there. It was a big Baptist church. One man was leading a song, and then another man got up. He was an old man in a light gray suit, and he had on a bright green tie. They called him an evangelist. The old man in the bright green tie began to yell. I didnít pay too much attention. I donít recall anything he said. All I remember was his bright green tie swinging back and forth, and him yelling. I thought, "Thatís nice." He was yelling in English. He wasnít speaking Latin like they did in the other church. He didnít have on a white robe like the man in the other church. He was yelling in English and his bright green tie was swinging back and forth. I donít remember a thing he said - only his yelling and the swinging tie.
When he got through yelling another man stood up and said, "Now, you come." They sang a song. A few people walked to the front of the church. The son of the people who took me to church got up and went to the front. I thought, "Thatís good, theyíre going to get a wafer put in their mouth." I thought they would go to the front and get something to eat, like we did in the Catholic Church. So I got up and walked to the front. I wanted the full experience. They took us all into another room, and they said to come back and be baptized. I thought, "I donít know what that is, but it sounds good. Iíll be back."
So my little friend and I went back to the next service. They put white robes on us. Then the pastor, Dr. Pegg, pointed at me and said, "I want this boy to come here." I got up and went over to him. He said, "I want to use you to show the others what I am going to do in the baptism pool." He took hold of me and showed us how he would let us down in the water with a handkerchief over our mouths.
OK, we were ready. I walked up some stairs and looked down into a deep pool of water. The pastor motioned to me and I walked down into the water. He put a handkerchief over my nose and put me down under the water and brought me up out of the water. He whispered, "Go up there." And I walked up a staircase, and they gave me a towel.
Now I was a Baptist! That was nice. I liked it. I didnít know what Baptists believed. I hadnít really listened to the sermon. I knew nothing at all about the new birth. No one had counseled me in any way. But I was glad to be a Baptist!
About four years later I became a Baptist preacher. Hereís how it happened. We had a new pastor. He was a big man with a happy smile on his face. His name was Dr. Maples. As I listened to him preach, I began to think, "I wish I were like that man." Somebody asked me the other day, "How were you called to preach?" Iím telling you right now. I used to sit on the third row, right on the aisle. I used to listen to that big man preach. And I got to thinking Iíd like to be like him. I believe now that God was calling me to preach in this way, even before I was born again.
Now, in that church, they gave an invitation along this line, "If youíd like to join the church, surrender to preach, be saved, join the choir, or if you have any other need, you come forward while we sing." Then weíd sing. That Sunday morning, I thought, "Iím going to surrender to preach." I didnít know what that was, but I knew I had to do it to be like Dr. Maples.
So, I came forward and "surrendered to preach" to "be like that man." Not long afterwards, they licensed me to preach. Now I was a licensed Southern Baptist preacher. I still have the license on the wall of my office. That was great! It was easy!
There was only one problem. I wasnít a real Christian. I had never been born again. I thank God for the good influence of the people next door, who kept taking me to church. If it hadnít been for their kindness Iím sure my life would have been ruined. I thank God for the church. They were preaching the gospel. But I hadnít listened.
I knew something was wrong. I didnít have peace. During this period I felt like I might not be a real Christian. I felt like I could never be a preacher. I got a little room in downtown Los Angeles. I walked the streets at night. I thought, "I canít be like that man. I canít preach. I donít know what to do." I walked the streets at night. I felt terrible.
One night, I walked all the way around the Old Plaza, next to Olvera Street. Then I walked over to Chinatown. I walked up a street and turned right. I was just walking. I didnít have anything else to do. I went down to the end of the street and I looked up, and it said, "Chinese Baptist Church." I thought, "There are Baptists down here!" So I went up and knocked on the door. A woman named Lorna Lum answered the door. I had let my beard grow out. Itís the only time in my life I ever did. She was scared by seeing a man with a black beard, and she looked at me again, and finally invited me in. She is the wife of Dr. Murphy Lum, now a pastor in Orange County. This Chinese lady said, "We have church tomorrow. Do you want to come?" I said, "I will."
I went back to my room and shaved off my beard. The next morning I went to the First Chinese Baptist Church. I joined that church a few Sundays later.
I was going along in the Chinese church, and I thought, "Iíve got to be like that man, Dr. Maples. Iíve got to preach." The next fall I went to Bible school. But I flunked out. My study habits were just too poor. But, just before I failed, something happened. The school brought in a man named Dr. Charles J. Woodbridge. Dr. Woodbridge preached through I and II Peter in the chapel services each morning for a week.
The morning I got saved I remember just as plainly as if it were yesterday. Dr. Woodbridge got up to II Peter 3:13. He read the words, "Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earthÖ" He stopped there. Then he really got into the verse. He said, "They donít have anything to hope for, but we look for new heavens and a new earth. They donít have any meaning or purpose in life, but we look for a new heaven and a new earth." I thought, "I donít want to be with them. I want this hope that Jesus gives." I looked to Christ by faith. Many things happened in that moment, but the most important thing was this: I came to Christ and united with Him and was cleansed from my sins by His Blood.
I went through seven agonizing, excruciatingly horrible years trying to be a Christian without being born again. It was the most terrible experience in my life. Trying to live as a Christian, and even trying to be a preacher, and not being born again, was an awful experience. That is why the new birth and conversion are the themes of all my preaching. I looked to Jesus. I came to Him. He became as real to me, in that moment, as though He had been standing in the room with me. Jesus Christ forgave my sins and became my Saviour.
That morning, as Dr. Woodbridge preached, I looked to Jesus Christ for the first time. How could I have been through all that religion without looking to Jesus? Well, it wasnít hard. I was looking to the Bible. I was looking to the hymns. I was looking to the choir. I was looking to the manís bright green tie. I was looking to all the externals, but I wasnít really looking to Jesus.
You know, I had even played Judas Iscariot in the Passion Play at Easter in the Baptist church in Huntington Park. I worked on the makeup of the Christ. I worked on the sets for the play. But, to me, Jesus was somebody who lived a long, long time ago. It was awful what they did to Him a long, long time ago. It was a shame. But it was all a mystery to me. Why did they torture Him like that? Why did they crucify Him? I didnít understand that He died to pay for my sins. It wasnít the churchís fault. They preached the gospel, but I wasnít listening. But, you know, I didnít have any more awareness of who Jesus was then than when I looked at those stained glass windows in a Roman Catholic Church as a small boy. It was all a mystery, something that happened so long ago, until that morning when Dr. Woodbridge told me to look to Jesus. For the first time in my whole life, I looked to Jesus Christ by faith.
Itís never been the same since that day. After a few months, I went to my pastor, Dr. Timothy Lin, and said, "Pastor, I was never born again before. But I believe I was born again a few months ago at Bible school." He listened to my testimony, and he baptized me at the Chinese Baptist Church. I was baptized twice. The first time I was baptized lost. The second time, I was born again before I got baptized, as the Bible teaches. Baptism doesnít save you. You need to look to Jesus and be saved.
It isnít hard to be converted and born again. We make it hard. Anybody can be converted, but you have to make time for church every Sunday, no matter what happens or you cannot be a real Christian. Do not let school or work keep you from church. Do not go to Hell and burn in the flames forever. Look to Jesus for salvation and be in church every single Sunday. Thatís called "faith" and "repentance."
Do you know why people wonít trust Jesus? Too much self-esteem! You say, "Oh, Iím not that bad. Somebody else needs to trust Jesus and be born again, but Iím not too bad." I doubt you are as good as I was. I didnít go to dances. I didnít drink. You know, I donít know how to dance even now. I was in church all the time. But I needed to be born again. Letís face it, you probably arenít as good as I was. If I needed to be born again, so do you.
Why not write to me? I will do my best to help you look to Jesus Christ and be born again. Conversion can be as real to you as it is to me. Your sins can all be washed away in Jesusí Blood, so you will no longer be guilty in the sight of God. The only thing God requires is that you turn away from the world, come into the local church, and look to Jesus Christ in saving trust. Remember, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).