estern Canada appeared vast and inviting from the
air, even more so when we landed. The Calgary airport reflected the frontier
attitude of Alberta with its ranches and cowboys and pardner mentality. I could
see why Halor anyone else with a spirit of adventurewould move there. What
surprised me was that he hailed from Mozambique.
Hal was all smiles as he checked me into my hotel, explained the amenities
and welcomed me to his adopted country. The lobby was quiet, so we chatted. He
began by explaining his name.
I took it from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, he said with
impeccable English. He had studied the language since the age of 13, the year
he made a decision to leave his African nation and embark on a new life,
complete with new name. I dont expect to be a desk clerk forever. Im taking
night courses in computer technology.
Okay, so now his name made sense. HAL was the name of the computer in
2001, a play on the letters IBM (think about it), if I remembered my
movie trivia correctly.
This charming and talkative man was now well into his thirties, he said, and
life just gets better and better. Ive had two promotions here at the hotel, Ive
got a girlfriend, no debt to speak of, and Ill graduate in three months. I
wondered if the hotel paid him extra to sound so enthusiastic.
After a few more cheerful boasts, Hal looked at my reservation card and
noted that I was attending a Christian conference. With the same exuberance he
expressed for his life in Canada, he inquired about mine in the U.S.
Aha! A chance to be on mission! I eased into the subject of my
faith through the open door of my occupation, resisting the urge to dwell on
the professional instead of the personal, always a temptation for me.
Non-believing listeners are often quite satisfied to think that Christ-ianity
is simply a niche marketplace and that Im supplying a product, like tax
software for accountants. And, sad to say, its easy for me to hide behind that
notion myself, instead of explaining how my personal calling dovetails into my
But for Hal I mustered the courage to say that Jesus Christ is the center of
my life, not just my work. Hal seemed refreshingly at ease with that.
He also was disarmingly comfortable telling me that he didnt need Christ.
Frankly, I was a little stunned.
Seems that Hal immigrated to North America with every intention of embracing
all aspects of life here, including the Christian religion. But now I simply
dont need it, he said, like a Calgary rancher might explain his lack of a
Hal went on to explainwith a huge smilethat his life here is so good (and
getting better and better) that he doesnt need what he termed spiritual help.
When I brought up heaven, he said: Im a good person, and if God really loves
me, He will send me there. I bypassed sin and moved to gratitude. Hals
Im showing my thankfulness for the life Ive been given by being loving to
others. I kicked myself for avoiding sin and went there anyway. Accord-ing to
Hal: Ive asked God to forgive me. I believe He deals with us one on one.
The bottom line with Hal, I learned, is that he believes in God but not in
Jesus. He doesnt reject Jesus, in his opinion; he just feels he doesnt
need Him. Hal thinks of Jesus as a uniquely western conceptnot wrong, but just
not necessary. And worship? Well, Hal, of course, could do that anywhere.
Church just wasnt an option.
Hal is another person whose story of why they sleep in on Sundays
fascinates me as a journalist and as an on mission Christian. By
listening to them I can discover what barriers I and my church can try to
Carolyn Curtis is editor of On Mission.
29, marketing rep,
I went to the front of my church during a revival when I was about 10, but when
I was a teenager I decided I didnt want to be associated with born-agains
anymore. They embarrassed me by coming across as fanatics pushy, narrow,
Now that Im older I cant say that I feel much different. Most of the ones I
know are judgmental rather than loving, cliquish rather than inclusive, stern
rather than fun-loving. I still feel I have Jesus in my heart, but I dont want
to be around people like that. They bring me down. I need to be positive,
forward-thinking, upbeat for my careerand also for my mental well-being.
38, economics professor,
I know you dont like to hear this, but I really dont see how Jesus can be the
only way to heaven. I definitely believe in God, but there are just too many
people in the world who dont believe in Jesus for me to think that God doesnt
love them too.
34, software developer,
married, two children, Florida
Most Christians I know have a very positive outlook on life. But sometimes they
cant talk beneath the surface of their religion.
I have some pretty deep questions, andso farno one has answered them. Like
why does God allow innocent children to suffer and die? Why can criminals who
have committed horrible acts profess to believe in Jesus right before they die
and then go to heaven? What is heaven like, anyway, and why would I want to go
there? How can I be sure theres really an afterlife? Does anybody have proof?
What if this heaven and hell thing is just a scare tactic?
I would really like to explore questions like that with someone intelligent
who has come up with some answers.
30, hair stylist,
British Columbia, single
I was raised to believe you had to go to church every Sunday, confessing your
sins, reciting your prayers, being faithful. It was just too hard. I couldnt
see how a loving God could be so demanding. As soon as I got out on my own I
left all that behind. And the longer I stay away, the less guilty I feel.
41, store manager,
married, two children, Texas
About 10 years ago my wife and I began attending a church, but then it split
over some controversy that didnt seem that important to us. In fact, it was so
insignificant that I cant even remember what it was. We stayed with the
original group for about a year. They bickered over this and that and kept
comparing themselves to the split-away church that seemed to be growing. One
day I just got fed up. I felt like we were in high school arguing over who had
the best team. It just felt so juvenile.
Finally, we joined another church but somehow nothing about it really
compelled us to go on a regular basis. When we came after a few weeks away, no
one said Hey, we missed ya. I dont even think they noticed. Of course, I admit
we werent saying that to anyone else either.
Anyway, we finally drifted away and just decided it was enough to talk to
God when beginning our dinner, a practice weve continued as a family.
44, stay-at-home mother of five,
Im active in Scouts with my daughters, and my husband and I both coach teams
for our kids. I feel if we were involved in a church that would mean other
commitments. And I cant say that the activities we have now model anything
other than moral, uplifting behavior. So I dont see how church could add much
to our lives.
40, real estate sales,
divorced, three children, North Carolina
I need a lot of self-confidence for the type of work I do, selling high-priced
communities in a shaky economy. I give myself a pep talk every morning when I
look in the mirror and shave.
I feel that if I gave in to the God concept I would be admitting failure, an
inability to do for myself and be strong on my own. Its tempting to lean on
God, but I feel like the bottom would drop out of my world if I did that. Ive
spent so much time and effort becoming self-sufficient. Turning over my life to
God would make me feel weak, make my life as a self-reliant and responsible man
seem like a sham.
62, semi-retired electrical engineer,
married, nine grandchildren, New Hampshire
I believe in God and Christ, but I dont see much benefit in going to church
other than being with some nice people. But theyre not that much different from
the people in our neighborhood or the guys Ive been working with for more than
30 years, so whats the real point? To prove I can be as disciplined as them by
showing up? I just dont need that kind of routine anymore. I like to putter
around on Sundays. God knows whats in my heart.
42, nurse and single mom,
My church acted like I was a leper when my husband left me. Im sure I was no
angel, but they made me feel like I could have somehow forced him to stay just
by being good enough.
Now that I think back on it I suspect they just didnt want to deal with me
as a divorced mom. And they didnt want to deal with the reality that someone in
their midst could fail at marriage. In other words, I was a reminder that their
pat answers about life might not work so well after all.
33, systems analyst,
Christians like to tell me what theyve done with Gods help rather than telling
me what God has done without their help. In other words, they seem to emphasize
themselves more than God. That makes me suspicious that Christians are really
bragging about themselves but afraid just to come right out and say so.
44, physical therapist,
I was raised in England and was surprised to find that people take religion so
seriously over here. I dont see any harm in it but neither do I see much
Once when I was in a dangerous place I recall asking God for help, and I did
get out of the situation. But that could just be luck rather than Gods help.
However, Im just as satisfied to think it was actually God. If so, isnt it
curious that He helped me even though I dont go to a church to worship Him in a
37, store owner,
married, mother of three, Arizona
Life is so hectic for us. Sunday morning is the one time my family doesnt have
to get up early and rush out the door.
I guess Im one of those family-values advocates, although I dont believe in
spending family time in a religious setting. The five of us need quiet time
together more than we need to be with other people, which is where we are every
other day of the week. I think our time on Sunday morningshaving brunch,
laughing, talking, sharing, maybe even going somewhere special togetheris more
important to my familys well-being than whatever a minister could say to us
from a pulpit.
We attend special services as a familymostly Christmas and Easter. So we do
want to incorporate the Christian traditions and beliefs, but we feel those
occasions are enough.
Delaware, four grandchildren
When my [first] wife had cancer, I prayed and prayed for God to save her
life. People at our church prayed too. It didnt seem fair for a 42-year-old
woman to die when we were so happy together and one of our kids was still at
home. But she died anyway. In fact, God didnt even make her death an easy one.
She really suffered. Why didnt He make her passing at least easier, if He wasnt
going to heal her? If He could have made it easier, what harm would it have
That made me believe Id been praying to something were all making up in our
imaginations. The notion of God is a nice idea, but I just dont buy it
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