An Atheist’s Birthday Present!


 I had the pleasure of meeting Bob and Dori  Schnelle at one of our healing meetings in Martin County, Florida, yesterday.

Bob was a professing agnostic and or atheist for 45 years, who encountered Jesus on his 60th birthday.

His story follows the note which he included with it.

 Jose,

It was amazing watching the Holy Spirit work through you and your wife and Alicia last night.  I felt like I had been given a fresh infusion of the Spirit and will do great things in the name of our Lord.  We talked a little about my testimony afterward and I told you I would send it to you.  So, I have attached a copy of it, just as it was written and given, at the Vineyard Church Northwest, in Cincinnati, during the Alpha celebration dinner, November 2011.

Feel free to share it however you like.

God bless you and keep you!

Bob Schnelle

Testimony of Bob Schnelle

November 15, 2012

I come from a poor family.  Both my parents worked nearly all their lives to support their five children.  My older sister and I were taught how to care for our younger siblings; how to cook, how to do dishes, wash and iron clothes, clean the house.  My father was an alcoholic and wasn’t home a lot.  Mom was the real disciplinarian.  And she was really good at it.

I had my first alcoholic drink when I was four years old.  My father gave it to me, so we could have a “man-to-man” talk.  I was six the first time I got drunk.  My father took me to a party where beer was available and I asked if I could have a little.  He said, “Sure,” and just laughed.  It was self-serve so I served myself.  I don’t remember the argument my parents had that night because I was passed out.  My older sister told me about it later.

When I was ten, a race riot broke out in the projects, sparked by a stabbing at a school dance.  And on a mound of dirt piled near the property line between our back yard and the school ball field, someone had erected and burned a cross.  We moved the following summer, into a rented house in Winton Place, now known as Spring Grove Village.  Our church attendance stopped then.

My introduction to church was made possible only by weekly bus trips from the government housing projects we lived in to whatever church would pick us up for free.  My early understanding of Jesus was through the usual Bible stories and memorized verses in Sunday School.  And since the churches with buses were mostly Baptist and Mom didn’t want us learning too many Baptist teachings, we didn’t think much of all of it.

When I was ten, a race riot broke out in the projects, sparked by a stabbing at a school dance.  And on a mound of dirt piled near the property line between our back yard and the school ball field, someone had erected and burned a cross.  We moved the following summer, into a rented house in Winton Place, now known as Spring Grove Village.  Our church attendance stopped then.

I started smoking that same year.  I was drinking on a regular basis when I was thirteen.  The year I started high school, was my re-introduction to church.  I attended Confirmation Class for seven months of Saturdays.  Eventually, I was baptized, the United Church of Christ ceremony for cleansing us of our Original Sin from Adam & Eve, and the beginning of our “adult” membership in the church.  My mother and I were the only ones of our family who attended church, fairly regularly for a couple of years.  It was the closest she and I would ever be.

By the time I was sixteen, our regular church attendance had slowed to intermittent, then to only Good Friday, Easter and Christmas, then stopped altogether.  I had added taking drugs to my repertoire of sins.  I began to feel that being a Christian was too restrictive and the Bible was merely a good, allegorical book written by well-meaning men about one Supreme Being among many (God), and about a teacher (Jesus) who couldn’t possibly have been born the way we were told to believe.  So I quit believing in Jesus as anything other than the main character in Bible stories.  My belief in God quickly followed suit.  I began declaring that I was an atheist, or an agnostic.  I said it often enough to convince myself it was true and I said it sincerely enough to rationalize my life choices.

I began skipping school—a lot.  Going to school seemed almost as pointless as going to church.  I learned to pick locks with a knife.  I broke into churches, cars and schools.  I stole cigarettes and Playboy magazines from the neighborhood stores.  I stole money from my father.  The violence of the 1960s, internationally, nationally, and even in our neighborhood seemed incompatible with a reasonable and merciful God.  I was nearly mugged, in broad daylight, just two blocks from my house.  The only thing that saved me was that I actually knew one of the guys!

By the time I was seventeen, the military seemed the only way out of life as an unemployed, alcoholic, juvenile delinquent, well on his way to becoming an unemployed, alcoholic, adult, with no future beyond being unskilled labor in a low-paying job.  My parents didn’t argue.  I got a G.E.D., thanks to an Army recruiter who drove me to Thomas More College to take the tests.

After the Army, I focused on getting to college.  At least my attitude about school had changed in four years.  I made it my singular focus, much to the detriment of my family life.  I was married and divorced three times in twenty years.  I got my degree, but my life was a mess.  I alternated visitation with two daughters and two stepsons, by two different women, all while working and going to school.  My older sister was murdered in 1977.  My father died four years later, at age forty-eight, of liver disease and, perhaps, a broken heart.

My oldest daughter became a drug addict and ultimately lost custody of all four of her sons, each of whom were by different men.  I testified against her at one of the custody hearings.  My youngest daughter had trouble in all her relationships with men.  She went to Canada and married her lesbian college lover, had a child by in-vitro fertilization and is now back living with her mother—her “marriage” a shambles.  I always felt like that was the legacy I left for my children.

Today, I stand before you twice blessed.  My first blessing is my wonderful wife, Dori.  If not for her, I may not have even been here today.  I mean here, on this earth today, and certainly not here, in this building today.  If not for her, it’s likely I would have gone the way my father did.  I was well on my way.  My brother and my two sisters are alcoholics.  If not for Dori, I would never have come to church.  She didn’t ask me to come, because she knew my feelings about church and religion.  But since I retired three months ago, I began to wonder if I ought to explore this whole religion thing again.  Dori seemed to enjoy it and I wanted to make sure she hadn’t joined a bunch of Jesus Freaks or some kind of cult, so I thought it was a good idea to go to church with my wife.  You know, to check things out and be ready to talk her out of it, or de-program her, if necessary.

The first time I came here with her, it was a day when people were asked to heal others with prayer.  I almost walked out.  I was waiting for the snake-handlers to come out next.  I was skeptical, to say the least, but I didn’t dismiss it out of hand and agreed to continue going, so long as really weird stuff like that didn’t happen every day.

After only a couple more times in church, I decided to sign up for Alpha with Dori, as I thought it would be a good way to get more information about Christianity—I am a firm believer in getting all the information you can before making a decision about anything, including Christianity.  I had lots of questions I had built up over my years of atheism/agnosticism.

In our first Alpha session, we were asked if we thought of ourselves as Christians.  I said, “I can state unequivocally, that I am not a Christian.”  And it was okay to say that, in a group of regular, church-going Christian-type strangers!  Nobody was shocked!  Like a good student (rather ironic, that!), I did my homework and read the Bible verses referenced in the Alpha booklet.  I found myself reading other verses and chapters in the Bible, even reading the wrong passage a couple of times.  And all the questions I’d stored up over the years were answered, even many I failed to ask.

My second blessing came on October 9, 2012, my 60th birthday, while sitting at my dining room table (which doubles as my home office desk), praying for understanding and proclaiming, “Jesus is Lord,” over and over and actually believing it.  I felt a sudden inrush of light and love that took my breath away and I cried because it felt so good.  And I knew then, that the Holy Spirit had come to me.  Immediately, I felt changed, peaceful, content.  That was my heart.  Mentally, I still had to come to grips with what had happened.  So I didn’t tell anyone about it right away, not even my wife.  In Alpha, two days later, I announced to the group that I do believe that Jesus Christ died for me and that I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.

I know that accepting Jesus is only the first step in a journey and that being a Christian takes work!  I have to change some things!  But I also know that I have put to death my old self and have been reborn in Christ and I feel, deep inside of me, different and new.  I’m excited about my new life and I’ve begun to tell others, friends and relatives.  That’s why I wanted to be here tonight, in front of you all.  And I’ve invited my mother to come to church with us and have thought about inviting my sister as well.  I hope they come and I hope they can experience what I have.

Dori and I have had a wonderful marriage and I didn’t know how it could have been much better, but now, we are truly together in Christ and it’s amazing how much more in love we are.  Dori is retiring next week and we don’t know what God has planned for us now, as we begin our new life together as a retired, Christian couple.  We’ve finished Alpha now and have already made new friends in our group and with so many more of you here tonight.  And I can’t wait to participate in another group, or lead a group, and learn even more and get to know more people.

Dori and I make time to read the Bible every day and pray all the time, to give thanks, for understanding, for guidance, for other people, for forgiveness, to praise Him and to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  We pray for help in living a Christian life and for God to show us the way to put what gifts we have been given from Him to His use, instead of ours.  I can’t wait to see what He has in store for us!

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Praying for Bob Schnelle!

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