by Anne Lim (Eternity News) (abridged)
Marie Davis used to be a dyed-in-the-wool atheist. She would tease her Christian mother about "your imaginary friend up in the sky". And after an unhappy experience in a cult, she became determined not to have anything to do with Christianity or the church.
But then a Christian woman called Sarah came into her life.
"We just hit it off when our boys started at the same high school," the Gold Coast-based teacher's aide told Eternity.
"Anyway, she would talk gently to me about God and Jesus and I'd just say 'no, it's very sweet but I don't believe it. Thank you very much, but no.'"
Finally, late one night, Sarah sent Marie a text inviting her to an Alpha course at her church, saying the course was for people like Marie who don't believe in God but have lots of questions – no questions would be off limits.
"And she said, 'plus there's free coffee and muffins' and I thought 'oh, I love my coffee and I love my muffins.' I thought, 'oh, my darling friend for 13 years has just stood by while I was a practising Buddhist for nearly two years (I was into crystals, angel card readings – all of this trying to find something), and she just gently, gently never gave up on me, and just loved me – never judged me, just loved me.
"Anyway, I just looked at my husband and said 'darling Sarah never gives up. I'm going to give her the surprise of her life and say 'yes, I'll go.'"
Marie began her first night at Alpha by sitting right up the back of the church with her body half-turned towards the back.
But what followed was nothing like she had experienced before. The pastor, who was running the course, was the first to breach Marie's defences. Having grown up at the beach with surfer brothers, she immediately related to his "surfer dude" look. And that was just the start.
"He just has the most soothing voice and just spoke from the heart and he had me captivated – like, whoah!" Marie recalls.
She also found the Alpha course film presentation "just incredible – I absolutely loved it, absolutely loved it."
It was a dramatic and sudden turnaround for Marie, who had rejected God after suffering three types of cancer seven years ago, and then seeing her brother die a painful death from cancer in 2016.
"I saw him suffer; it was horrific, and I thought 'really? If there is a God, can you just take this pain away from him?' And instead of being so close to death with him and turning to God, it made me turn away even further."
Marie believes God had aligned everything so that she would become a Christian during that Alpha course because she had seven "amazing women" in her discussion group who "just embraced me and answered my questions and never judged me for asking and going 'what?'''
It was the love of Jesus that enthralled and captivated Marie, cutting through her shell of hostility. She found it amazing that Jesus loved her, even though He knew everything about her.
"I learnt about this most loving God, this person who would have died for me if I was the only one that sinned. And it was like, 'whoah, this just blows my mind.'"
When it came time to pray a prayer of repentance (turning away from sin) and faith, Marie felt like she was floating.
"When I took that step of going 'yes, I give myself to Jesus, my life is for you to do what you wish. Please forgive me for my sins and help me forgive those who've done things against me'. And when we had this beautiful prayer, the only way I could describe it was just this helium-filled balloon just floating.
"It was just the most glorious feeling."
Anyone who knew Marie before she took that Alpha course in May 2017 is amazed at her transformation and how she tells everyone she meets about Jesus.
Recently she got baptised [immersed in water as an outward sign of dying to her sins and rising to a new life with Jesus].
"It's that obedience and it's that outward showing of 'yes, I will follow Jesus'. And I must admit, since getting baptised, I'm still floating. And people say 'oh, my goodness, you still have that look'."
There are two wonderful ripples effects from Marie's salvation.
"My dad wasn't a Christian, but after the course I went to him and said, 'Dad, you won't believe it, I've just been learning about the most amazing God', and I told him all about it."
Marie's father started going to her church, did the next Alpha course and, at age 80, gave his life to Jesus.
Through meeting someone else at the Alpha course, Marie gained the courage to change her career from medical administration to being a teacher's aide at a Christian school, for a third of the income but much greater job satisfaction.
"How blessed am I? I love my job. The riches I receive in serving God's children is far richer than the money in my old job," she says.
The full article appeared in the Bible Society's Eternity News and is used with kind permission.