The Road to Faith

March 4, 2020

By Iris Richard

There were times in my life when faith didn’t play a role. All I knew then was the importance of excelling in my studies and giving it my best shot to climb up the ladder of success, besides trying to be a good person—as much as possible. That sounded plausible, but I discovered that there was great lack to such an approach to life in general. Especially since early on in my youth, hard times came knocking at my door.

In 1955 I was born into a family of blue-collar workers in Germany. The country was in rebuilding mode, following the devastating destruction of WWII. “Work hard and grit your teeth” was the motto I grew up with. In our family, there wasn’t much talk of the importance of faith, taking time for God and prayer, or any sort of emotional needs.

Life was hard, supplies sparse, and both of my parents were working to make ends meet, leaving my sister and me to ourselves in the afternoon after school. From the age of six, we were latchkey kids.1

Then a turn of events brought our family into an even tighter financial situation. This was followed by another setback when I was diagnosed with a chronic muscle sickness that deformed my back. Alone and emotionally overwhelmed during those days of endless treatment and physiotherapy, I felt small and insecure.

Somewhat rudderless, I was like a boat on rough waves being tossed to and fro. I was missing a secure anchor, floating aimlessly in a void of worry and anxiety.

It was then when a spark of faith brightened my darkness. At the age of 12, during one of the religious lessons in school, the song Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott,2 by Martin Luther, that talked about God being like a mighty fortress and a present help in time of trouble, encouraged me. I remember that each time I sang it, my heart warmed and my thoughts lifted with renewed courage.

The day of my confirmation—which was the tradition in the Protestant village we lived in at the time—my faith took another leap. It was in the old stone chapel on a rainy autumn day when I said the pledge and invited Jesus into my life. This experience left an imprint on my heart, with a measure of peace and renewed confidence.

Even though during the turbulent teen years that followed, this pledge almost faded into oblivion, there still was the tiny seed of faith that had been planted in the earth of my receptive heart on that day in the chapel. Years later, when I had reached the end of a long journey, it came back to mind.

Like so many young people in the seventies, I had been on a pilgrimage along the famous Hippie Trail—from Germany, through a number of Middle Eastern countries, to India and Nepal. It was a search for meaning and purpose. After nearly two years of traveling with some friends in a beat-up camper, disaster struck and I found myself stranded all alone in a small town in northern India, way off the beaten path. I had just recovered from a severe case of hepatitis, was sick and frail, addicted to drugs, and without money.

It was then, on that dreary foggy morning, that a most curious thing happened.

In the shabby motel where I was lodging for the night, I met a group of young missionaries. They stopped over for some fuel and a quick snack in the motel’s poorly maintained restaurant, while on their way to a prison ministry they were involved in. I was in a sorry state and they took pity on me, inviting me to stay at their home until I was better.

Their kindness, dedication, and simple faith that God would work things out deeply touched me. There was a special glow in their eyes that emanated peace and purpose.

During their morning devotions, a passage from Matthew 13 jumped out at me. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”3

I longed to hang on to what I had found—a pearl of great price—renewed faith in God’s goodness. I realized that my soul wasn’t hungry for fame, success, and wealth, but for meaning, purpose, peace, and for my life to matter. From that turning point on, I left my past behind, found the strength to be freed from addiction, and decided to give my life to serve others.

Life unfolded in inexplicable patterns, and later I began to work in Africa, where I have been involved in aid work with my family for 25 years. As a mother of seven children, I have experienced many ups and downs, but that pearl of faith that I found all those years ago in India has brought me through each of life’s storms with the confidence that ultimately God is in control, and that a brighter day is just around the bend.

1 A latchkey kid, or latchkey child, is a child who returns from school to an empty home, or a child who is often left at home with little parental supervision, because their parent or parents are away at work. (Wikipedia)

2 “A Mighty Fortress,” Martin Luther, 1529.

3 Matthew 13:44–46 NIV.

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