My Salvation Story


Life As An Atheist – my story of salvation (part one)

In the morning of January 6, I was an atheist.

By the afternoon, I was a theist.

And on January 7, 1984, I became a Christian.

My Life as an Atheist

I grew up in the church. Sunday school as a kid, the church choir as a teen (the youngest male in the choir by decades), reading Scripture in the morning services.

By the time I hit my early twenties, my view on faith started shifting. After spending 2 1/2 years at a pair of community colleges I moved away to UC Santa Barbara. I thought I took my beliefs with me, but I was wrong.

Dead wrong.

UCSB was my home for the next 2 1/2 years. It was there that I engaged in a slow slide. Whether it was a slide from nominal Christianity or the real thing, I ended up firmly planted in an atheistic philosophy of life.

It was toward the end of my time at UCSB that I finally gave voice to my beliefs, or lack. I was an RA in one of the dorms and was talking with my boss, the Dean of Residence Life, over dinner. Somehow the conversation came around to matters of faith and I said I was an atheist. She asked, “But you’d believe if convinced of God’s existence?” I said there was no point contemplating the possibility since he didn’t exist. Yes, I could be a bit hard-headed back then, even with my employer.

You might be thinking that this is the danger of sending a child off to school, far from home and family and church. But if you think this was a major change for me after moving just a few hours from home, wait until you read what happened when I flew even further afield.

A Sussex Sojourn

My sixth year of college took me to England. I hadn’t planned on it, but there it was. Sometime in what I thought would be my last year as an undergraduate I found out about education abroad. The University of California has a robust program for sending students all over the world, typically in their junior year. I was well past that, of course, but figured I’d apply and see if I could get overseas somehow.

I made it through the application and interview process and then sat on the waiting list. Oh well, I thought, five years of college must be my limit. Then I got a letter from the University of Sussex inviting me to join them for a year. I called the UCSB education abroad office and asked where I was on their wait list and was told I was number three, but when I told the woman I just got a letter from Sussex saying they wanted me she piped up, “Well then, I guess you’re off the waiting list!”

Something happened at Sussex that had not happened at school in California. I started making friends with Christians. A couple of them, Alex and Karen, became very close to me. Neither of them gave me the turn-or-burn speech, but they each made no bones about their faith and how it permeated their lives. They made it clear that God was important to them and that everyone needed him in their lives. I, being an atheist, indulged them. Later I found out that they, being Christians, prayed for me.

The British university system has a very civilized view of breaks between terms. They last a long time. At winter break, I had four weeks off and spent the first two traveling around with another American guy, then Christmas itself with an English friend and her family who were kind enough to take me in for the holiday. This first half of the break was decidedly Christian-free.

London Calling

After Christmas I went into London, figuring I would find an inexpensive hotel and just hang out there for a couple more weeks. I arrived late in the day as dusk gathered and made my way to an area near the British Museum that had a block of bed and breakfasts. I’d walk up the steps, look over the room prices posted at the door, then move on. At one point I stepped up to a very rundown looking youth hostel where the prices were well within my price. Better to keep looking, though. Perhaps there was something nicer that I could afford a little further on.

So I crossed the street and mounted another set of steps. It looked much nicer, but the prices reflected that as well. I turned to the street and saw an old woman in a dark overcoat across the way. She was motioning to me and calling out in a thick eastern European accent, “Hey boy. Boy, you come over here.”

I walked over wondering where she’d come from. This was the middle of the block and I was sure I hadn’t seen her before, but didn’t know how I could have missed her either. I thought she needed some help, so I asked what I could do for her.

“Those places too expensive,” she said. “I know a nice place for boy like you.” Then she motioned me to follow her. And led me right back to the cheap youth hostel. Rather than offend her I went inside, and toyed with the idea of turning around and walking back out as soon as she was gone. She watched from the sidewalk, though, I think to make sure I knew how to open a door, walk through it and stay there.

As I made my way down the dingy hallway to the beaten up front counter I heard one of the staff ask the other, “Those two American girls that arrived last night, what room did you put them in?” Then he saw me and asked how he could help.

“You could put me in that room with the two American girls!” I said, thinking myself quite clever. He apparently did not think me all that clever and just asked how many nights I was staying and handed me a key.

I went upstairs and opened the room with the same number as the key. Sitting on two of the beds were the American girls.


God Sanctified A Railway Car – my story of salvation (part two)

London Calling (cont.)

Louise and Cathy told me that the place was run in an open bunk style and I could drop my things on one of the other three beds. Apparently, new people got whatever room had an empty bed in it while the bath was down the hall. Suited me fine, so I stayed.

Cathy and Louise were college roommates in America but were studying abroad that year and had just come into London from Germany (Louise ) and Spain (Cathy). They didn’t know London at all, so I offered to show them around a bit. We ended up traveling together for two weeks.

These two young women, as you might have guessed, were Christians. They talked a ton about their faith and how everyone needed Jesus. I talked a ton about my atheism and how God didn’t exist. I did wear a small cross around my neck, though, and Cathy asked about it the first night. A gift from an old friend, I explained, nothing more significant than that. (Cathy later admitted that there were times during our travels that she wanted to reach up and rip the cross from my neck. She refrained because, like I said, she’s a Christian.)

At another point, Louise asked me whether I thought I’d get into heaven if it turned out there really was such a place. I told her sure, and she asked why.

“Because I’m a nice guy.”

She looked me dead in the eye. “A lot of nice guys are going to hell, Tim.”

I wanted to explain that I was a really nice guy, but knew that wouldn’t make a difference to her thinking. Besides, I also knew I wasn’t all that nice a guy.

So we traveled around, and at one point Louise bought me a copy of The Screwtape Letters, thinking I’d enjoy Screwtape’s correspondence with his nephew Wormwood. She was right. She and Cathy also were soon leaving to return to school on the continent.

I saw them off on their ferry to Calais and the next morning took a train back to Sussex.

The Sanctification of a Railway Car

The train ride from London to Brighton takes about an hour, unless you’re on the run that makes a stop at every local station along the way. That’s the one I was on. These trains used the older style cars, the type where you can’t move from one to the other through connecting doors. You have to wait to get to a station, get out of one car and walk the platform to get on the next one down.

I was alone in my car and picked up the book Louise bought me to read along the way. The train stopped at a couple stations, and I was just settling in to read some more when I found I could not concentrate very well. I kept reading the same paragraph over and over. I had a feeling like you get sometimes in a library or other quiet place that someone must have walked in when you weren’t looking. I figured someone must have gotten on at the last station without me noticing. So I stood up and looked around. No one in the railway car but me.

I sat back down and opened the book again. Now I found myself reading not the same paragraph but the same sentence over and over again. The feeling that someone was there with me was overwhelming, not allowing me to concentrate at all, so I started to get up to look again. Then I told myself, We haven’t stopped at a station since the last time you looked, Tim. There’s no one here. I sat back down and completely unbidden came a question I would never have imagined coming from my lips. Out loud. In an otherwise empty railway car.

“OK God, what do you want?”

What are you doing Tim, I thought. You don’t believe in God. Then I answered myself Yeah, but someone’s here with me. Then a feeling of sufficiency (if that’s the right word) came over me, that I could go back to my reading now. So I did, and read through to my final stop.

Once I got back to my room at school I thought hard about what happened, and I finally decided that I should ask God about this. I told him I wanted to know who he was, but also assured him that even though I’d been hanging around with Christians it was completely all right if he was not the God that Christ revealed.

Through the course of that evening and the next day, I became convinced that was exactly who he is. So I had more thinking to do. I had to consider what this meant, and what I should do about it. Here’s what I came up with from my old Sunday school knowledge about Jesus: God loves me and wants the best for me, God made me so he knows what’s best for me, God is all-powerful so he has the ability to actually do what’s best for me too.

I thought What a deal! and said out loud, “OK God, I’m in.”

That was it, my prayer of salvation: What-a-deal-OK-God-I’m-in.

109 Responses to My Salvation Story

  1. Jeremy White says:

    Tim…I had never read your story here on the blog… Loved it! Looking forward to hanging out soon! 🙂

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Jeremy. It generated a lot of comment when I posted it last month in that two part format. Looking forward to coffee next week too, wa-hoo!

  2. Wow! This is really great! Thanks so much for writing this for us to read. I could feel really feel what it must have been like on that train.

  3. Pingback: A Note On Stories, Ashley Clements, and “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  4. Pingback: This Atheist Couldn’t Sing | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  5. Marlena says:

    I am very encouraged by your story, to see how God works. His goodness brings tears to my eyes. Blessings to you!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Marlena. I know you work with students about the same age I was when I went through all that. What a blessing you are to be with them in those formative years, helping them navigate faith and life and school and what lies ahead.

  6. Donna says:

    Were you ever in contact with those two young women again? I can imagine them praying for you right at the same time that you were on the train…. It would be cool to have had that confirmed.

    • Tim says:

      We did stay in touch, Donna, and they told me they continued to pray for me. They also told me they couldn’t stop squealing when they read my letter telling them I’d come to faith!

  7. Roland K says:

    Very cool salvation story Tim. I am always amazed at the diversity and uniqueness of other peoples salvation stories!

  8. Pingback: Teeny Sips and Stale Crumbs or Hunks of Bread and Mouthfuls of Port? | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  9. Bronwen says:

    Amazing grace ..I am so encouraged for my unsaved loved ones. Thank you for posting your testimony. God bless you brother 🙂

  10. PPGAdmin says:

    Awesome story of God’s incredible grace and mercy! Thank you for sharing!

  11. I am in tears over one sentence: “OK, God, what do you want?” That you experienced God’s presence so profoundly that you, like Paul (and countless others), could not but seek and serve.

  12. Glen says:

    I like the refreshing simplicity of your story, all too often we hear of the amazing transformations that God does in the lives of addicts and criminals and all too often forget that still small voice of God that speaks to the vast majority of us. Bless you for sharing.

  13. Tim,

    Happy 30 years and one day! So glad we’ve both been adopted into the same family!

  14. Beautiful story of God’s grace. 🙂

  15. Julie says:

    That was beautiful Tim. I got shivers down my spine when I read it – the same kind of shivers I got when I was first baptized and first received communion. I still get them when I receive communion – it never gets old. (Julie P. from Pemberley)

  16. esbee says:

    God does not make cookie cutter Christians and the salvation experience is different for everyone. That is what I love about true Christianity. It is all the extra crap that man tries to put on us after we get saved that causes all the problems…. the rules about how to act, dress, wear your hair, which church is the best, etc (instead of letting the Holy Spirit tell them how to run their lives) and then people get so tired of living up to rules that are supposed to please God. And atheists see right through all of this fal-de-rah and are not afraid to point it out.

  17. Dana Tuttle says:

    I thought I should read your story before I go live on “Just one train wreck after another”!! I love this whole story! Seriously! A train, Tim! It all makes sense, now! And C.S. Lewis! London! It’s just perfect! Can’t wait to stir things up in the morning! Good night!!!!:)

    • Tim says:

      Dana, the connection between naming this blog and coming to faith on a train is something I completely missed in MY OWN STORY! Yikes!

      Really looking forward to your post going live tomorrow, kiddo.

  18. Brian says:

    Tim I just want to encourage you that your blog is powerful and contains a whack of hope & new life in Jesus,your testimony of salvation ( one of my first pastor’s would call it ” your grace “) it was a blast to read and take in the descriptives,I ran off to Europe at 17 and drank & drugged myself to a stupor ,I got saved 4 yr’s later in a bathroom at the Playboy Club, I’m slowly not singing that U2 song anymore ” Still haven’t found what I’m lookin for” Jesus in our lives is all fulfilling but some of the tests are a little over the top ! keep pressing on Tim !! People are being touched !

    • Tim says:

      Thank you so much, Brian. Your own salvation story, your grace received from God, is powerful. Thank you for being here and sharing it with us. I know people will be blessed through it.

  19. Pingback: How To Make Sure Your Children Do Not Become Satanists In Public School | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  20. Hi, Tim! Enjoy your blog, enjoyed your salvation story. Didn’t realize you went to UCSB. My oldest sister went there (English lit major) and she just last week published her memoir of being in the midst of the Isla Vista riots in 1970.

    If such interests you, just look for an e-book called “Playing in the Apocalypse” by Kate Comings.

    Or not. 🙂

    • Tim says:

      I was there from 81 to 83, but the riots and the bank burning were still talked about as if they’d just happened.

      One of my friends at UCSB was an English Lit major. He talked me into taking the Shakespeare course, introducing me to a love of his plays. If your sister remembers Professor Homer Swander, you can tell her that I really enjoyed learning Shakespeare from him.

  21. Pingback: Is The Cross of Christ Even Necessary? | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  22. susanbotchie says:

    Dear Tim, glad to have read your testimony. Of course, atheists would bristle, because they think that athists who come to the Lord’s saving knowledge were never atheists to begin with. Over at, Andrew Webb had also been an atheist. He preaches good Bible no – nonsense sermons. By the way, bookmarked your link. Have a blessed day, yours in Christ.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Susan. I’ve read some atheists who have said that, but who’s to say what another person’s path has been? Thanks for bookmarking the train wreck!

  23. LawProf says:

    Great to hear your story, not that much different from mine, happened while I was in college in the same decade, and in a strange (at least to me) place. Only real difference was it two college GUYS and my prayer was to the effect of “So if you really exist, Jesus, OK, I’ll follow.” God bless you.

    • Tim says:

      There are so many variations on how people come into relationship with Jesus, LawProf. I like your prayer a lot. It’s honest and willing, and gets right to the point.

  24. Tim says:

    My name’s Tim, too.

  25. Pingback: Christianity’s Fine … As Long As You Don’t Really Believe It | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  26. cindy blandin says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. It gives us hope for our prodigal daughter. From a young age she loved the LORD; but something happened in her teenage years to convince her that He didn’t love her. And so her journey has taken her very far away from Him and from home. Today was one of those despairing days that we might never see her again. Your story gives us hope.

  27. Dee Parsons says:

    Your story reminds a bit of CS Lewis’ conversion. I believe he said that when he got into the car to go to the zoo, he was a deist and when he got to the zoo he was a Christian. Thank you for sharing your story. Every time I hear a story of coming to faith, I get a little teary eyed.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Dee. I’d read his story in Surprised By Joy, I think it was. God reaches people in all kinds of places in all kinds of ways.

  28. Oh, I loved this. I love God and how He works. He is the great Administrator of “circumstance.”

  29. Pingback: I Read Reference Books For Fun | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  30. Bev Murrill says:

    Gosh that’s such a cool story, Tim. Nice to know where others come from.

  31. Wuggy says:

    My journey has been the other way, away from faith, to atheism. Of course I have religious friends, and my mother has a strong christian faith, I have heard several stories (some of quite dramatic) of feeling called by God. What strikes me as tragic is why God apparently presents in this way to ordinary decent but powerless people, but doesn’t seem to present to the many people doing terrible evil in the world. Why not a powerful manifestation to Pol Pot, Hitler, those of The Lord’s Resistance Army slaughtering innocents in Africa, etc.etc?

  32. Pingback: My Spiritual Birthday | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  33. What a lovely conversion story. I love hearing how God does things in people’s lives. God bless you and thank you for writing this blog!

  34. Rey Corpuz says:

    Pretty amazing how God meets people just where and the way they are (-;.

  35. Pingback: Today’s My Spiritual Birthday | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  36. Kathy Heisleman says:

    A fellow UCSB alumni—but i was there probably alot longer ago than you—-the Bank of America in Isla Vista burned that year….A great beach….I hung out with a lot of non Christians there too.

  37. Kathy Heisleman says:

    PS–actually walked in a Cesar Chavez march once….and friends who rode a church bus all the way to Selma. It was a good time to be young…

  38. Doug says:

    Thanks for telling how God saved you. You said, “OK God, what do you want?” God replied, “The Fall of Tim.”

    • Tim says:

      As John said, “He must become greater; i must become less.” And then the paradox comes in, because that’s when life more abundant also happens. What a blessing.

  39. Colleen says:

    It must have been an amazing sensation on the train that day. While reading it I could feel almost an electricity in the air – the kind that makes the hair stand up on your arm.

    What I thought was a similar conversion experience dramatically changed me as well. It turned my life upside down. Then a conversation with a man who told me about gender roles and subordinationism a few years later made me realize women are less than men in God’s kingdom and my “experience” with the Holy Spirit wasn’t real. Now I am unable to have any kind of relationship with God. For several years, however, the life I thought I had in Christ was incredible.

    I am happy for you and feel great joy that God uses your gifts and talents to graciously serve others. What a blessing.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Colleen. Whoever told you things that suggested women are lesser in God’s kingdom was misrepresenting Jesus. You can read a number of posts here on my blog that show the true equality in place and function that women and men have in God’s kingdom.

  40. Carmen says:

    Hi Tim,
    I just clicked on your link from JA’s site. I am curious about ‘an atheistic philosophy of life’ – what, exactly, is that?

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for asking, Carmen. What I mean is I was an atheist with not only no belief in God but wasn’t even interested in having a discussion on the possibility of God.

      • Carmen says:

        SInce the definition of atheist is ‘disbelief in the existence of god(s)’, I think that statement – an atheistic philosphy of life’ is a bit misleading, is all. Plus, it feeds the stereotype of what people think of atheists. (Usually negative). I am the same as you, Tim – a humanist – I just don’t happen to believe in the existence of god(s). Very simple, really. 🙂

        • Tim says:

          It’s my own description of myself and how I viewed life then, so I don’t see how I’m misleading anyone. I was an atheist, and my beliefs informed my philosophy of life.

        • Carmen says:

          It’s been pointed out on lots of other blogs, Tim. (I frequent, for the most part, blogs run by atheists). There’s no such thing as an atheist philosphy. Atheists are united by one thing only – their disbelief in god(s). From there, their outlooks on life vary greatly. Most of the ones I ‘meet’ (online and ‘face to face’) state that they have a humanitarian outlook on life. That is, they concern themselves with the welfare of the human race and try their best to accomplish this in their daily lives.

        • Tim says:

          I was talking about my own philosophy of life being a product of my atheism, not a universal atheist philosophy.

        • Carmen says:

          . . And your ‘philosophy of life’ was ?

        • Tim says:

          No God, no reason to do good unless I wanted to, enjoy life as best could on my own terms, don’t get caught, plus a bunch of other stuff. To lay it all out would be another blog post.

        • Carmen says:

          You can attribute those attitudes to being an atheist ?? It sounds more like immaturity. The human condition, if you will. 🙂

        • Tim says:

          I’m just telling you what I believed and did back then. It may be they were an immature outpouring, but I remember distinctly that I based them on there being no God.

        • Carmen says:

          So you’re telling me that once you started believing in (or imagining) a (holy) ghost, you became a better person?

        • Tim says:

          I learned that God loves me and cares about me, and wants me to love and care about the people around me. It was a distinct change in belief (God exists) that led to a distinct change in how I viewed and dealt with life.

          Whether I became a better person is a question I’ll leave to people who knew me then and know me now.

        • Carmen says:

          So the proof of you being a better person would rest in other people’s opinions, is that it? Rather like the proof of your god. 🙂

        • Tim says:

          I don’t follow.

        • Carmen says:

          Imagination’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it Tim? 😉

        • Tim says:

          I imagine so.

        • Tim says:

          On second thought, I do follow. Your response is similar to what I might have said back then.

  41. Pingback: Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  42. Pingback: A Senior Devil, Mere Faith, and Beginning My Life in Christ | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  43. Pingback: This Isn’t My First Metaphysical Rodeo | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  44. dapeha says:

    Thanks for sharing. All if our stories are unique, but I find that usually God works in practical ways and not with fireworks and trumpets… I was in a church (after deciding I think I need to get back to God) for the first time in 10 years. The choir started singing a song I knew from my earlier years. I was so overcome with emotion as I heard a still small voice say.. “Welcome Home, We missed you” I still choke up when I share this…

  45. Ink Pastries says:

    Screwtape Letters did a number on me, too, although it took years after reading it for me to be born again. It did start God’s ball rolling around in my heart and head. : ) Nice to meet you, brother Tim.

  46. Bobbie says:

    WOW, Amazing Grace. Thank you for sharing. I’m sending your Testimonial to my friend in Windsor who is there right now from America via So. Africa. By the way: Louise means “battleaxe warrior maiden”. I believe there is a lot in a name! Wish we could meet and have coffee in our travels. I pray for divine appointments maybe we will meet; writing a book on those (Jerry Leonard’s Book “That’s NO Problem for the Lord”)! Also, “Hippo in the Garden” & Prison My Father Built” by James Ryle a great conversion experience. I give people “More Than A Carpenter” so far they all find God, Jesus, Holy Spirit! Also, Leonard Ravenhill’s books saved me from literally going to hell over two very evil Christians sad to say who didn’t live Christlike; that Matthew 7:13-14 experience and Arthur (Art/Aaron/Arthur Aaron) Katz many great teachers in books like Derek Prince etc., and Stephen Parsons “exploiting the need to belong” and “Ungodly Fear”, Coming Out Alive by Beth Cavete. Amazing journey. APPRECIATE the name of your Website it’s SO TRUE; RINGS WELL! KNOW of God’s Grace, Mercy because NOT an ash and or a cinder for some pretty ugly conversations!
    P.S. If, you could reach out to Seth Andrews please do so! I’ve only seen: Get them while they’re young and when I was a Christian I talked like an Idiot Video’s by him! Haven’t read his books on why he became an atheist from Pastor. God does NOT waste a thing in our lives: “Wounded and betrayed believers are useful to God” U-tube for free; an amazing message of why our lives go the way they do.

  47. Janet says:

    This was great. So simple and yet very powerful. Great post.

  48. Tonya says:

    Wonderful! I was walking up some steps when I first felt the presence of God. Perfect

  49. Annalea says:

    I love it when God does things like this, and we find ourselves doing or saying things so spontaneously that we surprise ourselves.

  50. dapeha says:

    Yup… I like how you came back to God! Thanks for sharing. 👍🏼

  51. Paul Bluntschly says:

    Right on my brother. Praise be to God for what He has purposed to do!

  52. Linda Cassidy says:

    Wonderful testimony, Sir Tim. Love it. Thank you Father. ❤️🙏

Talk to me (or don't)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.