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August-September 2018


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Jasper & Ivy

By Stephen Kimbrell


Jasper and Ivy were still experiencing jet lag the first time they came to our church. The couple and their one-year-old son Austin had just moved from Beijing, China, a few days earlier. After arriving in Irvine, Ivy googled “churches near me” and was excited to find a church plant meeting in an elementary school just minutes from her new apartment. As we talked in the back of our auditorium that January morning, Ivy quickly recounted her faith story. She had become a believer ten years earlier through a college ministry in China, but the Chinese government had shut down her church. Since that time, her church attendance and growth as a Christian had been spotty. It was obvious to me Ivy intended to make a change. She was excited about taking advantage of her newfound freedom to worship.

Jasper was a different story. Jasper was a 33-year-old agnostic. He had a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering and a master’s degree in language. He saw no logical reason to believe in God since everything in the world could be explained by science. In spite of his unbelief, Jasper came faithfully to church on Sundays and small group Bible studies in my home. At first, he used his son as an excuse to avoid actually sitting in the congregation or the group.

One Sunday after church, I invited Jasper and his family to join a group going out to lunch. We met at a nearby restaurant and enjoyed our meal outdoors in the beautiful California weather. Towards the end of the meal, Jasper began discussing his elusive quest to earn a driver’s license. At the time, he’d already failed his first attempt and was preparing to take the test again. I casually asked, “Do you have a study guide?”

I honestly thought it was a simple and straightforward question, but Jasper obviously misunderstood. He immediately paused—let out a long sigh—and began speaking nervously as if confessing a string of robberies. He said, “Pastor, I have to be honest with you. I don’t believe in God; I’m an agnostic.” Then, he obviously braced himself for the backlash from this bombshell revelation. I probably should’ve handled myself in a much more pastoral way, but at the moment my natural reaction was to laugh. And that’s exactly what I did.

After I composed myself, I said “Jasper, I wasn’t asking you if you had a Bible to study; I was asking if you had a study guide for the driver’s test.” Thankfully, Jasper saw the humor in accidentally confessing he didn’t believe
in God.

A couple of months after that now infamous “study guide” conversation, Jasper cornered me after church and said, “Obviously, you know I don’t believe in God, but I do have a lot of questions.” We scheduled a meeting for later in the week. I also gave him a book to read and encouraged him to watch the newly released Christian film, The Case for Christ. I was completely surprised the next day to receive a text message from Jasper that read,

Done watching. Great movie. I didn’t know Jesus Christ was a historical figure. Thought he was a character in a myth. Like a lot of Chinese myths, we have our own version of how everything was created, how humans came to be. But, those are just stories. More questions now.

Later that week, Jasper and I met for coffee at the same location he’d confessed his lack of belief in God. As we began our conversation, he said,

First of all, I’ve been to many churches before. Most of the time, the people seem like professional Christians. They are praying, crying, and talking about God in ways I do not understand. Then they ask me how long I’ve been a Christian. When I tell them I’m not, they immediately try to convert me to believe what they believe. But, I can’t. I feel like they are on a freeway going 80 miles an hour, but there’s no entrance ramp for me to get up to their speed. They ask me to go from a dead stop to 80 miles an hour. But, at this church, no one has pressured me—even after I told you I don’t believe in God. Over the past few months, I feel like I’ve been driving beside the freeway, allowed to observe and to pick up speed.



As the conversation advanced, Jasper consistently asked questions concerning the creation of the world and the validity of the Bible. His questions didn’t arise from a spirit of criticism, but one of interest and curiosity. Eventually, our dialogue led us to the resurrection of Jesus. Fortunately, I was already in preparation mode for Easter, so the evidence and events surrounding the resurrection were on my mind. I said, “Jasper, although you may have thousands of questions, the foundation of our Christian faith really comes down to one event, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ rose from the grave, He is God. If He did not rise, He is a fake. Ultimately, you must decide if you believe Jesus Christ is alive.”

I began to walk Jasper through what I felt were some of the more convincing arguments for a resurrected Jesus. In the middle of my best Lee Strobel impersonation, Jasper interrupted me:

Wait! You mean Christians believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead—came back to life and walked around physically on the Earth before He went to Heaven? And there were people who actually saw him and confirmed it? I’ve always thought that you believed that Jesus died and His Spirit went to Heaven. Then an angel came down and told some people He was alive in Heaven and those people told everyone else. This is completely different. This changes a lot!

In this moment, I was struck with the amazing reality of a statement I had heard all my life: “Many people in the world have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ.” Here I was, having a conversation over coffee with one of those people. He was intelligent, highly educated, and fluent in multiple languages, but he’d never heard the truth about Jesus.

Over the next few months, Jasper shared multiple coffees and conversations with several people in our congregation. He also continued researching about Jesus and Christianity. I could almost visibly see Jasper’s heart and mind illuminated by the gospel message. The light of newfound truth gradually replaced the shadows of disbelief. Jasper explained it this way “All of my life, I’ve believed what I thought to be true. Now, at 33 years old, I’m encountering new truth contradictory to what I’ve always believed. Now, my mind is trying to determine which truth is true.”

Eventually, during this process, Jasper confessed his belief in God. He witnessed too much evidence in nature and science to dispute the absence of a designer and saw too many “coincidences” in his life to deny God’s existence. One night in our small group Bible study, Jasper announced publicly he had become a follower of Jesus Christ! I’ll never forget his words as he tried to describe the process of moving from agnostic to believer in just a few months:

It’s kind of like learning to ride a bike. Before you learn, you can’t imagine what it’s like to ride a bike. It seems so foreign and difficult. But then you slowly begin to learn. What was foreign becomes normal, and eventually, you learn to ride. After you learn, you can’t comprehend how you didn’t know how to ride a bike before. You can’t ‘unlearn’ what you’ve learned. That’s how I feel about becoming a follower of Jesus. It’s hard for me to recognize the way I used to believe a few months ago. But, I can’t unlearn what I now know to be true.

Since his decision to follow Jesus, Jasper has experienced several other major events in his life. On May 6, he publicly proclaimed his faith in Jesus by following Him in baptism. In June, he and his wife Ivy stood in our backyard surrounded by our small group and renewed their marriage vows as a Christian couple. In Jasper’s words he “had invited Jesus into his life and now wanted to invite Him into his marriage.”

As I think about Jasper’s story, two emotions fill my heart. First, I’m ecstatic his life and eternity have been changed completely. I am thankful I had a front row seat to watch the gospel message and the Holy Spirit transform this man. Second, I am burdened by the countless other Jaspers in our world. People surround us who do not hold our values and do not believe in our God. They watch us Christians from a distance. They read our posts on social media. Sometimes, they even dare venture into our churches. From their perspective, we’re on a freeway going 80 miles an hour.

They need someone—anyone—to give them an entrance ramp to get up to speed. Not to church, nor to Christian culture, but to the only one who can truly change their lives: Jesus Christ.

About the Writer: Stephen Kimbrell pastors Grace City FWB Church in Irvine, California. Stephen is passionate about sharing the gospel, seeing believers grow in Christ, and training them to disciple others. He and his wife Lauren have three beautiful (and hilarious) children. Learn more:



©2018 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists