From Atheist Scoffer to Christian Believer: The Testimony of Brian Fitzpatrick

The following is adapted from email conversations between my good friend and former AFTAH adviser Brian Fitzpatrick and his fiancée, Trinka Jeffery. The night of December 4, 2018, Brian passed away suddenly, at 58, to be with his Savior, Jesus. On a personal note, Brian was my best friend a really terrific guy who loved and served God. I am sad that we will no longer be able to talk, hang out and laugh together here on earth, but I know he is in a much better place. And I am grateful for what God did in his life. Minor edits, additions and web links have been made for the sake of clarity and to provide additional resources. I will see you again one day, my friend!  – Peter LaBarbera, AFTAH.org; Twitter: @PeterLaBarbera

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Introductory note:

I’m Trinka Jeffery, Brian Fitzpatrick’s fiancée.  

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Brian had a story that he would want you to know. Much of our courtship was in writing, and I’ve compiled his story, using his own words.

Please … will you enjoy a last little visit with Brian, with me?

I asked Brian how he came to know God the Father and his Son personally, and this is what he told me:

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From Atheist Scoffer to Christian Believer: The Testimony of Brian Fitzpatrick

As shared with Trinka Jeffery, August 13, 2017…

By Brian Fitzpatrick

I was not someone who would easily convert. It happened on a singles retreat, which I went to mostly because they were going to play softball. I brought a bat along in case somebody tried to baptize me in a river.

I grew up in a Catholic family, but at age 12 we studied Greek mythology in school, and it occurred to me that the Greeks believed in their gods just as I believed in Jesus and Mary, but both couldn’t be true.

My catechism teachers had no answers. So I decided to become an atheist. (OK … maybe partially so I wouldn’t have to get up on Sunday mornings.)

My parents weren’t pleased, and we fought over it for three years. At 14, I was required to be confirmed. I chose the confirmation name Thomas (for doubts), but this was forbidden because “it would kill your grandfather.” So I was confirmed as Michael because I thought the spelling was cool.

At age 20 or so, I read some philosophy and logic and learned that you can’t prove a negative, therefore you can’t prove God does not exist, therefore my atheism was irrational. So I became an extremely skeptical agnostic.

The first time somebody witnessed to me, it was a man from Campus Crusade [for Christ, later renamed Cru] during my freshman year in college. I was a rather bitter atheist, full of disdain for these hicks and very confident in what I didn’t know. I didn’t even let them in my dorm room. I stepped into the hallway and verbally fenced for 45 minutes or so: “How do you know this is true” and so forth.  Eventually they left and I went down the hall to the opposite stairway and ran ahead of them to the room of two fellow iconoclasts. “The God Squad is on the way!”

They had a lot of cool stuff in their room. So we set up shrines — a carved bird, a South Seas war mask, took a cow skull with a bullet hole and put a candle in the hole, hung incense behind the mask so it emitted a red haze, draped ourselves in sheets and started chanting OMMMM. [Apparently they were visiting all the rooms between Brian’s and this one!—T.]

The plan was for me to answer the door and say, “The reason I couldn’t accept your New Testament is because I am a practicing Druid. We’re about to go outside to worship a bush. Would you like to come?”

But God intervened. A couple of believers, neighbors of my friends, knocked on the door, saw what we were doing and headed off the Campus Crusade guys.

But one of the Campus Crusade fellows (Rob Gagnon) decided I needed help. He came back to my dorm room every day for six weeks, in the freshman dorms half a mile from campus, in three feet of snow, and left messages on my memo board, “God loves you and I love you, too.”

Which distressed me because I was a freshman rugby player interested in chasing ladies, and I didn’t need a guy telling me he loved me. Eventually my roommate threatened to break his wrist if he left any more messages.

Rob never caught me in my room, amazingly, because he really did come every day until my roommate threatened him. However, he used to trap me at lunch in the dining hall. I was a scornful mocker. I thought he was crazy, but I was impressed by his determination. He was a little scrawny guy, and I was a musclebound bruiser.

Years later, I was happy to tell Rob [who became a widely respected New Testament scholar] that he had planted a seed with me. He was thrilled.

At 26, a Christian woman challenged me to study the evidence that God exists and that He communicated to us through the Bible. She gave me a copy of Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a VerdictWithin two months, I was convinced that God exists, Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, and we were supposed to worship Him, but it took several more months to overcome the cognitive dissonance.

My friend had an evangelism party and showed the Jesus movie, and that’s when I asked Jesus to be my Lord and take over my life. But I still didn’t understand my need for a savior.

I had expected a big emotional experience, but nothing happened, no weight lifting off my shoulders. When nothing happened, I concluded that my analysis must have been wrong, and there was nothing to it.

Then the retreat. Softball! When I showed up to pick up my friend, I had brought a bat. She said, “You won’t need that, they’ll have equipment there.” I replied, “This is in case somebody tries to dunk me in a river.”

I didn’t know that word had spread to those at the retreat that a nonbeliever was there. Everybody was praying for my salvation. I was amazed at how the people treated me and each other. John 13:3-15was lived out in front of me, and it was like nothing I had ever seen: “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.”

I liked everybody there but one guy, Eric. My one prejudice was against effeminate men, and this guy was the most effeminate I’d ever met (and I used to deliver beer to gay bars). So I avoided him but enjoyed everyone else.

Until Saturday night, they were going to play Risk. I love Risk.

I showed up in the room, and guess who was there? But I went in anyway. Only one seat left, right next to him.

I found out that Eric was a hairdresser and a recovering transsexual. He had gone through all the hormone therapy and was literally in the operating room for the big operation when, as he put it, “the Lord took me out of there” and saved him four days later.

It turned out he didn’t know how to play Risk, so I had to explain the rules to him. It led to a long, deep conversation. I was so impressed by Eric’s zeal for the Lord and his willingness to acknowledge that his life had been wrong. He was very excited about how the Lord was changing him.

I went to bed that night thinking about all of it and found myself saying, “I hope he succeeds in the makeover he’s talking about.” That was shocking, because I had hated this guy four hours earlier, yet now I found myself his advocate! The next thought in my mind was, “Wow, I love him.” I truly wanted the best for Eric, genuine agape love.

I was a person who felt he was not lovable and not capable of loving anybody else. I was a very difficult person, yet I loved this man I had hated. That’s when I realized that God had saved me and was working the same transformation in me that he was working in Eric.

All of a sudden I felt God’s presence powerfully, overwhelmingly. It was like floating in a cloud of pure love. I just lay there crying and saying, “thank you” over and over again.

That was my Road to Damascus experience, and remembering the glory of His presence has sustained me through many difficult trials. This happened on May 24, 1987 at two in the morning.

The next day, at the retreat, there was a worship service. As I sat in the service, I was writing down everything that had happened. After the service was the first teaching session of the day, and the speaker asked if anybody wanted to talk about what the Lord had done for them that weekend.

I didn’t know that the protocol in this situation was that you’re expected to stand up where you’re sitting and share a few words. I was sitting there with what I had written earlier, with a speech outline in my hand. I marched up to the front of the room, and faced the audience.

The speaker sat down, and a nervous laugh went through the group.

The agnostic is going to cut loose ….

What is the unbeliever going to say?

And that first day of my life in Christ, I told the story, thanking people individually for their little acts of kindness to me.

(From that point onward, Brian did not fear dying. Referring back to a previous conversation, he said,“When I say I don’t fear death, it’s that I know who is waiting for me, and there’s nothing to fear.”—T.]

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Additional Thoughts from Trinka:
I know that Brian longed to be the “Rob” who would tell you about what God had done in his life. But I feel privileged to be able to share this, and to do it in his stead. Because Brian’s encounter with God was such a turning point in his life, it gave him a great passion for those he loved to have the same certainty of knowing God personally and having all their sins forgiven.  

Very early in our relationship, Brian suggested we start praying together every evening. I don’t remember one night when he didn’t, by name, pray for those he loved, that God would draw you to Himself.  

It’s tragic that we lost him just now … with so much happiness just over the horizon. But I can say confidently that he would count his ‘untimely’ death well worth it, if you … the person he loved, who is reading this right now … would come to the understanding Brian came to:  that he was a sinner who could not save himself by doing good or religious things–and that you, like him, need to trust in Christ alone for salvation. I saw firsthand how he longed to be together with you in heaven, and if that were to happen as a result of losing him just now, you could then enjoy that meeting with him in paradise. I would count it worth it.  

It is possible to be certain. It’s possible to know. I’d like to close with the Scriptures that Brian wanted on his gravestone, and ask you, if you aren’t certain that things are right between you and God, to pursue that above all else. Come email or write me; my contact information follows.

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. – 1 John 5:13

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, [he is] a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17

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Trinka Jeffery can be reached at trinkajeffery@gmail.com, or through regular mail c/o AFTAH, PO Box 5522, Naperville, IL 60567-5522

As seen at Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, posted with permission.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Brian Fitzpatrick is the managing editor of BarbWire. A Washington, DC-based writer and editor, Brian reports and comments on politics, culture, religion and theology when he isn't editing books. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Capital Bible Seminary. You can reach him at brianfitzpatrick@barbwire.com

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