Author: Pastor Keith Merriman
July 01, 2023

I was raised in a devout Roman Catholic family.  I attended a Catholic grade school for eight years and then attended a private Catholic high school for boys run by the Jesuits.  I was religious growing up.  I was an altar boy for six years and was in a Catholic boy scout troop, where I earned the Ad Altare Dei medal for finishing the religious program.  I was baptized at six weeks old and confirmed at 12, when I received my first communion.  I believed that I could get to heaven by works and therefore prayed the rosary, did the stations of the cross, went to confession weekly, and even made Novenas to the blessed virgin Mary at the Carmelite monastery in Indianapolis, Indiana.  I attended mass six days a week during my Catholic education.  When I started working, I gave 11% of my income faithfully to the church hoping that 1% extra would please God.    

In reality, all of this was just outward conformity because I was living a life of sin.  I was a thief, a liar, and a drunkard.  I ran with a gang in Indianapolis called the Counts for a while during high school.  Sin was a pattern of my life even though I was religious. 

In 1969 (I was 16), I met Nancy Blair at a Catholic Youth Organization ping pong tournament.  She came with a friend who was Catholic, but Nancy was raised a Baptist.  I fell in love with her the moment I saw her and determined to marry her.  Our parents did not approve of our seeing each other and tried to split us up.  That didn’t work!  We dated for four years through high school and into college.  During those four years Nancy would at times attend the Catholic church with me.  We decided to marry in 1973.  Nancy had to take instruction in the Catholic faith and sign a paper saying we would raise our children in the Roman Catholic faith.  We had two children, Michael and Melinda, over the next three years.  While we continued to attend the Catholic church during this time, Nancy had an increasing dissatisfaction with the church.  She wanted to hear the Bible taught, but the priest, who was always asking for money, focused on the social gospel instead. 

One day in the summer of 1976, the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door.  Nancy began to study with a lady from that group.  Our real troubles began when the lady told Nancy there was no hell.  Nancy and I began to have conflict over what I believed as a Catholic and what she was being taught by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I went to see our parish priest, but he was no help.  In the fall of 1976, the Jehovah’s Witness lady revealed to Nancy that she bought a dress for a special occasion, used it, and then took it back, claiming to the clerk that she didn’t use it in order to get her money back.  Nancy and I wondered, “How could someone who ‘knows’ the Bible be so dishonest?”

It was during that time that I met Scott May at Kroger where I was working.  I was intrigued by his life.  He was joyful, and he did not smoke, drink, lie, tell dirty jokes, or act immorally. 

One night, I invited Scott over to our house to play bridge with another coworker.  That night, Nancy and I got into a fight over the card game.  I went to bed mad, and the other coworker left.  Scott stayed and talked with Nancy.  He shared with her the booklet, “The Four Spiritual Laws.”  It reminded Nancy of what she had learned in the Baptist church.  Afterwards, Nancy called the Jehovah’s Witness lady and told her not to come back to the house.  Scott asked her to visit the Eagle Creek Grace Brethren Church where he was attending.  She asked me if she could go and I said yes. 

After attending Eagle Creek for a few weeks, Nancy asked the pastor to come and visit me.  This was in the middle of winter and it was very cold.  When the pastor came to the door, Nancy answered it, and I locked her outside on the porch because I was mad she brought a Protestant pastor to our house.  She had to climb back into the house through a bedroom window.

It was about that time that Kroger transferred Scott to another location.  Nancy continued to attend Eagle Creek.  She kept asking me to go with her, but I refused.  She also kept asking if the pastor could come and visit.  I finally said yes just to get her to stop asking me.  He was to come on a Thursday night at 6 p.m., because I wanted to watch an Indiana University basketball game that started at 7 p.m.  Nancy left with the children so the pastor could talk with me alone. 

The pastor did not come until 7 p.m., and I was not very happy.  But I allowed him in.  After he sat down, he asked me a question no one had ever asked me: “Keith, if you died tonight do you know you would go to heaven for sure?”  I replied that no one could know that for sure.  He pulled a little pocket testament out of his suit coat pocket and said he wanted to share something from the Bible with me.  I interrupted him and said that he did not know anything about me.  I was raised in a devout Roman Catholic family, was an altar boy, and even attended a Jesuit High School.  He looked at me and said that he too was raised in a devout Roman Catholic family, that he was also an altar boy, and that he had gone to a Catholic High School run by the Dominicans.  Now I was ready to listen.

As Pastor Paul attempted to share from his pocket testament, I said that he could not share from a Protestant Bible.  I had a Catholic Family Bible under the coffee table (that I had never read, only entered marriage and birth information), so I pulled it out and instructed Pastor Paul to share from this Bible.  He was happy to do that.  He shared with me that there was a book in the Bible that told people how to know for sure that they could go to heaven.  It was called the book of Romans.  He explained how God looked down on the rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, and that God’s conclusion about all mankind was found in Romans 3:10, which states that “there is no one righteous, not even one.” 

He asked me if I knew what “righteous” meant and I said no.  He said that it meant perfect.  There was no one perfect but God, who was holy and just and the only one who is perfect.  I knew I was not perfect, but thought I was better than some.  He shared with me from Romans 3:23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and I was convicted at that moment that God knew I was a sinner.  I was scared.  He asked me if I knew how sin entered the world and I said no.  He shared with me Romans 5:12: “through one man sin entered the world.” He shared with me about Adam and Eve and the story of God casting them out of the garden of Eden after they sinned and disobeyed Him by eating the forbidden fruit.  I knew I had disobeyed God also. 

Pastor Paul then shared with me Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”  He also shared Romans 6:23: “the wages of sin is death.”  He shared that the penalty for sin was not just physical death (separation of body and soul), but also spiritual death (separation of the sinner from God in hell).  I knew there was a heaven and a hell, and for the first time realized that I deserved to go to hell and that was where God was going to send me. 

In response, I asked Pastor Paul, “then how can anyone go to heaven?”  He shared with me Romans 5:8: “but God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  He shared that Jesus, God’s Son, became a human being and lived a sinless life and then died on the cross, shedding His blood to pay for man’s sin, was buried and rose again.  He shared that Jesus took my place on the cross.  I knew it was true!  I had a crucifix in my bedroom growing up, so I always knew that Jesus died on the cross, but I never really understood that He died for Keith. 

Pastor Paul then shared with me Romans 10:9-10: “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”  He also emphasized that salvation was a free gift and that it was not by works.  He read Ephesians 2:8-9: “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 that no one should boast.”  

I rejected the gospel at that point.  I could not believe that all I had done over the past 20 years (going to church, giving my money, saying the rosary, and doing penance) was worthless.  Pastor Paul explained that God’s Word said my works were like filthy rags.  Also, I was not ready to give up Keith’s life.  I knew if I believed in Jesus it meant turning from my sinful life and following Him, and I was not ready to do that.  I liked living Keith’s life.  But I also knew I was going to hell if I died. 

The next day I was miserable.  I cried, I worried, I was scared of going to hell.  This went on for a few weeks.  Pastor Paul called that next week and asked if I would like to play basketball with his church team.  Of course, I said yes.  I went and played and met a bunch of men just like Scott May. 

One Wednesday night, February 23, 1977, I knew I had to go to the church with Nancy and talk with Pastor Paul again.  After prayer meeting, I went forward and asked Pastor Paul to talk with me.  For three hours I asked him questions about Catholicism, papal succession, the Mass, Mary, confession, etc.  Pastor Paul ultimately said, “Keith you will never understand these things until you accept Christ.”  I was scared of hell, but I knew how to escape it.  I got down on my knees that night at about 11 p.m. in Pastor Paul’s office and confessed my sins to Christ.  I asked Christ for forgiveness and the gift of eternal life, and I committed myself to follow Christ.  Jesus answered my prayer.  The guilt of sin was finally lifted! 

Pastor Paul asked me if I would come forward Sunday morning and allow him to tell the people in the church, who had been praying for me, that I had been saved.  I said yes.  When I went forward that Sunday morning, I remember saying to Jesus in my heart, “if You can save me I will do anything for You.”  I did not really know what that meant, but I meant it from my heart.  I was baptized by trine immersion that same Sunday night (after having two flat tires trying to get to church). The next Thursday night, Gary Louk (the man in the church who would disciple me for the next eight months before I would leave for seminary) took me on evangelism visitation, where we shared the gospel with a group of young ladies who had visited the church.  He instructed me to memorize the Romans Road and share it the following Thursday night.  I practiced sharing the gospel with Nancy over the course of the next week.  When Thursday came, Gary allowed me to share the gospel with a young man who had visited the church.  Gary noted that I shared the verses out of order and said to the young man, “you don’t want to accept Christ do you?”  To our surprise, the young man did want to accept Christ. I was hooked on evangelism! 

That summer, Pastor Paul took Nancy and I to the Grace Brethren Fellowship national conference in Winona Lake, Indiana.  Pastor Jim Custer was preaching that God needed men for the ministry.  I was convicted by the Holy Spirit that I should become a pastor, and I found myself in Winona Lake, Indiana that fall preparing for classes at Grace Theological Seminary.  After four years of intensive study, I became the pastor of the newly-formed Orrville Grace Brethren church in Orrville, Ohio.  After a dozen years there, a year in Africa, five years as a pastor in Parkersburg, West Virginia, I am now completing twenty years of ministry at the Grace Brethren Chapel in Gibsonburg, Ohio.  What a joy and privilege it has been to serve my Master and Savior, Jesus Christ, for more than 46 years!!





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1820 State Route 590 | Gibsonburg, OH 43431-7800
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