Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Mullingar to Dundalk

My father, Kevin McCarthy, was born in Co. Wexford in 1919. At the age of three he moved with his family to Dublin after the death of his mother. When he was ten his father died too, and he was raised by his older brothers and sister. His first job was with the ESB, based in Waterford. Then the ‘Emergency’ came along and he decided to join up for a short while, intending to return to his former work when the whole thing blew over. The ‘Emergency’, which to most other people would be better known as the Second World War, lasted from 1939 to 1945. My dad had been given a temporary commission as a Lieutenant and in 1946 he decided to go the whole hog and sign up for the permanent army life. He became an artillery officer and served with the U.N. on two occasions, in the Congo in 1961 and then in Cyprus in 1967. In 1975 he retired having reached the rank of Commandant.

In 1946, too, he married my mother, Marian ‘May’ Moran, from Kerry. His work brought them to Mullingar where they spent more than twenty-five years. In this time they brought seven children into the world. The second child, Ailish, died after only eight days. In 1959, after five daughters, along came the one and only son, and last member of the family, me. My oldest sister, Kay, got to choose my name, Niall.

Ours was a typically Irish Catholic home, mass every Sunday and, in my early years, confession regularly and the rosary and Angelus almost every day. I even served as an altar boy in the local cathedral for several months. (That involved training for a few months, one evening a week, learning the responses to the priest during mass, in English, Irish and Latin!) One thing I remember from those days was my father encouraging me to read from the giant family Bible we had at home. He suggested the gospel of Luke, which I think must have been his favourite. I did read it a little but being about seven or eight I usually found the beautiful illustrations more interesting than the text!

My memories of Mullingar are distant now. Mostly they’re very good. From 1963 to 1968 we lived in the Army Barracks. As you can imagine this was like a giant playground for a young boy, soldiers, guns, firing range, armoured vehicles, artillery pieces and so on. On a couple of occasions I recall special events when the twenty-five-pounder guns would be fired in the Barracks Square and there were times when a helicopter would drop in, too. All very exciting for this youngster. School life was also great fun for me. All in all I remember those early years with fondness.

In the summer of 1968 my dad became the Civil Defence Officer for County Louth and we moved to Dundalk. In April 1969 we moved into our new home in the village of Knockbridge, about four miles outside the town. This was to be our family home until 1993. The change from living in an Army Barracks to the countryside seemed to dramatically affect me. Here I became shy, developing a strong stammer, quite a change from the cocky little officer’s brat I had been in Mullingar! Nonetheless I also remained arrogant and very argumentative!

Leaving my religion!

I was a very sincere Catholic, believing all the major teachings of my church. I never doubted what I had been taught but neither had I ever really looked into it in any depth. So, nothing of spiritual significance happened in my life until I was about nineteen. For the first time I was seriously challenged to check my religious beliefs. I had on many occasions defended my Catholic faith, in school and other places, but this was different. Now I was being asked to compare what I believed with what the Bible says. It had never even occurred to me to do this before, after all wasn’t ours the one true church which was the source of truth itself?

What happened next shocked me initially and then turned my life upside down for years to follow. I started to meet with a new religious group through working as a volunteer with the local Simon Community. I discovered several teachings in the Bible which seemed to directly contradict things I had learned in my upbringing. Some of these turned out to be nothing more than this particular religion playing with the Bible to support their own new teachings but one, in particular, had a devastating effect on me. I was shown for the first time that the Lord Jesus had brothers and sisters. There it was, on the pages of the Bible, Matthew 13: 54-56 and Mark 6:3. Even the names of His brothers, James, Joses, Judas and Simon! This was quite a problem for me. I had been taught that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had remained a virgin to her death and that this had some spiritual significance. Now I could see for myself that this was untrue. I had kept a statue of Mary in my bedroom, even into my teens. This new information brought me to question everything I had believed up to this point.

I had to decide whether the Bible should have the final say. After all, it claimed to be the very Word of God Himself. In it we find out all we know about Jesus and God the Father. Could I accept the teachings of any church that contradicted God’s Word? It only took me a couple of days to realize that I could only trust the Bible. So I left the Catholic Church, knowing that if they couldn’t be trusted on this major doctrine of theirs, then they couldn’t be trusted on any at all! My parents were stunned, in particular my mother.

Leaving my religion behind didn’t mean, however, that I was gong to abandon all I had learned from childhood. I had a very strong sense of right and wrong, of sin and punishment. (I look back at myself during those years and see how self-righteous I was, judging and looking down on people around me.) I was particularly fixed in my attitude to relationships with the opposite sex. I was sure that the only right relationship to pursue was marriage and that I was to keep myself pure for my future wife! Sadly, all my good intentions in this area only served to show just how sinful and deceitful the human heart can be!

Needle in a haystack?

So, I had left one false church but I didn’t want to jump straight into another one. The group I had been spending time with, the Baha’i religion, soon proved to be just another new sect, based on the ideas of one man from the Middle East in the 1800’s and with little real knowledge of the Bible at all. The people who held these meetings were all very sincere and very friendly but that was no test of whether they had the truth or not. Very soon I found myself drifting away from them altogether. Next I checked out the Mormon church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as they are called). At first they seemed to have something of a handle on the things of God, but of course they too decided to add to the Bible many of their own ideas. It took only a few months of attending their meetings to see yet another new cult based on the teachings of ordinary men. One thing I had decided was that I wouldn’t be joining any group or church until I was sure.

Looking back over these years I understand that I didn’t have great insight or knowledge that guided me safely away from these groups but I believe that God had protected me from myself. All I could trust in was the fact that I was sure the Bible was the absolute Word of God. To be honest, there were even times I wavered from that conviction and more than once I questioned the whole idea of God, Jesus, etc.

Heart Attack

Around this time, my father went through an experience that I only found out about several years later. In January 1977 he suffered a major heart attack and took a long time to recover. During one of the episodes he went through in hospital he was revived using one of those electrical gadgets we now see so often on T.V. medical dramas, a defibrillator. In the Louth County Hospital it was affectionately known as the ‘mule’ because of the kick it gave a person’s chest! My dad later explained to me how, as he was being revived, he thought he heard a woman’s voice promising him that he wouldn’t die. Shortly afterwards he made a reasonable recovery and eventually was allowed back home. He never asked any of the staff if anyone had spoken to him during the incident. He presumed, for a very long time, that it must have been the voice of the Blessed Virgin Mary speaking to him. He never checked, he just took it for granted!

A wing and a prayer

My search continued, meanwhile, notwithstanding the very poor reception I got when I told my parents that I had left their church. I suppose it was hard for them to see their youngest take such a strong stance against what they sincerely believed. I remember my mother crying in the kitchen one afternoon. I asked her why she was so upset and she told me how she thought that each of her children had disappointed her. Typically, I wanted to be excluded from such a charge but she said that departing from her church was my crime.

In the early eighties I heard the gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time. That may sound a bit surprising but it is true. All that I had been brought up to believe and all that I had heard from these other religious groups left me in complete darkness. None of them had the slightest clue about Jesus and His death for sinners. They had the words, mostly, and the facts, sort of, but not the meaning, not the understanding. Finally I got to hear why Jesus lived and died. The truth was shown to me and it was so very simple and so very crushing.

I watched a very poor quality film in a house in Dundalk, shown by an American Missionary couple, Dave and Betty. Along with two friends, I went to this film show and saw, for the first time in my life, what the Bible teaches about sin, hell and God. Although the film was badly made and badly acted, the content was riveting! Everything in it was straight from the Bible. What I watched that evening began a process that eventually brought me to my knees and into an eternal relationship with God!

Unfortunately, the process was not a smooth or simple one. I started to attend Bible studies in this home and in other homes around the town. I learned a few very interesting things during those studies. The true nature of the Christian church, that Christ is its founder and head, not any man! Therefore no church or group based on the ideas of any ordinary person could possibly be a Christian church. I saw that no amount of good works that we might do could make us right with God. I found out that there is no Purgatory and that confessing sins to another man doesn’t earn forgiveness! I began to get a clearer picture of why Jesus lived and died as He did. Over and over again the simple message was given to me. Christ died for sinners. He was punished for the sins of others. He was the only person who had never sinned. Imagine that! Not for a moment did He even think something that was wrong!

I began to see from the Bible that I was a sinner in serious trouble. Any doubts I had held about sin, hell and punishment were removed by the words I saw in the Holy Scriptures.

What happened next, however, served to send me on a much longer journey to the truth than I had expected. Dave persuaded me to repeat a prayer after him. He asked me if I believed certain things about God, Jesus and my sin. When I answered ‘yes’ to each question he then encouraged me to pray using the words he told me. I know now he had the best intentions in the world but what he did was very foolish! For some reason he seemed to think that salvation could be assured by saying a prayer. It can’t.

I prayed that prayer and I really thought I was saved. And for more than five years I went along with the notion that I was right with God.

Good intentions

For a few months I attended Bible studies in Dave’s house, now on the Rock Rd., in Blackrock near Dundalk. Then one evening he started to talk about some verses in the Bible which referred to those who worked in the gospel earning their living from preaching it. My scepticism kicked in very quickly, along with an alarm bell or two! I had seen and read about many of the American T.V. evangelists who were deceiving and robbing poor foolish people of their earnings and savings. Suddenly it seemed that Dave was just like them, albeit on a much smaller scale. Well here was one guy who wasn’t going to be suckered! Without an explanation or farewell I simply never turned up for any more of the Bible studies. In fact I even avoided Dave whenever I spotted him about town. (To be fair to him, Dave was only telling me what the Bible does say about those in full-time ministry making their living out of it)

I mentioned that I had attended these meetings with two others. Siobhan, Anthony and I were involved in youth work in Knockbridge, our home village. Each of us declared around this time that we had been saved and with the enthusiasm of youth we immediately started a Bible study, inviting our friends from the Youth Club. We wanted to tell everyone about this wonderful message of salvation! The local parish priest heard about it and invited himself along. Michael Hardy was a very straight man, what you saw was what you got. After a few weeks he gently but firmly put an end to our study. We didn’t put up too much of a fight. I tried to tell Michael about the need of salvation many years later, but he seemed very closed to the truth. He died a few years ago and my hope is that at that time, despite our youth and ignorance, we did share the gospel of Christ with him. Siobhan, Anthony and I went our own ways shortly after this. Looking back, I believe that only Siobhan was truly saved at that time and she continues to serve the Lord with her husband and family in Northern California.

These times were not without their humour. One local wit, hearing the term ‘born-again’ being used about the three of us asked if we each now had two bellybuttons! It was one of several jokes that went around Knockbridge about us for a while afterwards.


Of course I didn’t realise it then but I was in very serious trouble. Here I was, cut off from Bible study and contact with Christians, thinking I was safe and secure with God.

I don’t mind saying that I am a bit slow and very stubborn sometimes. It took more than five years for me to fully recognise that I had never been truly saved. Nothing had really changed in my life. I did continue to read my Bible and pray, but intermittently and often when I was in trouble or wanted something. There were many nighttimes during those years when I cried and cried myself to sleep, asking God to help me. The next morning, however, I would carry on as before. The pain of self-pity had passed and I was back to running my own life, as always.

It may help you to know that from my teenage years right into my late twenties I was a bit of a rebel. I didn’t get into anything illegal but I did have a habit of trying to be very different from the crowd. During this time, for instance, thanks in part to my Christian Brothers education and a trip to the Irish Summer College in the Gaeltacht in Rannafast, I changed my name to its Irish spelling, MacCárthaigh (I still use that form today). I wore an Afro hairstyle for many of those years too. It would be fair to say that those who knew me were never too surprised to hear me come out with some new idea, religious or otherwise. So, when I told my friends what was going on, they would take it in their stride, dismissing it all as another of ‘his crazy notions’.

Plus ça change...

On the 4th of July 1985 my mother died of a heart attack. She was in hospital being treated for angina. She had worried constantly because of her husband’s heart trouble and she worried about many other things too. All of these worries and disappointments seem to have taken their toll. My dad had been ill for many years prior to this and losing his wife of over thirty years didn’t help. In fact, he got steadily worse over the next two or three years. He and I now lived together in Knockbridge. I had no idea then, of course, but that fact was to prove crucial many years later.

Thank God, that’s not how this story ends. Let me explain a little of my view of things at the time. From the middle of my teens I had a desire to be married. It was more an ideal than a realistic idea of marriage. Almost every girl I dated I proposed to, or wanted to! In 1987 I fell madly in love, convinced that this was the one. Very soon we got engaged and planned to marry. I had told her that I was a Christian, that I had been born again in 1982. Of course, since I wasn’t truly saved nothing had changed in me. It’s only when God saves someone that His Holy Spirit enters into their life and begins to transform them. So, it didn’t have much affect on our relationship. We carried on like most other couples our age. But things gradually got worse for me. Every time we faced difficulties I was finding it harder and harder to sort out the problems. It dawned on me, finally, that nothing had ever happened to me back in 1982. I was still the same old sinner, only now with some Bible head-knowledge.

Getting help

After returning from a holiday in Rome the whole thing came crashing down around me. I could see clearly that, far from being a Christian, I was a lost sinner who was no use to myself and certainly of no use to my fiancée.

I prayed to God on a Wednesday night. This time I was very serious. I knew that I had fooled myself for many years. I knew that I had to get right with God, and soon. My prayer was very simple. “God, please show me where I can hear the true Gospel and where you have a true Church”. I could recall two things I had read in the Bible, both of them from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Himself. He had said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church and that whoever wanted to be His disciple would have to forsake everything, Matthew 16:18 and Luke 14:33.

Again I don’t claim to be very clever or scholarly but I had figured out some things. I couldn’t trust the Catholic or Protestant churches or any other group which was based on the teachings of men or had a human head. I knew that a true church of Christ would be based on the Bible and nothing else. But I knew very little else. Also, when I thought about ‘forsaking all’ to follow Christ I decided to break off my engagement. I felt sure that unless I did this I would never seriously seek God.

At that time in Dundalk there was a Christian bookshop in Dublin St., called ‘My Word’. It was managed by an elderly gentleman, Bob McAlister, whom I had met at Bible studies several years previously. I called to see him in the shop and asked him where I might find a good Bible study in this town. My reasoning was straightforward. Bob was too old to be involved in any of the new cults I had heard about, especially the crazy variety coming out of the U.S. Now I know this is not exactly high reasoning but I believe that the Lord used it to guide me just where He wanted to put me, in answer to my prayer.

Bob directed me to a study being held in a house on the Long Avenue. So the next night, Friday, I went along to this house. My ex-fiancée had insisted on coming along. To be honest, I was delighted. I did hope that both of us might find the truth together but I knew that it was something we couldn’t do for one another.

Making sense

Bible studies in this house were held every Friday evening, Sunday morning and Wednesday evening. We never missed one. Week after week we visited and listened and asked some questions. Each time I went there I expected to hear something about this group being the ‘Right One’ or something like that. Or I expected to hear someone say that we had to join them to be sure of Heaven. I even thought that they might just be in it for the money.

What actually happened was better. In spite of my scepticism and suspicions they never did do any of the things I feared. Almost all they ever spoke about was the Bible and who Jesus is. They often encouraged questions and recommended that we check everything that was said for ourselves. We were never to simply take their word for it! Well, I did, check things, that is. I took careful note of all they said and I watched how they behaved, too.

Questions were always answered from the Bible. Nothing was dismissed or ignored. These people were patient and friendly. But, I had met patient and friendly before. What I found here that was different was a certainty that the Bible was the Word of God. These men and women seemed to understand not just the obvious stuff in the Bible but the more important stuff, the ‘whys’. As the weeks went by I was getting a clearer and fuller picture of who Jesus is and why He lived and died. I had heard much of this before, as I said, but now things were starting to make more sense.


One Friday evening it all came to a head. After yet another enjoyable evening of preaching we stayed back to chat to everyone. I met a man from Newry, Jim, who opened up his conversation with me by asking, ‘Are you saved?’ I had never been directly challenged like this, so after a few seconds hesitation I responded, ‘No’. It was the first time since going to these meetings that I had admitted this to anyone. He then proceeded to tell me how the Lord had saved him before the war and kept him all these years.

As I was leaving my girlfriend home later I got an irresistible urge to return to the house we had just left. She argued strongly against the idea and suggested leaving things until Sunday. We had a very loud row and she stormed off to her flat. I sat and simmered for a few minutes. Then I did something I had never done in my life before. I turned away from my chance to get things sorted out. You have to understand, I always tried to get arguments sorted there and then. I hated to leave things, even for an hour or two.

But this time, I drove away and returned to the house we had left. It was half past midnight. The only other person who hadn’t gone home was Stephen, the person I wanted to speak to. He had led most of the Bible studies I had attended. I needed to ask some questions and I needed to ask them there and then. Stephen was more than happy to sit with me and listen and answer. My main request was this: ‘Show me, one more time, what the Bible says about being saved.’

Stephen showed me several verses and passages from the Bible. There was nothing I hadn’t seen or heard before, many, many times; ‘for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ Romans 3:23, ‘the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ Romans 6:23, and so on.

It was all very clear to me. I was a sinner. God is Holy. He hates all sin. He must punish all sin. He must punish my sin! He sent his only begotten Son, Jesus, to die for sinners, to die for me! I knew I had to respond. I had to pray to God. I needed His forgiveness and His mercy. I was so afraid of repeating my mistake of years earlier that I even asked Stephen how I should pray. I didn’t want to repeat a formula of words but I wanted to be sure that my prayer covered the necessary things. Stephen advised me and I got down on my knees in that small meeting room. In my own, awkward words I spoke to God. I prayed for His forgiveness. I told Him that I was a sinner. I knew Jesus had suffered and died for sinners. I knew that God had promised that anyone who believed in Jesus, and Jesus only, for the forgiveness of sins would be saved. I asked God to save me. I was trusting in the fact that God says in His Word that He would have mercy on anyone who asked Him.

As I finished my short prayer there was no great emotional outpouring. There was no blinding light or sound of angels singing. What did happen was amazing though. As I rose to my feet I knew, I really knew, that God had heard my prayer. I knew that all my sins, yes, all of them, were forgiven. God had kept His promise that ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Romans 10:13. For me, that came true on the morning of October 31, 1987.


One thing I remember saying to Stephen very soon afterwards was, ‘When can I be baptised?’ I don’t remember anyone preaching about it. But everywhere I read in the Bible about people being saved they were always baptised straightaway. Stephen didn’t give me a quick answer and I would have to wait a little while before I got to follow my Saviour by going into the water!

It would be nice to say that from then on it was plain sailing. Sadly, in many ways, things got worse. When I told my girlfriend what had happened she was upset. The next Sunday she was very out of sorts during the morning meeting and spoke to Stephen straight afterwards. She too prayed to God and said she was saved. It seemed that God had answered my secret wish for both of us to be saved together. (I had understood early on that a Christian should only marry another Christian.) We weren’t engaged but in many ways our relationship had continued on as before. This proved to be a battleground over the following months.

I’m not sure what kind of impact my new life made on those around me. I had been working in McGahon and O’Neill’s TV shop for a couple of years. Of course I had already told them that I was a Christian (when I wasn’t really) so I don’t know if they really took any notice of what I said about all this. My family and friends, understandably, saw yet another passing craze, I suppose!

Plans were made for us to be baptised. There was a Baptist church in Newry whose building had a newly installed indoor baptismal tank. Big enough to immerse us in the proper Biblical fashion. We went to the Newry Baptist Centre in November. Originally I had been asked to say a few words to those attending about my conversion but at the last moment I chickened out because of nerves and settled for a simple ‘questions and answers’ with Stephen.

One of the visitors who came along was my dad. I don’t remember if I invited my sisters or if I even told them. But I was so delighted that my dad was there. This was one of the greatest days of my life and I wanted him to share it with me, even if he couldn’t understand very much about it. I had already begun to pray that God would save him too. That became a prayer which really tested my faith in God.

Break up

A lot happened over the following months. We got engaged, again! We started to make plans for a summer wedding. The group we were meeting with decided to form as a church. What had previously been called the Dundalk Christian Fellowship became, in February 1988, the Dundalk Baptist Church, and we were among the eight founding members.

Things between us began to sour all over again. I know now that I was largely to blame. I didn’t see it then but I was living hypocritically. Although I was now saved I was still living in a relationship that was ungodly. We struggled with it, over and over again. Instead of getting help from my new family of fellow Christians I tried what I had always done in the past. To fix it myself. That was a foolish mistake. Understandably, my girlfriend pulled away from the Church and we came to a crossroads. I wanted to go on in the Christian life but she had other plans. There came a day when I made a decision. One Sunday after service I called to see her and ended our relationship. It was very difficult. I had made my mind up and I wasn’t turning back. We talked only a few more times after that and very soon there was no contact at all.


However, for me the problems hadn’t ended. I continued thinking and behaving in a very un-Christian way. I suppose you might call it a rebound or something but within a couple of weeks I got involved in an on-off relationship with another girl I knew. She attended some of the services with me. It only lasted weeks and ended as quickly as it had started. She wasn’t a Christian and I shouldn’t have been anything more than a friend to her. I believe I pushed someone away from the truth, again. It showed how little I had changed since I was saved. The following year I started yet another relationship. Although she was saved shortly after we started going together everything about it was wrong. This was to prove to be a continuing problem for me as a Christian over many years.

Now, the average person out there might think I’m being a little harsh on myself because I think it’s wrong to have had the relationships I’ve had. Almost every time I went out with a girl I hoped it would be physically pure and end up in marriage. I often slipped from that high ideal as the relationships went on, however, and acted like most other men. As a Christian I should have behaved better. There is no excuse for my behaviour. I’ve confessed each sin to God and I believe He’s forgiven me, but the shame of what I’ve done still lingers on. And I can’t go back and undo the harm.

Growing, bit by bit

Some things did change in my life though. I found a new desire to be with other Christians and an appetite for the Bible. I attended as many meetings and studies as I could, eager and hungry to know more. But in another area I was far from eager. Because of my sceptical nature I found myself double-checking almost everything that was preached or taught at these meetings. It wasn’t anything personal against Stephen or the other teachers but I tended to treat them with a hint of suspicion. It was three years after God saved me that I finally confessed to Stephen that I had been thinking this way and told him how the Lord had given me a new attitude. What a difference that made!

Another thing that was brought to my attention was my attitude towards two men that I knew. For many years I had hated them. Each had hurt someone I knew and I felt justified feeling this hatred towards them. Then we did a study from the Bible on forgiveness and the words of the Lord Jesus saying that hatred is equal to murder really convicted me of my sinful attitude. I realised that I had no right to think or feel this way anymore. However, it took two months of prayer and pleading with God before I was able to have a complete change of heart. I began to pray that God would save them, too, and the hatred disappeared very quickly.

Stresses and strains

The situation at home got intense for different reasons. Now that I was saved I was very eager for my dad to be saved too. Typically impatient and foolish, I thought that I had to try to convince him of his need to be born again. I didn’t stop to think of how it had been God who had convinced me of the truth, not anyone else. For the next three or four years my dad had to listen to me preach at him whenever I thought the opportunity arose. It was inevitable that things would overheat.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened but I do remember the day very well. Yet again I decided to lecture my dad on his sin and the fact he was heading to hell. I wasn’t gentle or even respectful. All I could see was my dad dying and going to everlasting torment. It bothered me a lot. I prayed for his salvation regularly. I tried to get others to witness to him. Occasionally he would attend a meal held at the Church Centre and he got to know many of the members quite well.

So, on this particular day dad drove to my sister’s after my ‘preaching’ at him. Just before he walked out the door he told me he wanted me to move out. I was devastated. I went to my room and cried to the Lord. Too late I could see my mistake. As I prayed, God helped me see that my dad was right to expect different behaviour from his own son and from a Christian. I asked God to forgive me and I resigned myself to the idea of finding somewhere new to live. By the time dad got back I was ready to apologise and make plans to leave. I did ask his forgiveness but he had also had a rethink and allowed me to stay. From then on I decided to wait on the Lord for a clear opportunity to witness to him.

Something's happening with Dad!

He always kept away from Bible studies or anything that would expose him to the Gospel too much. All that changed, though, in the summer of 1992. Dad hadn’t told me at the time but he knew that he was slowing down. He didn’t really know what was wrong but he had a sense that he was getting sicker and sicker. For many of the previous years he had enjoyed better health than during those years before and after my mother’s death. This change had been fairly sudden and it had frightened him a little.

Having completely changed my approach to him the year before, I knew God wanted me to back off and to leave it to Him to show dad the truth. As I said already I wasn’t naturally patient but the Lord really helped me with this one. We had gone to Paris in September on a short holiday with two friends from the church. When we got home my dad went to the doctor and eventually spent a little time in hospital. Around this time dad did something which totally shocked me.

There was a pastor from an American Church visiting for a few weeks (Yes, I had come to terms somewhat with my suspicion of all Americans!) and he had offered to do a study on the book of Revelation. My dad was very interested, as he had always found it curious that the Catholic Church seemed to avoid this particular part of the Bible. He was so interested, in fact, that he suggested having one of the series of studies in our home. This was truly astounding. On several occasions I had hosted Bible studies and prayer meetings in our home but dad had always stayed in another room, only joining us for the cup of tea and the chat afterwards. Now he actually wanted to have a Bible study for himself!!

Nothing particularly dramatic happened at that study and my dad didn’t show any more signs of spiritual curiosity at the time. In all the conversations we had, especially since I had stopped trying to browbeat him into the Kingdom of God, we had agreed to differ on most things. He had developed a very strong trust in the Bible as time went on, though. Out of the blue he would start up conversations on the differences between his religion and the Bible. On one occasion he read a book dealing with the history of the Popes. He agreed that they were only ordinary men but he said his faith wasn’t in them but mainly in Mary and the Mass.

Telly troubles

Around this time I went through a personal battle! Having worked in the TV retail business for several years I was beginning to get very disillusioned with the content of TV programmes. I felt that as a TV installer I was contributing to the problem in society, albeit on a small scale! It came to a head that autumn and I handed in my notice at work. I didn’t even have another job to go to. To say that I over-reacted would be an understatement! Nor did I have the wit to talk things over with more mature Christian people like my pastor, Stephen. Like so many things in my Christian walk, I was going to have to learn the hard way! Thankfully, the Lord, as always, would have a way of working even this foolish decision of mine for good, Romans 8:28!

Time running out

My dad’s sickness got worse and he went back into hospital just before the New Year. My sisters and I were told the next day that he had terminal cancer and had only months to live. He didn’t find out for another day, though he suspected. I spoke to him the night I was told and I saw the first glimmer of light. He said to me, ‘You know, lying here in hospital gives me plenty of time to think. I’m asking God to show me whether what I’ve believed all my life or what you believe in the Bible, is true.’ I could have collapsed with shock. I wanted to cheer. Here, for the first time that I could actually see, was my dad asking the right question. Finally he was turning to God instead of relying on the religion he had inherited.

I turned to the most serious prayer I had ever known. I contacted the whole Church and asked for their prayers too. I knew that I had to avoid falling back into old patterns and habits. This had to be left to God, entirely. I did have an idea of how I thought God was going to get my dad to hear the gospel of Christ. I presumed it would be one of the preachers who would explain it to him. I had no idea that the Lord had a better plan.

Marie & Mary

Marie is our pastor’s wife. She and her husband were both saved in their early twenties but I had never heard just how it came about. Unknown to me the Lord had given Marie a very strong desire to speak with my dad after he got sick. Other factors were also to be used by God to help my dad come to that wonderful place of being ready to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
It was now early January 1993 and though I was saved over five years earlier I had never told my dad what had happened. During one of my visits to see him in the hospital he asked me all about it. Others from the church also got to tell him their stories. Many of the Church members dropped in to see him and this blessed him a lot. My job finished in mid-January so I was free to stay with dad day and night during these final weeks.

He was allowed home for a few days and was now unable to walk without help. I tried several local agencies to get the loan of a wheelchair but to no avail. Marie, however, managed to get one and arrived on a Saturday, quite by surprise, with the wheelchair. This was more than a chance visit. She spoke with dad for an hour and it was one of the most important chats my dad ever had in his life.

When Marie had first heard the Gospel during her student years in Dublin she had struggled with some particular issues. She was a staunch Catholic and could not let go of their teachings about Mary and the Mass. She eventually came to see what God says in the Bible and was saved. But I hadn’t realised just how tenaciously my dad was clinging to these two Catholic teachings. He had long ago seen the nonsense of the hierarchy and all the trappings of Rome. In fact he had worked his way through the many man-made rules and traditions of his Church on his own. But these two teachings seemed untouchable.

It was at this time that he told me about the voice that he had heard years earlier during his heart-attack episode. We talked it through and he acknowledged that it could very easily have been one of the nurses trying to reassure him. His conversation with Marie on that Saturday was far more significant, though. Marie had shown him in the Bible how Mary could not be sinless nor could she have any part to play in anyone’s salvation. She herself was a sinner and needed her own Son to save her! My dad saw how wrong it is to pray to her or worship her in any other way. It was like a light going on inside of him. He chatted with me later that day and said, ‘Isn’t it amazing that God came down out of heaven to become a Man and then died for my sins!’ I almost burst into tears on the spot. He was beginning to see the truth.

Prayer & Fasting

During these last days of my dad’s life I did something I had never tried before. Prayer and fasting. I had read about it in the Bible so often. As a Church we had occasionally prayed and fasted about special matters. This was different. I had a sense of great urgency. My dad was facing death. God had to either heal him or save him quickly. I knew I couldn’t lift a finger to influence my dad’s beliefs. I knew only God could do what was needed. I wanted to plead with God, to beseech Him, to implore Him, to beg Him to save my dad from hell. So, during these few weeks I fasted and prayed every second or third day. I didn’t plan it. It just seemed to happen. I would be preparing to go to bed and I would know that I would need to fast and pray the following day. So I did. I must confess it was the only time since I’ve been saved that I’ve sensed that urgency.

Two interesting things happened during those times of fasting. As I pleaded with God to have mercy on my dad I remembered my own prayer of more than five years earlier. I had completely forgotten about it. I had asked God to bring me to where I would hear the true Gospel and to a true Church. I hadn’t realised until this moment that God had answered both parts! It encouraged me tremendously to pray with more faith in God’s power and desire to answer. The other experience was far more personal and challenging

One evening as I was praying and crying for my dad, I had a fleeting glimpse of Dundalk. I didn’t actually see anything clearly. What I remember now is that I had the clear impression that not only did I need to be praying for my dad to be saved but that the whole town I lived in was in darkness and needed the Gospel too! I was overwhelmed. I felt that I had been so selfish by praying so seriously for my dad and not thinking of the tens of thousands around me who needed God’s mercy just as much.

Last night

Dad and I continued to have good spiritual discussions. He asked some questions, listened to the answers and thought about them. He listened more than he talked. Time seemed to be against him. His cancer progressed very quickly. One of my sisters, who had trained as a nurse, had recognised the signs early on. Her warnings only served to worry me more. I was worried. I tried not to doubt God but I began to get panicky.

The night before he died my dad was back in hospital. I was visiting him with two sisters. Because I was out of a job I had plenty of time on my hands and I had decided that day that I would spend each of his remaining nights with him in the hospital. Just as I was arranging to leave my sisters home Marie arrived to see my dad. She told him she wanted to have a short chat with him. Dad, at first, said that he was too tired and would talk another day but then agreed. I quickly decided to take my sisters home, as planned.

By the time I returned to the hospital Marie was just leaving my dad’s room. She told me about their conversation. One blessing during all this time was that, although my dad’s illness was slowing his body dramatically, he was still very lucid and his mind was sharp. Marie told me how she had been praying and felt the need to see my dad that night. She had explained to him that Satan would try everything to keep him from listening to the truth, even using his tiredness to get him to put things off until another time. Dad brought up his belief about the Eucharist. Once again, Marie was able to show him what the Bible says about it. She showed him how Christ’s sacrifice was once and for all, never to be repeated because it doesn’t need to be. It is finished, as Jesus Himself said. When my dad saw this he was finally free to completely trust himself to the work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. Marie helped him understand what he needed to pray about. She left him to pray in private, as he asked.

When Marie went on home, I quietly and nervously entered dad’s room. He didn’t say anything straight away but gave me a thumbs-up sign. I tried not to get too excited and gently asked what that meant. What he said next were words that caused my heart to jump for joy. He told me how he had tried to pray but couldn’t speak. He then asked Jesus to take Satan away. Immediately he was able to pray out loud. He asked Jesus to forgive him and save him. I don’t remember the exact words but that’s the gist of it.

Ready for heaven

The next few hours were extraordinary. I sat at his bedside holding his hands. We prayed and talked. I read some Scripture to him. Then he said another amazing thing to me, ‘Go get the girls.’ He wanted me to make sure that my sisters knew the truth too. Only one of them was still Catholic and he was concerned in particular about how she might take the news. He asked me to pray for them but I told him that now he could pray for them himself, too. He was delighted. I won’t pretend that his last night was completely painless or pleasant. The nurses did have to attend to him once or twice and give him more morphine, but his manner and his readiness to face death had changed.

One other thing that had changed was his dependence on his old religion. The following morning a nurse called to his room offering ‘communion’. And for the first time during his time in that hospital (that I know of) he politely refused, saying he didn’t need it any more! The nurse was more that slightly perplexed as she left. Later that afternoon my dad died. His soul left his body and he went immediately into the presence of the Lord in Heaven! Just hours before he died, dad managed to share his good news with one of my sisters and one of my nieces. The word quickly got around to the rest of the family. To say that there was a problem would be to understate things. However, I must add at this point, that of my five sisters only one was still a practicing Catholic, so the difficulties were more of a practical nature. One of the girls asked, ‘Where is he going to be buried then?’ I quickly explained that where he would be buried wasn’t a problem, much to the girls’ relief.

Fathers, Sons & Brothers

I know it’s hard to tell another person’s story. After all I can only relate those parts which I’m familiar with. I don’t know all the thoughts that went through dad’s mind during those last weeks of his life. I only know the results. He found the truth and he believed it. He gave up on his lifetime of religion and put his complete faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And that’s enough to save anyone, even a seventy-three year old dying man who simply asked God to show him the truth.

So now my father is also my brother, in Christ. Dad and I are both sons of God. Jesus is now our Brother and God is our Father (hence the title). And I will meet my dad again, soon, when I die or when the Lord Jesus comes back, as He said He would. So, although I should have been very sad over the death of my father I found my grief was short-lived. How could I stay sad when I considered where my father had gone to? When I shed a tear for him these days, it’s because I miss him. I still thank God for having mercy on an old man. God is love and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to know for sure that my dad found out in time! God loved my dad so much that he sent His only begotten Son to die on a cross for him.

Going on

Dad asked me to ‘go get the girls’ so I did tell them as much as they were prepared to listen to. So far there’s no sign that any of them knows how serious this is, but God is at work and I hope and pray that He will show them the same mercy He showed our father. It’s up to God to reveal Himself to them. It’s up to me to show them that it’s all true by how I live as a Christian.

Dad’s earthly tale finished back on the 28th of January 1993 but mine has continued on. I returned to my old job a few years later when I could see that I had acted rashly and without asking God to reveal His will to me. As I had done on a few other occasions I had a ‘gut feeling’ and had acted on that. Not very clever!


That problem I came into the Christian life with came to a head. The relationship I had been in during these years came to an end soon afterwards, inevitably! That wasn’t the end of my difficulties in this area of life. After two more disastrous (but, thankfully, short-lived) relationships I finally cried out to the Lord for the help I needed. And I got help from other mature Christians, including my pastor, Stephen and from Frank, the other church elder. You know, things began to change dramatically and quickly.

I made a vow to God that I wouldn’t even consider courting any woman until I knew He had given me the all clear. To be perfectly honest I wasn’t sure just how this would work itself out. I was determined, with God’s help, to never get into the same kind of situations I had through all my adult life. I was almost forty years old now and I came to accept that maybe I was to remain single and serve God as a bachelor. It took a few months for me to become comfortable with the idea but the Lord helped me to embrace this new outlook.

Learning how to serve!

I poured myself into those things I had neglected over the previous ten years or more since I was saved. Now I could really spend more time studying the Bible and being involved in the life of the Church. I had always been quite active in the Church and I had built my whole life around it but there was a new impetus. I found great strength to pray and study. I began to memorise verses from many books of the Bible. Those who know me well know how terrible my memory is, so I know the Lord has helped me with quite a lot with this.

I had been asked to preach or lead a Bible study on a few occasions over the years but now I found a greater desire to be involved in this part of Church work. God doesn’t start something He doesn’t plan to put into use! Over the last couple of years there have been far more times when I’ve been asked to preach or do Bible studies. I’m finally at the stage where I’m able to give back something to the Church instead of just taking from it. That is a great blessing.

Three became two!

One other major thing has happened to me recently. I found true love and got married on the 3rd of November 2002! When I gave up trying. When I handed the matter completely over to God. When I started putting my priorities in order, then God moved! I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to stand there on that Sunday afternoon and kiss my new bride for the first time. When God has something prepared for you it’s worth the wait!!

Ruth, my Christian wife, and I are both completely certain that God has handpicked us for each other. Ruth’s son, Seán, lost his father before he was born and now has a dad for the first time in his life and I have the joy of being a parent. We get to raise up our son in the ‘fear and admonition of the Lord’, as the Bible says. We get to share in all the familiar aspects of married life, too. The ups and downs. The fun and the pain. The joy and the grief. In fact, for Christians, marriage is often the same as it is for everybody else. Except for one incredible difference. God is in control and we know it! We have the assurance that no matter how tough or how severe it gets we will always have the help of God and His people. Even in the short time since we got married we’ve found that help to be invaluable.

I’m also discovering the wonder of sharing my spiritual life with another like-minded person. Ruth was a great encouragement to me when it came to putting this story down on paper. She has put her story in print and passed it to all her family, friends and former neighbours in the village of Blackrock outside Dundalk. I had wanted to relate my dad’s testimony to many people but knew it would be so difficult to sit down with each one and try to remember the details clearly. This seemed like the best way of doing it. The Bible has examples of this way of telling the Good News and also encourages us to, ‘always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear’ 1 Peter 3:15.

What about you?

This story is about the hand of the only true and living God in the life of one father and his son. The name the Bible gives Him is, YAHWEH or JEHOVAH. This means; I AM WHO I AM. God is! He is without beginning or end. He alone is truth. He alone is our Creator. He alone is the judge of sin. Neither of us knew God until He made Himself known to us. Each of us had trusted in the religious ideas we had inherited. We could have been Muslims, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews or atheists, it was an accident of birth that we were Roman Catholics. Thankfully, God was prepared to bring the truth to us. I thank God for each person He used in that chain of events He carefully linked together to bring my dad and myself into His Kingdom. I thank Him for those people who were ready to be mocked or ignored or mistrusted but were determined to get the truth out there regardless. I thank God for those who prayed for us both. I thank God for those who were patient with me, especially, as I fought and argued and doubted. I thank God that He never stopped loving me, even when I had treated His love and compassion disdainfully.

I can’t save you. The Dundalk Baptist Church can’t save you. No Church can save you. Only God can. He won’t force anybody into Heaven. He invites and He commands, ‘Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.’ Acts 17:30. He offers the gift of eternal life. It’s free. It’s offered to everybody. There are no conditions. You don’t deserve it. You can’t earn it. You’ll NEVER be good enough! God Almighty offers to sinners the forgiveness of all their sins and a place in the Family of God!

I knew the facts about this Gospel of Peace for years. I thought I could accept it on my own terms. God will not be mocked! He who made us and gave us life has provided just one way of salvation. It is in His Son, Jesus Christ, and no other. God commands us to repent of our sins and to trust in Jesus. That means we have to have a real change of mind and heart. We have to admit that God is right and we are not. We have to admit that we need His forgiveness. We have to trust ourselves completely on Jesus Christ for this forgiveness. No one else died for sinners. No one else lived a sinless life on our behalf. No one else can save you.

I could go on and on trying to make you sit up and take notice but I learned my lesson with my father many years ago. I can’t persuade you to believe the Gospel of Christ. I can’t presume to do the work of God. He says, ‘faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ Romans 10:17. I’ve told you our story, father and son. All that I’ve written I believe to be true. If I’ve misrepresented anybody or if I’ve introduced some inaccuracies, it’s been unintentional.

Like my dad, I hope you realise that we don’t have the guarantee of another tomorrow. Satan would love to keep you from discovering the truth until it’s too late. There’s no reason for that to happen. Here and now you can know the truth and, as Jesus Himself says, ‘the truth shall set you free’! May the Lord bless you with His wisdom. May He open your eyes as He did for my dad. May you pray in the same childlike simplicity that God would show you the truth.

My name is Niall MacCárthaigh. Thank you for taking the time to read this story.