My name is Mark Annis. I am a husband. I am a father to two wonderful children. I am a member of this church but have come to learn that I was a child of God even before I joined, and it has only taken me 40 years to fully realize it.
My faith journey began with a bargain and a set of books. I’ll deal with the bargain first and the books later.
The parents of some friends of mine were the leaders of the Methodist Youth Fellowship at a local church. Because my parents were also friends of theirs, I was allowed to join the members of the MYF on a ski trip to Pennsylvania, without being a member myself. I had a great time on the trip and fell in love with the sport within minutes of putting my skis on for the first time. On the way home, I can remember telling one of the chaperons that I wanted to go again next year. She said sure, but there’s only one thing that I would have to do… join the MYF. Sounded simple enough to me.
My parents didn’t go to church and I had never been exposed to Christianity besides a blessing before meals here or there. Christmas or Easter were rather secular holidays for me growing up where Santa and the Easter bunny were much more prominent characters than Jesus ever was. But because of my new-found love of skiing, this seemed like a fair deal to me. What seemed to be a simple deal to get myself back on the slopes the following year turned out to be the first seed of my faith and a very gentle, non-threatening introduction to Christianity, and my savior, Jesus Christ.
Even though I still didn’t go to church most Sundays, I would gather with the other kids for their MYF activities Sunday afternoon. They were rather fun…we would play games like ultimate Frisbee and other things outside, but we would also have a bible lesson which taught us something about Christ…and I began to slowly learn about how he truly was our savior.
I continued this throughout high school and developed into a decent skier also, especially considering the limited amount of skiing that I did. But when I went to college I entered a period of doubt where I thought that I was too smart to believe in God. I was taking post-modern philosophy classes at the time from which I learned that God was merely a construct that we had developed to make us feel better about our predicament on the earth. I learned from Nietzsche that “God is dead” and from one of my anthropology classes that religion was simply an opiate of the masses. Oh, how I would come to know all of this wasn’t true.
But I was also at a place where technology and science could not answer the questions that I really wanted to answer…why are we here and more importantly, why am I here.
This is where the books come in. I read C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia as a child and loved the fantasy world that Lewis painted with his beautiful prose. It allowed me to escape the small town that I was from and journey to lands unknown. It was not until college that I learned that Lewis was also a Christian apologist, or what an apologist was for that matter. But then I read a few of his non-fiction books, books like Mere Christianity and the Problem in Pain and I began to realize that I too was also not too smart to believe in Christ. But I still wanted to explore this new-found interest further, so I took History of Christianity, Old Testament and New testament classes to further discover this mystery that I was beginning to learn about.
Even though I started to inspect Christianity on an academic level I didn’t run out and join a church. I still thought, like many men in their early twenties, that I was the most powerful thing in my life and I could control everything and I didn’t need any help from anyone else, much less Christ or a church full of “followers”. I was a natural born leader, not a follower, of course.
Then a few things happen to me that made me believe that I really was a child of God and he had a specific plan for me, and I needed to quiet myself and listen to his voice to allow that plan to develop.
First, I got lost in the Three Sisters wilderness area in Oregon…separated from a friend of mine for a few hours with no food and no water…ten miles away from the car, and, as many people who really get their butt in a sling, began to pray…For God to help me find a way out of this wilderness that I found myself in. And literally minutes after I finished this prayer my friend appeared over the ridge and we shared his rations and got back to the car and safety. This was a very humbling experience that my ego suffered that day, but it was also a relief that I felt that someone was looking out for me.
But I still didn’t run to the closest church to join and start worshiping and giving thanks and praise. Even when my mother suffered a mild brain injury, I prayed for her to come out of her coma. When she did I still didn’t dedicate my life to Christ.
Later down the road, I was blessed to meet my wife at a friend’s wedding in Idaho, and we were married a year later in the same town by Pastor Brian, an Episcopalian, who made my wife and I meet with him to discuss our faith before he would marry us. That process of marriage galvanized my faith further, but not to the point that I was in a place where I was fully listening to God.
But it allowed me to relocate to Salt Lake City, where my spiritual journey could continue, in a land with mountains and snow that are far more magical than the ones that I first encountered in the east.
And as I’ve also come to know, God continues to give us opportunities to get to know him better, and sometimes they are in very unconventional ways, and places.
My wife’s father is a member of an atypical bible study in Montana called the Dirt Bags. They meet on Friday morning at 7 in in a bar on the outside of a little town, are led by a Baptist preacher from Alabama and tell a few jokes at the beginning of the service to loosen things up. The group of about 150 or so men consists of bikers and lawyers and even professional golfers.
Whenever I was on vacation in Montana I would attend the study with him. One day the lesson focused on John the Baptist. I had never been baptized when I was young and was at a point where I knew I wanted to be baptized but I wasn’t sure about where or when or into what church. During that bible lesson, I had a feeling come over me like I have never felt before in my entire life. I approached the Pastor afterwards and asked if he did last minute conversions. I had a few problems though. I was only going to be in town for two more days. The pastor asked me if I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior, I said yes and he said he could do it. There was only one problem: he was really busy the rest of the weekend and could only do it tomorrow morning, at 6:30 a.m. No big deal I thought. Only thing I didn’t consider was the body of water I was going to be submerged in was 53 degrees…and the air was about 45 that morning. Needless to say, it was a very physical and spiritual experience. I now knew that God knew my name.
But I still didn’t run out and start worshiping with fervor and giving proper thanks and praises.
Then I met Eunsang, and as many of you all have, fell in love with him and the way he made me feel so welcome in this church. I began to go more often and the more time I spent I knew that this was the church that I wanted to be part of, even though I was already fully welcome simply as a guest. I met with Eunsang and spoke of my desire to join the church, which I did earlier this year.
And when I see God’s perfection in the simplicity I experience in those quiet moments with my children…when we are watching an ant colony do what ants do, or watching bees pollinate a garden full of wildflowers while hiking, I know that I am now walking hand in hand with the Lord.
And when I’m skiing down the Rocky Mountains with my family in perfect champagne powder I know that I am right where I should be.
And even though I feel as I still have so much work to become the Christian that I ought to be, I know that if I can just quiet myself to listen to his voice every day I will be better able to serve myself, my family, and my church. And when I stop to help someone shovel their driveway or help an elderly lady with a hand to cross the street, I know that these simple acts of generosity can help me develop the harmony that I know we can create in the world if we all acted more like Jesus did.
So, all it took was a set of books, a bargain, a love of a sport and nature and a winding path that led me all around the country for 40 years. And although I still have a long way to go to becoming the person that I want to be, God has answered all those important questions that nothing else could ever answer for me, and I have faith that through God’s forgiveness and grace, I will have the necessary strength to make the rest of the journey, however rocky the road might get, however steep the trail might be, or however wet the snow might get. I know that with my faith, and his love and grace and forgiveness, all is possible.
Thank you all for your support and love, and this opportunity to share with you my journey in getting to better know the Lord.