Eclectic Convert

Leonard L. Adams, Jr.

FROM PAIN TO PEACE

Leonard Adams converted to the Catholic faith in 2010. His story is a journey from Pentecostalism to Judaism to the New Age Movement to Atheism to Catholicism.

I was born in the ghettoes of Chicago's South Side in 1961. My first memories are of dilapidated apartments, window frames without windows, trash strewn on the streets, urine-soaked alleys, and a neglected-derived independence. As a three-, four-, and five-year-old, I remember many times coming and going from the apartment my mother, siblings and I shared while my mother, an active alcoholic at that time, had friends over from morning till night – days filled with card games, cigarette smoke and all the beer and vodka they could want. I remember someone giving me beer as a four- or five-year-old after having dumped fresh cigarette ashes in it, saying that the ashes made you get "higher."

I only remember seeing my father once as a very young child; my mother had to tell me who he was. The next time I saw him, I was about seven years old, and he came to the apartment announcing that my six siblings and I were going with him. We didn't know where or for how long. It was the last time I would see my mother for years. Much later, my father told us my mother told him she was moving and leaving us at the apartment, and warned him that if he didn't come get us, we would be abandoned.

MEETING "MOMMA"

He took us to his apartment and introduced us to Reverend Roy, a full-figured woman who seemed larger than life. I asked what we should call her, and he said, "Momma." We were very unsupervised children up to that point, and as we sat on the couch, we began to rock back and forth and sing, mostly because we were nervous in this strange environment. "Momma" immediately rushed in the room with an extension cord and beat us mercilessly and with complete abandon, chasing us into our bedrooms. Bewildered and confused, we cried for our mother and were told we'd never see her again. The strange and scary had only begun.

We soon learned that our father had become a pastor, having been ordained by Reverend Roy (we learned later that the denomination was Pentecostal). We were taken to their storefront church and introduced to their form of worship. The church consisted of one room with about 15 chairs, a pot-bellied stove in the center of the room, and a two-piece drum set. They conducted a service with the two of them and us (seven children). They taught us the songs we would sing and how to respond when someone ministered (under the power of the Holy Spirit, we were told) with the call-and-answer, singsong type of "whooping" found in many traditional black churches. My father delivered a sermon that began in the vocal style of Dr. Martin Luther King and ended in a fervor of staccato sound bytes and frenzied dancing, which prompted Reverend Roy to play a hurried, simple but loud 2/4 beat on the drums with lots of flurry. We were told that, when the Spirit came upon us, we would succumb to this dance. In subsequent meetings, now with a small congregation, sometimes this portion of the meeting would take an hour or two, and it wouldn't be unusual to see wigs, tambourines, and chairs flying around the church, as well as people rolling on the floor and frothing at the mouth. I saw more girdles before I was thirteen years old than I've seen since. (Incidentally, we were told that a sure sign the Spirit of God had possessed a person, causing their ecstatic gyrations, was that they didn't bump into that pot-bellied stove in the center of the room, which was its only source of heat in the winter.) Finally, my father would grab a chair from those few in the congregation, place it in front of the pulpit facing the congregation, and announce that "the doors of the church are open!" Reverend Roy would begin a hymn, somewhat under her breath, and Daddy would invite any visitor (we had very few in the beginning, but that picked up once Daddy started bringing in quartets that he knew, he himself being in one called The Mighty Progressive Souls) to come forward and give him or her "the right hand of fellowship" (which meant that they shook right hands), and that person immediately became a member of the church.

Every Sunday, we attended Sunday School, a morning service, an afternoon service, and an evening service. Many times we began church services at 8 AM and didn't end before midnight. In spite of this miserable schedule for a seven-year-old, I gained a love for the Bible very early, studying the Bible in earnest, memorizing Scripture, and developing an intense hunger for truth.

AN UNFORGETTABLE ENCOUNTER

When I was about nine years old, I remember running across the elementary school property trying to rush in before I became late, when I suddenly noticed the sunlight streaming in rays through the clouds. Immediately, I became overwhelmed with a deep sense of peace and love and an incredible sense of God's presence that was so pure and inexpressible I instinctively fell to my knees and bowed my head in adoration, wishing to suspend that moment forever. I was brought back to the present by a friend, who tapped me and yelled that I'd better hurry up before I was late. That experience served me well in the following years, because it showed the difference between who God is and who my pastor/father's devastating abuse told me God was.

TARRYING SERVICE

Church didn't end in the storefront building. There were frequent, impromptu home gatherings of the now Reverend Adams (our stepmother) and us children around a large candle encased in glass, bearing the image of a saint or the Madonna and Child, or a novena (I didn't understand any of those things at this time; actually, I didn't know what these things represented until I began studying Catholicism). We were made to look into the flame of the candle until we saw some sort of image of spiritual significance, which we were to dutifully report to her. I learned that candle flames usually go from one peak to two intermittently, and one of those two peaks rise higher than the other, so my go-to image was of a finger pointing up toward heaven. I learned that my siblings mostly made stuff up, so I started doing the same thing.

Every Friday night at home, though, we had "tarrying service." We were told that the disciples tarried in the city of Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high; thus, it was the method of receiving the Holy Ghost. It would begin with the seven children and our stepmother sitting in a circle, while she read Psalm 51. This would be followed with her bringing out a scrub board (used to scrub clothes against when washing them) and a large spoon, or a tambourine. She would scrub (or beat with the tambourine) a repetitive rhythm and sing, "Thank you, Je-sus! Thank you, Je-sus!" over and over again until we picked it up, then she would intermittently interject her rhythmic beats while we jumped up and down to the beat and kept repeating the same short phrase. This would continue for about two hours, sometimes longer. Sometimes she kept time on us, beating us rhythmically with the objects as we tarried for the Holy Ghost. Whenever our stepmother got tired, she would bring out the extension cord and beat us for not receiving the Holy Ghost and chase us back into our rooms.

These were only the beginning of our tortures.

STABBED, WHIPPED AND BLEEDING THROUGH MY SHIRT

My stepmother was a very impatient person, and my father was one who didn't believe in expressing any feelings until he could no longer control them. This volatile mix led to a childhood filled with extreme abuse and terror.

I always wanted to be a good boy, so I did everything I could to avoid trouble. This didn't always work out in my favor, though. For instance, my stepmother prepared our dinner in seven bowls, placed the seven bowls in the middle of the table, then announced, "Come and get it!" All the siblings rushed to grab a bowl, so I decided I would wait until they had taken what they wanted and I would take whatever was left. Suddenly I felt blood gush down my face and temples and the extraction of the butcher knife my stepmother used to stab me in the head. She unremorsefully and immediately accused me of looking for the bowl with the most food in it, which was what she used to convince herself her actions were justified.

Not long after that, I wet the bed. My stepmother faced two chairs toward each other and told me to lay on them. I watched the clock go from six to seven to eight A.M. as she beat me with an extension cord, stopping only to rest a little when she got tired. I went from intense, searing pain to no pain as my back became like hamburger. In fact, I remember falling asleep during the beating. Then she sent me to school.

At school, I rode horsey on the back of one of my friends, we fell, and my head instantly started bleeding again. I was sent to the principal's office and asked what happened. I said, "I fell." Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, I began bleeding through the back of my shirt and the stripes of my blood began showing through. I was sent to the nurse's office to be examined. I heard her breath involuntarily escape her when she lifted the back of my shirt. She asked me what happened. I told her what I was told to say: "I fell." I was probably eight or nine years old, and didn't have a sophisticated repertoire of excuses to pull from.

And the tarrying services continued.

PHYSICAL ABUSE IN THE NAME OF GOD

I will offer just three more of the hundreds, maybe even thousands of abusive acts that represented our bizarre, life-threatening childhood and were specifically based on our parents' response to their biblical interpretations. My pastor/father participated less in our almost unspeakable abuses than my stepmother, but he was the abuser in this instance. My stepmother told my father that she had visited our school and was told that my then 9-year-old brother had been "kissing boys in school" (a complete fabrication). My father immediately called my brother out of his room, put a knife on the stove, and got it red-hot while he began interrogating him. Once the knife was sufficiently hot, he burned his lips and tongue, the supposed sinful offenders, with it. He then found a rope and fashioned a noose, which he hung in our house. He tied my brother's hands behind him, put a chair under the noose, made him stand on the chair, put his head through the noose, yelled, "Get out of my chair!" and yanked the chair from underneath him. My brother swung by his neck and struggled while I watched and screamed and cried. My father turned to me and said, "You better shut up or you'll get the same thing!" I screamed louder. I wanted to die. If my brother died, I didn't want to live.

My father took him down just before he lost consciousness.

I was ten years old.

On another occasion, my then five-year-old sister woke up hungry in the middle of the night and ate a banana. The next morning, while my stepmother heated the oven, she discovered the banana missing and yelled, "Who stole my banana?" My sister admitted to eating it. My stepmother put my sister in the heated oven. I watched as she placed her back on the oven (it was elevated to about mid to upper back at my stepmother's height) as my sister beat at the door trying to get out. Only when the struggling weakened significantly did my stepmother open the oven door, releasing the stench of burnt flesh, and retrieve my sister. She was bedridden for awhile, and bears the marks of that event to this day.

One more incident I'll discuss happened some time later. My brother wet the bed, but wouldn't admit it, since he and I always shared a bed growing up. I truthfully denied having done it. So our stepmother had us sit in the living room, wrapped us both in the soiled sheet, quoted Psalm 51 where David said, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" and forced (what she said was) hyssop in both our mouths and made us swallow it. It was then that I discovered hyssop to be a very foul-tasting emetic, as my dinner of lima beans and cornbread no longer served me any purpose.

Our early ideas of God and church were birthed in this horrendous environment. Our life continued in this fashion until a set of circumstances changed it after I became 13.

MEETING MOMMA

One day my father nonchalantly announced, "Your mother's coming to visit you today." Who? We had never talked about her. I didn't know if she was alive. And she was coming to visit us? True to his announcement, my mother came by our house that day. We asked her where she had been, and she said my father moved us around to keep her from finding us (we had actually moved from Chicago to Gary, Indiana for awhile, then back to Chicago). She said they happened upon one another accidentally in downtown Chicago and she asked to see us. We began telling her some of the atrocities we experienced, and she, disgusted and aghast, slipped us her address and told us, whenever we were ready, to get a cab and come there, and she would pay the fare. We were excited but scared. What if she treated us worse?

Not long after this, it was discovered that my oldest sister was pregnant (she was sixteen at this time). My father forced her into a chair, used rope to tie her arms, legs and torso to the chair, and beat her. Soon after this, she ran away to live with my mother. A few months later, she snuck over to our house and told us how good she had it there. "No more beatings!" That's all we needed to hear. We began to make plans.

I was a little taller and a lot bolder. I asked my father if he had some boxes me and two of my sisters (the other three hadn't decided to leave) to move to live with my mother. He yelled and screamed, but didn't touch me. That was all the impetus I needed to sneer in his face and try to recover a small measure of justice for all the wrongs inflicted upon us. Pretending to ignored him, I made sure the sisters who were leaving with me had what they needed, I got a cab, and we left. We walked into a culture shock.

THE HEBREW DETOUR

We went from being ill-fed, beat, but clean to being ill-fed, ignored and dirty. My mother was still in the throes of active alcoholism, and I'm sure that knowing what her children had been made to endure produced an inner swelling of guilt that could only be assuaged by an alcohol stupor. We moved from being in a clean, somewhat managed ghetto to the filthy, dilapidated ghetto. Meanwhile, my father and stepmother did a 180 with the siblings left at their house. They treated them well, and even bought them gifts. They no longer wanted to leave, but my mother and the four of us who moved took my father and stepmother to court, told them what had happened to us, and showed them our scars. The courts awarded full custody of us all to my mother, but did not file charges against my father and stepmother. (Child abuse in the 70s was not treated with the seriousness it is today.) With no sense of direction and any parental discipline or guidance, I became a wild child. I did everything my conscience would allow me to do, but felt emptier as the days and years went by.

I walked a lot, and one day, when I was fifteen, I walked by a storefront building that had black Hebrew writing on a white-painted board. This was very unusual in a black neighborhood. I went in to talk to the proprietor, a middle-aged black man with a long beard that called himself Apostle Yehohana Ben-Yasha Amen. He showed me Scriptures and documents that said the original Jews were people of color; thus, we were the true Jews, not those who are commonly regarded as Jews. He said Jesus was an Anglicized name, and, just as my name wouldn't change if I visited a foreign land, neither did His. He said he had the truth. He showed great care for my knowledge. He showed great care for me. I became a Black Hebrew. I no longer went by Leonard Adams – my moniker became Yerushshah Chorem Ben-yasha Soklethanuw. We operated off the concept that the Old and the New Testament were to be obeyed in their fullness. We accepted Yasha (for some reason we refused to call him Yeshua) as our Savior, but we also sacrificed a lamb for Passover – a real lamb. We killed it, roasted it before the sun went down, and ate it with bitter herbs, etc., with our robes tied around us, our staffs in our hands, on an platform of ashes, with blood on the doorposts. I only wore robes and dashikis from the time I was 15 until I was 17. I used my extensive memorization and knowledge of Scripture in defense of my newfound religion.

In fact, one time, when I was about 16, I was riding the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) bus when a preacher got up and began evangelizing the unwitting captives on the bus (a very common practice at that time). I thought to myself, 'If he's bold enough to stand up and declare his beliefs, then so am I,' and I got up and challenged his Biblical understanding with questions and comments that made the bus riders roll in laughter and cheer for me. I was given a few pats on the back as I disembarked at my destination. I was immediately followed by the minister, who showed me a weapon hidden in his Bible as he whispered, "I've got something for you." I ran, he followed, and I slipped into an alley where I hid until he gave up looking for me. I never tried that again.

I attended Olivet-Nazarene College after I graduated high school at age 17 for a year. We were mandated to attend chapel twice a week. I wondered why I had to attend what was in my mind an inferior institute of worship, but as I looked about me in the chapel, and saw the beautiful peace on the faces of students, I realized they had something I didn't, and I wasn't going to get it being a Black Hebrew, so that began my painful extrication to people I had come to consider family.

THE ARMY, WORD OF FAITH AND THE NEW AGE

I joined the Army in 1981 and landed a job as a counselor, which began my healing process. I spent my two years at my first duty station in Germany floundering spiritually and feeling very empty. Upon my return to the States (Oklahoma), I had enough of being spiritually disconnected and wandered into a Church of God (Cleveland, TN version – Holiness Pentecostal) that I joined and worshipped in for about six months, but it did little to fill my emptiness. The question of denominationalism began to intrigue me – if there's only one Christ, why was His church divided into so many denominations? I began hearing about the nondenominational movement, and found and attended a fledgling nondenominational church (this church largely based its philosophy on the ideas of people such as Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts, and became part of what's known as the Word of Faith movement). There seemed to be an incredible amount of freedom to essentially believe whatever you wanted. You were allowed to do your own research into, for instance, eschatological matters. However, when I shared something with the pastor in private that I found in my research, he preached against it publicly the next Sunday. Discouraged, I left that church.

In the meantime, one of the ideas of this movement intrigued me. It emphasized that, if God is truly the same, yesterday, today and forever, the miracles and signs seen in the Bible should be seen today, and though the church I recently left preached this, the evidence didn't follow. I wondered what it took to see those signs. I began researching what it took to see this level of spiritual energy, and this research led me to the New Age movement. I began attending a Unity Church in Lawton, Oklahoma, and, after positing questions and ideas to the group soon became elected as its principle teacher. The congregation "paid" me for my services in books from their bookstore, such as A Course in Miracles, the Bhagavad-Gita, and books on UFOs and astral projection. We had a very eclectic group among the congregants, to include tarot card readers, mediums, Satanists, and American Indian worship adherents. The chief idea of this movement is that signs and acts of power can be demonstrated if you understand what they are and how to manipulate them. God isn't a Person in their minds; rather, a Force that can be manipulated to your desired ends if you understand the laws that operate the universe. You don't have to love Him or anyone else. And this is exactly what I found among its adherents, whether in local or statewide gatherings. There was such a detachment from everyone else, especially among those in the group, that the coldness and emptiness intuited error in this way of belief.

I left the New Age movement and did more studying. I studied the Bible fervently, up to sixteen hours a day, along with teaching myself basic Ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek, since the other books I studied (Kenneth Hagin and E. W. Kenyon primers, for instance) focused so much on using the ancient texts to explain their positions on Biblical matters. I learned later that the relatively easy transition from the Word of Faith movement to the New Age Movement and back to the Word of Faith movement had much to do with their many similarities.

One of the members of the nondenominational church I first attended splintered and started his own church, and I began attending. I became a teacher at the church, and while I was very successful in that ministry, I still felt a void. Then I got Army orders saying I was to be stationed on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt for a year. While there, I became the pastor of the local Pentecostal (it became nondenominational and Word of Faith under my purview) congregation. I got to spend many wonderful weekends in Israel, and learned the cities well. I would often get dropped off in Jerusalem, check in to a hostel, and begin walking and riding public transportation all over the country (I left Egypt just before the suicide bombers began blowing themselves up on public buses in Israel in the late 80's-early 90's).

Upon my return to the States, I became disillusioned and wandered in a spiritual desert. I changed jobs from counselor to member of the 77th U.S. Army Band for a couple of years, but felt like I was going nowhere. I decided I would make a career of the military and entered the Army's Green-to-Gold program, where one was allowed to attend college full time and, upon graduation, earn his or her commission as an Army Lieutenant. Upon graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry (with a Biochemistry focus), I attended the Chemical Officer's Basic Course. Once completed, I was assigned to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. In Hawaii, my life changed.

ON BEING A FULL-TIME MEGACHURCH STAFF MEMBER

I saw a church on television in Hawaii and decided to attend. I enjoyed being among such a large group of believers (the congregation numbered around 2,000 when I first attended, and grew to about 6,000). I joined the Praise and Worship Team, and was asked to arrange music for services. This led into being in charge of transposing and arranging all music for the church, and I was offered a full-time staff job. When I showed a slight hesitancy, I was assured by the pastor it was God's will for me, and I took this as a sign from God and became a full-time staff member for 7½ years. Those years were, with the exception of my childhood, some of the worst of my life. I taught at the Bible college, traveled the world playing music and putting on dances and skits containing spiritual life lessons, produced and/or took part in the creation of four CDs, and many churches we visited treated us as royalty. I almost felt worshipped by some of these churches because of our accomplishments, which was a very uneasy feeling. In the meantime, I got to spend time with the people who were the headliners of the Word of Faith movement, and even was a paid speaker at Jesse Duplantis' church in Louisiana, and a member of his staff informed me later that a tape containing my message sold more copies than all others before.

My greatest unhappiness came from working for an incredibly controlling pastor and his wife, who sometimes demanded 20-hour workdays with very little pay (I had to feed my family through a food bank) and, when I asked for a raise to take care of my family, I was told by the church administrator, "It's not our responsibility to provide for your needs; it's God's", implying that if I had sufficient faith I wouldn't have had to come to her. I wanted to leave that ministry many times over those years, but was made to feel like if I did, I would step outside God's will and be fodder for the devil. Then, in 2000, I felt it was time for me to start my own church, so I took a trip to Tennessee and felt it was the call of God to move there sometime. I came back with no intentions of moving anytime soon, but unbeknownst to me, one of the staff members told the pastor I was leaving immediately to start my own church. Wanting to head this off, the pastor "let me go," but immediately regretted it and tried to hire me back when he found out he did it based on an untrue rumor. I, however, was thrilled. It was like "no take-sees back-sees"; I finally got my ticket out of there, and I didn't want a refund!

Very soon after that, I left Hawaii for Tennessee. I began working for the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) as a counselor and started conducting local Bible studies. After about a year of no growth, I became discouraged and began attending a local nondenominational church whose emphasis was on prophecy as well as demonstration of Holy Spirit empowerment. After about a year, the church underwent a major split because of the pastor's conduct; many went with the head assistant pastor, and others asked me to start a church (I was also an assistant pastor), so Covenant Love Church was born in Franklin, Tennessee. I focused on grace and love, and had what I considered a very successful ministry. It was actually my job to study the Bible – what joy! I had realized my dream. What I also realized was that the tens of thousands of hours I put into study (all Protestant-based) found me no closer to answering basic questions of faith, and I lived in constant fear that I would be asked questions I was embarrassed I had no answers for. I never preached about hell, and was frankly doubtful that it was what I had been taught all my life. Finally, I realized that what I believed could not be reconciled with what many in my congregation believed, and decided I needed to disband the church. At that same time, I resumed contact with the assistant pastor who a lot of the congregation had splintered with to form his church, and he asked me about consolidating our churches with him as head and me as assistant pastor. I jumped at the chance, since it allowed me to pursue my emerging beliefs without feeling I was deceiving my congregation, and announced all this to them. They were, very understandably, upset, and many went to other churches. Very few followed me, and none stayed with me. But I felt free!

I started exploring my ideas about hell, and came across Christian Universalism, which appealed greatly to me. I decided I didn't believe in this eternal-tormenting-against-one's-will-in-flames-stuff, which freed me from the fear of asking myself why I believed in God in the first place. By this time, still working for the TDOC, I had been promoted from Counselor to Academy Instructor at the Tennessee Correction Academy to Assistant Director of Education for the entire TDOC, overseeing all the education in all the adult prisons in Tennessee. I still attended church because I didn't want to answer questions of those who knew me if I didn't, but my heart wasn't in it. Then I got a call asking me to interview for a position in Alabama. I interviewed, got the position, and moved to Alabama. I was finally free to reinvent myself!

FROM CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISM TO ATHEISM

I attended one Universalist church meeting and a couple of Universalist house meetings, and the more I did this, the more I became convinced that there was no eternal punishment for me, no matter what I did, so I felt safe to ask myself why I believed in God. I found I had no reason, other than being raised to believe (in truth I was bitter so I allowed myself willful ignorance of the evidence around me), and became agnostic, then atheist.

I found an atheist group in Alabama and began attending their functions. They became fascinated with me, because I was an ex-preacher, because I'm black, and because I was not afraid to speak out against belief in God. Ex-preacher atheists are not as much an anomaly as black atheists willing to speak out against belief in God. I became somewhat of a darling to the statewide atheist community, made a few YouTube videos as a black atheist, and was invited to and spoke at major atheist functions. I started receiving more and more invitations, and thought I had, to repeat a cliché in jest, "found my calling."

One day, I was approached by long-standing atheists in the community who questioned my lack of fervor at taking the battle to Christians and attacking them specifically. It amazed and disillusioned me, because my philosophy was to let each discover their own way, and to live and let live. It was then that I discovered that the atheist movement has its countercultural equivalency in evangelical Christianity. They are not at all the open minded lot they purport to be. The hatred and vitriol I discovered among atheists was a wake-up call. I realized I was their darling as long as I allowed myself to be used as ammo against others, and I didn't want that. I left the movement, but remained an agnostic with atheist leanings.

HOW I BECAME CATHOLIC

I joined a local dance band that still play around the Huntsville, Alabama area. At one of our gigs, I met Cindy, the woman who was to become my wife. Though I was attracted to her, I did not immediately pursue her. We became acquaintances who would occasionally see one another at one of our gigs (she is a longtime friend of our sound technician), and it slowly grew into a friendship and a fledgling relationship. She began telling me about her conversion to Catholicism, unaware that I was, at best, agnostic. I listened attentively but offered no dialogue. I wasn't ashamed of my lack of belief; I just didn't believe in throwing it in someone's face. However, I let it be known on my Facebook page that I was atheist. We became friends on Facebook and she discovered my lack of belief. By this time, she had become quite affectionate of me, and told me later that she began consulting priests she knew in order to figure out how to deal with it. We talked about it, and she told me how shocked she was, because I seemed to her to be one of the "godliest men [she knew]." I always felt that kindness was one of the essential qualities of being human, no matter what else I believed or didn't (I believe in kindness so much that, years ago, I bought an Alabama vanity license plate for my car [and it's still there] that says KINDNES).

I was spending a lot of time with her, and she was recording shows off EWTN, and had to do it real time. One of those shows was "Reasons to Believe" with Dr. Scott Hahn. I became immediately mesmerized by this show, and asked her to show me another, and another, and another. She also recorded The Divine Mercy Chaplet in song, and when she'd leave the room, I'd play it over and over and sing it, and it touched me so deeply I almost cried, though I didn't understand the significance of The Divine Mercy Chaplet. I found myself singing it at odd times and in odd places, and it always brought great comfort to me. Cindy told me she was a "lector" at her parish (a strange word to me), and discussed with me how she liked to invite people when she read. I told her I wanted to come hear her read, and she was surprised. I figured I could support her in what she liked to do, and since I didn't believe in this stuff anyway, it couldn't do me any harm. Besides, all I ever heard about the Catholic Church was bad anyway, and I was used to lively church services, so I thought there was very little chance of being enticed to become a part of it. The Mass was interesting to me, if not a little boring, since I didn't understand what was going on, and I had to rely on the Missal for most of the service. She invited me to go up during the Eucharist to receive a blessing from the priest, and while I thought it strange, I did it.

After several months of attending Mass (I began doing it every Sunday with her), the fall of 2009 was coming, and Cindy began talking to me about RCIA. She said if I had any questions, I could ask. I'm not sure she knew this, but I had, months before, begun reading Catholic books that showed not only an embrace of reason and belief, but offered proof of God that amazed and convinced me. It was the first time a church had offered a reasoned defense that made perfect sense. I was very impressed with the Catholic Church, but not entirely convinced I wanted to commit to a belief system just yet. I accepted Cindy's offer to attend RCIA with her as my sponsor.

At the first meeting, I was introduced to one of the most wonderful women I've ever met, Sister Treva Heinberg, the overseer of the RCIA program at my parish. Her love melted my heart, even though, after the first meeting, when I was asked by someone else if I would return next week, I (too) quickly said, "Oh, I don't know about that! I'm not making a commitment. We'll see." I was there the next week, though, and the week following, and every week I wasn't out of town. Meanwhile, I began amassing books on various matters involving Catholicism and listening faithfully to Catholic Answers by podcast. Slowly but surely, my faith began the slow, arduous process of being repaired from decades of pain and distortion. At Easter Vigil 2010, I was welcomed into my Catholic family – I had come home. In July of 2010, I married my bride, who also jokes that she's going to write a book titled, "From Sponsor to Spouse in Six Easy Steps."

Since then, I have remained a voracious and avid reader, usually tackling 2-4 books at a time. I've also become a lector, a cantor, and a choir member at my local parish. My podcasts are still regular fare, as well as saying the Rosary daily and various novenas. One of the things I'm most grateful for is that, for the first time, I can defend my faith without hoping I won't be asked certain questions. I feel like a kid in a candy store – so much information, so much knowledge, so little time! I'm 50 years old, but if I lived to be 150, I think I will still enjoy my fascination with the seemingly bottomless pot of knowledge contained in the Catholic Church!

Leonard Adams is a U.S. government employee and fitness instructor in Madison, Alabama, who enjoys life with his wife, reading and music.

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31 comments

  • Comment Link judi cousins Tuesday, 01 November 2011 22:35 posted by judi cousins

    I am sorry but by his record how can this story be very convincing that he will stay a convert to catholism? I just don't see it.

  • Comment Link Leonard Adams Tuesday, 01 November 2011 23:03 posted by Leonard Adams

    It is a fair question, and my answer is this: in every other instance, there was no complete synchronicity of head and heart. I knew these reservations existed but had no better answer but to search until I achieved this synchronicity. For the first time in my life, it's been achieved.

  • Comment Link Agnes Tuesday, 01 November 2011 23:19 posted by Agnes

    WHAT AN AMAZING STORY! WOW! AFTER SUCH A LONG, ARDUOUS, PAINFUL JOURNEY, YOU FINALLY ARRIVED AT THE TRUTH! TRULLY IMPRESSIVE! I CRIED WHEN I READ THE LAST PART, ESPECIALLY HOW HE FELT MOVED BY THE CHAPLET OF THE DIVINE MERCY AND THAT HE SAYS THE ROSARY EVERY DAY. AND I COMPLETELY AGREE WITH HIM ON READING 4-5 CATHOLIC BOOKS ALL AT ONCE. ONCE I STARTED READING VARIOUS CATHOLIC BOOKS--I COULDN'T STOP. I AM STILL READING LIKE 3 BOOKS AT THE SAME TIME. AND I AM A CRADLE CATHOLIC. IT IS TRUE THAT CATHOLICISM IS A BOTOMLESS POT OF KNOWLEDGE AND TRUTH!

  • Comment Link Seminarian From California Wednesday, 02 November 2011 04:51 posted by Seminarian From California

    Thank you for sharing your story Mr. Adams. I am always inspired to read conversion stories such as yours. I am a big fan of the Journey Home with Marcus Grodi on EWTN where they bring a story of a new convert to the Church every week. It's just amazing to see how God works in those who are honestly after the Truth. I am currently a seminarian and having only been here for two years, each day I learn more and more about our faith but at the same time realize how much more there is to learn.
    Also I totally feel you on not being afraid about asking questions or being asked any type of question and knowing we don't have to be afraid to find out about the truth. Keep up the good work and keep inspiring people. God bless

  • Comment Link Bill G. Wednesday, 02 November 2011 07:26 posted by Bill G.

    Wow!

    God bless you and may Our Lady always watch over you!

    I look forward to your auto biography!

    Wow!

  • Comment Link Leonard Adams Wednesday, 02 November 2011 11:31 posted by Leonard Adams

    Thank you all so much for your words of love and support. Telling this story has been one of the hardest things I've done, but I do it gladly, for I am grateful to God and Our Lady for being allowed the beauty of the truth! My wife has asked me about writing an autobiography, and I have toyed with the idea. God bless you all!

  • Comment Link Dan Wednesday, 02 November 2011 12:09 posted by Dan

    Leonard,

    Thanks you very much for sharing your story. I found it very inspiring. On a side note, it was quite disconcerting for me to see the first poster(judi) immediately judge you on this.

    It really hit home for me to see where you always seemed to be looking for the truth, and its quite a testament to who you are that you never gave up. I can't imagine that many people would be willing to make so much effort especially in the face of so much adversity.

    As you how found very early on there is so much beauty, truth and depth to this church. I've been Catholic my whole life(33 years), but have really only started to make this faith my own of the last few of years. It has been a wonderful journey.

    May the Lord continue to bless you on your journey and thank you so much for sharing.

  • Comment Link Cberyl Wednesday, 02 November 2011 14:49 posted by Cberyl

    I am so inspired by your story. Thank you for sharing this with the world You and your wife will be in my prayers. May God bless you and Our Lady keep you.

  • Comment Link Leonard Adams Thursday, 03 November 2011 00:25 posted by Leonard Adams

    Thank you all so much for your incredible words of kindness!

  • Comment Link Antony Thursday, 03 November 2011 09:11 posted by Antony

    Dear Leonard, I read your testimony and it is amazing, God bless you, would like to offer special thanks to Cindy for being God's instrument in bringing you home. Your brother from Asia.

  • Comment Link Dex Thursday, 03 November 2011 16:05 posted by Dex

    Incredible story. Welcome to the one Holy and Apostolic Church. I really had it easy compared to your journey. Truly inspirational. Never stop believing.

  • Comment Link AnneG Friday, 04 November 2011 16:22 posted by AnneG

    Leonard, This is an amazing story. Why do you think you never gave in to despair through all of that?
    If you don't mind me asking, how are your brother & sisters doing?
    Thank you for being so open. Makes me know there is always Hope.

  • Comment Link Jennifer @ Conversion Diary Saturday, 05 November 2011 00:55 posted by Jennifer @ Conversion Diary

    I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes after reading your story. Wow! What a powerful testimony. You have blessed many people with your willingness to share your journey.

  • Comment Link Leonard Adams Sunday, 06 November 2011 03:47 posted by Leonard Adams

    Thank you all for your wonderful comments. AnneG, to answer your questions, I actually succumbed to despair on more than one occasion, but sensing there were answers to my questions gave me a reason to hope. My brothers and sisters are at varying degrees of functionality, but I think none of them have really faced what happened to us. They generally don't want to talk about it or deal with it, and it goes from it never being talked about to drowning it in drugs. I knew I didn't want to go down either path, and facing it was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

    Jennifer @ Conversion Diary, I admire what you do. Thank you so much for your faithfulness and diligence in communicating the message to the world!

  • Comment Link Manny Sunday, 06 November 2011 04:56 posted by Manny

    Your childhood broke my heart to read. I'm glad you've finally found joy, and welcome to our faith!

  • Comment Link Sheryl Sunday, 06 November 2011 12:52 posted by Sheryl

    Leonard,
    As a friend and fellow sojourner, I applaud you for sharing your journey. I could only see from the outside, as a fellow-co-worker... And know there was much more on the inside than you could share; yet you always exhibited the "kindness" and desire for the deeper things os life. In your writings, I can hear the difference that can only come from finding the true spirituality that come from experiencing synchronicity! Blessings to you, Cindy, and your growing family!

  • Comment Link Leonard Adams Tuesday, 08 November 2011 02:27 posted by Leonard Adams

    I so appreciate all your kind words! I tell people all the time I feel like a kid in a candy store, and if I live to be 250, I will be as excited and fascinated as I am now! The well of knowledge is so deep and overflowing, and that doesn't begin to describe the spiritual bounties!

  • Comment Link Patricia Friday, 11 November 2011 08:05 posted by Patricia

    Thank you for sharing your story. I was deeply moved .You have been through so much , and I am so happy you have found solace and peace in the Catholic Church. May God continue to bless you and your wonderful wife.

  • Comment Link Leonard Adams Wednesday, 16 November 2011 00:28 posted by Leonard Adams

    Thank you so much, Patricia.

  • Comment Link Katherine Thursday, 17 November 2011 23:26 posted by Katherine

    Beautiful smile, beautiful story!! God Bless!!

  • Comment Link Leonard Adams Monday, 21 November 2011 19:25 posted by Leonard Adams

    Thank you, Katherine!

  • Comment Link Mike Baker Sunday, 04 December 2011 01:46 posted by Mike Baker

    All I need to say is: Wow! God truly is so good! May He continue to bless you!

  • Comment Link joseph e. Sunday, 04 December 2011 06:21 posted by joseph e.

    Dear Leonard, I am impressed with your journey and thankful to God for the light you have found. Abuse as a child can be very injurious to our being and so those of us that have been saved from such injury in spite of the experience should specifically be grateful to God for his protection and guidance in life. This gratefulness must be expressed in true efforts in the conversion of our being which God's grace affords us.

    Knowledge in the Catholic faith is truly bottomless but we should not forget or miss where this character comes from! It comes from the living experience of the Church in a tradition witnessed by the lives of the saints of the truth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Our true conversion is not in amassing knowledge but rather in drawing this living reality into ourselves. By offering our sufferings in life, in fasting and in prayer to God for the good of others we commune with all the angels and saints in the great YES that constitutes Christ's incarnation after the ultimate example of Mary, the Mother of God, the Queen of Heaven, having God as Father, his Spirit as Spouse and Son as Life. This knowledge should draw us deeper, with practice, into this great Mystery of salvation. Living this Mystery, I can assure you, and all, will draw you into a depth that surpasses all written knowledge of the faith to the point that we can speak with St. Thomas as he interrupted his greatest work, the Summa Theologica, "All I have written is but straw". I would encourage you first to this living practice and you would find out that all other things are but a sharing in this fullness, and a pleasant one at that. Never, to this end, fail to use the provisions the Church makes available to us in the Eucharist and all the sacraments and recommendations for Christ, having established the Church, makes them his intensions and continued care for mankind.

    I welcome you home most affectionately and I welcome you to this living witness that Christ has made for us. May the intercessions of Mary, the Mother of the Church, the Church, the Bride of Christ, all the angels and saints bring us all into the unfathomable fullness of the Mystery of Christ who, in union with the Holy Spirit, intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father. Amen.

  • Comment Link Terri Monday, 16 January 2012 15:47 posted by Terri

    I'm so sorry that you and your siblings suffered such a horrific childhood.May Jesus and his Holy Mother grant you special graces for a deeper faith and a knowledge of His love for you throughout your life.
    Welcome to His Church!!!

  • Comment Link Leonard L. Adams Jr. Friday, 02 March 2012 02:49 posted by Leonard L. Adams Jr.

    Hello Leonard L. Adams Jr.

    This is also Leonard L. Adams Jr. born not to far from where you were raised. It is always said someone has your name you are not the only one. i read you story and would like to chat with you if you still check this blog. My email is attached hope to hear form you.
    LLA

  • Comment Link Leonard L. Adams, Jr. Monday, 19 March 2012 22:45 posted by Leonard L. Adams, Jr.

    Thank you all for your very encouraging messages. As with you all, my story continues to evolve, and I am grateful for God's immense grace and the love, care and prayer of the saints and you all.

    Leonard, I just happened to check this blog today. I didn't realize people were still reading my story. I found your message, but couldn't locate the e-mail address. If you would, please send me an e-mail at firstlordsman@netscape.net, and I will be happy to communicate with you.

    May the love of God, the fellowship of Christ and the sweet communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all!

  • Comment Link Kim Lopez Tuesday, 08 May 2012 22:56 posted by Kim Lopez

    Good day Mr Adams,

    I've been reading most of the stories here on whyimcatholic.com. I started from the protestant converts going up. Although all stories are amazingly touching and eye opener, yours so far is the most stunning and incredible in my judgment.

    While I'm reading your story as a kid, I can't help myself but be shocked on how you and your siblings where treated. You being stabbed and whipped, your brother being hanged and pregnant sister being tied and beaten...I had tears rolling from my eyes. It's just good to know that God is good that you've overcome all of the pain and hardships.

    What's really touched my heart is the way that you've traveled and finally finding your true home. Your story and all other conversion stories here made me decide to really learn and understand our Church, the Catholic Church. I asked my dad who is a lay minister for the book that he used as reference when he was still teaching Cathechism. I've also learned about a website called scripturecatholic.com being managed by John Salza. I'll be very busy in the next day or so learning and relearning about Catholicism. :)

    God bless you and your family! God loves you!

  • Comment Link Leonard Adams Tuesday, 05 June 2012 20:15 posted by Leonard Adams

    Kim,

    I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your post, and hearing that our stories have made you decide to learn more of this amazing faith we call Catholicism. I have said to several people (who I trust to understand I am not simply putting other denominations down) that, if I weren't Catholic, I'd still be an atheist. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Everything else seems like trying to gain nutrition for the body by eating air.

    It is worth telling my story to read responses like yours. I wish you God's blessings on your journey and that His love will fill you to overflowing!

    Sincerely,
    Leonard Adams

  • Comment Link Nimali Mendis Thursday, 21 August 2014 06:33 posted by Nimali Mendis

    Dear Brother,
    It's amazing, cannot find a better word, it's much much more than that. After a such a horific childhood, you did not harbour any revange or cursed anybody but searched for the truth. Even While being an atheist, quite unkonwn to you, you searched for the LORD, reason behind your unwillingness to redicule any other belief. GOD is LOVE and HE has given that name to you. Leonard Adams means LOVE, that's how I see it. Your smile radiates kindness, hatred has never been in your vocabulary. I am a cradle Cathlic and I am proud about it. Welcome home dear brother and "How Great Thou Art" dear LORD (my favourite spiritual). The Spirit will lead you on and on and our dear Blessed Mother will keep watch over you and yours. Accidently I got into this Site, just last week and I have read so many testimonies, happy that I found it. God Bless

  • Comment Link Mary Graham Wednesday, 01 July 2015 15:50 posted by Mary Graham

    Will you share your conversion story and your ministries on Real Life Radio's Living Witnesses show? The show airs live from 2-3 pm est. If you are unavailable for the live hour we can pre-record the show.

  • Comment Link grahamneil Wednesday, 02 March 2016 03:38 posted by grahamneil

    hi leonard, it nice to know you through this blog. i think you are a good christian and me too. I'd like to know more about it from your writing

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