“The story starts when the king is going to bed—when the king falls asleep and has a dream that was scary,” Joe Murray tells the children who are seated in rows of chairs. They’ve all had scary dreams, so Joe connects them straight to the account of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2. Then Joe tells how the king forced everyone to pray to a statue, except for three young men who refused.
When the story is finished, the group leaves for craft time as the next group files in. I listen to the same lesson again, subtly tweaked for an older age group. He’ll repeat this a total of four times as the groups rotate tonight.
“When I teach these kids about praying to statues, I knew that life,” Joe tells me after the last group leaves. He grew up in Dublin, a place where “the Catholic church owned you and could send you to an orphanage without ever telling you why.” Perhaps he was taken from his parents for his own safety, but at the orphanage, “the beatings were dreadful.”
When he was old enough to take off, he did, commencing a global search for life’s meaning. Joe now calls this “a story only God could write.”
“I went to Jerusalem and walked where Christ walked. But all I found was a commercialized Jesus. Then I worked on a kibbutz, was busted for drugs, thrown in jail. I thought for sure that I could find my answers in Israel, the place where Christ was born.”
Instead he was booted out of the country, commencing a trek through Greece, Turkey, India, Singapore, and Australia. He bought and sold drugs to finance his trip (“a successful way to make a living,” he says with some sadness), but now calls it “a life of chasing shadows.”
He landed in India in the early 1970s, a popular destination for teens exploring Beatles-era Indian mysticism. The drug business was good in Dehli, right up until it wasn’t. Joe Murray was at an all-time low, still wandering the streets.
Passing a mission hospital, he looked up to see these words on a sign: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest—Matthew 11:28.”
Joe took the next logical step, walking through the main door and asking to speak with this guy, Matthew. He laughs now, just thinking of the irony. He ended up meeting Matthew at the Bible study he was invited to attend. And he finally met Christ, the real Christ, not the angry one he grew up with or the commercialized one he encountered in Israel.
He spent his next years working on one of the Mercy Ships as a cook. More importantly, he was surrounded by believers who were interested in his spiritual growth. Then he learned Spanish while serving in Spain for several years as a missionary before landing in Michigan (that’s another story).
“We’re conditioned to think that evangelism can only be done by someone who is trained, a seminary graduate,” Joe says. “I may not be able to speak with great philosophy and theology, but I can tell others what God has done for me.”
Kevin Mungons is managing editor of the Baptist Bulletin. Darrell Goemaat is director of photography.