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William J. Dagendesh

T here is no greater decision a person can make than to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

In January 1996, I entered into that relationship while serving on a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. And, I thank my earthly mentor, former U.S. Navy Chaplain Philip Clark for guiding me toward that relationship.

Prior to meeting Chaplain Clark, I lived a non-Christian lifestyle. Oh, I knew who Jesus is and of His having died for our sins so we might inherit eternal life. But, what would our Holy Savior want with a filthy rag like me? I had a bad temper, cussed, was self-centered and believed I had accumulated so many sins that I was beyond redemption.

In time, I grew tired of my behavior and sought to be more like Jesus. Then, one day I woke up thinking only about Jesus and I couldn’t get Him out of my head. I felt a peace and tranquility I had never experienced and I wanted more.

When I awoke the next morning, I discovered the sensation that had enveloped me the day before had grown stronger. I was confused and sought answers. “Was my brain experiencing a chemical imbalance? Was my experience born from serving on a Navy ship far from home? What was happening to me and how do I deal with this?” I asked myself.

Later that morning I visited Chaplain Clark to share what I had been experiencing. To me, Chaplain Clark didn’t judge anyone, lived the words he spoke, and radiated all that is decent and good. He was the spiritual go-to guy and I trusted him. He said he believed Jesus was knocking on the door to my heart and that it might be time for me to let Him in.

After work, I visited a nearby park where I spent hours thinking about Jesus. I attended Chaplain Clark’s church services, clung to his every word and sang hymns. During the ship’s brief port call to San Diego, he and I walked 10 miles through the Redwood Forest, breathing in the sights, sounds and fragrances of nature as we talked about Jesus and praised His holy name.

In time, Chaplain Clark and I left the ship for separate duty assignments. And, like many shipmates, we lost contact with each other. Over the years I often thought about and longed to re-connect with him. On March 9, my prayer was answered when “Chaps,” now a pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in North Carolina, responded to my email.

Since then, Pastor Clark and I have shared several emails, some of which recalled our shipboard days and spending hours discovering the wonders of our Savior. The experience taught me that being a Christian doesn’t result in a perfect life, but that through Jesus, the worst chapters in my life can become my greatest victories.

Recently, I learned that heavy metal rocker Alice Cooper, himself a born-again Christian, once said, “Don’t judge me by what I used to be. Instead, praise Jesus for what I am now.” I never imagined I would praise Jesus for all He did for me, and I thank Pastor Clark for encouraging me to take the first step toward that relationship and the gift of eternal life I can never repay.

William J. Dagendesh is an author, writer and retired U.S. Navy chief photojournalist, editor and public affairs officer. He has lived in southern Colorado 23 years. Contact William with comments or ideas for his column at nutmeg120395@yahoo.com.

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