From Atheist Club Leader to Sunday Preacher

former atheist now church leader
Joseph used to think he didn't need God. But when he started attending a local church plant, TEAM missionaries gave him a whole new perspective!

It was a typical growth group meeting with a simple assignment: Make a list of three people to pray for. But when TEAM church planter Kathy North heard her husband’s list, she couldn’t help but feel doubtful.

There, at the top of David’s list, was Joseph.

This was the guy who visited their growth group, was moved to tears, told them he’d be a regular — and then disappeared for three months. When he came back a second time, the same thing happened.

And now they hadn’t seen him in half a year.

“I thought, Why him? He hasn’t been around for ages,” Kathy says.

But Kathy and David were about to learn a vital lesson in missions: Sometimes transformation takes one pivotal moment. And sometimes, it takes years of faithful pursuit by God — and the missionaries He sends.

Class Debates Destroy Faith

Joseph grew up Catholic, like most Filipinos. He was even an altar boy. But his first year of high school, in 1990, a friend started engaging him in debates about religion.

“One day, he made me read the Bible and pointed out what’s wrong in all of the Catholic practices. … And it’s like I crumbled down,” Joseph says.

He felt angry and deceived by the church. He decided God must be something weak people cling to in hard times. Four years later, he started college — and his campus’s first atheists club.

In two months, Joseph had a group of six atheists. They spent their time debating why God couldn’t exist. They stopped caring whether they made it to class. Friends tried to tell Joseph about God’s love, but he rejected it.

Joseph thought his life was just fine without God. He had everything he needed.

But then one day, he went home and asked his mom for his weekly allowance. And instead of giving him the money, Joseph’s mother simply burst into tears.

His Family Loses Everything

“We don’t have money anymore,” Joseph’s mom said.

Joseph’s dad had retired less than a year ago, but somehow, most of the money was already gone.

Joseph had to drop out of school and get a job. He decided the only person he could count on was himself. He managed to find some happiness. He got married and had a kid. But the troubles kept coming.

Joseph got into a car accident and lost his left eye. He thought his family must be cursed. But in reality, God was working.

Missionaries Show What Real Prayer Is

former atheist now church leader

The first time Joseph attended a Bible study, he witnessed what real prayer looked like — and he knew he would be coming back for more.

In 2005, Joseph started a new job, and one of his co-workers invited him to a Bible study. Normally, Joseph wouldn’t have been interested. But the Bible study was happening in a house near his own, so he agreed to drop in.

That night, he walked into the home of TEAM missionaries Kathy and David North.

The Bible study was one of the growth groups from the Norths’ church plant. And though they were there to talk about God, no one attacked Joseph for not believing. They simply read Scripture passages and prayed — and it was the prayer that blew Joseph away.

“They really talk to God,” Joseph says. “And they could just be really candid, spontaneous, … treat God with reverence, all at the same time.”

It was completely different from the formal prayers he’d heard growing up. So, with tears in his eyes, Joseph told the group he was going to be a regular.

Three months later, he showed up again and said the same thing. Then he disappeared again.

Meanwhile, Joseph’s wife got pregnant. Two months later, disaster struck.

Wife’s Pregnancy at Risk

Joseph’s wife, Christine, was diagnosed with a dangerous hemorrhage. She had to stop working — but even bedrest couldn’t guarantee the baby’s safety. On top of that, Joseph lost his job, and his house was burglarized.

As Joseph wondered how his small family would survive, David started praying for Joseph.

David hadn’t seen Joseph in six months. He had no idea what the family was going through. But after a month of prayer, Joseph called and told him everything.

He asked if David would come and pray for Christine.

Faithful Prayer Shows God’s Love

That week, David came to Joseph and Christine’s house almost every day. He shared from Scripture and prayed for Christine’s healing.

But it wasn’t just David. One day, the missionary told Joseph that his entire church plant was praying for Christine and the family. Joseph could hardly believe it!

“We were being prayed for by people we didn’t even know,” Joseph marvels.

Christine’s bleeding stopped that week, and the couple knew it was God who healed her.

Joseph started attending church regularly, and David started an eight-week Bible study with them. By the end of the study, both decided to give their lives to Christ.

Still, Joseph couldn’t help but wonder, “What’s the catch here? … Why are [the Norths] giving so much time and effort — even to our personal lives, praying for our family, being in our house weekly to teach about God’s gift?”

But in 2013, the Norths’ church plant was ready to stand on its own. So, they handed it over to a local pastor. Then they went home to the States. They never asked for anything in return.

“I was shocked again,” Joseph says. “There was no catch. It was just really for free.”

Former Atheist Becomes Church Leader

former atheist now church leader

Because of the North’s investment in Joseph’s life, Joseph got the discipleship and training he needed to take on a new church leadership role.

When the Norths returned to the Philippines to plant a new church, Joseph wanted to help from the beginning.

Because friends like you support missionaries for the long haul, the Norths not only got to keep discipling Joseph, but they also got to train him in spiritual leadership.

Joseph still had a lot of growth ahead. But slowly, God showed him that his family wasn’t cursed, and sin began losing its grip on him. Joseph started seeing that God could still use him, despite his past.

Today, Joseph regularly preaches at Pathway Community Church. He leads Bible studies with nonbelievers. He even manages the church’s finances.

“The joy and the peace that I felt when I met Jesus, for me, it’s just too good not be shared,” Joseph says.

And he has a message for the supporters who make the Norths’ work possible: “For sending those people, beautiful feet, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, really, thank you.”

If you want to learn more about making an impact through church planting, downloading our free guide to discovering global church ministries!

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About the author

Bethany DuVal

Bethany DuVal served as TEAM's marketing manager and editor. She is passionate about helping others tell their stories, whether they're missionaries on the field, new believers or part of a missionary support team. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading books and hiking in the Smoky Mountains.

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  • To God be the glory for Joseph’s life and for answering the prayer for healing his wife by David.May His name be praised forever.

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