By Aaron Evans, Features Editor

“People have told me that [they think] I’m an incredible Christian, but I can’t help but think to myself ‘you don’t even know … it wasn’t always that way.’ ”

Many of us hear statements like this drift through conversations on Christian college campuses like Asbury. Testimonies, stories, biblical theories and all of the above; sometimes it feels like we’ve heard it all, inviting the creeping threat of clichés or “christianese” into our words and stories of what God has done in our lives.

But for senior Adam Burge, words that call to a past of unbelief, doubt, questioning and unforgiveness were the threads of his testimony.

Burge and I found ourselves in a small, dim library study room. Though our conversation was light and pleasant at first, I was met by the weight of resurrected memories and stories from Burge’s past; some humorous, others sobering. His story began like many others — in church.

“I grew up in church and loved it,” he explained. “My grandpa was actually a pastor, and I would always try to read his theology books. My family even joked that I was going to be a pastor one day.”

But beginning in the fifth grade, Burge fell into the trap that many have before him of experiencing confusion and hurt after witnessing the double-sided nature many Christians become trapped in.

“I remember walking into a business meeting at the church my family was involved in at the time, and [the congregation] was split on both sides of the sanctuary, screaming and swearing at one other from across the building,” Burge recalled. “It was rough. I remember crying so hard with my mom when we left. I deeply trusted those people and they spoke into my life, and I felt stabbed in the back by them. It tore me apart to see it, and I just didn’t understand, but I knew it hurt a lot. Being an 11-year-old, it made question everything I believed about God and Christians.”

With the violent church split as the initial push, Burge found himself sliding down a slope that began with hurt and resulted in the demolition of his belief God.

“It started off with pain [from the church split],” Burge continued, still maintaining a lightness in his voice. “I created walls around me from other Christians, leading me not to trust them, including my own family. I couldn’t believe them when they said there was a God. I couldn’t shake the notion that they could be lying. Deep down, I just wanted a deep connection with someone or with God. It was isolating. I became so bitter.”

As Burge’s family became more disenchanted from the church, it became all the more difficult to hold onto the shreds of what remained of his faith.

“I wasn’t surrounded by Christians at home,” Burge said. “My family was just as bitter as me, if not worse. Because of that, I was used to things being bad; I knew nothing apart from bitterness.”

It was this place that led Burge to search for answers elsewhere.

“I remember going out on my family’s farm and reading material supporting different religions,” he admitted. “They were interesting and had good things to say, but I found myself believing that God — or any god — could not be real.”

As time went on, Burge found that his unbelief in God left him with the same hurt that only grew deeper and more bitter as years passed by.

“Through this time I still went to church, oddly enough, but because of my bitterness and mistrust, I constantly judged every Christian I encountered. I looked for ways to tear down people’s arguments about God. I purposely read theology books and the Bible just to prove Christians wrong and humiliate them,” Burge said. “[But] I wanted to feel a real connection with people, which led me to give myself away to a lot girls at pretty young age.”

In the middle of living inside walls of bitterness and anger, Burge found himself back in church after a friend who had recently converted from Buddhism to Christianity invited him.

“I remember being drawn to that church when I noticed that people there were really living out their faith and were passionate about Jesus. What I had been reading about for years came alive.”

Over time, Burge began to feel more at ease around the people he went to church with.

“I gave up food for a week, surprisingly,” Burge told me, laughing. “During the last day of the fast, I felt a random urge to pray and I didn’t even know why. I remember not even knowing how to pray, so I said, ‘God, I need you to show me how to do this.’”

In this moment where time nearly stood still, Burge crumbled under the weight of his old wounds and the long-harbored bitterness, and Jesus met him there. That night, Burge’s perspective shifted, and he saw that life free from years of hurt was available.

“I wept for so long. Nothing was the same after that. Even though I knew I wouldn’t do everything right after, I was surrendered.”

Since then, Burge experienced radical growth, and wishes the same for others who have similar struggles as he once did.

“To the people who don’t believe in God, I’ve been there. To the people who lost their virginity before marriage, I’ve been there. To the people who struggle with their family, what they believe and who they are, I’ve been there. But the power of God is so much stronger than any of that.”

Through a life of refinement, Burge desires to use his experiences to send the message that those who struggled in a similar way would have hope.

“If you are bitter, there’s hope. If you’ve given yourself away to too many people, there’s hope. You really can believe in God even if you don’t right now. I don’t regret what happened in my life, because I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”