Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 15, 2004
Conversion unleashes his spirit
Once a U.S. evangelical, John Paul II Bible School Musical Coordinator is going to a forum in Rome
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Since converting to Catholicism three years ago at the risk of losing all he had accomplished in his ministry, Nathan Harrison has experienced one blessed event after another.
Originally from Shreveport, La., the 22-year-old Harrison has been chosen to represent John Paul II Bible School at the eighth International Youth Forum March 31 to April 4 in Rome.
"At first, I sure asked myself why I was chosen; what it is I have to offer," Harrison said. "But I believe the Lord doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called."
The theme of the five-day conference presented by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, is Youth and University: Witnessing to Christ in the University World. Some have questioned Harrison's selection given that JP II is not a university and Harrison does not have a university degree.
However, he is the post-secondary school's musical coordinator and he has ministry experience from the streets of the American South.
"I am very honoured to be going to Rome. I feel trusted and respected by the school. I feel they have confidence in me and my calling to ministry," he said.
"From the Vatican on down, I was asked to go. I said yes, not because I wanted to go to Rome, but because I thought the Lord might be asking me to do this - something beyond myself.
"Hopefully, he will speak through me when he wants me to speak," he said.
It was a giant leap of faith and geography that brought the articulate Harrison from his evangelical Church in the Bible Belt to Catholicism and the small community northeast of Edmonton.
He had begun an Internet dialogue with a girl in New Orleans, La., who said she liked the Christian "profile" Harrison had posted on a website. After a time, he began to understand her Catholic beliefs.
"The last thing I thought I'd ever do was become Catholic," Harrison said. "To me, they were boring and their services were dead. And most of the Catholics I knew didn't live what they supposedly believed. And some of them didn't even know what they believed.
"I was in full-time ministry in my evangelical church in Shreveport, La. I was in high school, but every bit of my time was spent at the church. We were always taking trips to somewhere doing street evangelization, going door-to-door or coordinating the music in our youth ministry that had 250 members."
When Harrison realized his Internet friend was Catholic, he determined there was an immediate task at hand.
"I thought 'Oh boy, I need to save this girl.' I was certain I had to get her out of her Catholic Church. But I didn't jump on it right away because I knew she had a genuine relationship with God."
The pair kept writing and it was Harrison who let his guard down. The girl took a step forward and challenged Harrison before he challenged her that the Catholic Church is what it said it was.
"She started studying apologetics at 14 years old and while we had our Internet conversations, I went from being completely angry to confusion to being interested. And then my heart was turned around."
A lot of things happened during that period, one of which saw the girl send Harrison a book that helped him turn over his heart.
"I went from being completely angry to confusion to being interested. And then my heart was turned around."
- Nathan Harrison
Harrison eventually decided to leave his church and enter the RCIA, losing his friends and his ministry. He attended a year at Louisiana State University knowing only a priest and a handful of people from his RCIA class.
But travelling in this desert impressed upon Harrison that he must strive to move forward.
"I went to my mom and I couldn't stop talking about becoming Catholic. She ended up joining RCIA and became Catholic with me. And she is so happy. My dad has been pretty supportive because he says, 'As long as you have a relationship with the Lord.'
"I had one friend who stuck by me. It so happens he is leaving the same church and he and his girlfriend are coming into the Catholic Church this year."
After his year at LSU, Harrison began to discern his next move. A friend from university mentioned JP II after he had attended the school in the early 1990s.
"I was talking to him when I mentioned I really missed the charismatic elements. He gave me a magazine from the school and then I took a look at the out-dated website they had at that time," he said.
"I came here hoping I would get a new bearing on life. I had just entered the Catholic Church when my whole foundation of faith had shattered except for my relationship with the Lord."
Harrison describes his former Church as a "free-for-all." It was charismatic, but there was no structure. It was so fundamentalist that people rarely sought a deeper meaning. But the Catholic Church has 2,000 years of saints and history; all manner of writings and dogma to enter, he says.
"For myself, I have more consistency and a constancy in my prayer life. What I have now is the structure of the Catholic Church and a living relationship with God so that it doesn't run wild.
"I'm so glad to be Catholic. This is my home."
Harrison has been at JP II for three years, the last two as music coordinator. He has helped serve in a variety of ministries, reaching out to youth in schools through music and drama and with one-on-one contact.
Gift of music
"I believe music is a gift from God with the power to move people emotionally, physically and spiritually. But in today's world, it is very twisted and because it has a power of its own, it can be twisted around and used the other way to negatively influence people," he said.
"It's what worship is about. There is an exchange. You give yourself and he gives himself to you.
"A lot of times he will speak through the body. We are a 'charismatic school' and the gifts are in full use, especially in praise and worship.
Harrison hopes to add a charismatic element when he attends the conference in Rome. He is proud to represent his school and its history with joyful stories about what happens to people when they come to JP II.
"One of the questions that is to be asked during the forum is 'What are some things we can do for students before they go to university or when they leave?' Our school is a very good place to get a foundation to get your head on straight," he said.
"I hope to bring back information about what is going on in the world in different universities.
"There is a part of me that isn't sure what I'll be bringing back because I don't want to pretend I have it all together. I believe the Lord has prepared the way."
This summer, Harrison plans to travel the United States to do talks and testimonies. He believes he will eventually enter full-time ministry somewhere.