By Jan Haugg
My name is Jan Haugg, and I am a third-year student at Bogenhofen Theological Seminary in Austria, preparing to become a minister. I am passionate about God and about sharing my faith with others. But only a few years ago, I was a die-hard atheist. Here is my journey to faith.
I was born in East Germany into an atheist family and an almost completely secular social environment. My relatives, schoolmates, and friends were mostly non-believers. At 14 years of age, I participated in the Jugendweihe, a secular coming-of-age ceremony that had been supported by the Communist-era government as a replacement for confirmation.
As a youngster, I didn’t spend any time thinking about God. At school I had learned of the terrible things Christians had done in history, so for me, religion was for people who didn’t want to think—a crutch, suited for individuals living more like ducks rather than eagles. I remember, when I was around 16, being invited to the home of a Christian family for a meal. As they prayed before eating, it was then that I saw someone praying for the first time.
I was fortunate to grow up in the countryside, surrounded by fields and forests. Watching documentaries about animals and distant lands, I developed a deep love for nature. My two friends and I often played in the woods and built shelters; we were the forest police, telling children off for driving nails into trees.
When I was 18 and still in high school, I joined the youth wing of the Social Democrats. As a socialist, I wanted to fight for minimum wage and abolish nuclear power and replace it with renewable energy.
Having gone to study international business in Stralsund, I stumbled across a book entitled 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. It gave tips on how one could reduce his ecological footprint by targeting many areas of daily life, like food, clothing, transportation, office, finances, and internet usage. This book had a deep effect on me. I started implementing these things and putting a lot of effort into saving the world. I was the kind of guy who bought only organic, fair-trade products—even on a student budget—and planted indigenous flowers in parks to help save bees. Traveling on an airplane to spend only the weekend somewhere was, to me, an unpardonable ecological sin. Before long, environmentalism became my religion.
I saw the world caught up in a rapid downhill spiral, heading for disaster. Deforestation, desertification, agricultural degradation, plastic polluting the planet—all these and a hundred more serious problems required immediate and drastic action by large portions of the population in order to be tackled successfully.
But despite my strong activism and that of other like-minded people, things seemed to get only worse. I felt like the world was being confronted with a huge wave, threatening to collapse over us, and I had no idea how we would survive it. The future seemed bleak, and this hopelessness was very frustrating.
My university course in Baltic management studies required me to choose a language from the Baltic Sea Region to learn, so I decided to take up Norwegian. I went on a backpacking trip to Norway, and I returned the next year, this time to a farm about one hour from Oslo because I was interested in learning about organic agriculture.
There, I met some great people—Jonathan, Line, and Julia, who were tenants on the farm. While picking raspberries with Julia and visiting her home as a dinner guest, I found myself discussing country living, politics, education, and vegetarianism. These people had interesting views, and I realized we had many things in common, even more so than I had with my environmentalist buddies. We became good friends, played games, and had fun together.
One Saturday morning, I was searching for some sheep that had escaped again, and I saw my new friends all dressed up to go out. I went to say hello and found out they were on their way to church. Oh, no! I thought to myself, Christians! How disappointing! Why do these nice people have to be Christians? They told me they were Adventists—something I had never heard of.
Back at home, two years went by with my studies and an internship at a green bank in Nürnberg. I had to fulfill a year abroad, so I decided to write my thesis in Norway and work for a company that constructed roof-mounted solar panels. I moved to Oslo, and desperately searching for an affordable place to stay, I remembered my friends from the farm. I got in touch with them, and they introduced me to David, who lived in a church-owned 150-square-foot student home. He took me in and went out of his way to make me feel welcome.
Upon settling into this home, I suddenly realized that I was surrounded by Christians. I was sure they would try to convert me, but I determined that they wouldn’t get me. The first three months went smoothly, except for my breaking the home’s rule prohibiting alcohol, which they kindly overlooked.
Then, I was invited by my friends from the farm to an independence-day celebration, which is a big deal in Norway. I had no idea that a double-decker bus full of Christian young people would also show up. I had some great conversations with them, arguing how unreasonable it is to believe in God. I kept it respectful though, because for some reason, I liked these people. They had good values and believed in the Ten Commandments. I thought, If everybody would live like that—a healthy country lifestyle—, the world would be a better place. Just imagine! They were genuine and wanted to know how they could do things better. As an activist, I found it refreshing after meeting so many people who didn’t want to change.
My friends also invited me on a boat trip to the south of Norway to spend the whole weekend on an island. There were about 30 to 40 Christian young people who also went. I had a wonderful time, and they took such good care of me, even sharing clothes and other necessities with me.
While there, a guy called Joakim asked me if I wanted to study the Bible. I felt uneasy since I had no interest in the Bible, but I didn’t want to offend him, so I said, “Let’s do it tomorrow.” I was hoping he would forget about it, but the next morning he surprised me by asking me again. I scrambled for another excuse, and the best that I could find was that I didn’t have a Bible. It turned out to be the lousiest excuse in a large group of Christians because the next moment, I was presented with somebody’s Bible. I thought, These people have been good listeners, so it’s only fair that I hear them out.
Joakim started talking about how the Bible made the extraordinary claim that it is the inspired Word of God and how that claim called for extraordinary proof. He showed me how the Bible was able to forecast the future and explained to me the prophecy of Daniel 2, in which the empires of the world had been foreseen by God: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and the fragmented Europe of our days. I could follow along because I had taken an advanced course in history. After that study, my view of the Bible changed, so I decided to read it.
I bought an expensive study Bible and started with Genesis. The Bible’s claim that God created the earth was a roadblock, though, because I believed in evolution. My friends referred me to some lectures about evolution and creation. As I learned some very intriguing facts, my doubts started to crumble one by one.
Something started to work within me. I now seriously wondered if God existed, and I carefully weighed the arguments that I had learned. There were four main points that challenged my unbelief. First, these Christians had solid values, lived a good life, and did positive things. Second, the idea of the great controversy between God and Satan made a lot of sense. To me, it was the most credible framework for interpreting the things that are going on in the world. Third was the reality of prophecy, of God being able to predict the future. And lastly, the ideas of creation and intelligent design seemed very viable.
I had never envisioned being a Christian, but the weight of evidence became so heavy that I could not ignore it any more. If God exists and is almighty and all-knowing, then He has a plan of salvation not just for me, but also for the planet. I felt it would be stupid of me not to follow the winning team! If God is who He says He is, I would follow Him from then on. I decided to believe in God and prayed for the first time in my life. Being already 25 at the time, it was both awkward and very special to talk to the Father I never knew I had.
I went back to Germany and finished off my bachelor’s degree. But my life had just acquired a new and rich dimension, which propelled me to explore more about Christianity. Thus, I attended a mission school for two years; it was the best time of my life! I learned that I was a sinner in need of salvation—I had not thought of myself that way before. The One who could save me was also able to save this troubled world. The greatest need of the world is for people’s hearts to change, and the real hope is in living with Jesus in the new world which He promises to establish after His second coming. Now, I aspire to help others find God and true hope. Yes, I still believe in doing my part in taking care of the planet; for example, I still turn off unneeded lights and deposit my money in a green bank. But much more than that, I look forward to God truly saving the world!
Originally featured on “Journeys,” a video project of Adverum Productions which shares the stories of ordinary people on their quest to find the meaning of life. Visit https://www.adverumproductions.com/ to watch the testimony of Jan and many others.