A new member feels thankful and free after realizing the depth of God’s forgiveness and love.
Sometimes God puts people in our lives to help guide us when we start to stray from his path. At other times he uses big, dramatic events to shock us out of our indifference. Christopher Koch, member at Living Shepherd, Laramie, Wyo., has experienced both.
The challenging years
When Christopher was a teenager, a series of events made a significant impact on his life. In fact, when he tells his story, he starts at age 14—the year that his grandfather passed away. Christopher says he didn’t have a great relationship with his parents, but he was very close with his grandfather—so that loss was especially painful. “He was my best friend in the whole world, my fishing buddy,” he says. “Some of my favorite memories were listening to my grandpa tell me WWII stories.” When his grandfather died, Christopher became depressed and began abusing prescription drugs and alcohol to help him cope. By the time Christopher was 19, he estimates that he could drink a half gallon of whiskey in one night.
Around that time, he started hanging out with someone who introduced him to Satanism. Christopher read a lot about it and says he liked using what he’d learned to debate with people about religion. “I could run the logic game enough until people basically had to say, ‘Yeah, you are right,’” he remembers. “I knew it made them mad, and I thought it was funny.”
Christopher’s life was in a downward spiral as his drinking and drug use continued. “Things got really bad for a long time,” he says. He realized he needed to change his life and tried to return to the Catholic church that he attended growing up. “But I had a lot of misgivings about the Catholic Church,” he says. “I struggled to go back to something that basically said, ‘It’s all on you.’ Something about that never really jived with me.”
Then God worked through someone in Christopher’s life; one of his friends was
Lutheran, and they talked about all kinds of things—including religion. One day Christopher asked his friend about the extent of God’s forgiveness. “I said, ‘Is there anything I can do where I can’t come back to God?’ And she said no.” That idea turned him back to the Catholic Church. He went through the rite of confession with the priest, but afterward he says something still didn’t feel right.
Christopher says he was “dormant” for a long time and didn’t go to church. “I just simply tried to be the best person I could be, but I was still very much haunted by the things I had done.”
A turning point
Four years later, Christopher met Amanda at a concert. He says it felt like fate. They started talking and began texting each other after the concert. The texts became more frequent, and their friendship grew. They decided to date, and soon Christopher was making the two-hour drive to visit Amanda when-ever he had a day off.
It was on one of those drives that everything changed. “I was driving to Amanda’s house late one night,” he remembers. “The GPS always sent me on the back roads, and I knew there was a 90-degree turn on one of them—but that night I was going too fast.” At the last minute he saw the corner, but it was too late; he flew off the road. “Everything went black, and when I woke up, I was upside down in my car with water inside. I remember crawling into the back seat, and I kicked out the back window and got out.”
He had crashed into a 12-foot-deep drainage ditch, which thankfully only had two feet of water in it at the time. Christopher climbed out of the ditch and walked a couple of miles before he found help. He called Amanda, and she and her parents came to pick him up. “That was one of the biggest things I remember from that night—her parents’ reactions,” he says. “I had to point out where my car was in that ditch, and they said, ‘How are you still alive?’ I’ve never forgotten how it felt when Amanda’s mom put her hands on my shoulders and drew herself nearer to me. It seemed so surreal in that moment. . . . It was nothing short of the grace of God that I walked away unscathed from something like that.”
The following Sunday, Christopher did something he hadn’t done before—he went to church with Amanda and her family. He says that when he and Amanda were first dating, “Amanda would tell me she’s going to church and I thought, That’s cool, if that’s what you want to do.” But Christopher says he didn’t feel the need to go to church.
After the accident, however, Christopher says he was more open and receptive to listening to God’s Word in the Bible. “I began to understand little by little why going to church and faith were important to Amanda,” he says. “I think that the Lord used that accident to finally break the remnants of my pride so that I would open my eyes and truly see him and know him for the first time.”
Finding a church home
Christopher and Amanda got married in December 2019, and two weeks later they moved to Wyoming so Amanda could start her graduate research position at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
Amanda found a WELS church in Laramie, and they decided to attend. “The first time being at Living Shepherd, it felt right and normal—kind of homey,” says Christopher. “The atmosphere was warm and welcoming. It just felt good.”
There they met Pastor Adam Lambrecht. When Lambrecht asked Christopher if he’d like to take Bible information classes, “I was hesitant to align myself somewhere,” says Christopher. “Sometimes organizations will say one thing, but then the more entrenched you become, that’s when the hypocrisy comes out.” But he decided to give it a try.
“Talking to Pastor Adam made me feel at ease. After the first class, I thought, Yeah, okay, I can do this,” he says. “The more we talked, the more I realized this is certainly bona fide. The focus is on God’s Word: This is what God says, and this is what we are going to try to do. Even though we are sinful and we are going to fail, we are still trying to help people and live a life of faith.”
Reflecting on God’s grace
Growing up Catholic, Christopher says he was taught that if you do everything good enough, you might get a chance to go to heaven. “Anything you do is on you—and if you have lived the life I’ve lived, that’s not good.”
But he says that when you realize Jesus has already paid the debt for your sins, that weight comes off. “I don’t have to burden myself with that anymore,” he says. “There’s a freedom that comes with realizing that I don’t have to make up for anything. But because I love Jesus and believe in him, I try to be the best person I can be and follow God’s Word as much as possible. I know I will make mistakes, but I learn from it, move forward, and try not to do it again.”
From start to finish, Christopher knows his story seems pretty incredible. “I should have died, but I didn’t,” he says. “Instead, I came out of that darkness and into the light. I try and live my life with thanksgiving and do my best to share that gift. I hope my story helps people realize that there’s nothing you can do that God can’t fix. You can always come back to God; that’s the most important thing.”
Author: Alicia Neumann
Volume 108, Number 8
Issue: August 2021
- Confessions of faith: Christopher Koch - 2021/07/27
- Confessions of faith: Kannika Killion - 2021/03/27
- My Christian life: Teen faces difficult medical diagnosis - 2020/11/29