I would pray to Jesus, Haile Selassie, Buddha, Confucius, Abraham, and Muhammad, saying ‘Whoever you are, wherever you are, please reveal yourself to me,’ ” says Matthew Gamble, pastor, evangelist, and self-described “vagabond servant” of God.
Gamble’s prayer to essentially anyone that would hear him was the heart call of someone searching deeply and desperately for a savior.
And the Savior is exactly the one who answered him.
“I was born and raised in a very nominal Christian home,” Gamble says. “As a kid growing up, I remember only occasionally going to church, and we never read the Bible or prayed as a family.” By age 13 Gamble had moved for the third time and was, as he put it, “depressed and frustrated with life and the world around me.”
“Not able to wrap my mind around the concept that God could be loving while permitting all the misery and suffering in the world, I became an atheist,” he states. Gamble’s downward trajectory soon picked up speed. By age 16 Gamble had begun smoking marijuana on a daily basis and becoming more and more entrenched in the Rastafarian religion. Rastafarians believe that Ethiopia’s former ruler Haile Selassie was the Messiah, and part of their belief system involves smoking marijuana for spiritual purposes. Thus Gamble found himself smoking a lot of it in his pursuit of meditational and spiritual fulfillment.
At age 19 “I decided to travel to Jamaica in hopes of learning firsthand about the Rastafarian religion,” Gamble remembers. After two weeks in the Caribbean nation he met a Rasta named Peter who provided him with all the marijuana he desired—including two pounds of the stuff stashed in his bags as he arrived in Miami. Somehow Gamble made it through customs undetected. “When I didn’t get caught coming through customs, I started believing for the first time in my life that a power greater than me was looking out for me,” Gamble says. And in that highly unusual moment, his quest for truth and understanding of spiritual things was born.
While in St. Augustine, Florida, Gamble embarked on a self-guided study of world religions, but nothing clicked. During hours of solitude and contemplation at the beach, he pondered nature, “and it was there that God really began to reveal Himself to me in a way that had my heart exploding in faith,” he says. But Gamble needed to find a way to direct his mind to worship and didn’t know where to start.
After some time Gamble served as best man in a wedding in which the officiating minister was a Seventh-day Adventist—Chesapeake Conference president Rob Vandeman. He had never heard of Adventists and didn’t really pay much attention to the Adventist church in which the wedding was held (Spencerville, Maryland). But he asked Vandeman to help him gain some insight nevertheless. “Pastor Vandeman agreed to meet, and when we did, I spelled out my life story, and he simply handed me a Bible and prayed with me.”
“That day I started reading the Bible every day and haven’t stopped since,” Gamble relates. “I remember my father picking me up from the airport on my return to Florida and asking me how my trip was. I responded: ‘It was great primarily because I am starting to get to know this guy named Jesus. I don’t know everything about Him, but what I do know, I really like!’ ”
The next day Gamble made a phone call to the local Adventist church nearest his St. Augustine home. “The following Sabbath I was there, and I haven’t turned back since,” he says.
Matthew Gamble was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean in St. Augustine, Florida, March 23, 1996, and it is true: he hasn’t turned back since.
Gamble’s story only begins at his baptism. To learn more about where Christ has taken him, watch for the April 2011 edition of Adventist World magazine.
Wilona Karimabadi takes care of KidsView, Adventist Review’s magazine for children. This article appears in the January 13, 2011, Adventist Review.