Most Christians’ testimonies about being found by Christ aren’t as dramatic as Paul’s on the Damascus Road. But Peter Gilliland’s comes pretty close.
A recent college graduate, Gilliland had been a Christian only a few weeks when he came to Summit in Manitou Springs for this year’s first session. “Everything’s so new to me, it’s hard to describe,” he confessed.
Gilliland stumbled on Summit’s website earlier this spring while searching for answers to questions he had only recently realized he had. A self-described agnostic until his conversion, Gilliland was raised in a Christian home by Christian parents. By the time he made it to high school, his main focus was himself, he says. It wasn’t a faith crisis that pushed him away from Christianity; it was his own ambivalence. “It was something I never really thought about explicitly,” he recalls. “I just didn’t want anything to do with it and thought it was irrational. My life was just me living for myself.” As Gilliland puts it, he spent his time in high school and at MIT drinking at parties and smoking marijuana.
Then, after graduating from MIT in February 2013, Gilliland experienced his Damascus Road moment. Slated to start working a full-time job in June, he spent the spring living with his parents and enjoying a responsibility-free life. One night when watching TV before bed, an irrational fear gripped him. His heart rate accelerated. He began trembling. He couldn’t pinpoint why. “This sounds ridiculous,” he said. “I can’t think of a word to describe how I felt.” He began pacing his living room and walked by his father’s Bible on the dining room table. Inexplicably, he sat down and began reading from the very beginning, and the fear dissipated. As soon as he stopped a few minutes later, the fear returned, so he continued reading. He read straight through for a couple of hours that night, and the fear left. He went to bed without the fear while listening to Christian music — a first for him.
Gilliland awoke the next day puzzled, but he knew it hadn’t been a dream. The same thing happened that night, and again he turned to his dad’s Bible for comfort. It was then that he realized if there were a God, this would be the way God would grab his attention. “I realized this is something I couldn’t really ignore.”
He spent the next several weeks trying to track down answers. Steeped in scientific naturalism, he sought medical reasons for his severe anxiety attacks. “There was nothing I would have had anxiety about,” he said.
While searching for answers, he only found other questions: where did the universe come from? If there were no God, life really is meaningless — did that make sense with his experience of reality? Each new question pointed him toward God and the faith he had forsaken as an adolescent until finally he accepted Christ.
In searching for answers, he wound up at Summit’s website watching lectures. After snagging the last available seat in session 1 in 2013, he sat in the front row as one of the oldest students in the room and found his faith bolstered by what he heard. He still can’t pinpoint his favorite lectures: “I was just eating up all of them.”
Gilliland, who now trades U.S. Treasury futures for Asian markets out of Chicago, says he’s still trying to answer his questions. But he’s enjoying the excitement of a newfound faith and isn’t sure where it will take him. “My long-term aspirations have changed dramatically since becoming a Christian,” he said. “I want to live a life that’s more fulfilling.”