Editor's Note: The following is a testimonial by junior Student Senate President Mike Merten, which he shared at Upper Room.
On Sunday evening at 8 p.m., about 75 students gathered in Roberts Chapel for the weekly Upper Room service.
Besides the usual student-led contemporary worship music, many came to hear the testimony of Michael Merten, a junior history major and president of Student Senate.
After giving some background information about himself, he explained the interesting start to his faith journey.
His family is Christian, but he has always felt that they were not beholden to a denomination.
Instead, going from church to church for their music styles and for how they felt about the message coming from the pulpit was what truly affected their faith.
Merten said it was tough to be a Christian growing up without many Christian friends and attending public school, where he said, “it’s often difficult to be a Christian.”
However, Merten said that it wasn’t until seventh grade when he came to realize that instead of he himself being a Christian, he was merely following along with his parents’ faith instead of adopting it as his own.
Merten remembers an early prayer he made when he came to fully accept Christ praying, “Jesus, I want this to be a direct relationship – me and you.”
It was then that he decided to get more involved in faith related groups and activities to really see what his faith meant to him. Merten became involved in a church, its youth group and became a youth leader.
While things were going well for the most part, it was hard for Merten to keep growing in his faith.
“Secular pressures in the world are great,” said Merten.
“It really is quite the rollercoaster and can be quite a struggle in the way you go in and out of faith as it becomes harder, having to tolerate others and treat people the way you want to be treated.”
In high school, he became a leader at a Christian camp and continued to grow in his faith and as an example for others who have not found Jesus or are like him, growing in their faith.
However, one of the hardest parts for Merten in his life thus far was an incident that occurred when he was just 17 years old, he said.
He had just gotten his license and after encountering some sun glare while making a turn at a corner, he hit a motorcyclist – ejecting 63-year-old Steven Ruzicka from the motorcycle, according to local online newspaper Lehigh Valley Live.
Ruzicka died on impact. Attempts to revive him failed.
“I can still picture that day quite clearly,” said Merten. “There was lots of crying…and that was the first and last time I’d ever written down a prayer, and I’ve kept it with me in my wallet ever since.”
It was tough for Merten as he questioned his self-worth, his purpose and the effect he’d had on this man’s family, continuously worried that he had just taken away a husband and/or a father.
However, he found grace and comfort not just from God during such a troubling time, but also from his own family and friends, with the most personal impact to him coming from the victim’s family, specifically the son of the deceased.
“In addition to the prayer, I’ve also kept a section of the eulogy the man’s son gave at his funeral,” said Merten, who said that he still gets very emotional and chokes up every time he reads it, not just because of what it said, but the forgiveness and grace that they offered towards him.
“It’s amazing to experience grace from people who had every right to hate my guts,” said Merten. “We should be grateful to others as God is graceful to us so grace through our faith can be spread to countless people.
I feel sometimes we always take Christ’s grace for granted, realizing the sacrifice He made for us to have that grace,” said Merten.
“God is great. He gives you what you need, not always what you want. And in turn, you can use what you are given to help others and share that grace from God with others.”
Merten said he still sometimes struggles with self-worth remembering what happened that fateful day, but he takes great comfort in knowing that God has given him grace.
“We are given grace,” said Merten. “We don’t earn grace. And we should be more thankful for that gift.”