A University Professor's Personal Transition Story
Dr. Michael J. Davis received his B.S. in Zoology from the University of California, Davis and his Ph.D. in Physiology & Biophysics from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He pursued post-doctoral research at the University of Arizona before taking a faculty position at Texas A&M University in 1985. He currently serves as Professor and Associate Department Head at the Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center at the University of Missouri. Dr. Davis' research relates to mechanisms of blood flow control in the microcirculation, with emphasis on mechanotransduction by vascular cells. His work has been continuously funded from the National Institutes of Health since 1985. He has been designated an Established Investigator of the American Heart Association and serves as an Associate Editor for the American Journal of Physiology. He has published more than 70 peer-reviewed articles, proceedings papers and book chapters.*
I was raised in a Mormon family in Southern California. Through regular attendance we became indoctrinated in the history, doctrine and traditions of that church (the Latter Day Saints), as well as in the Book of Mormon. Despite this, it was not until several years later that I heard my first clear presentation of the gospel of Christ Jesus.
As teenagers, my younger brother and I were quite critical of the Mormon church and rebelled against being forced to attend 3-4 meetings each week. On the eve of my sixteenth birthday, we expressed our views quite openly to the bishop (pastor) of our local ward, when he conducted his standard interview for our advancement to the next level of the Mormon priesthood. After he conveyed our dissatisfaction to our parents, they collectively consented to let us make our own choices with regard to church attendance.
Over the next several years, I sporadically attended another (non-Mormon) church with high school friends, where I also do not recall hearing the gospel clearly presented. As a college freshman at the University of Wisconsin, I declared myself to be an atheist, being influenced significantly by biology, anthropology, and sociology classes and by the writings of Jacques Monod, Desmond Morris and Arthur Janov.
In my sophomore year, I transferred to the University of California at Davis. One month after classes started, my partner in chemistry lab, Chad, shared with me how he had become a Christian and asked me about my background and my view of God. Although my answers were terse and evasive, I found myself thinking there was something very different, but likable, about him. At the end of our 3-hour conversation, Chad asked me if I wanted to become a Christian, much to the amusement of the other students around us. I said I wasn't interested at that point but I probably would have been too embarrassed to respond even if I had been. Chad was content to give me a card with his name and address.
That night was different. As I sat alone in my apartment, I became unusually reflective about the futility of my life, my motives for wanting to become a physician, and the direction I was heading. What particularly struck me was the contrast between my cold, self-centered heart and Chad's unexplainable compassion for someone he didn't even know. I decided to talk more with him and walked to the address on the card he gave me. When I found he was not home, I walked to a small church nearby, sat alone in the front pew and stared at the back of the card. What I had not noticed previously was a drawing of a bleeding hand with a nail in it and underneath the words "God proved His own love to you because, while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you - Romans 5:8". This verse seemed like it was addressed directly to me. That conviction, plus my recollection of the fragments of the gospel Chad had spoken earlier led me to confess my sin to God, receive His forgiveness and atonement through Christ, and ask Christ to take control of my life. For the first time in my life I felt completely clean and at peace.
When I returned to Chad's apartment, he still was not home but I told his roommate Cliff "I think I have just become a Christian", which elicited the reply, "praise God, brother, then you'll need a Bible". Cliff gave me a pocket New Testament, sat me on his couch and started reading the book of Mark with me. After 30 minutes Chad returned and could hardly believe I was reading the Bible with his roommate. Over the next 3 years, I became good friends with both Chad and Cliff, attended their church in Davis, and read through the entire Bible several times with another of Chad's roommates.
The following Easter, I was baptized with several other new Christians and slowly shared my new faith through letters with my mother and my sister. My mother became a Christian shortly after that but my sister, who was going through her own times of searching and doubt, ended up becoming more deeply involved in the Mormon church (and still is, along with the rest of my family). During the year after my conversion, I challenged my sister to look closely at the real Christ of the New Testament while she challenged me to investigate the claims of Mormonism. It was during that time that I re-read the Mormon "scriptures" and researched for the first time what non-Mormon scholars had to say about Mormonism. After 10 subsequent years of being pursued by Mormon missionaries, I requested to be, and was, officially excommunicated from the Mormon church.
After graduation from college in 1975, I entered graduate school and, on the first day of class, met two medical students who had become Christians through a Campus Crusade ministry. Over the next four years I fellowshipped with and learned from these two brothers who pursued God with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. Together we organized a fellowship of Christian medical, nursing and graduate students that met in our house and eventually grew to over 100 people. We made extensive use of materials from Campus Crusade and the Navigators, and became convinced of the importance of the New Testament concept of one-on-one discipleship. It was during that time that I learned how to share my faith and grew to appreciate the value of daily Bible study and prayer.
Since that time, I have remained involved with Navigator and Campus Crusade ministries and with local evangelical churches on the various campuses I have worked. As a medical scientist, I seek to maintain credibility among my peers by reflecting Christ in my personal life, by sharing openly when presented with a clear opportunity, and by excelling in my work without being consumed by it. I encourage Christian students (including my own two kids) to reconcile their faith with science and pursue careers in academia as God leads. I am committed to the Biblical principle of one-on-one discipleship as a mechanism for growth in Christ, and to helping Mormons escape from a legalistic, non-Christian cult.