Karen Chamberlain was a nice person. 

It took 40 years of prayer and conversations with her sister and brother-in-law, Chris and Eric Barry, to realize that good deeds could not close the gap between her and God.

“I thought I was good with God,” said Karen, 62. “I would listen to Chris and Eric, but nothing motivated me to change. The turning point was a ride to the airport about three or four years ago. Eric told me about the story of Nicodemus, but I think the thing that stopped me dead in my tracks is he said, ‘Karen, good works won’t get you to heaven.’ Good works were why I thought I was good with God and why I wasn’t going to hell. When he said that, I was thinking, ‘What is he talking about?’”

That started her on a trail of thinking about the uncertainty of eternity.

“You’re talking about my whole lifetime believing I was good with God,” Karen added. “I was a good person. I did good deeds. I followed the Ten Commandments. I repented. I went to confession.”

The Barrys, who are Southeast Christian Church members, are grateful God opened Karen’s eyes to the Gospel.

“We’ve been praying for her for 40 years—since the time we converted—but it was kind of challenging to share Christ with her because she’s always been kind, thoughtful, helpful, considerate and very loyal to family,” Eric said. “Nicodemus was a God-fearing man who diligently practiced his religion, but unless he was born again, he would not see the kingdom of God. Karen seemed to be like Nicodemus—she was righteous—but even so, she must be born again.”

Eric and Chris baptized Karen July 20 at Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus. She and her husband, Gary, traveled from Murphy, North Carolina to be baptized.

“July 20, 2020 is a day I will always remember because together my wife and I made a serious commitment to follow Jesus to the best of our abilities,” Gary said.

Sisters on different paths

Karen and Chris were raised in California and went to Catholic school, but both went their separate ways in college.

“When Chris met Eric, he was on a Christian missionary path, and that’s how she converted,” Karen said. “When I went to college, you’re flexing your newfound independence and freedom, and you can lose your way very easily.”

Karen stopped going to church, but she continued to be a “charitable,” God-believing person.

“I thought I was good with God, so every time Chris would talk to me, I would go, ‘She’s just overdoing it,’” Karen added. “What she’s doing is way more work, and if we’re going to end up in the same place, why bother? I would pray, but it was always on my own terms.”

Karen never really read the Bible until the Barrys bought her an ESV study Bible for her birthday last August.

She is reading through the Bible in a year and is almost finished, but initially it was a struggle to prioritize her devotional time.

“The thing that motivated me was something else Eric said to me along the way when they kept encouraging me to read the Bible,” she said. “He said, ‘Karen, if you can’t dedicate or find a few minutes out of every day to read God’s Word, why would you want to spend eternity with Him?’ That really stuck with me.”

Karen and Gary, who have been married 21 years, are attending a local church as they continue to grow in their walk with God.

“I am like a baby learning to crawl. I am having to open my mind and my heart to learn how to walk in faith,” Karen said. “I am grateful to Chris and Eric that they did not give up on me. Chris took every opportunity to talk to me about God and the Bible over the decades. It took so many decades to reach me. It took a long time to break my foundational belief that I was good with God. I do feel this is the piece in my life that I’ve been missing … my true purpose and direction. Committing to read the Bible in a year has been the best investment I have ever made. Of course, it’s only the beginning.”

Gary’s walk

God began drawing Gary to Himself around the same time Karen became interested in faith.

Gary grew up in a large family in Nyssa, Oregon, where he attended a Lutheran church and even taught Sunday School.

“My active Christian life started in a Lutheran church when I was about 8 years old, but it was interrupted for several years,” Gary said. “I eventually began going to church in my early 30s and taught youth Sunday School for about two years. Working with the youth was very inspiring, but at that time, I wasn’t a good teacher and only survived because of scripted lesson plans.”

In his later adult years, Gary only attended church on holidays, but he now has rededicated his life to Christ.

“It has only been in the last two years where I have fully realized my life blessings have come from lessons learned from my many self-imposed mistakes,” Gary added. “I see this current journey with Christ as a jigsaw puzzle, where I seek and find the pieces that make the picture complete through Scripture and associating with people who help me through their lifestyle example on how to follow Jesus.”

Gary has been through a lot of “rough years” in life.

“I just seemed to dodge a lot of bullets, which I really give praise to the Lord for,” he said. “After failed marriages of 11 years and six months, life was a mess. Throw in my Vietnam experience with severe injuries, and the burdens were growing. In 1998, I was challenged with several serious mountain bike accidents that included a broken neck. Lastly, I was challenged with living in a small, unfinished garage for about six months as I started my business and was living job-to-job. I have always spoken quietly to God about helping me through the rough years, and He has provided the comfort of forgiveness.”

About 14 years ago, Gary founded the North Carolina Litter-Free Coalition, which he uses to honor God and His creation.

“Through this anti-litter project, I have been able to mature as a Christian by reaching out to others in a way that allows me to share my life mistakes and blessings with others,” Gary said.