Rev. Tom Davis, Ph.D.
Commissioned Interfaith Peacemaker of New Castle Presbytery
My Early Upbringing.
I was raised first in a Lutheran church. I remember being welcomed at age four or so into the children’s choir. I loved to sing, so I had a good first feeling about church. When I was in third grade my parents joined Westminster Presbyterian Church in Wilmington. I was very active in the youth group there. I remember listening to sermons very critically. From an early age I had a curiosity and an affinity for non-Christians. I asked my Sunday school teacher whether God would condemn Buddhists simply because they had never heard about Jesus. He said that he knew little about Buddhism, but he encouraged me to do research in the public library. I was pleased with that response because I considered it honest, and respectful of my sincere will to learn. I have always cherished that open minded attitude in the church which raised me. And I am so grateful that upon my request the presbytery commissioned me as an Interfaith Peacemaker, because I have always, since childhood, had an interfaith soul.
Tom Davis driving a 17-foot patrol boat on the Ham Luong River in the Mekong Delta, 1970.
A Crucible Experience and Spiritual Awakening
In 1970 I served as a military adviser to the South Vietnamese Navy, patrolling rivers and canals in the Mekong Delta. From time to time I did the infantry thing, walking ashore in enemy territory. I was scared of being captured or dying. And I felt terrible about setting ambushes. That felt like murder. One day in April when my adviser buddies were upriver getting supplies, I was back at base monitoring the radio. My fundamentalist cousin had sent me some paperbacks, one of which was authored by Catherine Marshall. She wrote, “Just talk to Jesus like he is sitting next to you. No fancy prayer is necessary. Just speak your need. What have you got to lose?” So, I did. I said, “Jesus, are you for real? If you’re for real and are listening, I need some help here. I’m scared, and I’m sick and tired of what I’m doing.” I didn’t hear anything. I didn’t see anything. But in a matter of seconds I had the most profound sense of peace and joy. It’s hard to describe, this meeting with the Spirit of Jesus. I wrote home that if I lived, I was going to drop philosophy and study religion. I wanted to teach religion. That’s as much as I knew at the time. It was a momentous first step in a long journey.
“Just talk to Jesus like he is sitting next to you. No fancy prayer is necessary. Just speak your need. What have you got to lose?” So, I did. I said, “Jesus, are you for real?
Recognizing That the Family of God is Very, Very Wide.
I have come to understand Jesus as someone who shows the way, and as someone who is in communion with God all the time. I am not, but I try to follow in the way of living that he exemplified. Especially I try to be compassionate, and to forgive others and myself.
I see the Spirit of Jesus in other Christians, and also in others who are not Christian, and even sometimes in atheists. My experience of Jesus is very precious to me, and I of course would want others to experience the same peace and joy that I have felt. But I discover more and more that this experience of the divine, this oceanic awareness, is not confined to the Christian fold. So, when I recognize it in spiritual cousins, I say amen and join with them in aspiring to a holy life.
More Faith Stories
I remember being in church and going up to the altar and crying. I was so tired of the life I was living. I needed help. I felt a sense of peace at that time and knew that if this Jesus thing can work for some of these other guys, then it can definitely work for me.
I said to myself, “Why should anyone envy me and want to be in my shoes?”
God has led me to amazing places in my life, so let me explain how God led me from South Carolina to Kenya.
We built the first church with great difficulty. We went back to the States and the board asked us to become mission staff with the Outreach Foundation. That was 25 years ago, just about, and we’ve gotten more involved with Kenya as days and years went on.
I am a chef by profession. I’m happy because I do what I love. Now I work at Villadise Tours and Safaris, where I meet so many different people coming from far. Being helpful is just a blessing to other people.
Then God started tugging on my heart. There was a church sermon series that was about taking your God-given dream off the shelf. I was like, “I don’t know what my dream is. God, if you have a dream for me you’re going to have to tell me what it is.”