From anger to joy: Young convert shares story on World Youth Day stage

Caleb Perkins Caleb Perkins, 29, was one of several young men and women from around the world who shared their testimonies in videos played for 800,000 people during the Stations of the Cross with Pope Francis at World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, in August. | Credit: “EWTN News InDepth”

“The reality of my life is that I am one of the lost sheep the Lord came after.”

This is how Caleb Perkins summarized his journey to finding a home in the Catholic Church after experiencing family issues that spiraled him into anger, depression, and drug addiction.

Perkins, 29, was one of several young men and women from around the world who shared their testimonies in videos played for 800,000 people during the Stations of the Cross with Pope Francis at World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, in August.

Afterward, he shared more of his story in an interview with EWTN News.

Perkins grew up in a Christian family, “amongst cornfields” in Indiana. He said his childhood wasn’t bad, but his father wasn’t as present as he should have been and the relationship between his parents was poor.

“I didn’t really know who I was growing up, and that kind of caused a lot of the spiral to happen,” he said.

After 22 years of a difficult marriage, Perkins’ parents divorced and the teen spent several months living with his grandparents. Around the same time, another grandparent, with whom he was close, died.

“That was the time frame when I really went downhill,” Perkins said, explaining that he started trying to fill the void in his life with drugs, especially marijuana and a synthetic version of cannabis called spice.

“It helped me forget what I was going through,” he said.

Perkins recalled that he thought about enrolling in a local university, but it “didn’t really pan out, so I really just had no idea what to do with my life.”

“I was just working a factory job, just kind of going through the motions.” 

He said he would “get off work [and] go get high.”

Starting his senior year of high school, Perkins had also struggled with self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

But through it all, he continued to “go through the motions,” including attending church services, even if he was lukewarm about it.

When Perkins met and started dating Natali, the woman who is now his wife, her relationship with Christ inspired him, he said. “There was a desire in my heart. I wanted what she had.” 

During the first three years of their relationship he started asking questions about where the Christian faith of his childhood really came from.

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But the relationship between Natali and Perkins had its struggles, and the two broke up for six months. Around the same time, Perkins started a new job in a tattoo parlor, where he unexpectedly “saw Christ in those who typically are forgotten.”

Though the people he worked with were not conventional Christians, Perkins said he got to know them and their stories and saw examples of people striving, in their own ways, to be Christ-like.

Through that experience, Perkins began to feel like he was at a crossroads: He could either fall back into his former way of life or he could follow the “little bread crumbs” the Lord was leaving him to find a new path. 

His journey to the Catholic faith was “gradual,” he said.

Perkins slowly started to realize the Lord’s love for him. He got back together with Natali and the two got married, at which time they started to get more involved in their church.

He credited a good church friend, Mitch, with inspiring them both “to seek after Jesus no matter what the cost, no matter what people thought.”

Perkins, who had become involved in his church’s worship and youth ministries, thought about studying to become a youth pastor.

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“That was the original goal,” he said. “We were teaching Bible studies and stuff and I just started asking the questions: ‘What do I believe? Why do I believe it? And can I defend it?’”

The desire to be a youth pastor — and to therefore have a deep knowledge of Christian teaching — led Perkins to start studying and reading.

Unexpectedly enough, it was a biography of the Christian music artist Rich Mullins that first opened Perkins’ heart to the Catholic Church.

Mullins, best known for his worship song “Awesome God,” had been interested in Catholicism and considered converting before his untimely death at the age of 41 in a car accident.

“I grew up listening to his music, and as I was reading the book, there were a ton of different Catholic quotes that were standing out to me and really speaking to my heart,” Perkins said.

In his Christian tradition, there were a lot of misconceptions about the Catholic Church, but what he was reading was challenging these, he said. 

“I just started doing research into all the quotes from Mother Teresa, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, G.K. Chesterton, and the Lord just opened up my mind and just really blew me away. I fell in love with Jesus even more. Learning about Catholicism ... was just beautiful.”

In his process of conversion, he also researched the early Church and read the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Justin Martyr. 

Perkins said now that he is a Catholic, he would never bash his Protestant brothers and sisters, some of whom were part of his pilgrimage group to World Youth Day in Lisbon.

His life has changed a lot since becoming Catholic three years ago, he said. “I have found joy. I have found true meaning in my life.”

He said going to confession for the first time “was probably one of the most healing things for me.”

“The sacraments really do change you. Like the Catechism says, it’s an efficacious sign of grace. Like they really do change us.”

Perkins also said he has always struggled a lot to recognize his self-worth, and that is one of the things a full practice of the faith has brought him: “The Lord’s been very graceful in teaching me what my identity is and that it is in him.”

To those who find themselves where he was in his early 20s — directionless, without purpose or belonging — Perkins said he would recall the words of St. John Paul II, that “it is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you.”

“Everything this world has to offer, it will leave us empty, and Jesus truly is the one that will stay,” he said.

Today, Perkins and Natali are co-founders, with others, of Shema Culture, a ministry based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with the purpose of teaching Christians, especially Catholics, to lead “reverent and prayerful” praise and worship. 

Perkins is also the praise and worship director for the youth ministry at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Fort Wayne.

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