Having been raised in a Jewish family with minimal commitment to Judaism, Matthew Ackerman arrived at college with attitude that is no doubt typical of many American Jews:
Early in my freshman year I found myself at an event for the campus Hillel (the college-focused Jewish organization), which carried with it no religious content and served principally to teach me which free bagel brunches to avoid to ensure there would be no Jewish content to my college existence. Many of the friends I made were themselves Jewish but like me had no thought that the distinction meant much. And while I carried in me a vague certainty in the existence of God that is, I suppose, the inheritance of anyone with a sad and lonely childhood (for we must find someone to cry out to), religion and God became even less significant for me.
Ackerman’s orientation toward religion changed after his graduation, when, serving in the Peace Corps in Ecuador, he encountered devout Christians, and began to appreciate their piety as something different from the secular piety of most of his fellow volunteers:
It was the first time I spent any meaningful time with anyone whose lives were governed by the daily call of God. And I saw in it an example I could not deny of how one might truly live a life that was good.
My certainty in my Jewishness (a certainty that has only grown in the years since) was even then strong enough to prevent my consideration of Christianity in any of its varieties as a religious path. But my experience with these Christians in Ecuador created in me a shame at my ignorance of my own religious tradition and a determination to correct that ignorance.