When Peter O’Connor came to know God at age 20, it was if he had fallen in love.
“I just couldn’t help but tell people about Jesus,” O’Connor, now 44, tells Eternity.
“I walked out of that living room knowing that I knew God.” – Peter O’Connor
Although he had grown up in a devoted Catholic household, with a father who was a priest, O’Connor says he didn’t really know God until one day in late May 1996 – the day that changed his life.
A few weeks earlier, 20-year-old O’Connor had been playing cricket in the front yard at his mate’s place when he made an off-handed remark about evolution. He was thrown when his mate’s dad, whom he had known for about eight years, challenged his comment by asking “do you really believe that?”
“I said ‘I do. Is there another option?’” O’Connor recalls.
“There is – do you want to talk about it?” answered his mate’s dad, Tony McLennan – who later went on to become CEO of the Bible League [Australia & New Zealand] and co-founder of the Australia for Jesus evangelistic network.
McLennan walked O’Connor through the biblical account of creation before sharing about his own conversion to Christ while he was a captain in the Australian Army.
“It was the first time that anyone had ever expressed to me that they had a real relationship with the God of heaven, the Lord of the universe, and I was drawn to that,” says O’Connor.
“We spent a good hour talking in Tony’s living room. He gave me some materials and said, ‘Would you like to come back and talk again next week?’ So I did.”
Over several weeks, the pair engaged in more long conversations about the God of the Bible.
“I was an apprentice aircraft mechanic at the time, and I would go there after work. Tony would take time out of his very busy schedule, with five children and as a partner in a business, to do that. I didn’t fully appreciate it at that point, but that was a self-sacrifice for Tony,” says O’Connor.
He continues: “Tony shared the gospel with me, what it was that Jesus actually achieved through his death and resurrection for us. The Spirit was certainly talking to me.
“On one of those evenings he was reading the book of John and – this is a key moment for me – I felt a very distinct presence around me.
“The moment God’s presence fell on me, I said two things: ‘My goodness, you’re real!’ and then I said, ‘I’m sorry for what I’ve done wrong, and I promise never to hurt you again.’
“I walked out of that living room knowing that I knew God.”
McLennan continued to disciple O’Connor, taking him through the Bible and helping him establish the Christian disciplines of reading the Bible, praying, spending time in fellowship with other Christians and telling others about Jesus.
O’Connor began to attend the same church as his mentor – Life Source Christian Church, Willoughby (previously North Shore Christian Centre), in northern Sydney. Over the subsequent years, they ran many Alpha courses there together.
“So God really gripped my life, and then used that to grip the lives of my family.” – Peter O’Connor
After his conversion, O’Connor’s passion for evangelism also spilled over into his own family.
“My little brother, whose life had gone off the rails, resisted the gospel for quite some time. It took two years, but out of my witness – and with the Lord really preparing his heart through some incredibly miraculous circumstances – he gave his life to Christ.”
“Within 12 months, he was the youth pastor of a church with 1000 people, Calvary Church Townsville.
“My sister resisted hearing the gospel from me for quite some time, but I was really moved by God to share the good news with her.
“Well, she eventually came to Christ after she saw what had happened to two of her brothers.
“I recall taking her along to church and she responded to an altar call. Later, she spent five years working at C3 Church Oxford Falls (in the Blue Mountains, NSW).
“So God really gripped my life, and then used that to grip the lives of my family.”
While his older brother Michael “held out”, O’Connor recounts how he accepted Christ before passing away with cancer three years ago.
“When he got a lot sicker, he said, ‘Pete, I need to talk to you about God.’”
“I had an opportunity after sharing the gospel with him to ask, ‘Michael, do you believe that Jesus died for you?’ Clearly convicted by the Holy Spirit, he said ‘Yes, I believe he did.’ I then asked, ‘Would you like to receive his gift of eternal life?’ and he said ‘Yes, I would.’
“So I prayed the sinner’s prayer with him, and it was a very sincere prayer. We spent several occasions after that reading the Bible, praying and spending time together. He passed away about six weeks later, but I can tell you that he was born again.”
O’Connor was struck by “how quickly Tony was able to articulate the gospel”
Today, O’Connor feels even more compelled to share the gospel with those who don’t yet know Christ. In fact, he’s now involved in street evangelism – something he used to think was “not really for me”.
This came about when O’Connor, who was then attending Northside Baptist Church in Crows Nest, Sydney, with his wife Shanna, received a phone call from McLennan inviting him to join a street evangelism team in nearby Chatswood.
McLennan had recently started Australia for Jesus and was pioneering street evangelism campaigns using an on-the-spot gospel presentation he developed called the “Way of Life” (the same resource that O’Connor had shared with his brother Michael).
O’Connor was struck by “how quickly Tony was able to articulate the gospel” and that he invited people to respond, there and then, to the message they had heard. In August 2018, O’Connor helped launch a Way of Life team at his current church, The Heights Baptist in Hornsby, northwest Sydney.
Every fortnight since, while working within coronavirus restrictions, he has been taking to the streets of Hornsby to share the gospel.
“The Way of Life is primarily about equipping the saints to share the gospel with those closer to them,” says O’Connor. “[But] just about every weekend, we have at least one, and sometimes up to four people – just in 10 presentations of the Way of Life – who pray the sinner’s prayer,” he says.
In addition to his busy job as an engineer, and his commitment to discipling others in the faith, O’Connor has become an evangelism advocate.
“Our job as the church is to know Christ and to make him known. We have to be equipped to share the gospel, because if you ask God, those opportunities come along. We have the answers – they’re the answers I always sought.”