The Last Supper

As a little girl growing up in Ferndale, Washington, miles from the bustle of big-city Seattle, Terra Naeve couldn't understand why all the other kids went to church and her family didn't.

And so at 8-year-old Terra's insistence, her family started attending the little Lutheran church in town. And they kept attending, well past the point where Naeve wondered why she'd opened her mouth in the first place. It wasn't a bad church, she says, but it certainly wasn't immune to the hypocrisies that provide plenty of good reasons to tune out religion, should you be a teenager looking for them.

By high school, she'd just stopped going. "I'd gotten a little burnt out on the church thing," she admits.

But she came back.

One Easter Sunday, not long after she'd left Ferndale for a new life in Mesa, Arizona, Naeve, then in her early 20s and working at a karate school, accepted a co-worker's invitation to check out a service at her church. At first, she thought she was in the wrong place: The address her co-worker had supplied turned out to be a high school, and one where music was blaring from the auditorium out into the hallways. And the people -- they were clapping, clapping and singing. They were nothing like the staid Lutherans Naeve had known.

She almost didn't go in.

But she did. And that day, she found God. Or, as she puts it, she heard God's call.

And the God she discovered was far more exciting than the one the Lutherans had offered back in Washington. This God was real, and intensely personal. This God spoke to her. This God got involved in day-to-day decision-making.

Growing up in the Lutheran church, it was enough to go through the motions, to sit in the pew and do her best to follow the rules.

This God asked for action.

Naeve didn't quite realize it that day, but the God she met that Easter had a penchant for difficult demands. Any time you claim to hear from God directly, you can expect things to be difficult; history is rife with examples far more dramatic than Terra Naeve's. The apostle Paul, hearing his call to share the Gospel, ended up in jail for years. Stephen was stoned to death. Jesus himself was crucified. Naeve could count herself lucky, perhaps: She just got fired.

Of course, Christians today are far from a fringe band challenging the Roman establishment, as they were during New Testament times. They're a political group that everyone from Bill Frist to Hillary Clinton is eager to court. And, not surprisingly, they know their constitutional rights.

These days, a guy in St. Paul's position might smack the Roman government with a lawsuit for false imprisonment. Stephen's relatives would certainly be eyeing the possibilities of a wrongful-death suit.

Terra Naeve contacted the federal government. Its Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took the case on her behalf, triggering a four-year battle, hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, and a showdown in a Phoenix federal courthouse.

At stake: how far businesses must go to accommodate employees who believe they hear the direct call of God.

Perhaps because claims of religious discrimination have skyrocketed nationally, perhaps because Naeve's employers refused to back down in a case where many others would have settled, Terra Naeve's case became a flashpoint.

And even when it was over, and the jury ruled against Naeve, nothing would really be resolved. The case is almost certainly headed to appeals court, where a victory for either side could set an important legal precedent.

But Naeve didn't know any of that on that Easter Sunday. That day it seemed much simpler, the simplest thing in the world. She sat there, and listened to the music, and heard the pastor speak. And then she prayed a simple, silent prayer.

"All right, God," she said. "If you want me, here I am."

From the moment Naeve gave her life to Christ that Easter, 1994, everything changed. "It was like being picked up from one life and dropped into another," she says.

She lost old friends and made some new ones. Her habits changed. But most important, she says, her perspective shifted: She started seeing "challenges" instead of problems. It gave her peace to know that everything happening in her life was part of God's plan.

Naeve, despite stylish red-tinted hair and careful makeup, is still a small-town girl. Even at 34, she says things like "oh, gosh" without a hint of self-consciousness. Though she's lived in Mesa for a decade, when she has to get to "big, scary" Phoenix, she gets a friend to drive.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske