Walking the streets of eastern Jerusalem, 21-year-old Charlotte Pence looked out across the Kidron Valley at the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Somewhere between 70,000 and 150,000 rectangular graves, nearly stacked one upon another, lined the slope. As she viewed the sight, her Jewish travel guide, Roni, told her that they expected the Messiah to arrive atop that mount. That’s why so many had been buried there.
It was Charlotte’s first trip to Israel. She had joined her family for Christmas break after a semester at Oxford University in the fall of 2014. Since she grew up in a conservative Christian home, she knew the stories of Scripture. She knew that Christians said the Messiah, Jesus, had already stood on the Mount of Olives. There, He was betrayed and led away to His death on the Cross. There, He ascended into heaven, and will return to earth someday.
Charlotte now believes these biblical truths herself. “My faith,” she says, “is definitely a big part of my life. That’s something I fall back on in times of struggle and [rely on] in good times, too.”
Indeed, she depended on her faith in 2016 when she traveled the vice-presidential campaign trail with her parents, Mike and Karen Pence. She leaned on her faith in 2017 when she met Henry Bond, whom she married December 2019. Their shared views on faith and life are a large part of what drew them together in the first place, she says.
But before she visited the Holy Land, and before she studied theology at Harvard Divinity School, Charlotte doubted her childhood faith and nearly left it behind.
A love of reading
When Charlotte was a young teenager, she gave her dad a small book for Father’s Day. On its cover she wrote “The Lessons You Have Taught Me.” Some of the advice listed in its pages was practical: “Lead by example” and “Anger does not inspire.” Other pieces of advice encouraged her to enjoy life: “Ride horses every chance you get.” Still others called her to faith in God: “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.” Seventh down on the list, Charlotte wrote one simple word: “Read.”
“My dad definitely instilled in me a love of reading,” she says. Among Charlotte’s favorite books was C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Story times with her dad instilled in her a love for writing and storytelling, too, which have shaped her calling and her faith. “Reading and writing,” she says, “have always been ways that I feel connected with God.”
Questions of faith
Charlotte’s parents encouraged her to place her faith in Christ Jesus, but they never pushed her or her brother and sister to mindlessly imitate their own faith.
“My parents really encouraged us to seek out answers for ourselves. They had a great way of showing us what their faith is and how they lived it out day by day,” Charlotte says.
But they never discouraged honest doubt. They taught her that if she was honest with her questions, God would reveal himself to her.
“One of my favorite stories in the Bible is about Thomas doubting Jesus,” she says, referring to John 20:24-29. “I just love that story because Jesus doesn’t scold him. He just shows Thomas His hands.”
Doubts began to grow in Charlotte’s mind after she entered college at Chicago’s DePaul University in 2012. She flirted with atheism and began to read the works of atheist writers. Her conflict with doubt culminated during her junior year of college in 2014, when she spent a year abroad studying at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. Later, in her book Where You Go: Life Lessons From My Father, she wrote, “I was interested in other types of ideas, ones I had not been raised in. I stopped going to church and reading my Bible.
Not afraid to seek
“I still believed in God, but I wanted to try living without the burden of religious ideas,” she continued. “Perhaps I thought my questions would go away or be answered. I thought maybe I would no longer care, and I would be able to live in an agnostic way. Maybe a part of me wished I could, but atheism didn’t answer any questions I had.”
Then she remembered C.S. Lewis, who had been an atheist before placing his faith in Christ. She pored over his apologetic and theological works. “His writing explained Christianity in a compelling way, but it also helped me to allow myself to have questions . . . when I wasn’t sure if I believed Christianity.”
But in the summer of 2014, before her junior year, Charlotte began to question a “free-thinking” mindset that abandoned faith. In Thought Catalog, an online magazine, she wrote, “If my free thought is free of magic and unexplainable forces and the abundance of love from something that is more than human, then I don’t want it.” She encouraged curiosity about religion and concluded, “Let us not . . . be afraid to seek.”
Flight toward faith
During her trip to the Holy Land, Charlotte began to rediscover her faith. “I believe it was my time spent in Israel where I truly became a Christian, where my faith was solidified for me,” she later wrote. “No matter what religion a person in Israel might practice . . . they acknowledge the truth of the history of the Bible. They recognize the events took place.”
A few months later, Charlotte asked God’s forgiveness and surrendered herself to Him. It happened suddenly, during a flight from England to the United States. As she sat on the plane, a Christian song from her playlist started to play, and she began to cry.
“I’m not really a crier,” she says, “but I just started crying, and I felt this feeling of being welcomed back. That year, I had turned away from God, but He hadn’t left me.”
In that moment, she discovered a new passion for Christ. “I remember reading my Bible with excitement for one of the first times in a long time,” she says. Because her parents had been so open with her about matters of faith, she shared her
discoveries with them. And with shared excitement, they celebrated her newfound faith. •