My earliest memories of the Gospel message were not in Sunday school or in Church because my family were not churchgoers let alone Christians. The Currie Primary School, which I attended, allowed workers from the Child Evangelism Fellowship to come in regularly and present the Gospel of saving grace to the children of Tigers Bay in North Belfast, and this was my earliest exposure to the Gospel. It didn’t really get through to me at the time because although I understood much of what the people were saying about God, Jesus, Heaven and Hell I thought that I was a good boy who, although not perfect, did just about everything my teachers and parents told me and therefore I would surely go to heaven if I died?
Then after some time a trip to Kilkeel was arranged by C.E.F. for several days and many of the children, including me were excited by the prospect of staying away from home with friends and by the promise of a trip packed with fun and games. Of course central to the entire week was a program of gospel presentations but that in itself was not figuring in any of the children’s minds and certainly not mine (Proverbs 16:9 A man’s heart devises his way but the Lord directs his steps). The time in Kilkeel was fantastic with games, prizes, trips around the area etc. then one evening a Christian man expounded a piece of scripture:
Revelation 12:7-11 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
That evening I understood and realised for the very first time that there was a God in Heaven and I needed to decide where I wanted to spend eternity in Heaven or in Hell. A struggle went on inside my young soul before I had to admit that I needed the Saviour. That night I bowed the knee repented as a sinner before God and accepted Christ as my own personal Lord and Saviour. The burden of guilt was lifted from me that moment and I knew I was ready for Heaven.
When I returned home I told my Mother and Grandmother what had happened but I don’t think they took me seriously as I was, after all, only a child. I thought that I should go to the Sunday School, as the Christian man from C.E.F. had advised me, but when Sunday came I did not go; even though my Mother had encouraged me to. I had been trying to read the Bible at home but it was very heavy reading for a 9 year old. I didn’t go out over that weekend after Kilkeel and kept away from my friends who weren’t saved but that couldn’t go on forever. Eventually I had to return to school and see my friends who had heard what happened at Kilkeel to me and to certain other children who had also ‘got saved’. I went one afternoon to keep company with my friends and we ended up getting into trouble and doing things that I knew were wrong and not consistent with a Christian life and I did feel ashamed and thought this now meant that I was not a Christian after all. How little did I know, that there is mercy with God and when we make mistakes we can confess to the Lord and he can cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
As I grew older I often seen Christians and secretly admired them for standing up for what they believed and not being ashamed by people who would scoff and cast insults at them for their faithful witness. Unfortunately my life as a teenager was too often occupied with sin and self. I became devoted to Rave and House music which led me to substance and alcohol abuse. I lived for the weekends and the clubs, parties and shebeens. These were dark days where I discovered the truth of Proverbs 13:15 ‘...but the way of transgressors is hard’. I was arrested a couple of times, ended up in hospital and driven to the brink of insanity and edge of depression before I realised, like the prodigal son, Luke 15:18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.
As I had grown increasingly despairing of my existence I began to pick up and read the Bible regularly, then more and more as I read I could see myself, my life and the lives of the many people I was keeping company with in passages such as:
2 Timothy 3:1-5 ¶This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
This perfectly described a typical weekend of partying to me and the scriptures made it clear that this was the sin and corruption I was sinking into more and more. By now I was employed by Harland and Wolff Shipbuilders and it was here that I met believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who witnessed to me and no doubt prayed for me as the Lord began to bring strong conviction of sin upon me. I often found myself sitting in bars taking alcohol and drugs yet often times I would be thinking all the while ‘what are you doing sitting here?’, ‘you don’t belong here’, ‘what if the Lord came back right now? Where would you be in eternity?’ One such evening I went to the bar as usual and ordered a drink and sat in company as my friends once again asked me ‘what is wrong with you? You are never happy!’ my reply came back: ‘I am thinking of getting saved’. They were shocked but conceded that maybe that’s what I should do if I felt that way. I got up off the stool said my goodbyes, went home and re-read a little gospel tract I had at home and repented of all my sins and got the victory in Jesus name!
That was April 1999 and I can say that although the way has been testing and difficult and there have been scoffers, the Saviour has never left me and never forsaken me. Yet I have been so blessed by the Lord and I know that he can transform lives and make a difference. He can set men free and use them to reach others for his Kingdom. If he is calling you today harden not your heart, he is not willing that anyone should perish but that all should come to repentance. Where will you spend eternity?