If this is your first visit to my story, may I recommend that you start at An ‘L’ of a place Part 1, work your way through the week that leads up to this blog and then go back and explore the other moments.
Sunday 18th May 1997 was the day after the day after the night before. I woke up, strung out and desperate for a fix. I did not know how that was going to work out. I spoke more about this day in Completing the tenner.
Sunday 25th May, one week seven days, 168 hours, 10.080 secs (approx) later I awoke in a bed in a room in a converted supermarket in Gorslas, Carmarthenshire.
Apparently, I was going to church. I used to enjoy church as a schoolkid. Blairtummock Primary would hold a service in the local Church of Scotland every second Friday. We used to “fight over” the right to hold the door open, and the biggest honour of carrying the biggest Bible to the pulpit at the front. I got to carry the Bible once, d hold the doors a few times.
But I was a primary school pupil then. I was 27 years old now, and, despite being here as a direct result of Ken Persaud praying for me, I thought I was too clever for the church.
We made our way in the minibus to City Temple, Swansea Elim church. The morning service was a bit of a blur. I do recall being stunned by how bright it was and how happy everyone seemed to be. When the music started, I was stunned at seeing a full band. Led by a guy I was later to find out was Chris Russon. The music was vibrant and made me feel good. All the songs seemed to centre around Jesus. I watched, bemused and could not help but look around at everyone.
The guys always sat front left of the seating. I had been told by some of the other TC students this was because the girls (Women from Teen Challenge Hope House women’s centre) sat at the back right. Under no circumstances where they allowed to talk or look at each other. I was curious to see if Susan (Halley) was there.
A preacher then got up to preach but I cannot recall any of it. The whole experience was a bit tiring for me.
Off we went back to the centre where the legend that was Mrs A (Margaret Anderson) had prepared her culinary phenomenon for our usual Sunday roast.
There was pretty much nothing to do in the afternoon, some of the guys went out a walk with staff. I stayed at the centre.
Back to the church in the evening.
Same lively vibrant music. The same sense of joy on the building. I did struggle to keep my eyes open as my body was beginning to adjust to its new regime.
At the end of the preaching, I cannot remember what it was, the preacher started talking about those that had never given their lives to Jesus. He was doing what was known as an altar call, where you responded by going to the front of the church and someone would pray with you.
I did not really understand much of what he was saying but I recall vividly that my heart was thumping. Every cell in my body was crying out in response and I knew I needed to go out. Full of nervousness, I turned to the staff member (Phil Winstanley), sitting beside me (I was the new student so I was close-minded) and asked if I could go out. He frowned and looked over at the other staff member and mouthed that I wanted to go out. The other staff member shook his head. No, I was told I could not go out to the front. It was like having the best drugs ever in my possession and having no way to take them, that is how great the frustration I felt was. (To this day I still think I am the only student in the history of Teen Challenge UK that was denied responding to a church altar call).
“You can go and see Pastor Hughes when we are at the centre,” said Phil.
“Who is Pastor Hughes?” I asked.
“The centre manager.”
The full 15 miles back to the centre I could not speak to anyone. I was furious but expectant, angry but excited. My chest was still thumping. After church on a Sunday evening, chips were bought from a local chippy and the guys were allowed to make chip sandwiched (piece n chips, chip butty, depending on where you are from).
This just annoyed me as it meant I was delayed in getting back to centre.
When, FINALLY, the bus pulled up in the car park, I asked Phil where I could find Pastor Hughes. He told me to hang on til all the other students were sorted.
I was not happy.
Eventually, Phil led me all the way down what seemed an even longer corridor than usual. Through the glass door into reception, and he banged on a door clearly marked “Centre Manager”.
Phile opened the door, gave a brief explanation to Pastor Hughes, still hidden from my sight, and then told me to go in.
Sitting facing the door, behind a very clean desk, was an older, immaculately dressed, white-haired man.
“Sit down, Stuart. What can I do for you?”
I genuinely did not know where to start, so I fumbled through a recall of what had happened. My anticipation was through the roof at this point.
“So you would like to invite Jesus into your life, is that what you are saying?”
I did not have a clue what that meant. I just knew that my heart was thumping, worse than it was in the church and I was really, really excited, but did not know why.
“Yyyessss!” I mumbled. Not quite sure what I was agreeing to.
“Would you like to pray, or would you like me to pray, and you can repeat after me?” asked Pastor Hughes.
Pray! The only other experience I had of prayer was when I tried to convince Pastor Ken Persaud over the phone on Monday (was that really on six days ago) to tell my mum to give me a tenner. Look what happened there. I was now actually, just a little bit fearful and uncomfortable at the thought of more prayer.
“Will you say it, and I will repeat.”
Things just happened.
As Pastor Hughes began to talk about asking Jesus to forgive me for my sins and to come into my life and help me live life on His terms, I found myself repeating the words he was saying. It was crazy, but as each word stumbled out of my mouth, I began to be more confident. As we both said “Amen”, something had changed.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee
(And can it be by Charles Wesley)
Those lines describe better than I ever could what had happened to me. It was like a burden had been lifted. I felt lighter and better than I had ever felt in my life. Pastor Hughes smiled politely at me. Told me that I was now a child of God and the angels were rejoicing. I did not understand any of that, but I felt different.
I ran up to the landing and would tell anyone who would listen that I was now a Christian. There were nodding looks, (apparently, it was normal for guys to make that decision, but remember addicts are manipulative and, like a chameleon, will fit into any background to get what they want.
This was different though. I was different. I knew it.
The preacher in the church that night, I was later to find out, was Pastor Phil Hills. Pastor of Swansea Elim. He was and is still, chairman of Teen Challenge UK. He became over the years a great influence in my life, and also one of the best communicators of the God of the Bible and Biblical ways that I have ever heard. Pastor Phil seems to pop up at strategic times in my life and I am thrilled that for the first time as a Pastor myself, I am able to invite him to speak at Easterhouse Community Church on the 18th February. Our church will celebrate 7 years then and you, dear reader, are welcome to attend.
Phil is a great believer in discipleship, following Jesus and becoming someone who leads and disciple others to follow Jesus. In my case, 18th February will be full circle. Almost 21 years since 25th May 1997, I am able to introduce the guy that set out to disciple me, to those I have set out to disciple.
That whispers all my sins forgiven
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Saviour in my heart
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own
(And can it be by Charles Wesley)
This blog is part of a wider collection to show the journey that would eventually lead me to the cross of Jesus Christ, my personal redemption, and my journey of faith afterwards. If you would like to know more of my story, please click on my “About” page and take it from there.
If you would like to know more about the Christian response to addiction, or just need hope please click on one of the links below.
Teen Challenge Strathclyde
Teen Challenge UK
Teen Challenge Global
Bethany Christian Trust
Cornerstone Assemblies of God, Maryland
Broken Chains Ayr
Easterhouse Community Church