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Faith-based

One thing that my life has taught me is that it doesn't matter how we start the race, rather it is how we finish it that counts!

My mother was raised as a Roman Catholic in Northern Ireland and remained committed to her faith until her last breath. My mother died of a massive heart attack whilst attending a church service and it fills my heart with joy when I picture her first conversations with Jesus with the way she left this earth. I used to witness my mother getting down on her knees every night no matter what her condition was to pray to God. But when I was young I never understood her faith, and in fact thought it was extremely hypocritical with her consumption of intoxicants and especially her tendency to be violent towards me.

At age 12 my younger sister of 2 years died of a malignant brain tumour with only me sitting in her hospital room. Immediately I rebelled against God, hating Him for taking my baby sister, and in short order I joined a street gang and thus began my deviant lifestyle of over 20 years of indulging in intoxicants and being introduced to crime.

I lived my life as a gang member, drug dealer and polysubstance misuser for over 20 years, culminating in 1980 with me taking the life of another man in a drug revenge killing. I was sentenced to 25 years in prison before I would be considered for parole. I was sent to one of Canada's most secure and toughest prisons to begin what many, myself included, thought would be for the rest of my life.

It was in that very maximum security prison that my journey to transformation and redemption was to begin. I was to observe 2 prison guards closely in the way they acted and treated others, especially prisoners with respect and dignity. They seemed so different in that world of anger, distrust and hardness. I then found out that they were Christians, and with an even greater scrutiny, I began to look at them through a microscope to attempt to catch them out so I could throw their Christianity in their faces as hypocrites. The difference with these two men was that their integrity just shone through, and I could not only see, but I could also sense a peace in their lives I never had, but wanted so desperately. I began to talk with them about the things of God, and instead of shying away, strangely I found myself being drawn more and more into wanting to know more about their faith. These men did not have religion, they had relationship.

I was still misusing substances all the while this was going on, and I asked the one guard Mr. Trachy if I could still smoke cannabis and be a Christian and he told me no and showed me several scriptures about our bodies to be considered temples of the Holy Spirit and not meant to be polluted with intoxicants to support what God had to say about the subject. I told him then I was not ready to commit simply because I was not ready to give up cannabis. He told me the day would come, and he advised me that from that point on not only he but his family were going to be praying for my salvation. He gave me my first Christian book to read by Chuck Swindoll entitled "Living on the Ragged Edge". Boy was I ever living on that edge!

The more I found myself talking with these men, the more I felt troubled for the way I had lived my life, for the harm I had done to so many others. I needed to know some form of peace in my life. Mr. Neely, as a Senior Correctional Supervisor, put his name and reputation on the line for me and called in a favour to have a lesser security prison, which had originally refused to accept me on a transfer, saying I was beyond hope of any rehabilitation, change that decision.

I was transferred to that medium security prison, and met up with my former criminal associate, who was serving time for a methamphetamine laboratory. But he too had changed, and he also said he had become a Christian, was taking university courses, and had decided to leave his old life of crime behind him. I felt like I was missing out on something, but never thought God could accept me, and especially not forgive me for the many terrible things I had done in my criminal life.

It was on February 1st, 1989 some 9 years after being convicted and sentenced, and through so many prayers being offered up on my behalf I am sure, that I finally stopped running and surrendered my life over to Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.

It was also shortly after this time frame that I met another couple that God brought into my life, Sterling and Faye DeWolfe. The fellowship that we shared, and the support they always provided for my family and myself, has always been a hallmark of their Christian faith in my eyes. Once I got transferred to a minimum security prison years later, Sterling received approval from the prison warden (governor) to take me out to regular weekly church services and bible studies. I recall with such fondness those days, indeed they were special times and under Sterling’s mentoring and Pastor Francis’ tutelage (Frontline Worship Centre) I couldn’t help but fall more and more in love with Jesus.

As I looked back to my youth with a new understanding, I began to see that my mother did not just have a form of "religion" but indeed did have a "relationship" with Jesus, and in the end He set her free from a 40 year polysubstance addiction. In hindsight, I believe it was my mum's faith that kept her going through so much pain in her life. As a young child and even as a young man I used to laugh at my mother when she would talk about Jesus, today I am so thankful that I had her offering up prayers for me. I suppose she felt a need to talk to Him directly about the direction in which my life was going. It turns out that those early planted seeds of faith would come to fruition some 20 years further down the road in a prison cell.

I wish I could say that my walk with God has been a smooth one, but that is not so. After serving 21 years out of the 25 year sentence I was originally sentenced to, I was ordered deported to England my country of birth, although I had not been here for over 40 years. I had trouble adjusting to a new society. I have fallen short many times in my faith, and just when I thought I could not take another step, all of a sudden He was there to carry me!

God has used some mighty instruments in reaching me, and it took someone special to get by the mask I wore. Mr. Stephen Orange, an elder at the church I attend was one of the main people God used to minister to me since I had taken up residence in the United Kingdom. Both he, and his wife Mary have stood by me through thick and thin, always being supportive, just loving me with a special love God has put into them for those people that others might find tough to minister to.

When I think about these special people, and so many more that God has put into my life, it just makes me want to emulate them and the only way to do that is to draw closer to God so He can shine through me to others. The one thing my Christian walk has taught me more than anything else is that "Life is a Journey, not a Destination!"

My walk of faith continues, and even on shaky legs some days I know that I have a Saviour that died for me and who can relate to all my woes on a daily basis and will provide silver linings to each storm life brings my way. In the past 7 years as a Substance Misuse Counsellor I can honestly say that I believe there is "No Rehabilitation without Regeneration" and that regeneration begins from the inside out!

JOHN HOGAN

John speaking

"My walk of faith continues, and even on shaky legs some days I know that I have a Saviour that died for me and who can relate to all my woes on a daily basis..."