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Saved to serve in Ghana

January 2017

My life was dominated by alcohol for 30 years. I had a promising career as a professional footballer and worked in my father’s business. I married Jennifer and had three children. Everything looked rosy.

But, over a period of eight years, I went from social drinker to alcoholic, drinking on public park benches, sharing bottles with other alcoholics, sleeping rough in derelict houses and stealing to get more drink.

Rock bottom

It’s still hard to believe I gave up all the good things for uncountable nights in police cells, mental hospitals, drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinics and eventually prison. It was during one of my prison sentences at HMP Strangeways that my wife divorced me.

In 1991, at the age of 46, I was admitted for the umpteenth time to Winwick mental hospital in Warrington, my body ravaged by 30 years of drug and alcohol abuse. I had reached rock bottom many years before.

I had a long term social security invalidity payment book, in which my illness was described as ‘alcoholism’. For the last ten years of my drinking I explored every possible avenue to stop, but all to no avail.

After coming through withdrawal in Winwick, I decided to try the last option available, and that was the Lord Jesus Christ. I had no desire to go to church or become a Christian; I just wanted an instant cure for my addiction. But I decided to turn to the Bible anyway.

As I read it, I found no mention of the word ‘alcoholism’ relating to an illness or me as a person. All I could find there was that I was a ‘drunkard’ and a ‘sinner’. It became clear to me that that my problem was sin, and the only way to change was to confess my sin to God.

Mercy

I did this and was immediately cleansed and forgiven. The Holy Spirit came into my life and the desire to drink was gone forever.

It wasn’t because I had a desire to belong to a church and become a ‘nice person’ that I became a Christian. My reason for becoming a committed Christian and following Jesus in mission was the same as blind Bartimaeus’ (Mark 10:46-52).

In a simple act, Jesus, in the immediate prospect of his own sufferings, had stopped to help this blind man whom the crowds rebuked and uncaringly pushed back to try and quieten his repeated cries for mercy.

But Bartimaeus, knowing this was his only chance, seized the opportunity, and his deep need was met. Jesus asked him, ‘What is it you want me to do?’ Bartimaeus simply said, ‘I want to see’.

‘Go’, said Jesus, ‘Your faith has healed you’. Immediately he received his sight and followed Christ. Faith launched him into a new life of following and praising Jesus. Bartimaeus had that encounter with Jesus in person, while I had an encounter with Christ through his Spirit as a patient in a mental hospital.

Coming to Jesus as a sinner, my greatest need in life was met. I received what I had been searching for all my life: peace. I too had an immediate desire to follow and serve in foreign mission the One who had given me this wonderful peace.

Service

I had a hunger to study the Word of God and went to a missionary-orientated Bible school in Birmingham for a year of intense study. This was followed by many short term mission trips in Europe, four with Operation Mobilisation, and service at Christian alcohol and drug rehabs in the UK.

I served for four months in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, in the USA, with ‘Safe House’, a ministry supported by Mount Paran Church of God. The church had thousands of members and cared for the homeless, and substance and alcohol abusers. Their ministry was supported by various superstores, who donated large quantities of clothes, soap and food.

After a year there familiarising myself, I saw the appalling lack of Christian books in northern Ghana and felt God was prompting me to provide a ministry centre for the people of that area, and to flood that region with fundamental Christian teaching materials.In 2000 I answered the call of God to Ghana. I was called to Tamale in the predominantly 97 per cent Muslim northern region of Ghana. Tamale is a gateway city to the 10/40 window.

It was around this time I met Akua. We married in September 2002, and our son Sean was born in December 2004. I contacted Book Aid, a Christian book supplier in the UK, and the first 20ft container of books was sent to me in Tamale.

After a lot of hard work and prayer for financial support, the Tamale centre was completed and the Christians there rejoiced that their prayers of many years had been answered. Before this, they had to make a round trip of nearly 1,000 miles to Accra to obtain Christian books, and, even then, few books were at prices they could afford.

Since that first container we have had five more from Book Aid, but we now rely on churches and publishers in the UK to supply us with books, and we ship these to Ghana ourselves.

Braille books

I was motivated to do something for the blind folk in Tamale, after meeting Madam Sala Alhasson in 2012. Sala converted from Islam to Christianity while a student in the Methodist Braille learning school in Wa, a town in the north of Ghana.

Sala told me that she had not read anything since leaving the Braille school seven years earlier. This motivated me to construct a building for the blind at our centre and to ask Torch Trust in the UK and Lutheran Braille Workers (LBW) in the USA for help with supplying Braille books.

Both Janet Stafford, international leader of Torch Trust, and Joanna Ervin, production coordinator of LBW, were excited about our project and we now receive thousands of Braille reading materials for the blind folk of Tamale.

Our family has recently been on a one-year furlough in the UK. During this we were preparing for the opening of a new reference library at Tamale. I was invited to speak at 40 churches across the UK and Ireland and, helped by them and by publishers, we have shipped out thousands of books for our library. Praise God!

We are waiting on God for a young person or couple to come over and help us — and maybe take over one day. We thank God for all he has done in our lives.

John Cartledge

www.malakchristianbooks.org

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Ghana