To say that Matt Collis had a difficult childhood is an understatement. But he found a way to deal with the cruelty and sadness. He shares his story of how despair gave way to hope and a new start.
Following the divorce of my parents when I was two years old, my mother, twin brother, sister and I left our home town to live in the Midlands until I was about seven.
We were a poor family, living on a council estate and our mother had bouts of depression and nervous breakdowns. She was often bed-bound, so we didn’t know much about personal hygiene, clean clothes, regular meals, discipline or routines in general.
Despite her young age, our sister looked after us as best she could and fortunately we had free meals at school. Every six months or so, we would spend time in foster care when our mother went to hospital, which was heartbreaking for us each time, as we loved our mother who was everything to us.
We were happy children, free spirits, doing everything we wanted, roaming the streets and watching TV until all hours! It was fun at the time, but we were put at risk for our safety and well-being, seeing and hearing things we shouldn’t have done.
However, it was a novel experience to be in a normal family from time to time, with rules and routines, eating at fixed times, washing daily, having clean sheets, clothes and a home.
At eight years old we went back to our home town, but our mother went into hospital again, so this time we went to live with our father and stepmother.
Our stepmother must have accepted us to please our father as, after a few months of calm, she showed her true nature. First she targeted our sister. She mistreated her so that she would leave. She even encouraged and rewarded us for being horrible to our sister.
Once she was gone, she turned her attention to us. We were mistreated physically, psychologically and emotionally. She clothed us in shorts in winter and a girl’s blouse to humiliate us, making us wear old shoes and girly clothes rather than football kit and boots like everyone else. She half starved us. We had constant hunger pains and she refused hot water for washing.
In winter she left us in our room, without a light and with no toys, because she threw them all away. In summer, we were thrown out of the house until our father returned from work at 8.00pm.
We dreaded school holidays and weekends and loved the haven of school. She beat us, but in ways not to be seen. A door key swung on a chain to hit us on the head, followed by laughter; our legs trapped in car doors; our hair washed with her scratching nails, leaving our scalp close to bleeding.
We were pushed into the table and chairs. Food, sweets and chocolate were withheld from us, while she ate them in front of us, mocking and laughing.
Our father either didn’t realise what was going on or rather chose not to see. Teachers, friends’ parents and even our mother preferred the easy life of ignoring the situation, rather than doing something about it. We were finally kicked out and, shortly afterwards, placed in permanent care.
The first foster family were unfair, as their sole goal in fostering was money. We were second-class citizens compared to their children, and the father hit and punished us unfairly to show favour on his children.
Our sister became the housemaid and babysitter. We went to Boys’ Brigade and church. The mother believed something, telling us about Christ’s Second Coming.
But one day, while visiting my own mother, I refused to go back and was placed alone in a different family without my brother and sister. Now I can thank God, because in that foster family I was treated equally, like their own children.
I stopped surviving and started living. They have become for me like a beloved uncle and aunt, and grandparents for our children.
I’ve never questioned the existence of God and have always known about Jesus. We were always taken to church, and in Sunday school we learnt the main Bible stories and about the love of God Almighty and his Son, our Saviour, Friend and Lord.
When I was about 13 years, finding myself alone in a foster family separated from my brother and sister, I asked myself many questions about the fairness of life. Why? Why? Why?
Through the Gideon New Testament, given to me at school, with Psalms, themes and suggestions for prayer, I had the exact guide to find the answers. I read the New Testament several times, the words coming alive in my heart.
As I read and studied the themes, I was equipped with the knowledge to meet the Lord Jesus. Even if I felt betrayed, abandoned and a victim, I was far from being perfect. I understood that I was a sinner and I needed to forgive and be forgiven.
I had to give my burdens to Christ. They were starting to weigh too much and were stopping me from going forward.
There was an emptiness that could only be filled by Jesus. I knew of God and Jesus, but now understood how God was great and supreme and that he gave us the freedom of our acts and choices, and that there were people who abused this freedom. There would be judgement, but I wasn’t to worry about it.
The greatest thing I felt coming to Jesus was pure unconditional love. I understood that I counted for someone; Jesus loved me. He understood and accepted me as I was.
I read, studied and prayed half-heartedly, and then one evening in my room alone, with all my heart, I finally let go. Jesus ‘knocked on my door’. He wanted to meet me; he gave his life for me; he sacrificed his place of honour and power for us; he suffered, was humiliated and beaten.
I forgave all those who had hurt me. I gave my life to him. I understood that I would never be happy and satisfied following my path, going in circles. From now on, I’d follow his. I let Jesus come into my heart.
At this moment, I felt waves of love, from my head to my toes; waves that washed from me my sadness, fear and bitterness, which were replaced by happiness, love and hope. I was healed; I was born again.
Before, I had had no confidence and no hope. With Jesus at my side, confidence and hope grew in me. I could at last live free. I could restart living with the hope to live at his side later, for ever.
As a young teenager, living in a non-churchgoing or believing family, I had to wait until my second year at university before starting to live my faith alongside other Christians and deepen my knowledge and spirituality.
At university, I also met my wife. I needed stability, love, friendship and loyalty. I was recently baptised by immersion in an evangelical Anglican church. This was my choice, as I wanted to give glory to God. And it gave me an opportunity to make my stand in front of God and man, including the 40 friends and work colleagues whom I invited.
This article from the Autumn 2013
Gideon News is used here with kind permission (www.gideons.org.uk)