The war was on and, as a lad of seventeen, I joined the Merchant Navy. Every port at sea was a round of drink and women. I actually became that character ‘the drunken sailor’.
Every time I fell to temptation my conscience got harder. Out in the Middle East I saw more evil, sex and vice than one could imagine existed. But I never blinked an eye -I was on a slippery slope and falling fast.
I was raised in a Christian home. At the young age of seven I remember the minister saying: ‘Is there anyone in the congregation who wants to give his heart to the Lord Jesus?’ I promptly stood up and said: ‘Yes, I do!’
My childhood faith lasted until I left home to prepare to go to sea. Soon I stopped reading my Bible, stopped praying, stopped attending church and gradually drifted away from God altogether.
After the war, unable to stay in the home of my godly parents because I felt so ashamed of my behaviour, I decided to get away!
Working in bars
I walked into an immigration office in Piccadilly Circus and said I wanted to go to Canada. I was accepted and set off the following week.
Eventually, I got a job on the Canadian National Railway as a Dining Car waiter, working on long distance trains running across Canada.
I still thought myself respectable, even though I drank a lot -I was young and could take it! But then I started working in bars, some of the seediest you could imagine.
My friends were blasphemers, thieves, prostitutes and criminals. Once you get sucked into this way of life, you cannot mix with good-living people.
I remember one occasion when bullets and glass were flying all over the bar, followed by the arrival of squad cars with blaring sirens, just like a movie. But this was real life!
For years I lived and worked in this twilight world of night-life. Believe me, it is a true saying that sin loves darkness rather than light. During those years I seldom thought about God.
The Bible says: ‘all we, like sheep, have gone astray’. However Christ, the Good Shepherd, never forgets his own. He finally sought me out, to bring me back into the fold – but only after I had reached rock bottom.
In 1963, after sixteen years in Canada, I decided to straighten myself out and go home to see my family. In England, I met and married Kay, then took her back to Canada.
I had reformed but it didn’t last. The drinking and gambling got heavy again.
Then, on New Year’s Eve 1967, I was sipping a bottle of whisky when midnight struck. Suddenly a beautiful choir came on TV, singing hymns. Memories of my childhood flooded back. My God-forsaken life flashed before me, and I cried many tears.
I was completely broken. I sat there all night long feeling a strange warmth inside me. The realisation of my sin came to me. What had I done? I think the Lord spoke to Kay, too, that night, because the next morning she persuaded me to go to church again.
God’s rehabilitation and healing process in my life has been slow, sometimes tender and sometimes chastening. At times I have stumbled, but gradually the evils have fallen away.
When I suffered my first heart attack some years ago I remember saying: ‘O God, I can’t meet you now, I’m not ready’, for I still felt too ashamed of my past life.
Some fifteen years ago, Kay and I came to a church in Pontefract. I still lacked Christian joy because I continued to mourn over my lost years. Then, at a special service, the speaker, Paul Bassett, quoted the verse: ‘I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely’ (Hosea 14:6).
I realised there and then that God had healed me and forgiven me. The scars of my past life cannot be erased from my memory. But how wonderful that God chooses not to remember: ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’ (Hebrews 8:12)! This understanding of God’s love brought peace to my heart.
None too bad
I am 77 now, and recovering from a second heart attack. This time, however, the fear of dying has gone because I have repented of my backsliding and I know that God has forgiven me and healed me.
As I look back on my life, I can see God’s hand through it all. It is only through his mercy, grace, and loving kindness that I am here today. Is anyone reading this who feels that they have been too bad for God to accept them?
I can say from experience that if you turn to him and confess your sins he will forgive you and take you into his family. Nobody is too bad for God to save.