Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A Testimony of Redemption

A narration of my brother’s testimony.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” Memorising scriptures was one of the few things that I was good at as a child. Every Sunday, the Sunday school teachers would task us with memorising famous bible verses. Yes, Psalm 23 was the first. When I did something wrong, my mother would “punish” me with chunks of scriptures to remember. When I wanted an iPod from her, I had to make the transaction with a word-for-word recital of the entire book of Philippians off my head. I was considerably familiar with the Word, and I would say, people were sometimes impressed! With a dad as a pastor, and a mom who was perpetually sharing the gospel with everyone who crossed her path, it was inevitable that I was perceived as a godly, angelic child.

There has always been the debate of nature versus nurture. In this regard, I was nurtured in a godly and religious family. The knowledge that I had, the way in which I acted and the people that surrounded me reflected a life of a child who walked in the ways of the Lord. At that point of time, no one could see my true nature - the rebellious nature that was bubbling within me.

When I was 12, I met a group of like-minded people in my neighbourhood - curious teenagers, bemused about life. Our curiosity got the better of us. With the wide network of acquaintances that my newfound friends had, we were able to get our hands on a few packets of cigarettes. Nature triumphed. Yet, no one knew I had picked up smoking, I was still memorising scriptures and going to church.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), my mother started suspecting. Despite my attempts to cover up with mint-flavoured Mentos and breath fresheners before stepping into the house, she would be able to sniff through my alibis. Apparently, her granddad used to smoke tobacco all the time and hence she was able to identify a smoker better than a Smokerlyzer (or so she claimed). With deeper investigation, she discovered about the “bad” company that I had.

In order to reduce the time that I spent with them, my mother decided to move the entire family nearer to the East. I was living in the West at that point of time. Yes, my whole family of 7 was moving just because of me. Yet, instead of alleviating the problem, it incited me to further feed my curiosity and demonstrate my rebellion. With LAN shops within close geographical proximity, I could easily sneak out at night to go gaming.

At the age of 15, I joined a gang. I started consuming enormous amounts of alcohol every night but even so, I never expected myself to be caught up with the law. I knew that cheating people of their money was against the law, but I didn’t know that it was possible for me to ever get caught. To me, it was like jaywalking – a crime that was pretty much never enforced. With each success, I gained greater confidence in repeating my actions.

“Hey, can I borrow your phone to make a call? My phone is out of batt.” I would approach students, and sometimes even taxi drivers. That was how heartless I was.

“Sure, why not?” Who would reject helping a secondary school kid?

In that 2 minutes, I would skilfully purchase game credits with their phones and sell them online when I reached home. $180 of profit in just 2 minutes.

While everything seemed to be going smoothly with thousands of dollars in my pocket, I had no clue about what was going on at the police stations. People had started reporting to the police about their cases. I was caught off guard when the police appeared in school, in the middle of class. That was when I first realised how far I had taken my curiosity to. Deep down, I was afraid but still able to supress my emotions. I was arrested along with my partners in crime. The maximum sentence of the crime was 15 years in prison.

People often tell me to “think before you act.” I’ve never truly considered the weight of their advice. What was the worst that could happen? Expulsion from school? Imprisonment? Death? I didn’t bother me too much that I had to suffer negative consequences. You only live once. But that day, that day, when I saw my mom and dad break down in front of me for the first time, I was suddenly able to grasp the entirety of their advice. It wasn’t about me. It was about the people who loved me and cared for me. I was released on bail while they further investigated the matter. I swore never to do anything that would hurt my parents again.

While waiting for my crime sentence, I quit the gang that I was in. I was determined to live a changed life. “It couldn’t be that difficult, could it?” After all, I was still memorising scriptures and going to church.

I was wrong. My zeal to change was quenched completely in a matter of weeks. I ended up joining a bigger gang. I started robbing people, gambling illegally and abusing pills and cough syrups. I was aware of the harsh consequences of my actions. Yet, I was somehow blinded by my insatiable curiosity. I dropped out of school. I had enough of studying – it was impeding my quest for exhilaration.

I remember the euphoria I felt upon completing my first house break-in. With a couple of my fellow gang members, we broke into a poorly secured landed property to steal cash cards and anything valuable that was in sight. Despite everything that was happening, many people weren’t aware of the situation and continued convincing themselves that “he is just going through the rebellious stage that every teenager goes through.”

“Don’t worry.” They would comfort my parents. After all, I was still memorising scriptures and going to church.

What they never understood was that I went to church only because I wanted to make it up to my parents. I was sorry for constantly breaking their hearts and I knew they would be comforted by the fact that I was still willing to attend church services. It gave them the hope that change was still possible. Christ wasn’t a reality. Church wasn’t a place of worship. They were merely platforms for me to convince not only others, but myself, that I wasn’t so bad a person after all. Yet, I was half-hearted even in my attempt to salvage myself. The night before every Sunday, I would get myself extremely wasted with alcohol.

Every effort in making up to my parents went down the drain when my mother found the pills and cough syrups that were in my possession. She threw them away immediately and pleaded for me to stop. The tears in her eyes and the desperation in her voice moved me. I stopped my drug abuse, but only for half a month or so. I underestimated the hold that it had already formed on me. The withdrawal symptoms were just too strong.

In the midst of this, I was somehow drawn towards the reality of God. On my own accord, I visited another church. For the first time, I was genuinely interested in what the pastor had to say and there was a particular bible verse that resonated in the deep recesses of my heart. “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14) It was a (very troubling) verse that preoccupied my mind throughout the entire week. It sounded so promising but it didn’t seem to play out in reality. I couldn’t change no matter how much I was determined to. I couldn’t hold back my craving for drugs regardless of how broken I was after seeing the tears of my parents.

That was when reality hit me. It wasn’t just curiosity anymore. It was an addiction. It was a bondage, bondage to sin. I gave up trying to quit. It was pointless, I couldn’t. I ventured into consuming pills of heavier dosages and in higher doses. Even then, I was still memorising scriptures and going to church.

There came a point in time when my drug addiction wore off. It was nothing on my part. I somehow lost the thirst for it. There were no longer any withdrawal symptoms or urges. It was puzzling and it remains a mystery up till today. The amount of effort and willpower required for a drug addict to come off drugs is massive. I could not think of any other explanations other than the supernatural work of God. Subconsciously, as I started proclaiming the name of Jesus, I realised that my habit of swearing had also ceased.

When I turned 16, with the persuasion of my parents, I made the decision to go back to school. Of course, my original school wouldn’t have accepted me after everything I had done. We went to more than 20 schools to plead for a placing in the school but were rejected by every single one of them. Who would accept a student on bail?

Few days later, by divine appointment, my mother bumped into an influential person from the Ministry of Education at a dinner. Graciously, she wrote a letter to one of the secondary schools and I was accepted into the school.

With the miracles that God was working in my life, my heart was shifting towards a posture of worship. It wasn’t immediate but my hedonistic desires were gradually fading away. I eventually stopped drinking and indulging in the nightlife altogether. I didn’t even have the desire to listen to Billboard songs anymore (not that it is wrong). Despite that, I was still in the gang. Knowing that Christ had redeemed me, I couldn’t settle with remaining in the gang. I wanted to leave. However, the thought of it was daunting. The head of the gang was the most powerful person in the area. Gang protocol required harsh punishments if one were to leave. I stayed for a few months longer. To my surprise, just like how Paul and Silas escaped from jail unharmed, I was released from the gang without being punished at all.

It was finally the day of verdict. The day that would determine where I would be for the next few years of my life. My family and I were on our knees. During the period of bail, I was arrested two more times for committing other offences. I could be thrown into prison, or the reformative training centre. I didn’t want that to happen. I was a changed person. I held on to the hope that all things work for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28) True enough, our prayers were answered. Everyone else was charged despite having not committed any other offences apart from cheating money. Yet, I was only given a conditional warning and was sent for counselling! It was undoubtedly the grace of God.

I was grateful towards the school for giving me a second chance at secondary education. Nevertheless, the challenge of studying once again, after a prolonged break, was insurmountable. I didn’t have the heart to study. After attending a few tuition classes that my parents had enrolled me into, I cancelled all of them. I wanted to work hard, I desired to excel, and I yearned to make my parents proud. But as it is said, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak! I failed every subject. When it came to the Mid-Year Examinations, the only subject that I managed to pass was English.

My parents continued praying earnestly for me each day, as they did from the beginning. I was slowly accustoming myself back to the momentum of school. I resumed tuition for two subjects and by the time Preliminary Exams came, I was able to pass most of the subjects, albeit by a mere bit. There was hope. I might pass my O Levels after all!

My parents always told me that God is full of surprises. When you expect something from Him, He sometimes tells you to “wait”, leaving you bewildered. When you least expect something, He shows up with the most unthinkable surprise that makes you gasp in wonder. My O Level result was the unthinkable surprise. I was hoping to pass my O Levels. I clearly wasn’t expecting anything more. To not only my but my parents’ and my teachers’ and my classmates’ (basically everyone) surprise, I received a B3 grade for all my subjects!

Ever since I was redeemed from the pits of hell, I had completely abandoned my former lifestyle. I broke contact with my old friends, I stopped swearing, I quitted drug abuse and I never entered a club or a disco. I am still memorising scriptures and going to church. This time round, it is with a heart full of sincerity and gratitude. Although smoking is still a struggle, I know that day-by-day, the Holy Spirit is working in me.

“When you fall in love with your wife, you fall out of love with your ex-girlfriend. When you fall in love with Jesus, you fall out of love with sin. I used to enjoy sin, as it was pleasurable. But now I hate it. I do fall now and then, but I hate it and I cannot accept myself in it. Nothing can stop me from sinning, but I do not want to because I have fallen out of love with it.”

Caleb is currently attending New Creation Church and is preparing for his tertiary education in Finance at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

To God be the glory.

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