Finding freedom in Christ

Prisoners, offenders and ex-offenders have a special place in the heart of Christ. Prior to His crucifixion, Christ shared that there is a special reward for believers who visit the incarcerated and, whilst on the cross, He conferred mercy to one of the thieves being crucified alongside Him. The Gospel message has also totally transformed the lives of former offenders.  Keep The Faith spoke to two former offenders, who have found new life in Jesus.

THOMAS MCDONALD

Thomas McDonald is a man who has overcome a painful childhood, physical and sexual abuse, drug addiction and prison, and has lived to tell the tale of how he succeeded by the grace of God.

Born in Scotland, Thomas came to England with his mother and his father when he was two. His life changed dramatically when, at the age of six, he caught his dad kissing another woman and told his mother.

Thomas’ father left home and, as a result, his mother started subjecting him to physical and sexual abuse between the ages of six and nine.  Thomas reacted to the abuse by acting out violently at school, bringing him to the attention of social services. He was subsequently taken into care.  He recalled, “I was taken into foster care first and, because my behaviour was becoming increasingly more violent, I started taking knives into school and setting the school on fire. When I was put into care, I was groomed by an older man and a girl, who took me over the park and had sex with me.”

Thomas-McDonals

Thomas was eventually sent back to his mother.  The abuse continued and, in addition, she encouraged Thomas to shoplift, and would force him to fight her boyfriends.  Home life got so bad Thomas ran away again, and asked to be taken back into care.

His early life experiences had turned Thomas into a violent youth, who tried to bury the abuse and rejection he’d experienced by drinking, having sex with lots of girls, drugs, and with crime added to the mix, he ended up doing time in a youth correctional facility.

Miraculously, however, despite his past, Thomas experienced God speaking to him in dreams, and was inspired to move to east London. He walked into a Pentecostal church, Lighthouse Christian Ministries in north London, and left a changed man. He recalled, “I remember walking into that place, hurting and broken. The presence of God was just phenomenal. When I went in there, the power of God just shook me all over the place. I got saved, made my commitment, gave my life to the Lord, and the following Sunday I got baptised. The day after my baptism, I got filled with the Holy Ghost.”

Despite his dramatic conversion, Thomas found it difficult to fully relate to his new church family, and the pain of his past still affected him. “When I first came to church, they didn’t know how to deal with people like me. The Bible talks about ‘A wounded spirit, who can bear it?’ and the type of abuse I experienced wounds on a deep level.”

Thomas’ pain was so deep he ended up leaving church. Once out the confines of the church, he started taking drugs and purposely began committing crimes so that he could be sent back to prison and sort himself out.

His plan worked, and whilst in prison serving time for burglary, he got the help he needed after meeting a Spirit-filled nun, who was a qualified psychotherapist. She worked with him and in the process helped him overcome his past. “She showed me I was a victim, and that how I had responded was natural,” Thomas explained. “She made me realise other people’s actions have a knock-on effect, and that’s how I learned to forgive myself.”

The extensive psychotherapy Thomas received enabled him to work through his emotional, spiritual and psychological issues and, by the time he left prison after serving an eight-year sentence, he was not only a new man, but a healed one.

He was also able to forgive his mother for her abuse; so much so, that when she was suffering from a terminal illness, Thomas looked after her until she died.

Now happily married, and re-united with his three children from a previous relationship, Thomas keeps himself busy working for God. Alongside his work as a plumber, he’s also a minister, and currently pastors a church in Wallington, Surrey. He goes into prison regularly to share his testimony, and he recently launched Ministry in Action (MIA), which will seek to support mission work abroad, and run education programmes to empower people.

For more details, contact Thomas McDonald at yeshuasavesu@yahoo.co.uk.

RICKY OTTO

Ricky-Otto

Ricky Otto is living proof of how attitudinal change and an encounter with Christ can transform an ex-offender’s life.

Apart from his stint in prison, Ricky has lived an amazing life: he was a first division footballer in the 1990s and is now an ordained minister, married with a son.  He has experienced the ups and downs of life, but has come out tops.

The second of three brothers, Ricky grew up in Hackney, east London, in a stable, single-parent family, and developed a love for playing football.  However, upon becoming a teenager, Ricky started getting into trouble at school, mainly for bullying and, by 14, was expelled. He explained, “With no career prospects and no money to fund my lifestyle, committing crime was inevitable.”

During his teens and early 20s, Ricky was imprisoned on five separate occasions, mainly for burglaries and robberies. Whilst serving his last sentence, Ricky underwent an attitude change, after two prisoners told him to use his time in prison to prepare for a successful life as a footballer upon his release. It was the encouragement he needed, because Ricky became an orderly for the prison gym, in preparation for a football career.

After leaving prison, Ricky contacted his old football team. “After my first training session, I was selected to play for the first team,” he recalled. “Three months later, I signed my first professional contract for Leyton Orient Football Club.”

Ricky went on to enjoy an illustrious football career. Highlights included signing for Birmingham City for a record £800,000 in 94/95; scoring against Liverpool at Anfield, and winning the Auto Windscreens trophy at Wembley, in front of 76,000 people.

When his football career ended, Ricky entered the Probation Service to work with offenders. He also found himself being drawn to the things of God, and the death of his good friend, Paul Pond, in 2004 proved to be the turning point that made him become a Christian.

As a result, his life was transformed. He got married, gained a theology degree, and preaches the Gospel whenever he gets the opportunity.   “Once God intervened, my life has never been the same since.”

As far as Ricky is concerned, churches need to ‘get with the programme’ regarding how they relate to those susceptible to committing crime, as well as to those inside. He shared, “The Church needs to be more relevant, because the general consensus from offenders is that the Church is out of touch. I know many churches up and down the country are doing this, but we must continue to bridge the gap between church and community, and foster real genuine relationships with offenders by giving them a platform to express themselves. The reason why this is so important is because many offenders grew up in Christian homes, but then go to prison and come out Muslims. Why? Because as far as they are concerned, Islam empowers their current plight more than Christianity does.”

Ricky has some exciting projects planned for the future, which include launching a teaching programme, ‘From Menace to Minister’, aimed at reaching people from his former stomping ground in Hackney. He said, “I can’t wait to see what God is going to do in the lives of those I used to roll with back in the day. Also, I want to continue my education and start my Master’s Degree in Theology. So, in the proverbial advertising slogan of Orange Mobile: ‘The Future’s Bright…’

For more details, contact Ricky Otto at rjo67@yahoo.co.uk

NEED HELP?

Help-Prisons

Way4Ward Ministries is an ex-offender-led Christian ministry that desires to see the Church play a major part in rehabilitating offenders, and holds monthly meetings in Brixton, southwest London. Visit www.way4ward.org for more details.

Love Life UK Prison Outreach Prison Ministry conducts Bible studies, Sunday morning services, gospel concerts and workshops with prisoners. Love Life UK Prison Outreach also offers counselling and support to offenders and ex-offenders upon their release. Visit www.lovelifeuk.org for details.

Prison Fellowship runs initiatives for prisoners nationwide via its network of volunteers. These include running restorative justice workshops, letter writing, and helping inmates build and maintain relationships with their families. Visit www.prisonfellowship.org.uk for more details.

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