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Testimonies of lives changed

2 Corinthians 12:10 (NIVUK)

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Christian Testimonies

Beyond help

photo of Billy Cooper

Billy Cooper

From my early childhood I was constantly taunted by a feeling of insecurity and inferiority. I grew up in a troubled home where bitter arguments were frequent between every member of the family. There was a constant feeling of animosity between husband and wife, between father and son, and even between brother and sister. I was ashamed to bring my friends into such a toxic household. A great number of these rows were caused by my father’s excessive drinking, and I hated his alcoholic ways for the misery that they caused in my childhood and early teens. 

My mother suffered much throughout this period of time. As well as having to live with an alcoholic husband, she also had to endure much pain from an ulcerated ankle. Consequently we were very much neglected as children, and left to form our own principles and to provide for our own protection. My brothers and sisters are still reaping the fruits of those years of neglect. As for me I have escaped many of those bitter consequences, but only by the grace of God. 

As I entered adolescence those feelings of insecurity and bitterness were only intensified. The obvious response to that awful awareness was to hide my real self from my friends, and to exhibit a false image of confidence and contentment. I made new friends, joined clubs, played sports, and generally involved myself in activities that I did not even like. By the age of sixteen I reckoned that I had firmly established this “new” image. But it was hardly new. It was only an imitation of somebody else, perhaps a film star or song-writer. Somewhere along the way I had lost myself. Yet I continued to wear the mask. It seemed too late to turn back as I received most of my affirmation and security from this self image.

As I grew older I began to pursue more pleasurable interests. I laid to one side the chess clubs and sporting activities, and began to frequent discos and pubs as well as “cannabis houses.” I felt more at ease in these places. The music, the drink and the drugs provided, it seemed, a release from the superficial role that I was playing the rest of the time. I imagined that these stimulants would remove my inhibitions, not realizing at the time that they merely provided a “numbing” effect, just like an anaesthetic which cannot remove the source of pain. I had yet to meet with the Great Physician. 

In the summer of 1980 I was expelled from school for carrying cannabis on a school trip to France. Three others were also expelled, but I was the ringleader. I reacted indifferently to the whole episode. I was more concerned about maintaining a carefree attitude and an easy-going manner than for the teachers whom I had betrayed, and the expulsions which I had caused.

I managed to keep the news of my expulsion from my parents. I told them that I wanted to work during the day and to study for my final exams in the evenings. In the course of time I found employment, but my wages were wasted on drink and drugs. I grasped every opportunity to enjoy myself, and my life revolved around the social circle. My evenings of study were gradually diminishing, so I decided to leave my job and to study throughout the day, thus keeping the evenings free for socialising. Some months later I was to hear the gospel for the very first time in the course of those day-time studies. It amazes me to this day how God ordained that I should be outside a particular library at a particular time, and not in my job or at school. Truly He is a sovereign God.

May 13th, 1981 is a day that I will never forget. There was less than one month left to study before my final exams. Just prior to this time I had learned to curb my craving for cannabis and alcohol. A close friend of mine had been very much influenced by Eastern Mysticism. He had discovered that there was a spiritual as well as a material level in his life. Self-discipline became a new word in my vocabulary, and it proved to be quite effective in my periods of study as well as in my social life. Thus I embraced some aspects of this Eastern philosophy whilst rejecting other essentials. The idea of God being within each one of us appealed to my understanding. It was just a matter of realizing His presence. I sought to achieve this, and at times I experienced a sense of well-being in my endeavours. This, then, was my frame of mind as I left that particular library for a lunch break. I was quite content with my life, as I imagined I was living it to the full.

It appeared to be just like any other lunch time outside the library. As I walked around the shopping centre to catch a breath of fresh air, I noticed two people distributing leaflets on the outskirts of the Centre. There was nothing unusual about that, and when one of them approached me I was already preparing my answer. This young woman was not selling anything, nor was she asking for anything except a few moments of my time. I duly listened to what she had to say, as I wanted to display my broadness of mind which I was fond of doing.

I am certain she turned to selected portions of the Bible in the course of the next half hour, but to this day I cannot remember a single one. I cannot deny, however, that I was deeply affected by much of what she said. She spoke repeatedly of one particular Person who meant absolutely nothing to me. She referred to this Person, Jesus Christ, as being everything from a Friend to a Father, and from a source of strength to a source of salvation. There was something about this young girl’s manner of life, and it made everyone else in the street; indeed everyone else that I had known, pale into insignificance. None of them had spoken like this before, certainly not in such a joyful manner. It seemed as if she could make sense out of everything that had appeared confusing to me, and all because of her confidence in the Book which she appeared to love so dearly. I promised that I would attend one of the house-meetings which were being held every week in my own neighbourhood.

As I made my way home many sobering thoughts raced into my mind. How could it be that two people could view Jesus Christ so differently? Why could I not see in Him that which she saw in Him? Was she over-reacting to what she had found in the Bible, or was I under-estimating the power which this Book contained? I thought again about her general manner. She appeared to have no uncertainties, whereas I had many. She was completely transparent and she spoke with great sincerity whilst my life was so superficial and very much concealed beneath my self-image. I dearly longed to feel accepted and to have done with my wretched mask of pretence. That evening, 13th May, 1981, I wrote in my diary: “Met with God outside a shopping Centre!” I should have written instead that God had met with me, because I was yet to meet with Him. If it had been left to me to become a believer I would never have this hope which I possess today. 

As the days passed the memory of that amazing conversation began to fade. I was once again caught up in the web of drink and drugs, and all of my best intentions were laid to one side. Later that week when I arrived home for lunch, still under the influence of drugs, I was told by my family that my father had just died. I can remember feeling so utterly helpless and useless as I looked at my grieving family. I had nothing which I could offer them, as there was nothing in me apart from hopelessness, confusion and fear, all of which were concealed. Now it seemed as if someone had torn off the mask, and had revealed to all and sundry what was truly behind it. My father had died and I was deeply affected, but not as much as I ought to have been.

For years my family had been torn apart by bitterness and strife. Now I found it difficult to mourn the loss of my father who had caused so much of the heartache. I was also soon to discover how hardened I had become over the years because of a secret resentment which I had felt for my father. During the next couple of days I was also to learn more about some real and crucial areas of my life. Fulfilling my ambitions and having a good time no longer appeared to be so important. I was coming to terms with myself as I really was, and I was beginning to despise what I saw. I longed for release from my innermost turmoil.

Following my father’s funeral I began to wear yet another mask. For several weeks I went through the ceremonies of religion, desperately seeking a refuge from the conflict within. I even managed once again to exercise the discipline which I had left to one side. These attempts proved to be utterly futile, as all I succeeded in doing was to change my daily routine. I remained, inwardly, the same guilt-ridden and confused individual.

All of the cisterns had failed me. I was convinced that nothing and no one on earth could help me. There was, however, still one thing left for me to do. The title of the tract which had been offered to me had never left my mind: “The Narrow Way That Leads To Life.” I now wanted to find out more about this way. If it had worked for that young woman, why should it not work for me? I also wanted the quality of life which she had displayed. Most of all, I wanted to know the meaning of my inner unrest. What exactly was happening to me?

I determined one Wednesday night to enquire further about “this way” by calling at the address which appeared on the back of the tract. I reached the particular house, but I could not go through with it. I was afraid of the consequences which might result. Perhaps this group was yet another one of those strange sects. Why else would they meet in houses? They were probably forbidden to meet in public buildings. Thus I made my way home, the conflict and confusion still raging within.

The invitation contained in the gospel tract appeared more and more alluring as one day followed another. One week had now passed since my last effort to avail of the invitation had ended in failure. It was another Wednesday evening, and the conflict within me had not subsided with the passing of time. It was now all too clear to me that my family and friends were unable to identify with my worsening state. They could only scarcely relate to the person whom I had pretended to be.

I wanted, however, to be done with pretence and selfishness, not to mention the folly of blindly following a crowd which had no certain destination. The tract had warned against following the masses on the road to destruction, and had pointed to the narrow road that led to eternal life. I desperately wanted to find that life which Jesus Himself had promised. Every other channel had failed me. Every other door had been tightly closed in my face. There was still, however, one more door to try. The compulsion became unbearable. I had to enquire further about this Person of whom I had heard, so I placed my fears to the one side, stepped through the gate and knocked on the door of the house. A thousand voices seemed to ridicule me at that particular moment. A thousand eyes seemed to scorn my every move.

I was warmly welcomed by the woman of the house, and then shown into the sitting-room where her husband was conducting the meeting. I immediately recognised the young woman who had spoken to me previously, as she was the only other person in the room. I was relieved that the meeting was small and informal, and I began to feel at ease in the company of these people. I was quick to observe that there was a wonderful sense of peace in the room, and I opened myself to its gentle effects. I spoke very little, and listened without any lapse of concentration, which was very unusual for me.

I was now being exposed to the greatest reality of my life. The superfluous was being discarded and the real issue of my inward turmoil was being addressed in a most convincing manner. These people could really relate to my condition, and I could clearly see that at one stage in their lives they had found themselves in the same predicament that I myself was in.

In the course of the discussion I was persuaded that I could not leave that room without taking Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Saviour. I acted quickly on this conviction and silently asked Him to come into my broken life. The feeling of peace struck deep within me. It was as if a whole new world had been unloaded inside of me. I felt perfectly whole. I was also soon to realize that the burden which I had been carrying for such a long time had suddenly been lifted from me.

As I walked out into the June evening carrying a New Testament, I noticed for the first time the beauty of a full moon and the shimmering stars, glimmering witnesses of the power of God in creation. As I beheld these heavenly bodies I was soon to realize that I, too, had now something to say about God’s wonderful power in saving broken lives. I was later to learn that these dear people had been praying for two years for broken lives such as mine.

Over the next couple of days the feeling of wholeness began to diminish. I expected drastic changes in my circumstances. Nothing happened. Everything remained unaffected by my new commitment. My close friends assured me that it was just a religious phase, and my family kept their true feelings to themselves, as was their common practice. Meanwhile, studies for my exams continued as did drinking with friends. It looked as if it was a phase after all.

One evening I opened my New Testament at the Gospel according To John, expecting to find little comfort for my now troubled soul. Every word that I read, however, was vivid and striking. I knew that I was reading something that was far superior to any of the inspiring works of English literature. Once more I found that my need was being strikingly met, and that the words were having an immediate effect on my whole being. Apathy changed to excitement. Uncertainty gave way to hope. Once again I was persuaded that Jesus was a living reality.

Over the next few months, however, this fresh reality was to be exposed to new difficulties. The weekends proved to be extremely trying periods for my new commitment. A constant stream of school friends, neighbours and associates would call to my house and try to persuade me to have a “good time.” In those early days I found it very difficult to refuse, but I always regretted my decision to fall in with their plans. There were many occasions when I sat silently and miserably in “pubs” and at parties, only wishing that I had stayed at home and enjoyed the real peace and joy that Jesus gives. Although it was not easy to finish with drink and drugs, these evils were only a very small part of my problem. My real worry was how to relate this new way of life to my friends. Would it mean that they would reject me? I would be glad to be rid of some of them, particularly those in the drug scene, but other close friends from the neighbourhood and school still remained dear to me.

After much consideration I decided that I would inform my closest friends of my commitment to Jesus. I told them that there was more to my experience than a “religious phase” as they had generally termed it. I assured them that it was something meaningful and lasting. For the next few weeks the conversation in the “pubs” centred around my faith in Jesus Christ. Some tried to make me see sense. Others listened quietly and appeared to be visibly moved. Then one night they decided that they would find out for themselves. They would come to one of the house meetings and would ask their many questions. I was overjoyed at their decision as I felt sure that they, too, would soon become committed believers, and that I would not lose them after all.

They came to several meetings, but they were unable to accept the simplicity of the gospel, preferring rather their own philosophical and scientific deductions. Eventually, we drifted apart as our worldviews were no longer the same.

Meanwhile at home my mother’s mental health was worsening all the time. We tried taking her on a holiday to relieve her anxiety, but that proved to be a disaster. She became unbearable to live with, and after seeking medical help, she was duly admitted to a psychiatric hospital. My father’s death had proved too much for her, and her nerves had snapped as a result of the strain. I was also out of work, and my friends had given up knocking on my door. One Friend remained, however, throughout those bleakest of days. He brought my mother to a mental recovery. He found me employment. He took away the loneliness and the feeling of being rejected. And what He has done since then would be far too much to tell. Thirty-four years later I have not ceased to marvel at God’s goodness to me.

Romans 10:9

If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

1 Peter 3:15

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

Psalm 119:46

I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame,

NIV translation

Psalm 149:1

"God heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds." (NIV)

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