Before meeting Jesus I was a true thug, lost in the all-consuming world of drugs. When I was eleven years old my family moved to Stourbridge from where I grew up in Coventry and I began to lose my way; I struggled to make friends and fit in at a new school. By the age of 13, I was smoking cannabis and drinking heavily on weekends. By 16 I’d been expelled from school and prosecuted for burglary, arson, criminal damage, theft and handling stolen goods. Finally, by the age of 19, I was heavily involved in drug dealing and gang life to finance my ever-growing addictions. Eventually, after a particularly rough patch of serious self-destruction and continual arrests for drug possession, I was sentenced to a time in prison. Honestly, it was the best thing that had happened to me in years.
While in prison, I did the only thing I knew how to. I built up my reputation, mixed with others like me and began to smuggle drugs inside. I took things a step too far when I borrowed tobacco from the loan sharks on my block and refused to pay them back. As you can imagine, this wasn’t a wise idea and, following a fight on the landing of my block, the gang placed a price on my head. Thankfully, at this moment another prisoner reached out to me and began to share his faith; he told me that I needed God. This sounds a little crazy, but a couple of days later, while walking down the corridor on my block, I noticed the sign-up sheet for chapel.
As I walked towards it, a sense of excitement began to grow within me and an internal argument broke out. The moment I tried to walk away, something inside tugged at me to sign up. Eventually, I gave in to the urge. As I wrote my name on the paper, a sense of peace hit me that I had never experienced before. Here I was, a broken criminal, receiving exactly what I deserved, yet suddenly feeling a sense of hope and acceptance, knowing that there was a way out of the mess that I was in. Truly, I had encountered God in the corridor of that prison.
In the following weeks I attended chapel and learned more about this incredible God that I had encountered, and the beating that I was expecting from the loan sharks never came. I could sense God’s presence guiding me and protecting me while I served out the rest of my six-month sentence. After leaving prison, however, and finding myself surrounded by old temptations, I slowly slipped back into drugs and fighting. I knew that God was real and I held on to the belief that only he could help me, but I would go out on weekends, party, take drugs and end up in fights. When I came home, I would read my Bible and pray. Honestly, I couldn’t understand my actions: I knew that I wanted to be free from my old life, but it’s as though it had a hold on me; there was this internal conflict that was pulling me between self-destruction and the new life that I was discovering through prayer and the word of God. During this period, the Lord remained faithful to me and continued to work in my life: the old distractions were slowly removed, and I knew that, once again, the God who had worked so powerfully to save me in prison was now at work to free me from drug addiction.
It took a further ten months of study and prayer before I finally came to a fuller revelation of Jesus. A girl who I knew from the days of drug dealing called me and explained that she’d had an encounter with Jesus; that he had set her free from drugs, and given her the opportunity to be a better mum to her child. We both shared our stories and she invited me to her church. Honestly, the only reason I went was because I fancied her, but once I arrived at the church, it was the love of God that caught my attention. The same presence of God that I had encountered in prison was there in church and in the lives of those who attended.
Around the same time, I found myself returning to my childhood boxing club. It was a place that had offered me safety, discipline and a positive community during my teenage years. The boxing club became my halfway house between prison and church. I truly believe the Lord provided a safe place to grow and recover from the years of brokenness.
Finally, I committed my life to Jesus and a true change began to take place. I had encountered God in prison, but it took a revelation of the cross and the incredible offer of forgiveness through Jesus Christ, plus a heartfelt commitment to God as my Father, to truly break the power of darkness in my life. As a result of this complete surrender, I found total freedom from drug addiction; I felt like a new man.
Sometime later I became the Midlands light middleweight champion in boxing. I know for some this may seem like an ungodly sport, but for me it helped to provide discipline, structure, a sense of self-worth and a platform whereby I could work out my new identity. From there, when the time was right, I became a member of that incredible local church and they empowered me to follow the call of God into full-time ministry.
Today, I am seven years clean of drugs and married to an incredible woman. I have a theological degree from Bible college and am a minister in training within the Elim Pentecostal Church. They say that God is good, but trust me, he’s so much more than that!
Ashley Nixon was speaking to Premier’s Rachel Matthews.