The speaker at the Men’s Night, held on June 20th was Stephen from Prison Fellowship International. He is lead trainer for ‘The Prisoner’s Journey’.
He spoke about his background, growing up on a rough estate in Leek, the youngest of 5 children with a physically abusive, loveless and alcoholic father.
He left school to go on a YTS course in construction, something he found he was quite good at, able to turn his hand at most skills in the building trade. Unfortunately he took to a life of drink and later drugs…in a big way. He lost his grip on life….and reality. His graphically described experiences were hard for us to relate to the young, fit and healthy man before us.
In 1995 he was sent to Shrewsbury prison for 4 years for drug related offences. The first few months were a bad time for Stephen, suffering from drug withdrawal and locked up for 23 hours a day. After 12 months he was aware that he had stopped taking drugs and around this time started thinking about God. He went to the Chapel but found it had nothing for him, after about 18 months he looked in mirror one day and realised that prison hadn’t changed him….and it wouldn’t!!!
A group called Victory Outreach came to the prison and Stephen, who was now allowed to do some cleaning jobs in the prison, listened in to a talk they were giving. He heard how lives had been changed by Jesus….he was hooked.
A Christian ministry offered him a place in Wales on his release. He’d managed to get hold of a tiny Gideon’s Bible and found various references that were pertinent to his situation and he realised that God was speaking to him through the text. He knew there had been a change in himself.
He stayed in a hostel in Aberdare for 8 months along with 22 other men but he found it very hard and almost quit.
However, he was offered an access course and a move to Swansea and with much encouragement from his Pastor he went on to get a 2.1 degree in Sociology. He used his construction skills to help youngsters who had dropped out of school, later working with Christianity Explored Ministry in prisons…he found going back in to prisons very hard at first but went on to help develop CE for prisons courses, using Mark’s Gospel. Of course, Stephen had the advantage of knowing what his audience were going through and they were able to see, as we did, a changed man.
In 2014 Prison Fellowship International, which operates in 120 countries, took the CE course on, and to date Stephen has travelled to 40 countries with the programme…….amazingly, he’s never yet been refused entry to any country because of his criminal record!!
Stephen is married with two young daughters and still lives in Swansea.
What an amazing testimony. Thanks be to God.