Former Terrorist Finds New Life in Christ

Thursday is for Discipleship

I love a good story of redemption and the one below is just that. It is from Kairos Journal and should give joy to everyone who knows and loves the gospel of Jesus Christ. But it should also give hope that no matter what is going wrong around you, or in your family, or in your state, or your country, God’s power to change hearts and destinies is still unrestrained. Enjoy the story of David Hamilton, terrorist turned follower of the Living God.

David Hamilton, TerroristDavid Hamilton: Freed from Hatred1

The convicted terrorist David Hamilton had known for some time that this moment must come. Now he did not even struggle as the dark-clothed man held him under water in the bathtub of Belfast’s notorious Crumlin Road jail. He was sure that he did not deserve what was happening to him at this moment. He had done many terrible things in the course of his career as a terrorist, yet here he was being baptised, welcomed into God’s family as if he had never sinned.

Hamilton grew up in Northern Ireland at the beginning of the “Troubles”:that period between 1968 and 1993 characterised by warfare on the streets of Northern Ireland and England. The conflict has roots going back many centuries, but its essence is found in the sectarian tensions between Catholic groups wanting an independent and United Ireland (also called Republicans), and Protestants loyal to the English Crown (known as Loyalists). The largest and most significant “Republican” terrorist organisation was the provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the corresponding “Loyalist” organisations were the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association.

Hamilton’s family lived in the fiercely sectarian Rathcoole estate on the outskirts of Belfast. By his early teens he was part of a gang devoted to petty acts of violence and public disorder against Catholic targets. He progressed to membership of local paramilitary groups, frequently committing acts of violence and regularly carrying illegal firearms. Eventually he joined the terrorist UVF.

From that point on, he was committed to a life of bombings, beatings, and to the planning and execution of armed raids on post offices and banks in Belfast. He was eventually caught and tried. At his sentencing, his own barrister told him that he was lucky only to receive 11 years in prison. Lucky or not, prison was not a pleasant experience. His wife left him, and her new boyfriend beat up his three-year-old son. However, it was in prison that David Hamilton found forgiveness and new life through the gospel.

Convinced that God wanted him to become a Christian, he began to read a Gideon Bible in his cell (a turn around in itself, as formerly he would use the pages as cigarette papers). After some discussion with a fellow prisoner, he went to his cell one lunchtime and prayed for a new life with Jesus Christ as Lord.

His prayer was answered. He became living proof of the gospel’s power to change men’s hearts. On one occasion he led an IRA man to Christ, in his cell. Formerly he would never even have looked at such a man, let alone allowed him in his cell; now he sat and prayed with him. Since his release he has frequently shared a public platform with former IRA men, in order to preach the gospel.

More blood than ink has been spilled in the cause of finding a solution to Northern Ireland’s “Troubles.” While political solutions have produced a partial end to the violence, politics cannot change men’s hearts. The only thing able to bring peace at that level, between the warring factions, is the gospel of Jesus Christ. David Hamilton is a living example of the gospel’s power to unite enemies. Even the entrenched and intense hatred that has characterised the relationship between different communities in Northern Ireland has proved impotent to resist the uniting power of the gospel in his and many other lives. Natural enemies becoming brothers who love each other is a powerful sign of the Church’s glory.

Footnotes:

1 See, David Hamilton, A Cause Worth Living For (Godalming: Highland Books, 1997).
2 The name given to the period of intense “political” violence between terrorist gangs on either side of the Protestant/Catholic religious divide in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s.

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