The first time I went to church... It was full of young people and they were kind of shiny and I felt very threatened indeed. They were clapping and happy and I wasnt happy and didnt want to clap.
If I ever came across a Christian, Id be as unpleasant as I possibly could. I thought they were really weird, very odd people, judgemental and unpleasant, so I just wanted to stay away from them.
I wasnt happy at all and I masked that. I think people use different things to mask their pain - food, drink, drugs - I used violence to push people away and make me feel better. I fought fairly regularly on Friday and Saturday nights in town and at the football as well. I was more than happy to wade in.
I was just getting on for about 30 and I went to church with this girl. And from then onwell I had this meeting with God, really, that I could not deny any longer that He was real.
Me and my mates needed a reference for court and my mum was running something with the homeless so she said she would give us a reference if we went to volunteer down there. There was a little bit of a fracas and somebody got punched; we ended up getting chucked out and banned. But while I was there I saw this girl. I took a bit of a shine to her and asked her out for a pint. She said, Well, if you come to church with me, Ill go for a drink. And I thought, well this is going to be easy now Ive got her!
And I got a little bit more than I bargained for.
The first time I went to church I absolutely hated it and I was really nasty to them cause they were all really friendly and it wasnt what I expected. It was full of young people and they were kind of shiny and I felt very threatened indeed. They were clapping and happy and I wasnt happy and didnt want to clap. So it was not what Id bargained for at all. And these people were just really nice and I sat there looking fairly miserable, trying to get rid of them.
Towards the end of the service, the guy who was speaking, it was as though he was speaking to me. He started saying, Lets pray and all these emotions came up and I thought I just had to get out and I got up and left and went to the pub. I had a pint and a few fags and thought, I dont know what that was about but its not for me.
Later on the girl turned up and she said, I thought we were going for a drink? She said shed meet if I came to another service the next night. I refused but she challenged me, saying I was scared. So I had to prove I wasnt!
I went and the same thing happened. Towards the end of the service all these emotions came up and I thought, I dont want these mugs to see me upset so I thought Id sit there and pretend I was praying. These two guys came up and asked if they could pray for me. I felt very threatened. It was touch-and-go whether Id whack one of them cause he was saying if I called on the name of Jesus everything would change. I didnt understand what it was about and he asked what it was that was upsetting me. I wanted all the pain and anger to go out of my life. And he said, Just say it.
So I thought, what have I got to lose? Even if its just make believe I havent lost anything, theyll leave me alone And they prayed and I prayed, for the first time I suppose, and I knew there was a God. From that second I knew there was someone, and it felt as though all the rubbish that Id carried around was in a rucksack and Id taken it off and put it down and it was different.
I told all my friends straight away. Some people thought I was trying to have the church over and rob them, and other people thought Id lost the plot completely. A few people just didnt want to know and I felt completely on my own.
Church became a central part of what I am almost straight away. (Im completely nuts probably but I feel more fulfilled than I ever have done in my life.) But all my old friends are still my friends and I love them to bits.
Im still the same person; I still struggle with the same things. But now I have an inner strength that comes from God that helps me not to do those things. The difference now is that I dont want to do those things I would rather have love, and love people, than try and get even with them. I always think people that damage and hurt people are unhappy themselves. I think pitying people is a very unpleasant thing to do so I dont pity anyone but I want to love them.
Dave Jeal is Chaplain at Bristol Rovers
This testimony was first broadcast as a Pathway to Faith interview on BBC Radio Bristol in September 2014.
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