The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)
NO ORDINARY LIFE...
I was born the youngest of five children in a hearing-impaired family on the register of families at risk. I was different from my sisters and brother because I was the result of a family friend raping my mother on and off for a couple of years. My biological father was arrested by the police and hanged himself in a police cell after signing a full confession of his crimes before I was born.
My mother considered having an abortion, but she decided not to in the end because it had not long been legalised. There were also discussions about having me adopted, but it never happened because, as I was told once, "they never got round to it.” I spent my first year of life in and out of the hospital because I could not digest milk.
When I was three weeks old, my mother and her husband separated and my stepdad, David, moved in with my Mum and all of us children. David has been the only Dad that I had known. Until the age of four years, my Mum dressed me and fed me just like you would a doll. One of my older sisters did most of my looking after at home.
The reason things changed between my Mum and me was that she and Dad became Christians. Soon after becoming a Christian, she received healing of the memories and was able then to relate to me as her son and love me.
Even though my parents had become Christians, life at home changed very little; things remained turbulent with my Dad serving time in prison for petty crimes, along with his children from his first marriage coming to live with us and with the many violent arguments and fights between my parents and between us children. We were a family from hell. I always remember how God was in my life though, as I prayed in the toilet whilst my parents rowed.
But the Lord was improving our lives: my parents got married at a local Baptist Church with a policeman as a best man, my Dad became an honest lorry driver and provided for the family, my Mum stopped smoking and was set free from anorexia and agoraphobia.
When I was about seven years of age, I was told that I was the result of rape and I was introduced to my half-sisters from my biological father. I also developed meningitis and the doctors told my parents that I would not make it; in fact, my parents and eldest siblings came to say goodbye. But the Lord had different intentions; The Lord pulled me through, but I no longer could read or write. I had developed dyslexia.
Unfortunately, the teachers at school thought that I was 'thick' and I was treated as such. Because of this, I started to misbehave at school in order to cover my embarrassment. This behaviour led to me being expelled from school on two occasions. I was not encouraged to do well at school by my parents; in reality, my Mum only expected me to be a lorry driver like my Dad was. She used to say that, "I was good with my hands”.
As I got older, I started to question who I was and became increasingly angry and depressed about the way I was conceived and who my biological father was. My relationship with my mother became strained, so I left home at the age of seventeen.
The depression followed me out the door and I started to smoke, drink, use drugs and go out with girls. I developed a hatred towards my biological father, which took me to find the place he was buried in and I cursed him.
Although I was backslidden and didn't go to church, if God came into any of the conversations in the pub, I would defend God and witness to those around me, even under the influence of alcohol and cannabis. But I was not honouring God with my lifestyle at all.
I was completely lost.
It was not until I started to read the book by Nicky Cruz 'Run, Baby Run' that I commenced to reconsider my relationship with God. The Holy Spirit filled me with the fear of God. So I returned home to my parents. But although I wanted to resume going back to church, it took me a few months before I got there so was the opposition from the devil, and I was finally baptised with the Holy Spirit.
A few months later, I was asked to lead the Youth meetings at the church with two other lads. The Lord gave me a great desire for evangelism and to serve Him in any capacity He chose to. It was at that time that I met Mara, who would eventually become my wife.
One of the greatest lessons that The Lord taught me was that of forgiveness; forgiving those who have hurt me and disappointed me, and most importantly that forgiveness goes beyond the grave. I needed to forgive my biological father for what he did to my Mum, my sisters and brother, and the legacy that he left me with.
As I fell in love with Jesus, my desire to be in His house and serve Him grew. Father God gave me a passion to see people fall in love with Jesus and allow Him to transform their lives and bring Him honour and glory. I served the Lord with my wife, Mara, as a Life Group leader and whilst being a Life Group leader.
The Lord brought to my attention the homeless and prostitutes in the area our church was. The Body of Christ has a responsibility to shine the heart of the love of Christ to the destitute. That is how a day centre for the homeless and marginalised was birthed and the Lord grew it and grew it beyond our own imagination and desires.
During this time too, a Christian community living project was birthed in our home when members of our Life Group wanted to stay with us, and some of them actually moved in to live with us and our two young children in our small three bedroom house.
The church agreed to purchase a building that would house the new Day Centre for the homeless & marginalised and the new Christian community living project in December 2001. In actual fact, our youngest son Caleb was the first baby born in that Christian Community.
Due to the growth of the Christian Community whilst being the senior pastor of the church, another building was purchased to accommodate more church members who also wanted to join those living already in the Christian Community.
Who would have predicted that a boy born as a result of rape, dyslexic, hearing impaired and expelled from school without any qualifications would be used by the Lord as the pastor of a thriving church for 12 years and as the founder and director of its Day Centre for the homeless & marginalised for nearly 18 years, and currently as the pastor of Effective Life Church?
Only God could have planned this and make it happen!
It only takes obedience to God and accepting the responsibility as a child of God to love and care for those whom society calls unlovable. Who would have imagined that one of my Religious Education teachers at school (the late Cannon Jim Fry) would come to the church this expelled from schoolboy was pastoring to preach there one Sunday morning?
Who would have thought that one day this boy would have the privilege to lead his half-sisters from his biological father to The Lord and baptise them both? Only our loving Father can plan and make events like those happen!
Through my life, the Lord has taught me that I have a choice regarding what defines me. Do my circumstances, experiences, people around me, fears, successes, failures define me, or does my faith in the Word of God define me? We are the ones who allow what defines us. But remember that what defines us determines how God can use us.
There have been many defining moments in my life, but there had been three most defining ones as a servant of God. The first one was when one of my old pastors told me at my mother's funeral, "Stay away from dead wood", meaning that I should be careful who I surround myself with. They have to be men and women on fire for God. Who you mix with, you become.
The second one was when God told me that forgiveness goes beyond the grave when l was finding so hard to forgive my biological father. But by His grace l did it and it set me free from so much. l realised that l was more than just the son of a rapist. I am a son of God.
There is nothing like the Word of God to define us, and this is a piece of Scripture that The Lord used to define me:
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
John 1:11-13 (NIV)
Please get in touch if you wish for Matthew to share his testimony at your church or event.