15 December 2017

John Edwards – Free at Last!

Vibrant, positive and brimming with energy John Edwards is the kind of charismatic individual who inspires confidence and hope. It’s hard to believe that at one time, the confident, successful author and evangelist was part of humanity’s drug addicted flotsam that begged for a living and lived on the streets.

John’s journey toward homelessness and despair began early in childhood.

“Left to my own devices, I was a happy kid but a pronounced stammer left a sense of insecurity and shyness. In the family home, constant arguments between my parents caused sadness and confusion while my dad’s drinking rapidly became a major problem. I became anxious and very scared that he would die. Every time he went into a detox unit, I fretted that he may not come home. I think that re-inforced my insecurities “

As a teenager John discovered that drugs and alcohol helped bolster his confidence. They also provided a welcome oasis of oblivion from his troubled life.

“What began as an adolescent experiment rapidly took control of my life. I went from taking just one valium to consuming over 150 per day, a staggering 750mg! For the next 24 years, I struggled with everything from booze and tranquillizers to hash and heroin. I had nothing to live for and nowhere to go. I was bound, emotionally and physically by the chains of addiction.”

Life on the streets is a cold environment. It is also incredibly lonely.

“Being homeless has a lot of challenges, particularly in winter when freezing temperatures numbs the body as well as the mind. Sleeping on icy benches or in draughty shop doorways is impossible. Hunger is a constant companion as is the craving for drugs. But the greatest pain of all is the acute sense of loneliness and an overwhelming desire for human contact. Sometimes, I was so desperate I would nip into a phone box and call 999 to report an unconscious person in the street. Then, I’d rush back to the address, lie down on the pavement and wait for the ambulance. The night in a warm ER was great, but a kind word from a doctor or a smile and a reassuring pat on the hand from a nurse was a complete joy!”

The death of his father in 1984 was to prove a watershed in John’s life.

“The loss of my dad had a major impact on me. The fact that I wasn’t at his funeral, aggravated the grief. It was then that I made a determined effort to turn my life around and become free of addiction.”

After a series of therapies including psychiatric units that previously had offered only padded cells and strait jackets, John moved on to the AA as well as several other expert organisations geared to releasing addicts from their torment. But, it wasn’t until 1987 when he stumbled into a Christian meeting, that John found true deliverance and freedom.

“I found myself in a Full Gospel Business Man’s Fellowship meeting and after listening to the speaker talk about freedom through Christ, I wondered if God could possibly help me. During worship, I cried out to Him and asked for forgiveness and deliverance. Words cannot describe the amazing event that took place within me but all I can say is that, God completely zapped me with His love. I was overwhelmed with His presence and knew without a doubt that, from that moment on, I was free!”

The incident was to prove the turning point in John’s life. After attending and completing the Teen Challenge programme, John became burdened for Ireland and its need to reach lost and hurting people.

“One day after reading Genesis 12v17 (Arise and walk through the land, through it’s length and breadth, for I give it to you) I got up and literally walked the length and breadth of the country, from Belfast to Dublin with former paramilitaries praying for peace and revival. It was an incredible experience.”

John continued with his prayer commitment by walking and praying for revival. He walked the length and breadth of Wales, Scotland and England, then several of the surrounding Islands, then the USA all the way from Los Angeles to New York. Unfortunately during, the American event, his health deteriorated.

“Among other symptoms, I began to suffer extreme nose bleeds and that convinced me I needed urgent medical advice.”

John was right to be concerned. After a series of tests, he was diagnosed as suffering from cancer of the liver as well as Hepatic Cirrhosis. It didn’t look good. “My only chance of survival was a liver transplant which I underwent in 2006 and I can only thank God that He was with me every step of the way. In fact, my recovery was so complete that I was able to compete in and win the Irish transplant games making me the champion of the 1500, 800, and 400 metres!! I not only survived, found success but, more importantly, went on to continue in the work God has called me to do.”

Today John is happily married to Tricia. They have four children and three grandchildren. Since John’s transplant he has worked tirelessly to reach those chained by addiction. His outreach work takes him into the city’s darkened alleys and doorways where homeless men and women cry out for the warmth of human compassion. In Bradford, he also established a centre where Christian recovery groups provide classes in reading and writing. Almost five years after his transplant, John is determined to reveal the love that has changed his life.

‘My mission is to tell others that, even in the darkest corners of life, there is hope. If I found the way to freedom and fulfillment, others can too.”

By Lorraine Wylie