A series of terrible tragedies in his early years led to Peter Gladwin’s addictions to gambling and alcohol. Having lost all hope, he came close to suicide. Then, one telephone call changed everything
I was brought up in Halifax, West Yorkshire, which is renowned for its roughness. I lived on a big council estate where violence, crime and immorality were prevalent. When I was one year old, I was placed before the coal fire in our house. I was left on the carpet and tragically a piece of coal fell out onto the carpet where I was laid. Within a few minutes the whole front room was ablaze. My sister came running out of the kitchen and tried to grab me but couldn’t get there because of the smoke. She went to get my mum, who had nipped next door for a cup of tea. As my sister went out of the house, the door shut behind her and my mum couldn’t get back.
The firemen turned up expecting to find a terribly burnt corpse. Even though I was severely burned, I was alive. I received terrible scarring; I’ve got partially amputated feet and 65% burns up my body. I was in hospital for three years and was told I’d never walk again. I was in a wheelchair until I was 7. I lost the fingers on my left hand and found out later in life that the fire had also psychologically damaged me.
My mum and dad had a difficult relationship, not just because of what happened in the fire (they blamed each other). Life was tough in those days. I got in trouble with the police, and was sent to prison for three months at 13-years-old. Another significant event soon caused me to ask, ‘Why me?’ I was on a bus with a friend. A gang of lads attacked us on the top deck and one of them pulled out a knife ten inches long and stuck it straight into my mate’s back. My mate fell forward, blood pulsing out. It was a horrific sight. I was only 15. This guy then came at with me with his knife raised. I moved instinctively and instead of catching me in my chest, he caught me in my arm. It was a horrendous injury. The knife went in so deep that the tendons severed. I lost the use of my right arm for two and a half years.
Later, at the age of 24 I was standing on a pavement in the middle of a town centre. I turned to my right and I saw car headlights shining brightly in my face. That’s all I remember. I woke up three days later in hospital to be informed I’d been a victim of a hit-and-run. I was left for dead on the street. When I was told what had happened, I again asked that question: ‘Why me?’
I did what a lot of people do when it comes to handling hurt and pain. I hit the bottle, bad. I was waking up in alleyways, sleeping on benches, taking drugs. When I was 27, I got the telephone call from my brother that my dad had committed suicide. He was a drinker,a gambler.
He lived a hopeless life. One Sunday morning I was in a terrible state. I’d sold all my furniture to furnish my gambling habits. My ex-girlfriend had left with my 3-year-old son. I headed for a bridge thinking the only way out for me was to go the same way as my father. It was an 80ft drop, concrete at the bottom. As I’m looking over, I [turn] to my right and there’s a block of flats. The fifth floor was where my mum lived. Something grabbed my attention, and I ended up stepping back and going up to my mum’s flat.
My mum had never seen me in such a state as she did that day. I always used to put a mask on and pretended everything was ok. She didn’t know what to say to me. But she did what any good mother would do – she went and put the kettle on and brought me a cup of tea! Then she rang my sister. Unbeknown to me, my sister had become a committed Christian eight weeks previously.
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She said three words that hit me so hard: ‘God loves you.’ As she spoke the word of God into my heart, it was almost like sitting in a dark room and someone coming in and opening the curtains, and the shaft of light streaming through into my mind, heart, body and spirit.
My sister said to me the only thing stopping me from having a relationship with God was my sin, but the good news was that Jesus had died and paid the penalty for my sin, so I could come back into a relationship with God. It made sense – I just knew that this was my destiny: to come to know God.
Within a few seconds I was crying down the telephone, asking Jesus Christ to come into my life. As I did that, I looked into the corner of the room and it was either Jesus or an angel standing there saying, ‘Come to me and I will give you rest.’ I knew I didn’t want to kill myself anymore. I gave my life to Jesus.
I ended up working at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. It’s funny how God uses your past to help people overcome difficulties in life. Then God called me to set up as a full-time evangelist, which I am today. I go into churches, prisons and schools in this country and abroad. We’ve got a big ministry in Poland in tough prisons. I remember sharing the gospel this year and this really rough-looking bloke started shouting at me in Polish. I thought, ‘What have I said?’ The translator said, ‘Don’t worry, he isn’t having a go at you. He’s saying, “Why haven’t we heard this good news before?”’ I challenge you: start sharing the good news, because it is good news! God has got a job for us to do.
Peter Gladwin was speaking to Sam Hailes. Peter’s latest book is Out of the Darkest Place: God’s Comeback Plan for Your Life (Monarch)