By Heather Tomlinson

New year, new life

Best New Year present for man with painful past

John McGuiness
John McGuiness

A homeless alcoholic whose life was in the gutter turned his life completely around after a New Year encounter with God.

John McGuiness was born in Liverpool, and still retains a strong regional accent as he tells his story. He does not have good memories of his childhood.

"My mum started drinking when we were young children, and when she was drunk she would get violent towards my dad," he remembers.

John and his sisters found themselves in a children's home in Scotland when he was just 10 years old but were eventually returned to their father.

As a young child his mum would give him sips of alcohol, and John developed a taste for it. By the age of 14 he was drinking heavily, and by 17 he was drinking every day, and his dad asked him to leave the house.

He was homeless, and making the wrong kind of friends. He received his first of several prison sentences, but the first thing he would do after being released was buy a drink.

"I was living on the streets in Southport," John says. "I used to pick the canvas off the sailing boats there and sleep inside them."

A Christian organisation reached out to him and offered him shelter. After praying for John, they found him a place at a rehab centre in Scotland, and he agreed to go.

For the first couple of weeks, John was not interested in the church services and Bible studies he was being encouraged to go to. But on Sunday in January 1993, when John was 29, everything changed. "Instead of switching off and being bored, it seemed like the man out the front was speaking to me, and I was glued to every word," says John.

"He asked if anyone would like to have a personal relationship with Jesus. I felt like I was floating to the front of the church. At 8.30pm I asked Jesus for forgiveness and to come into my life.

“... it became more than just a book”"While in my bedroom that night I picked up the Bible and all of a sudden it became more than just a book. As I turned the pages randomly, everything I read jumped out at me. I even started praying, and continued until the early hours of the morning."

He not only had a new year ahead, but a new life.

John was filled with joy from his new relationship with God. The rehab program, while difficult, helped him change his attitudes and way of life. He completed the course and started working for the charity, going to schools, prisons, and churches. He told his life story, warning against drinking and taking drugs. He talked to addicts, pimps, and prostitutes, and had the pleasure of seeing others find freedom through Christ too.

He also had the pleasure of meeting his wife, Dawn, at a friend's wedding.

But he was not out of the woods yet. Working long hours in a very stressful job in a factory, he found he had nothing left to give to his family when he came home. He started drinking again.

"Although I was still going to church, I had drifted away from God, I wasn't spending time with God," John says. "I ended up having a breakdown, and went into hospital for about three months. I thank God for my wife. She stood by me through everything. God gave me a strong woman to stand by me."

in Southport
JOHN: “I was living on the streets in Southport. I used to pick the canvas off the sailing boats there and sleep inside them.”

One day, a girl in the ward was listening to Christian music, which prompted John to get on his knees in front of everyone, and ask God to take him out of that place. Although diagnosed with clinical depression, he was released and began the long road to recovery.

John has not had a drink for nine years. "I've learned from that experience, that you have got to keep your eyes on God, and not let your relationship with God go astray," he says. "I've learned about the love of God, that even when we do fail, He is still there."

The difference between his former life and his life now is that of love, both given and received: "Before I was a Christian I lived a very selfish life – all I cared about was getting what I wanted. As a Christian, it opens your eyes to the fact that there are other people in the world apart from yourself. I am just so blessed that God has given me so many opportunities to help other people, even if it is just sharing about my past life."

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