Never too late to change

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For years John Bowmer considered his petty criminal record and so-called "manly" excesses and partying behavior as a badge of honor.

Today he views that time as a search for happiness without a purpose for living.

"I joined the Navy in 1958 as a Storekeeper Second Class, not as a seaman, because I had weak eyes," John begins.

"I came from an unhappy home, was rebellious and was sentenced to a six cane strokes for stealing a car. At sixteen I had a criminal record and lied about it on the navy application form!"

As a "boy among men" in the staff of SAS Robben Island, John continued to rebel.

"I did what is falsely called 'manly' things: drinking to excess, smoking Texan, swearing like a trooper, and the occasional dagga (marijuana) roll."

Soon he had a full charge sheet and was twice confined to barracks for two weeks. He was nearly caught drinking, for which juniors are instantly dismissed, but lied his way out of it.

After three years he joined the SAS Vrystaat and was promoted to Storekeeper First Class and Victualling Clerk on board, but only because his superiors had no other option.

After the Vrystaat was decommissioned, John left the Navy and ultimately became an assistant for a kind-hearted electrical wholesaler who attended his mother's church.

However, he continued to party, which led to a serious accident and a change of heart.

"After the end of year party, all I remember was taking a short cut through a road traffic island. In the hospital my mother's pastor convinced me to attend his church, despite my reluctance."

Weeks later, the pastor stopped mid-sermon and said, "God has laid a young man on my heart. His face is constantly in my mind's eye. I am praying for him."

John continues, "A cold sweat came over me and I shivered. He was talking about me and I knew it."

Following another year-end party in 1964 John received a phone call from the church pastor and was invited for dinner the following night.

"The pastor shared with me that God so loved me that He sent His Son to die for my sin (paraphrasing John chapter 3, verse 16) and that if I was truly sorry for my sin and placed my faith in Christ my sins would be forgiven."

"I knelt on the carpet, confessed my sin and asked Christ into my heart. I rose from my knees shook his hand and left."

As he walked home, he says, "I knew I would never be the same again."

"One morning at work suddenly waves of joy flooded through me as I sang most of that day. I knew Christ had found me and I was part of the family of God."

By 1969, John had completed his secondary school certificate and theological training at a Bible college.

"It is said that 'once a sailor always a sailor', or 'You can leave the Navy but the Navy never leaves you'. In 1984 I moved from part-time Commando Chaplain to a full time Chaplain in the South African Navy. I told the truth about my criminal record and was accepted to the position.

"In 2002 I retired after a fulfilling ministry among sailors who are the salt of the sea or rather the salt of the earth."

John is grateful for God's blessing of three daughters and four grandchildren, and concludes "God is truly good to us."

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