Narrow escape from tragic bombing prompted a former minor criminal to become a volunteer prison chaplain
Hadley Toweel's tough life began with bullying at school, where he decided to overcome his shyness and introversion by turning to alcohol, starting at the age of 14.
"I sometimes had blackouts as a result of the drinking. My school work deteriorated and I failed three years of high school," he says.
Feeling hopeless, Hadley turned to minor crime and tried to forget his troubles with alcohol and smoking cigarettes because he saw others doing it.
The trouble was, he became aggressive at the slightest provocation when drunk and often got into fights to the point that one brawl almost ended his life.
Having to repeat multiple grades at school, Hadley joined the South African Air Force in 1977 at age 20. He then took responsibility for his first daughter, by marrying her mother, with whom he also had a son before she divorced him two years later.
Hadley tried yoga and meditation to calm himself down, before going further into astral traveling and falling into trances.
Then, a succession of events, all in one year, changed his life, beginning with a bomb explosion at the Air Force Headquarters in Pretoria, South Africa, that killed 19 and injured 200. Hadley narrowly escaped serious injury as glass and shrapnel cut into his legs.
"After that I somehow knew that this was the last time that God would save my life," Hadley recalls. "I even stopped smoking dope for a while."
A short time later, Hadley began reading a curious book on the occult, which contained many contradictions.
"It clearly stated that all religions were the same and that anyone could practice occultism," he recalls.
"But later in the same book I found that the only people who struggled to astral travel were Christians. It said that the only way to overcome this 'blockage' was to stop attending a Christian church, and to stop praying in the name of Jesus."
Out of curiosity as to why this could be, Hadley began reading Christian books to learn more about the God of the Bible.
"I eventually became intellectually convinced that Jesus Christ was the only way to God," he says.
In October of that year, he then prayed with Bible in hand, asking desperately for God's help.
"I asked God to give me a wife and a family who would love me," he explains. "I said to God that if He did this for me, I would become a Christian and follow Him."
Then Hadley opened the Bible randomly and he was challenged as he read from Matthew chapter 6, verse 33 which says, "Seek first God's kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well".
"I believed that God had spoken this verse to me," he says.
"But I was also convinced that I couldn't live without a woman. So I left it there."
Two months later, on Christmas Eve, Hadley was at a family barbecue when he began thinking about the meaning of Christmas.
"That day being the time when Christians remember the birth of their Lord Jesus Christ, I started thinking about my life and the people's lives that I had messed up through my years as a juvenile delinquent," he recalls.
I had no
dope”"For the first time it dawned on me just how completely rebellious against God I had been. So, I told Jesus that I was sorry for the mess-up I had made of my life and for all the people I had hurt. I told Jesus that I wanted to give Him a birthday gift ... I wanted to give Him my life. That night God saved me and delivered me from the things that had a grip on my life.
"As I trusted in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of my sins, I knew that I had to forgive my former wife for the things she had done, but I really battled with that. After praying for three days, I did not feel any bitterness and told her what Jesus had done for me."
Hadley says there have been incredible changes in his life as God took control.
"Before I became a Christian I had such a foul mouth that my friends would ask me to curse less.
"Now, suddenly, I had no desire for cursing, alcohol or dope. I was no longer obsessed with women. I had an insatiable desire to read the Bible and I read it cover to cover in a few months. I also burnt all my books on the occult."
With his priorities finally in order, Hadley says joyfully: "I asked God where my wife was, and the next day I met Lynette, who would become my wife."
With his earlier two children, Hadley and Lynette now have five children. He has since become an international award-winning photographer and photographed many high profile South Africans, including Nelson Mandela, before Hadley emigrated in 2001.
Now based in Australia, Hadley, who has a Masters degree in journalism, is manager of a small multimedia design business and works as a volunteer chaplain at a nearby prison.
As he recalls Jesus' words about seeking after God's Kingdom, Hadley strongly believes that God has blessed him greatly because of his commitment to putting God first in his life.•