US evangelist who nearly ended his life brings hope to Europe's suicide capital
International evangelist Jay Lowder, who at the age of 21 attempted suicide, has been preaching at Alive Belfast Mission this week. The speaker has been sharing his story of a return from the brink in an attempt to "bring hope" to the region where 300 people commit suicide every year.
Jay, who grew up with a "religious but non-saving faith", is the first evangelist to hold an extended mission at the largest protestant church in Northern Ireland, Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle.
Speaking of his childhood Jay says, "When you're around spiritual things but they don't have an impact, you end up feeling much more discouraged and disillusioned than if you hadn't been around it, because there's a certain level of expectation.
"That was me, I quit the church and I quit God.
"When you're sitting in a run-down beat-up bachelor pad and you have nothing else to do but sit and think about your problems you begin to think of ways to take your mind to another place."
Having lost his job and girlfriend and become an alcoholic, the 21-year-old eventually decided to put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.
If it weren't for his housemate coming home early, Jay wouldn't have hurried to hide the gun. "I may not have been here today," Jay reflects.
Shortly after this brush with death, the Texas based now-pastor found himself at a mission where the preacher spoke about his own struggle with suicide. Jay responded to the message and has spent the rest of his life "sharing the message of hope…the cross of Jesus Christ".
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Speaking about his week in Belfast, Jay says: "Every morning of every day I've been in schools and I talk to the students about the issues they're facing. Sexual activity, temptations for drugs and alcohol, and being bullied. I'll tell my own story of how I came to Christ and how the cross represents freedom, change, forgiveness and a second chance."
Jay says Belfast is one of the most religious cities he's ever been in. But he doesn't believe religion is the answer to the city's high suicide rate.
"I'm not here championing religion," he says passionately. "I'm championing the cross of Christ and a relationship with Jesus. At the same time I'm not someone saying 'when you receive Christ all your problems go away'. That's just getting the house built on the right foundation. A house still has to be built.
"There are some people who need to go to counselling or receive some type of medication to help them or work through some of these issues. But a house has to be built on the right thing and that foundation is a solid rock named Jesus Christ.
"You work from the inside-out and that beginning place is a relationship with God. The proof is right here in Belfast, religion alone is not enough! People need a life transforming relationship with the God who promises not just a ticket to heaven but a God who promises a new, changed and abundant life."
The evangelist became an author last year when his personal testimony was published in "Midnight In Aisle 7". Subtitled 'Sometimes God introduces himself outside the Church walls', the book is filled with stories from Jay and others and has been praised for its honesty in detailing the lives of those struggling to find God's love.
You can watch Jay speak at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle 7.45pm on Friday and Saturday nights. Entry is free or you can tune in online here