A former drug addict whose life had spiralled destructively out of control has shared how he found salvation, hope and reconciliation through meeting Jesus.
'I didn't value my life; I actually loved the drugs more than life itself,' said 44-year old Justin Battiste. His Christian family prayed for him for 25 years, and now they are praising God because Battiste has now been baptised and has made a 'remarkable transformation through his new-found faith'.
Battiste, whose story comes courtesy of Christian charity Counties, shared how his story began. The youngest of five siblings, he was a high-achieving but shy student, who 'felt different and struggled with interacting with other people.
'In my last ten years at school I rebelled because I felt let down and harshly treated.
'At that time, I started hanging around with teenagers older than me. I often felt that I fitted better with them and as a result of peer pressure I started smoking fags, which soon led on to cannabis. I left school at 15 and started work while at the same time my drug addiction began to take over. I'd get jobs regularly but just couldn't hold on to them due to the drugs I was taking.
'My life was now in a downward spiral as I started taking speed, acid and ecstasy. I was loving the 90's and the rave scene. I thought I could control my drug taking but during those years I lost the respect of my family members. Drug addiction took me into prisons and mental hospitals and I nearly took my life on many occasions. The drugs stripped me of all morals and values.'
There was some hope when he met his wife in 1999: the drug-taking stopped, and after maryring the couple had a daughter. Soon though, Battiste's wife returned to drugs and alcohol, and cheated on Battiste, which 'totally derailed' his life.
He says: 'I ended up in a secure physical unit where I almost lost touch with reality. When I came out I never really managed to take control of my life again.
'I loved my wife and kids dearly but they felt too far away from me. After we separated I fell deeper into the darkness of drugs using heroin and crack cocaine on a daily basis. I'd almost lost contact with all of my original family and everything I said I would never do, I did; such as injecting drugs and stealing from my family.
'Through my whole life, I brought nothing but shame and misery to my family and I was no longer fit to be a Dad, son or uncle. I could only see as far as my next hit and I would go to any length to get it. I was banned from all the shops in Ipswich due to shoplifting so I turned to burglary and petty crime to feed my addiction. All hope I ever had, had just disappeared. I tried to take my life on a few occasions. I was in and out of prison and just going round and round in circles and getting nowhere.'
Battiste's father advocated for him in court, and instead of going back to prison he was given help for his condition: drug treatment and a rehabilitation order. In time, things began to change.
Battiste says: 'One morning I woke up and looked outside and watched with amazement the sun rise in beautiful blue skies. I'd never seen anything so beautiful and so natural before. A change started to take place in my life and I know it was because people in my church in Ipswich had been praying for me.
'My mother noticed a change in me, as did my brother who took me into his home with open arms for the New Year. I spent my first Christmas at home free of drugs. I continued my drug rehabilitation. I am amazed at how far I have come in a year. I was homeless, living on the streets in Ipswich with no hope. I am now transformed into a loving caring father, son, brother and uncle.
'In the summer last year, my mother took me to West Road Church, as she had met Victor Jack when he was preaching at her church in Ipswich. At the end of the service, after Victor had been speaking, I committed my life to Jesus with Victor and friend Mike Coleman. There were tears that day and I know now that with God's help I can do anything I put my mind to.'
Battiste has reconciled with his family and found new life. He says: 'Thank you God for making my life whole again and for shedding light on my once darkened life. You have set me free from the chains of my addiction and I love life now, more than ever before. My mother and father have prayed a long time for my salvation. Through times of despair they never gave up hope.
'I have always been a taker and never thought of giving anything back but today I am truly blessed as I am able to give back to society as I work as a volunteer at the Drop In Centre at the local church. I am able now to show kindness and love to the vulnerable and homeless. It doesn't cost anything but it can go a long way to change a person's life.
'I love God and I love worshipping Him with others here in West Road Church. I now see His creation with new eyes and marvel at it. One verse in the Bible which means a lot to me is; "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." This sums up what has happened to me. This is why I want to be baptized; to show that old life has finished and my new life has begun. I am excited about the future. Please pray for me in my new Christian life.'
Battiste was converted through Counties senior evangelist Victor Jack, who was brought to Justin through his parents, seeking help for their son. He described Justin's transformation: 'Since Justin's baptism he hasn't looked back. He is now clear of drugs and never misses church on Sundays, attending both the morning and evening services.
'He is actively involved in our home group, and reads his bible regularly. He has become such a positive and cheerful person. He hasn't faltered since becoming a Christian and has shared his story in several different contexts. I keep in touch with him each week.'