Growing up in South Africa in a non-Christian family, I did not hear the gospel until I was in my late teens. My mother had passed away suddenly when I was around eight years old, and this impacted our family deeply. My father struggled to cope with the loss and grief, becoming depressed and suicidal. My brothers and I were left to manage life on our own as our father threw himself into his work, often extending his 3:00pm-midnight shift, working seven days a week. Sometimes I did not see him for days on end, as he would be sleeping when I left for school and gone to work before I came home.
My two brothers and I fought a lot—verbally and physically. Being the youngest, I was often their combined target, and the one who usually came off second-best! Due to a lack of parental oversight, I was introduced to house-parties, hard liquor, immoral and undesirable activities from an early age. This lifestyle had to be kept hidden from our father who had a violent temper and a to-be-feared leather strap. So, I was careful to keep up a good outward facade, but inwardly I became sad, lonely, and depressed, feeling empty, guilty, and ugly.
To be sure, there were many good moments and pleasant experiences in my life too. But life seemed to me to be a mess of confusing contradictions, a weird mixture of good and bad, right and wrong, a complicated web of competing urges and desires.
On July 11, 1975, I hit rock bottom, and went down to the beach to end my life. Death seemed a better prospect than the pain and heartache I was experiencing. But God had a different plan. My life did end that day—but not in the way I expected!
A lady and her grandson were at the beach, sheltering from the wind under a bridge where the river flowed into the ocean. It was an unpleasant, blustery day and she had not wanted to go to the beach, but her little grandson had been very persistent. She was surprised, as he normally was a compliant, obedient child. It suddenly occurred to her that it could be “of the Lord” that they should go; perhaps there was someone with whom she was to share the gospel. However, at the beach, she began to wonder if she had been mistaken as there was no one else around on that cold, windy afternoon.
Suddenly she noticed a lonely figure walk across the railroad tracks, onto the beach, some distance away. The person walked slowly toward the ocean, hesitated, and then waded out into the waves. Something was not right! This was not a designated swimming beach, there were no shark-nets here, and the ocean was far too rough. She began praying on behalf of this unknown stranger.
Meanwhile, as I swam out, above the noise of the wind and waves there came a voice calling my name—urgently and persistently—Peter, Peter! It was commanding and compelling. I turned and swam back to the shore. Stumbling out of the waves and onto the beach I looked about and wondered who had called. There was no one in sight. “I must be losing my mind,” I thought. “What is going on? What made me come back?”
Questions and hard thoughts tumbled through my confused mind as I stood wet and shivering with the waves splashing at my feet. The shrill, sad cry of a seagull overhead cut through my thoughts and echoed my feelings of emptiness and loneliness. In a daze, I began to wander aimlessly along the beach, feeling more and more desperate with every step. At one point, I looked back at my own footprints in the sand, and it seemed an omen that I could never escape my past with all my failings, guilt, and sadness. My soul was heavy and hopeless.
Suddenly there was another voice, a woman’s voice, calling out and interrupting my misery. “Hello! Hello there!” I was in no frame of mind for meeting or talking to a stranger, but she quickly and skillfully engaged in conversation, moving from small talk to sharing her testimony and the gospel of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. The Lord guided what she said, for though we had never met, and she knew nothing about me, her words zeroed in specifically on many of my inner thoughts and struggles. Sensing God at work in me, she gently asked, “Would you like to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior?” I knelt in the beach sand under that bridge, weeping and confessing my sin and need, and asking Jesus to save me and give me a fresh start in life. At that moment, my life as it had been, ended, and a new life in Christ began! “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).
I had no knowledge of the Bible at all but began to read the Bible and gradually learned more of how lost I truly had been, and in what a sinful, ungodly state, and eternal danger my soul had been. The truths of salvation in Jesus Christ—forgiveness, cleansing, redemption, reconciliation, eternal life, peace with God—became more and more precious! As the years have gone by, I have learned to increasingly appreciate the wonders of God’s grace, love, and mercy, and to marvel at His infinite patience with the likes of one such as I.
After completing high school, I enrolled in university to study the sciences with a view to becoming a schoolteacher. I was very privileged to be in an evangelical church which was diligent in discipling their young people. It was a blessing (greater than what I realised at the time) to be invited to become part of a group of ten people, engaged in an extended in-house training program learning the basics of how to study, understand, interpret, and proclaim the Word of God.
Toward the end of my first year of university, the Lord clearly laid a call upon my life to abandon further secular education and prepare for ministry in the Word of God. I transferred to Bible College in Cape Town, spending three years there. Shortly thereafter an offer came which I could not refuse. I was conscripted for two years mandatory military service. In many ways it was a rough and difficult time, but nevertheless, in His goodness the Lord not only allowed it to be a time of spiritual growth and challenge, but also of witness and testimony.
After the military, I served the Lord in a downtown church in Cape Town. During this time, a relationship was begun with a beautiful young lady, Dorothy Gammon (daughter of assembly missionaries, Walter and Anne Gammon). In 1984 I left South Africa to pursue further theological studies. Returning to South Africa, Dorothy and I were married in August 1987. We came to Canada “temporarily” in the spring of 1988. Thirty-five years later, we are still here by God’s will and design.
Our Heavenly Father blessed us with eight children (one in glory). We regard each one as a precious gift from the Lord, and they have been—and are—such a joy to us. And now we have the delight of five grandchildren as well. We have been highly privileged to minister among the assemblies mainly in Ontario, but also the Maritimes and occasionally out west. The 16 years of teaching at Kawartha Lakes Bible College, Peterborough, were enriching and challenging, and since 2010 we have enjoyed directing the ministry of the Emmaus Correspondence Centre, Canada. How thrilling to teach and proclaim the truth of God’s Word, and to see the Sword of the Spirit at work in people’s lives, convicting and converting, challenging and comforting, lifting up Jesus Christ and leading souls to Him.
We serve the Best of Masters. We are weak, but He is strong. Apart from Him we can do nothing, yet we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. To God be the glory!