God often allows us to go through hard times so that we may grow and, like a rock being tumbled and polished, become shiny and smooth. His goal is for us to become such a reflection of him that he and others can see himself in us.
Sports coach Dickens grew up in a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi. His parents separated when he was eight years old, leaving his mother to raise him and his siblings alone. Eventually, the pain and pressure of single motherhood was too much for her so she took the children to their grandmother’s in desperation.
As his home life turned sour, Dickens decided that the streets were a better option for him. In just eight months, his environment turned him from a soft-spoken boy to a hardened thief.
Dickens soon progressed from a common thug to a deadly criminal. He was wanted by the police, and recalls horrific experiences running from the law. One particular run-in with a mob stands out in Dickens mind as especially traumatic.
“They were ready to lynch me — they had a rubber tire filled with petrol ready to force over me and set on fire,” Dickens remembered. “I got bruises all over my body. Thanks to God, I was narrowly rescued by police who were attracted by the commotion.”
This was his third time in the hands of a mob, and he had barely escaped death.
After Dickens appeared in court, he was remanded for a month and later put under probation because of his age, but he wasn’t yet ready to let go of his past life.
He joined a gang of youth who used guns to terrorise residents. Before long, he was arrested and found his way again to the courtroom. This time, the judge could not excuse the behaviour with anything less than jail. He was sentenced to three years. When Dickens’ mother learned about her son’s situation, she suffered a heart attack and died.
Life in jail was Dickens’ turning point. From rock bottom, he surrendered his life to Christ and was never the same. As God began shaping him, his character changed. God showed him favor before the guards who witnessed the tremendous change of events in Dickens’ life, and he became a beacon of hope to fellow inmates. Sharing his faith in prison made others rethink their own lives, and some surrendered to Christ, as well.
Dickens left jail a changed man. He was given a visitor’s permit for prisons in Kenya to encourage, mentor and counsel inmates. Then, through his local church, he had an opportunity to attend some sports ministry training offered through Sports Friends Kenya, where he was equipped to use sports to connect with and relate to young people in his neighbourhood — the same neighbourhood where he had once been a wanted criminal.
Coach Dickens has also been reconciled with his father, who had been absent in his life for 18 years. He is optimistic that God holds a bright future for him and his family, and believes God spared him for a purpose – one much greater than he could ever imagine.
Dickens’ passion for the lost was evident throughout the training, and weeks later he formed two teams. He is using the opportunity to share the gospel and his testimony — how God spared him through thick and thin so that his life could be a powerful testimony. What Dickens experienced of God’s sustaining grace and sovereignty through his own hurts and hardships, he is now able to give away in increasing measure to the youth on his teams.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18