HomeOpinionOpinionTale of two disciples — Charles Gardner

Tale of two disciples — Charles Gardner

 
Charles running

The author completes a 10K trail in the grounds of Yorkshire’s Castle Howard, one of England’s most treasured stately homes. (PHOTO: Linda Gardner)

Rocky turns to the Rock, and runner finds a new direction

I never expected to have something in common with tough-guy movie star Sylvester Stallone. But it turns out that — in more ways than one — we have walked the same path!

Both of us have slept at a bus stop at a rough stage of our lives, and we are both now following Jesus as the Rock (foundation) of our lives (Psalm 18:2).

In the case of the ‘Italian Stallion’, the journey from bus terminal to rediscovered faith took him many years; for me it took just seven days.

Disillusionment and desperation
Star of the Rocky and Rambo series of movies, Stallone was raised a Christian, but the divorce of his parents when he was just nine contributed to his disillusionment and, by the age of 24, he was sleeping rough and no longer living a Christian life. In desperation, he accepted an acting role in a soft-core porn movie for just $200.

“It was either do that movie or rob someone, because I was at the end — the very end — of my rope,” he told Pat Robertson on the 700 Club. He subsequently landed a number of minor roles before finally hitting the big time with the 1976 blockbuster Rocky — the story of an underdog boxer who became an American hero.

“All of a sudden you’re given the keys to the candy store and temptation abounds, and then I began to believe my own publicity … I just lost my way.”

Prodigal son experience
Two failed marriages followed as, by his own account, he was on a downward slope for twelve years until he finally had a prodigal son experience — referring to Jesus’ parable of the man who squandered his inheritance in wayward living, but whose father still welcomed him home with open arms.

“…I realised it had to stop. I had to get back to basics and take things out of my own hands and put [my life] in God’s hands.”

Now he says: “The more I go to church and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to his word and having him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now. The church is the gym of the soul. You cannot train yourself. You need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else.”

He is now happily married to Jennifer Flavin, with whom he has three daughters.

Stallone

Sylvester Stallone, with his wife, Jennifer Flavin, and their daughters Scarlet, Sistine, and Sophia at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and InStyle’s Celebration of the 2017 Golden Globe Awards Season November 10 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (PHOTO: Charley Gallay)

Stranded and disconsolate
Like Stallone, I also once slept rough at a bus stop. It was in Edinburgh, Scotland, and my raincoat didn’t provide much protection from a cold May wind. A train strike had left me stranded. I had a return ticket to London, but that was all — apart from 90p (less than a pound), just enough for a bite to eat. The station was closed, and even the police refused to put me up for the night! It was May 13 1972 and I was already pretty disconsolate after failing to finish a marathon for the first and only time. At 22 miles it seemed that I was stopped in my tracks as I ‘hit the wall’, as they say, unable to continue.

So being homeless (admittedly for one night only) contributed to a downward mood spiral. Of course I hardly slept, and was very cold. But I survived to tell the tale and when, within a week, a Christian friend challenged me over whether I had ever seriously considered the gospel of how Jesus came to give us new life, I had a very real sense that my life was going nowhere.

So when Brian quoted these words of Jesus, I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full, (John 10:10) I was ready to hear that, and act upon it. I gave my life to Christ that night — May 20 1972 — and opened the door of my heart to him. He has since been with me through thick and thin, and my life has been a fantastic adventure.

I am so thankful for the road to nowhere, for the train that didn’t run and for the bus stop that wasn’t much of a shelter, but awakened my soul to a new beginning, and a greater reality.

Nearly 15 years later, I had one of many opportunities to follow Brian’s example by encouraging another despairing soul to become a disciple of Jesus.

God of all comfort
It is now 30 years since the Zeebrugge disaster, when the Dover-bound Herald of Free Enterprise ferry sank in the Belgian harbour with the loss of 193 lives. It is obviously a tragic memory for relatives of the victims, but I trust that some of them will have reached out for solace from the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3), as did a young man I met at the time.

I was editor of the Goole Times, based at the East Yorkshire port on the Humber estuary, and had called in at a pub for refreshment before resuming my long hours getting copy ready for the press.

I got into conversation with a ‘drunken sailor’ who, it turned out, was drowning his sorrows after losing colleagues at Zeebrugge. He was very open and responsive as I shared the gospel story of how Jesus brings comfort to all who seek him. He realised how easily it could have been him — not his friends — having his life cut short by the tragedy caused by failure to close the stern doors (for car access), as a result of which the boat capsized.

I could see that he was ready to make his peace with God, so we retreated to my office, where he fell to his knees and prayed, with my help, as he tearfully asked Jesus to be his Lord and Saviour.

He was from Dover, and we lost touch, but I sensed that tragedy had turned to triumph for him as he set out on a new life with God at the helm.

 

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About the author

Charles Gardner, 67, is a former Assistant London Editor of the South African Press Association, working for them in Fleet Street throughout the late 1970s before moving to Yorkshire, where he has lived for the past 37 years while working in various senior editorial capacities for a number of newspapers. He has also launched several Christian publications. Born in Cape Town, Charles grew up in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, and was educated at St Andrew's College, Grahamstown. He is married to Linda, 59, who teaches Christianity and Judaism in primary schools, and has four children and nine grandchildren.

 

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