God can forgive anyone

God can forgive anyone

God can forgive and change anyone – even murderers – as former terrorist and UVF member Bobby Mathieson found out

Bobby-picture

A former terrorist who served 14 years in prison for crimes including murder is now back behind bars – as a Christian preacher.

Bobby Mathieson was part of the notorious Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) that fought the IRA in the violent Irish fights of the 1980s. He was sentenced to life in prison but was released in 1996. He then formed his own successful business but his demons tormented him and he suffered from depression and contemplated suicide – until he found God in 2008.

Bobby, 52, is now a committed Christian who attends an Elim church, and shares his story with anyone who will listen.

This is nothing new – God changes people,” says Bobby. “The Bible is full of men like me – King David committed adultery and murder but he was the apple of God’s eye. Moses killed an Egyptian but God used him powerfully. Saul was instrumental in Stephen’s death.

“I realised that all these years I’d been believing the lie from the devil that I was beyond redemption.

Now I understand what the Bible says in Romans 10:13, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of God will be saved.’ Every single one of us is undeserving of his grace, but that’s the type of God we serve.

“The last thing I wanted to do was go near a prison but there is one just down the road from the church so I’ve set up a football team and we’re making connections. I share my testimony in schools, churches, coffee shops – anywhere that will let me.

“I now know that there’s no other way to be saved but through Jesus Christ. When I was at my lowest point and wanted to end it all, I got on my knees and said sorry to God for all that I’d done – and that’s when I knew I was forgiven. If God can forgive me then there’s hope for anybody.”

Bobby joined the UVF at the tender age of 18 when the fighting in Ireland was at its worst. “I’d grown up playing with people from across the community – Catholic or not. Then The Troubles kicked in and everything changed,” he recalls. “People were throwing petrol bombs and burning families out of their homes.

“I’d moved to East Belfast and was playing for a pub football team there. These guys were all older and they were drinking and fighting and I thought it was great. It suited my teenage mindset.

“All these guys were caught up in The Troubles. This was when the hunger strikes were on in the prisons so it was all over the news. Politicians were always on the TV saying the IRA were destroying the country. They were saying that we needed to fight. Well I was a fighter – I did a bit of a boxing – so I joined the UVF.”

Two years later, Bobby and six others were arrested and faced ten murder charges between them. Unfazed by his crimes, Bobby saw himself as a soldier in battle and his crimes as acts of war.

“Six of us were charged and there were ten murder charges along with hundreds of others for shootings, robberies and everything you could think of,” he says. “When we got charged, there was no remorse because in our eyes, we defended Ulster and were fighting for our country – that was our mentality.”

After two-and-a-half years on remand, Bobby and his fellow terrorists were sentenced to life in prison and were moved to the notorious Maze Prison in Belfast.

Bobby was able to access drugs on the inside but, perhaps surprisingly, he also started to attend church there.

“We all went to church because it was a meeting place. We had respect for the pastor but it went in one ear and out the other.

“My mind started to tell me what a rotten person I was and I’d run over and over all the bad things I’d done. I became convinced that I was transparent and that everybody could see all the bad things I’d done.”

Unable to cope with the severity of his crimes, Bobby was referred to the prison psychiatric ward following a failed suicide attempt.

“Two Christian women used to write to me,” he recalls. “I thought I’d lost my soul and it was irretrievable but these women writing to me gave me a hope that maybe there was a chance for me. So I started praying to God.

“Then one of the women wrote to me and said that God would not condemn me. They talked me out of my suicidal thoughts and after two years I was put back into a cell.”

After 14 years in prison, Bobby was released in 1994 – to a surprising reception. “I didn’t know how much I was respected by the UVF until I got out and they threw me a huge party,” he says. “But I was like a zombie. I was convinced that there was a big conspiracy against me and that they all wanted to kill me.”

Aware of his breakdown in prison, the UVF backed off Bobby and he eventually settled down to a normal life.

Bobby-with-his-family-today

A skilled joiner, he set up his own business and married Alison, who already had two children, and they then went on to have three kids of their own. But Bobby couldn’t escape his crimes.

“We had a big house, a nice car and holidayed twice a year and I’d left the paramilitary world,” he says. “Word had spread that I’d gone mad so they were happy to let me go.

“To everyone on the outside it seemed that I was making a success of my life. People were always saying to me that I’d done so well and that I should be proud of what I’d achieved.

“But in my own mind I knew that there was a God and that I’d rejected Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. Every day I would pray and ask God to give me a chance, but I just couldn’t get over what I’d done.”

Then, in 2008, Bobby’s suicidal thoughts returned.

“I started believing that my wife and children hated me,” he explains. “My mind was showing me what a horrible person I was and telling me that I was going to infect my kids and the only way to stop this happening was to kill myself.”

Desperate, Bobby’s wife rang the church minister who had married them, David Beckett, of Bangor Elim.

“He came to see me and told me that if I took my own life, my children would never get over it,” Bobby says. “I fell on my knees in front of my wife and children and cried out to God. I apologised for not accepting Jesus as my Lord and Saviour and for all the things I’d done wrong.”

Bobby has grown in his Christian walk and is now confident in sharing his faith with others. Pastor David told Direction, “I am so privileged and blessed to count Bobby and his wife Alison and their family as good friends. They are so much an important part of the Bangor Elim Church.

“Bobby Mathieson is the most genuine and authentic Christian I know. He lives out his faith every day.

“In his job as a floor layer, Bobby never fails to share his miraculous testimony in his own inimitable way and has been the catalyst for many people coming to faith in Jesus.

“With his time in prison and his involvement in the Northern Ireland Troubles as a paramilitary, God has opened so many doors for Bobby – not least going into prisons and Young Offenders’ Centres.

“He also speaks to his former combatants and those younger guys contemplating going down the road Bobby took. He shows them a better way.”

 

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