From Hatred to Happiness

September 02, 2019

Garfield was headed down a dangerous path. Then he prayed a life-changing prayer.

By Garfield Charles

I

n my early years, I was known as a problem child. It seemed I was always getting into trouble. While still a boy, my grandmother told me, “If you don’t change, you’re not going to live long.” If God had not intervened, I know she would have been right, because I have seen what happened to the people I ran with back then. Some of them were shot to death and some were stabbed, and others are now incarcerated. One of my cousins seemed to disappear, but eventually his body was discovered burned up in a car. The parents of two of my friends never even got to bury their children—their bodies were never found. When we were younger, these people were better behaved than me, so I know where I was heading. If not dead, I would be in jail for murdering somebody because of the hatred and anger that was in my heart.

When I was two years old, my mother moved to St. Thomas and left me in St. Kitts to live with my grandmother, in a home where some uncles, aunts, and cousins were also living. There were some nominal Christian churches on the island, but there was almost no understanding of the Gospel in our home. The only small encounter I had with the Christian faith was that every night, my grandmother would open her Bible to a psalm and set it by the front door to keep evil spirits from coming into our house. We never read the Bible, we just set it by the door at night.

My aunts and uncles drank alcohol regularly, and I would see the bad effects of it. Once, one of my aunts was fighting with her boyfriend, and she threw an enamel cup that hit my sister in the forehead, knocking her down and causing her to bleed profusely. Children should not be around that type of behavior. I don’t know what role those events played in shaping the person I was becoming, but it could not have been good.

Sometimes I felt I was mistreated because my parents were not around to take care of me. My aunts and uncles had their own children to look after, so I was left to my grandmother, but to me it seemed she loved the others more than she loved me. If the cousins were ever given anything, I would get the worst one. When the dog made a mess in the house, I had to clean it up. Many times I was punished for things I didn’t do, and even if the adults later found out the truth, there was never an apology for having punished me wrongly. That treatment bred resentment in me, and I began to withdraw into myself.

Although my mom loved her children, I was convinced she did not like me and did not want me around. I felt rejected on all sides, constantly hearing that I was no good.

During my growing up years, I never knew my father, and although my mom loved her children, I was convinced she did not like me and did not want me around. I felt rejected on all sides, constantly hearing that I was no good. When your grandma says you are not worth anything, and even your mom seems to agree, who is left?

At a very young age I became filled with a spirit of anger, and started running with some of the older kids in the neighborhood who were a bad influence on me. On a number of occasions I nearly died, and one time I was hit by a speeding car and people actually thought I had died. Somehow I always managed to scrape by. I got into fights a lot. I would fight anyone—even if the person was three times my size. My mother would later say that if I couldn’t fight someone hand-to-hand, I would get a weapon. Yet, I never thought I was the problem. To me, it was the other people who were the problem.

My grandma and aunts and uncles struggled to control me, but they didn’t know how. Before I was even a teenager, I got in trouble for destroying a neighbor’s property, and my grandmother was told that a police report would be filed against me. At that point, she became exasperated and gave up on me. She put me on a plane to go live with my mother in St. Thomas. But soon after I arrived, my mother had enough of me too, and she wanted to send me back to my grandmother. As a child, it was tough to know that no one wanted me. It only fed the anger and hatred I had inside.

At my mom’s home in St. Thomas, we had neighbors who attended the Apostolic Faith Church. My sister started going with them to Sunday school, and the church workers would try to get my brother and me to go along too. My mother was agreeable to it because she was raising us by herself and that was a way for her to have a break from us for a while, so at the age of twelve I started going to Sunday school.

I had doubts about whether the Gospel was true and if it could really work for me, but I wanted my life to change and decided to give my life to God. I did not know what would happen, and to me it almost felt like a challenge for God: “Let’s see what You can do with me!”

We had a good teacher who would explain the Bible stories and their meanings, and at the end of each class he would always ask if any of us wanted to pray to accept Jesus as our personal Savior. Less than a year after we started Sunday school, the Lord convicted me through one of the lessons. When we were invited to pray there was a spiritual battle going on in my heart. I had doubts about whether the Gospel was true and if it could really work for me, but I wanted my life to change and decided to give my life to God. I did not know what would happen, and to me it almost felt like a challenge for God: “Let’s see what You can do with me!” I invited God into my life and He saved me that day. Later I found out that my brother had also decided to pray, and he was saved the same morning.

At that time I had so much anger in my heart, yet when the Lord forgave my sins and showed me His love, it allowed me to love. In time, God began sorting out what was wrong in my life and showing me the right way to live. One of the biggest changes I saw after receiving salvation was that I immediately loved being in church. I was still withdrawn and antisocial at that point, so as soon as church ended, I was gone! But the Lord dealt with me about that and helped me become functional in social situations, and soon I became friends with the young people at church. Today some even describe me as a gregarious person, but I know that is only because of what God has done. In so many ways, God made me into a completely different person than who I was before.

As I continued going to church, I became passionate about the Gospel, and at that time in St. Thomas there was a whole group of young people who felt the same way. Perhaps the fact that some of us hadn’t grown up in Christian homes helped us to cherish what we had found in the Lord—we did not take it for granted. We immersed ourselves in the Scriptures and found that the more we opened up to God, the more He drew us to Himself. As we began to understand the Bible and what the Gospel is all about, we thought, Wow! This is amazing! We would memorize whole chapters and even books of the Bible because we loved it so much. We would be at church every time the doors were open—sometimes we were the ones opening the doors! It was a wonderful time and this went on for several years.

When I was fifteen years old we went on a church beach trip for the Fourth of July and the beach was full because of the holiday. With all the activities going on, no one around noticed when I started struggling in the water, but God did. After I went under for what I thought would be the last time, a young man walking along the street just happened to see me. He dove in and pulled me out, but by the time he reached me I was at the bottom of the bay, unconscious and with no breath in me. They had to pump water out of my lungs and literally breathe life back into me, and I spent two weeks recovering in a hospital afterwards. Once again my life had slipped away, but God gave it back. That incident made me trust God even more, realizing that He always sees me and is in control.

Where I lived there are a lot of hills, and in the summertime I would often trek up there with my Bible and spend time alone with God. It was such a special time of communion between me and the Lord, and the Spirit would fall as I read the Word and prayed.

The hunger in my heart for God continued, and it led me to totally surrender myself to Him. I started to understand what the Bible means when it speaks of “dying daily.” Where I lived there are a lot of hills, and in the summertime I would often trek up there with my Bible and spend time alone with God. It was such a special time of communion between me and the Lord, and the Spirit would fall as I read the Word and prayed. It was beautiful. I don’t remember the exact date that God sanctified me, but it was in one of the many prayer meetings when I was seeking God and He was pouring out His blessing. He drew me even closer to Himself, and then the things of the world that had been appealing in the past didn’t appeal to me anymore. I felt such fervency for the Gospel—I just wanted everyone to know that the Gospel is something great.

In 1981, when I was seventeen years old, I was seeking for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, so I would get up very early in the morning to go out into the hills with my Bible. As I read the Scriptures, God met me there and baptized me with the Holy Ghost. It was so glorious.

Our group of young people continued to encourage each other in the Lord, to the point that we affected the whole community in St. Thomas, getting teens from off the streets in our neighborhood to come to church with us. I was about seventeen years old when I got my driver’s license and started taking a church van to pick up people for services and do Gospel work. Sometimes we would be out all night ministering to young converts—and get eaten alive by mosquitos while doing it! But we didn’t care because we were having a good time in the Lord. We would call our own fasts and hold all-night prayer vigils. All we wanted was to seek God and to talk about what He was doing, about the Scriptures, and what Heaven would be like. It was a joyous time.

My mom was saved after some of my siblings and I had been saved. She moved to New York two years before I graduated, so I lived with my brothers and sisters for those years. There was no parental supervision, but once the Lord had saved us, my mom didn’t have to worry about us anymore. I did very well in school and didn’t get into any trouble, which had been inescapable before.

When I graduated in 1982, I was planning to move to Oklahoma where my brother lived, but first I went to New York to visit my mother. I had made some friends at the church in Brooklyn because a group of them had come to St. Thomas in 1980. It was about the time of the youth conference when I visited, so I stayed for the conference, and it felt like a great reunion to be with those friends again. At that time, the Lord showed me that He had a different plan for my future and I ended up staying in New York.

We seemed destined for disaster, but God redirected our path and He has put joy in our hearts.

After living in New York for a while, I met my future wife when we were both attending the camp meeting in Century, Florida, and we married in 1989. God has blessed us with four children who love the Lord, and it makes my heart so glad when I see them grasping the Gospel. I just thank God that my family found the truth and that He made a beautiful transformation in our lives. All my siblings profess faith in Christ as their personal Savior and that makes me happy as well, and my mother and one of my sisters are already in Heaven. We seemed destined for disaster, but God redirected our path and He has put joy in our hearts.

Sometimes when I think about all God has done in my life, it brings tears to my eyes. But I remember a time when I couldn’t cry. At a very young age I had shut off my emotions, and that is so frightening. I definitely was capable of killing someone, but for the change God made.

Today, I can say that the Lord has brought me a mighty long way, and I feel that if God could save me, He can save anyone. Many of my old friends and loved ones have not turned their lives over to God, and I have seen the suffering it has caused. In the last seven years or so, three young men in my family have died violently. Yet God has impressed on me the promise from Psalm 91:8, “Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.” I do not feel that I have done anything special to deserve what God has done for me—I am no better than anyone else. Yet, God chose me and called me to be saved, and I responded to His call. I am thankful for the opportunity He has given me, and I want to continue to serve Him for the rest of my life.

About the author

Garfield Charles is a minister of the Apostolic Faith Church at 265 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.