Telling Stories: Finding God Amongst Poverty and Addiction

Neill Shaw May 11, 2024 4 0
Telling Stories: Finding God Amongst Poverty and Addiction

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Telling Stories: Finding God Amongst Poverty and Addiction

by Neil Shaw


In the first of this new blog series, Neil Shaw hears Andrew’s story of coming to faith despite being surrounded by an enviroment of poverty, crime, and addiction. Throughout this series we will be hearing the challenging and unexpected stories of real people and how they came to encounter God, and find their faith, at the point where they needed it most. For the sake of discretion and safeguarding, the names of the people that we have spoken to, in some cases, have been changed. 


It was only a short drive to the coast, where I had planned to meet Andrew, but the high winds and torrential rain made the journey a cautious one. It took me longer to get there than I anticipated. Andrew was standing outside the church building waiting (hopefully he hadn’t been there too long) – he was waving and smiling.

After a coffee, we found a comfy place in the church’s prayer room and I told Andrew my mission:

“I want to collect as many stories from Priority Areas as I can. Stories of lives and communities that have been transformed by the love of Jesus, demonstrated through the presence and service of the local church. There is power in these stories and people need to hear them.

So, begin wherever you like and go from there.” Andrew told me his story:


“I was brought up in a Christian household – not the Church of Scotland, a different denomination. Church was fine growing up, I thought it was ok. Looking back now I realise that it wasn’t. I’ve been left with what you could describe as ‘religious trauma’ – the people, maybe they didn’t mean it, but it was controlling, it wasn’t good. Not for me anyway.

I met my wife was in the church though, that was good. But our marriage had issues; I made mistakes and it led to us separating for eighteen months.  I began drinking heavily in this period and it became the main force in my life. This was pivotal.

Looking back on that time, it was like a big pause button had been pressed, everything good stopped when I drank. It literally robbed me of my dreams. I spent seventeen years in alcohol and depression, getting arrested, ending up in hospital – all that. I lost my way. I was drifting. If I wasn’t recovering from drinking, I was drinking.

I wasn’t attending church, in fact I would tell people that if anyone believed in that stuff they were mad. In reality, I was the one with mental health issues, depression, alcoholism; I was self-harming, attempting suicide.

Minimum alcohol pricing came in and I couldn’t afford booze anymore. So, I started to steal it. I went from a good job with an office in Glasgow and in Edinburgh, working in the parliament, to shoplifting for drink.

I was crashing cars, getting arrested; my wife and family stood by me and watched on. I was a mess and I pretty much drove our family to bankruptcy. I eventually came to terms with the fact I had an alcohol problem. I realised I needed to stop and I wanted to stop. But I couldn’t stop. That was the scariest things I’ve ever been through. Realising something else was controlling my life. I was sabotaging my own recovery because something else had a hold of me. I would keep relapsing. I knew I needed to change but I couldn’t.

We were using foodbanks because we had no money. We got given a car and I crashed it – it was a disaster. I knew I needed something to change so I prayed to God, I wasn’t sure if I believed but I asked him to show Himself. There were a series of events after I prayed that – He did show Himself. I don’t want to go into what happened exactly, but suffice to say, it was just too spooky. It had to be God.

I started going back to the type of church I had grown up in – my wife was going there, so that made sense but I wasn’t really comfortable. I was also going to another church every Sunday – one in the morning, one in the evening. I was trying to immerse myself in it as much as possible. But I kept relapsing. I had made one step in the right direction but hadn’t really fixed anything.

I was invited along to this Church by a family friend who was speaking one evening. There was food and music and what he had to say meant something to me, so I kept coming back. The whole while, though, I was still a nightmare – hot and cold: passionate about God one minute, out drinking the next. I would come into church hungover or drunk. But I was more at home in this church than before. It was probably another step in the right direction, but I was still all over the place.

I ended up getting arrested. I was involved in an incident in a pub. I spent the night in the police cells and it was strange, I felt like I had ruined everything and was suicidal, but somehow at the same time, I felt at peace, I actually felt safe. I think God needed to take me out of my circumstances for that short while and let me see what I had become.

After coming out of the cells, something changed. I went to AA and I haven’t had a drink since. I’ve been sober for five years.

It’s like I’ve been given a new life for an old one. I’ve found it here at Church. I had been such a mess. The Christians who raised me had rejected me when I stepped out of line and I expected this Church to reject me because I didn’t ‘fit the mould’, but they never did. They kept loving me. People in the church took me on, they stuck with me. It was amazing.

Five months later, I was in front of the sheriff for the pub thing. He wanted to send me to jail. The Church here has a connection with the community service team, which led to the option of community service instead of a custodial sentence. I did my community service in the church here. I got to know the people; it was beautiful. That was when I got in with the bricks.

At church, I came face-to-face with myself. When I come to Church, I meet with God, yes, but I also meet with myself – my prejudice, jealousy and judgement. I have found a servant mindset like Jesus had – this is vital to belonging.

I love reading my bible. It’s been prolific – Gospels and Paul every day. As I did this more, I wanted to be a mature Christian so I started looking for people who demonstrated what St. Paul talks about. So, I found those people and did whatever they did – volunteering at all sorts of projects, just to be around and to imitate these people. As I watched them, I saw how they interacted with life, how they reacted to situations and I copied them and things changed for me. I just copied them.

I began to understand how accepted I am by God and how deeply acceptable I am to Him. The Holy Spirit helped me realise there is always another chance, it’s never the end – that’s crazy!

This is precious and I’ve just learned to let go and enjoy it: be led by God and go with it. The people here are honest and open and showed me that I didn’t need to get it all right. The community here are just normal people. They aren’t trying to be Christians, they are simply Christians.

If you told me five years ago that one of my best pals would be a minister, I’d never have believed you. Lives change.

People who live in places like this, amongst poverty and addiction and all that, when they come through the doors of churches, they are damaged. But all of them are people who God loves. He can change those lives like he changed mine. I try to accept and welcome people exactly as they are. It’s not easy, but that’s what God did with me.

You won’t be long with me until Jesus gets a mention because he’s absolutely central to everything that I do. I’ve found Jesus but I’ve also found a community. This community demonstrated the love of Jesus to me. I was loved and accepted back to life by people in the church, even, in fact especially, when I was being incredibly difficult to love. That demonstration changed things for me, my wife and the weans. I won’t always get it right, but Jesus loves me.

I think the main thing I want to say is it’s a long time since I felt lonely, and I used to feel lonely all the time. Now I’m not lonely. I’m not alone – it’s the best!

The change in me has brought a change for my wife and for my weans. The biggest change for them is they know where I am; I have become trustworthy; it’s God who has transformed me in that way. I wanted to be like that my whole marriage, but was unable to. Now I am like that. I don’t have to keep track of my personalities anymore – I’m not living a lie. The only thing I’ve done is that I’ve started following the Lord Jesus.

My wife and me, we’ve participated in transformation. God has transformed us both. When I read the bible now and see people whose lives Jesus touched, I see me. That’s my story!

It’s not all been easy – we’ve had to work at it and work with people to help us but having the community here for us is amazing. We’re doing brilliant.

For the future, I have ideas and plans. I’m studying. I am learning to be worship leader here at church. But more than anything, it’s about the journey. I’m just keeping going, being open and taking each day at a time.”


After our meeting, as Andrew and I went our separate ways, I realised the rain had stopped and the sky had brightened a bit; the storm had passed. There was surface water on the roads and the journey home was far from straightforward, but the road was much safer now the torrents had ceased and the sun was shining.


Do you have a story of coming to faith that you would like to share? Get In Touch