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CBN.com James Tate, of Belfast, Northern Ireland grew up with the attitudes and sectarian biases of most in his loyalist neighborhood.
“I joined the orange order,” he says. “Orange order is a protestant organization who would parade and show dominance that they won a battle against the Roman Catholics.”
It was during the civil rights movement of the 1960s that the Irish Republican Army — known as the IRA — came back into prominence. Their terrorist campaign of bombing in protestant neighborhoods intensified James’ anti-Catholic sentiment.
“What probably put me over the edge was a bomb went off in my area, and I made my mind up,” he says. “I wanted to do something about this.”
James and other like-minded men decided that it was time for organized opposition to the IRA They named themselves after the historic Ulster Volunteer Force or UVF for short. Now when the IRA attacked the UVF struck back.
“We went on and left a bomb or we went out and shot someone. We swore that we were going to hit them harder than they hit us. I’ve done many things. I wouldn’t even start to get into them.”
At that time, James and his wife Pauline were expecting a baby. But, what happened next was unexpected.
“The army came to my home and beat the door down. I had five guns in the house, a couple thousand rounds of ammunition, a lot of other stuff. So, I was made. I was caught.”
James was sentenced to five years and sent to maze prison’s H block for terrorists.
“I was commander of the UVF this time in prison. But I was doing my time with the hardest. Fellows in my compound were members of the Shankhill Butchers, men who had cut people’s throats -- innocent people’s throats.”
The beatings and murders inside prison began to eat away at James. He wanted to get out of the UVF, but since he was their leader, he was trapped.
“And I say, ‘Lord, what have I got myself in?’ I realized that maybe if I get out of prison, I’m going to get out of all this.”
Once he was released from prison, James stayed away from the UVF but, they came looking for him.
“They come around my door and asked me to come back again as being commander. I said no. They walked away, and they came back and gave me a gun. They were going to shoot me. I said no. They turned and walked away. They didn’t come back. That was a miracle. I was out of it. They let me go.”
James he was out of the UVF, but he was also still out of work. He went to a mission church to find work and was given a job in maintenance. Even though he stayed away from the church’s services, he couldn’t help noticing how they ministered to the street people in the community.
“Alcoholics would have come in, and they’re stinking. They smell -- their wine bottles in their pockets and all. They would have cleaned them up and would give them clothes. They were giving them a meal and a couple of pounds in their pockets. I just said to myself, ‘If this is Christianity, I like it.’”
One of the workers at the church struck up a relationship with James.
“This fellow was Roman Catholic, he worked in this protestant church, and I didn’t realize that. He started telling me about Christ.”
His new friend invited James and his wife to a large Christian gathering. One of the speakers caught James’ attention.
“This fellow come on called Nicky Cruz. He started to talk about the times he was involved with gangs, prostitution, drugs, and attempted murders. I looked at this fellow, and I said, ‘Goodness gracious. This fellow is as bad as I am.’ Then he started to talk about Christ. And when he started to talk about Christ, I broke. I realized that’s what I wanted. I wanted Christ in my life. I wanted to be forgiven. I wanted to be forgiven for the things I done.
“He says, ‘I bet your god would never forget what I done. Not only does God forgive you, He forgets about your sins.’ That’s what I wanted.
“I gave my life to the Lord that night. That was 16 years ago, and when I recovered from that after about half an hour, I realized my wife had come to the Lord too. So the two of us walked out of that church giving our lives to the Lord.
“Thank God there was Christian people who came into our lives. We needed that. We needed people who had been on the road for awhile. We started to going to Bible classes, read Bible stories and then we realized what the whole thing was about. I realized about Christ and what He really meant, what He came and He gave Himself on the cross for me, a sinner.”
When his son got older and became aware of Northern Ireland’s troubles, he started asking James questions about his paramilitary past.
“He looked up to me as if someone who was a hero. I told him I was no hero. I told him I was no good; that was past. He heeded me, and he didn’t go in anything.”
James now works as the reconciliation officer for Divine Healing Ministries in Belfast. Believers of all backgrounds work together through prayer, counseling, and public speaking to bring the message of God’s love and forgiveness for all of the people of Northern Ireland. For James, it’s a privilege to tell others about the God who stepped in and saved his life.
“It was just like you’re heading towards death and someone saved you; someone pulled you back from the pits, and said, ‘I’ll give you a second chance.’”
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