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Finding redemption after a criminal sentence

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I knew by the faces of the two customs guards they had found me out. As they walked swiftly toward me, I thought, “God has finally put an end to it.”

My life had always been carefree. My parents modelled their love of God through service to church and love for people. I was never the popular kid in church or school, but I scraped by.

After moving to a rural area, my family made East Aldergrove MB Church (now Ross Road Community Church), Abbotsford, B.C. their church home because I said I liked the youth group. With no true friendships and more poor grades at my new school, youth group was the highlight of my week. It was a chance to spend time with Christian friends, and be spurred on to a relationship with God.

Distracted from Christ

I had accepted Christ as a child, but had no active relationship with him. School friends squelched the desire to have what my church friends had, replacing it with distractions and trouble. Seeing my attitude change in public school, my parents enrolled me in Mennonite Education Institute (MEI). I felt accepted at MEI, and my relationship with God began to flourish.

As I prepared for graduation, I had no idea of how to attain my goal of becoming a stuntman. The front door to the stunt union seemed closed, so I looked for a back door – and found one.

Training animals for film gave me the possibility of doing stunts with them, which would get me into the union. I cleaned cages and fed animals, working for free to gain experience. Eventually, work trickled in – but only enough to pay down debt, never enough to get ahead.

Working six days a week and taking Sundays off to be at church, I got so busy that eventually I stopped going to worship services. I justified missing church by reading my Bible – until that stopped, too.

During this deviation from church my morals started to slide. Saying things I never used to say, in relationships that were unholy, I placed other things before God.

Opportunity knocks

I was broke, so when the opportunity arose to make a lot of money transporting drugs across the border, it was easy to convince myself that smuggling drugs wasn’t too bad.

As I made more trips across the border, they got easier and bigger. Soon, my debts were paid off and I was continuing out of soaring greed and pride. It was so easy – why stop? Who was I hurting, anyhow?

Despite my actions, my girlfriend Petina and I were going to a couples Bible study and I was playing guitar on a Sunday worship team. But I didn’t have room in my life for God; I was simply pretending.

I told Petina what I was doing – because subconsciously I wanted her to stop me – but I convinced her the drug-runs were safe. Only three more trips before I’d have my desired amount of money, and could stop for good. With two trips to go, I felt convicted by God, but suppressed it. On my next trip, customs nailed me.

As they placed me in a holding cell for questioning, they asked if I needed anything. I requested they find my Bible in my bag. This was between God and me, and I immediately took the opportunity to square my life up.

Guilty as charged

I was arrested, pleaded guilty, was convicted, and sentenced to 30 months in a federal prison in the U.S. The news of my arrest was in the Abbotsford papers, so there was no way to deal with it quietly. My parents and Petina asked for prayer, and the church came around us like the body of Christ should, showing no judgment, and asking to help in whatever way possible.

When I came home in 2004, the church was excited to see me, and accepted me back. People from within the congregation offered me jobs to get me back on my feet. I’m proud to call Ross Road my home church because of how they demonstrated their love for me and my family.

Ironically, six months after getting home, I was offered a job from a different animal training business – one I could make a living at.

Over the last three years, however, I sensed a call to ministry, but I didn’t have the courage to step out of work and into school. Still, the call kept getting louder, and the signs were getting clearer.

Step of faith

In August 2008, I met with school admissions staff, and in September, I started at Columbia Bible College, studying full-time for a four-year BA in worship arts.

I’m passionate about involvement with church because I know it can be so much more than a building. It’s a place for the imperfect, where love, restoration, forgiveness, and redemption should rule.

I’m often asked what advice I would give to prevent a fall like mine from happening to others. The most important thing is to establish unmovable moral lines.

It’s not enough to say, “I will not do [fill in blank].” We need to have a definite plan that clearly establishes our actions for when temptations are presented.

Duane and Petina Bradley have been married three years and have two children. This article first appeared in BC Christian News, November 2008.

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