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The road to peace

John Howland, a painter and decorator, found God while out riding his motorbike...

THE sign outside the North Yorkshire village church offered the one thing that painter and decorator John Howland had been searching for.

"Find peace and tranquillity within", it said.

The 29-year-old had ridden past St Mary's Church in Marton-on-the-Forest, near Easingwold, many times while out riding his motorbike.

His decision to go in and pray there last year would prove life-transforming.

"I desperately needed what the sign was offering even though I didn't really know anything about God or church," John said.

On entering a deserted St Mary's, he struggled to make sense of the Bible readings which adorned the walls.

"I couldn't make head nor tail of the writings so I just sat down on a pew and put my head in my hands and asked God to help me find the inner peace I was searching for.

"I cried my eyes out for about twenty minutes and felt a lot more at peace. When I left that church I knew I wanted to pursue God and find out what He could mean to me."

John later sought the advice of a Christian acquaintance who put him in touch with an evangelist from St Paul's CE Church, in Holgate, York. They met to talk about his divine experience and where he could go next on his spiritual journey.

John said: "It was quite funny really because I would only meet this church guy in a local park so I could make a quick escape if he was weird. I thought all Christians were geeky, old and boring. Actually he wasn't any different to my friends except he had this passionate faith. We talked for ages about what had happened to me and I agreed to go on one of their Start! exploring Christianity courses. It helped me get a clearer picture of what it was all about. I eventually started going along to St Paul's and a whole new world was opened up to me. I've never looked back."

John said he felt drawn to God after reaching a painful crossroads in his life. His mother's battle against depression and a failed relationship with his fiance had left him searching for answers.

"I looked at my life and realised that the material things I owned, my social life and all the people I knew just weren't giving me fulfilment," he said.

"When I got engaged and we set up home together I thought the rest of my life was mapped out.

"After the break-up I was trying to fill the void inside me with women and drinking. It just didn't satisfy me and I was in a desperate state for a long time."

Since committing his life to Christ, John feels he has become a whole person.

He sealed his new-found faith by getting baptised by full immersion in a portable water tank at a special service at St Paul's.

"It was an overwhelming experience," he said.

"I'd decided I wasn't going to through with the baptism at the last minute because I was terrified, but when the moment came I just had to dive in there!

"I see Jesus as the ultimate father - one we would all hope for.

"I don't feel alone anymore even when I'm on my own and know that God is the one person in my life who will never let me down."

John said he is now passionate about telling other people what has happened to him so they too might "fill the void".

He has even found love again with St Paul's member Kate, a child psychologist, who he fell for as she acted in a drama sketch one Sunday night.

"I'm thrilled to have met Kate at church," John added.

"She is a true friend and companion and I've certainly never read the Bible with a girlfriend before!

"I look where I've come from last year to where I am now and I feel so thankful to Jesus."