A former football hooligan explains his amazing change of heart. By SANDIE SHIRLEY
Renton Baker led a double life. A loving, protective father and husband, he also terrorised opposing soccer fans on the terraces.
That was until he faced a dramatic challenge at a church funeral: unless his heart was softened, he was on a collision course with hell.
From then on there was a new quest to find real peace. Within days Renton bared his soul to a church minister. “I talked to him for four hours about everything I had ever done; as I spoke I felt clean.”
That first encounter with God began a life-changing experience that has taken him across the globe to share his faith.
“I learnt that my acts of violence were cowardly and love was the way forward – and the real tough guys were those who stood up for their belief and love for Jesus Christ,” says Renton.
His life spiralled out of control when his father, an ex-boxer and soldier, died when he was just 14. It made him bitter and angry. “Once I beat up a cousin when he told me he had a great day fishing with his dad.”
Despite the violence as a football hooligan, using baseball bats, knuckle-dusters and ammonia to temporarily blind his victims, he would be concerned for his mother’s welfare as a widow.
At 20 Renton was married, and within four years he was the father of three sons. His violence outside the home escalated, causing mental and physical harm to many of his victims.
It reached a crisis point when he planned to kill a man for landing his son in hospital. “It was frightening looking back,” he says. “I felt calm and in control as I planned to ambush him with the help of a friend.”
He was saved from murder when his friend led his intended victim to a way of escape. It began a new way of thinking for Renton: “For the first time, something was telling me that I did not want to be angry any more.”
The turning point came at the funeral of his wife’s grandfather, a former church minister. His wife, Wendy, had turned back to God six months previously and was praying for Renton’s heart to change.
“I walked into the church feeling naked and exposed as everyone knew about the things I had done.
“Listening to the minister’s words, I heard about this tough man for Jesus who had known God for 72 years. There was a personal challenge when the minister continued: ‘If you cannot be affected by this man’s life you must be so cold and hard-hearted, that you might as well walk into hell now.’”
Renton began a life-changing path, but a year later his youngest son asked him to help retrieve £2,000 inheritance money that he had lent to a cocaine addict. For a brief moment Renton’s rage spilled.
The police were already at the scene when he was armed with a knife to fight for his son’s rights. Renton was charged with the attempted murder of a policeman and his intended victim.
“The charges were built up on some very dangerous and false statements and they were eventually dropped to lesser charges at the beginning of my crown court trial,” recalls Renton.
Disappointment at his failure became a divine re-appointment. Sitting in a prison cell immediately after the event, he promised God he would never do anything like it again.
During the court case the judge ordered a two-year suspended prison sentence rather than send him to jail.
“God intervened. I witnessed the power of answered prayer. I should never have had bail, let alone be given my freedom.
“God is good all the time – full of grace and mercy. Nothing we can do will stop God loving us,” says Renton whose friend committed his life to God three days after the astonishing court ruling.
Today, Renton is a man with a huge heart for God. Building site colleagues refer to him as “the bishop” as he unashamedly shares his faith story.
“This may be my story but it is Jesus’ testimony of grace.”
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