A South African-born marathon runner was stopped in his tracks by what he later concluded to be a ‘divine’ hand. And though he was gutted at the time, it was to prove a life-changing experience that set him on an entirely new path.
Charles Gardner, who lives in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, looks back with immense gratitude that God reached down to intervene in his life so dramatically back in the 1970‘s. It has taken him on a journey full of excitement and adventure, though it has been far from easy with many ups and downs including divorce, re-marriage and widowhood.
“But what I did find out was that God had a plan and purpose for my life, and that Jesus brought total fulfillment, which is exactly what I was told the night I gave my life to Christ on May 20, 1972.”
Charles was brought up in South Africa and, because he suffered from asthma, his doctor dad encouraged him to join the rest of the family on the road. By the time he was 22 he had clocked up at least 10,000 miles in training and had completed a number of marathons plus three Comrades Marathons (54-mile races between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal) and even a 100-mile track race in Durban. He soon moved to England after visiting his Gran in London and was hoping to set a personal best time in the Scottish Marathon, run along the 1970 Commonwealth Games route from Edinburgh to North Berwick. Charles takes up the story.
“It was cold and wet and pretty flat – I was more used to the hills of Natal under the South African sun – but I felt fit enough. However, I just couldn’t get into my stride and – at 22 miles, just opposite the entrance to the famous Muirfield Golf Club – it was as if I had ‘hit a wall’, as they say. I simply couldn’t go any further, and was forced to do what I had never done before by failing to finish a marathon. Worse still for someone who was also a golf fanatic, it happened at Muirfield, where the Open Championship was to be played just six weeks later. In fact Britain’s world recording-holding Paula Radcliffe ‘hit a wall’ in the same way and at the same place (22 miles) during the Athens Marathon in 2004. I was mortified, as indeed she must have been, and began to feel quite low over the next few days, wondering what life was all about I suppose and exactly where mine was going. This was not helped by a train strike, which meant I was stranded in Edinburgh with virtually no money and only a return ticket. I ended up sleeping at a bus stop and getting cold and miserable – even the police refused to offer me accommodation!
It just so happened that a South African friend and athlete, Brian Jackson, who was staying with me at the time, was busily engaged in evangelistic outreach in Oxford Street (he’s now a vicar in New Zealand) and took the opportunity to practice on me! The upshot was that I was ready to take the bait, as Brian shared the biblical truths about God having a plan and purpose for each of us (Jeremiah 29.11) and that Jesus had come to give us ‘life in all its fullness’ (John 10.10). “If that was true, I thought, I certainly wanted him to take control of my life – and he has never let me down.
The reality of Jesus soon became apparent to me, and I have since been aware of his presence virtually every waking moment of my life! And what a difference that has made! You are never alone, there is always someone to guide you through life’s troubles, and the joy of knowing Him is so intense that you thrill at the prospect of singing love songs to the Lord. That is why Christians put so much emphasis on worship!”
Charles initially wanted to be the next Billy Graham in his enthusiasm to convert the world, but felt distinctly called into journalism, which he had first tasted as editor of the university athletic club magazine The Athlete’s Foot. Forty years of experience in the newspaper industry followed, starting in Fleet Street as a correspondent for the South African Press Association and later moving up north where he has worked on papers all over Yorkshire while also founding several Christian publications.
On one assignment, while working for Sheffield’s morning paper, he covered the launch of a local branch of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship in a bid to discover what it was all about and was baptised in the Holy Spirit in the process after acknowledging his need for the ‘power from on high’ which Jesus promised his disciples (Acts 1.8).
“As a result I experienced a new boldness and passion which kept me focused on serving the Lord with my ‘pen’, but I subsequently went through a series of trials which included the break-up of my first marriage. However, joy and strength was never far away because the Lord was with me through it all – even when my second wife Irene died of cancer after years of suffering. I then got married for the third time, which prompted my younger brother David (my best man) to joke that he was thinking of calling his speech ‘Three Weddings and a Funeral’! But it was truly a marriage made in heaven because we are convinced it was divinely arranged.
We met on a blind date, but what I didn’t know was that while on a tour of Israel only a few months earlier, Linda was at Cana in Galilee (where Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding feast) when she had a vision of her own wedding, but with only the bridegroom’s back in view. Linda was 43 and had never had a serious boyfriend, so you can understand how startled she must have been! Meanwhile an elderly Christian from our church, who was unable to attend Irene’s funeral (in April 2000) because of illness but who spent his time interceding on behalf of others in prayer, rang me up to say he had had a vision of Irene smiling from heaven and ‘letting me go’, as it were. He told me that I would soon be re-married, and that I would know who she was before the end of the year.
Our blind date was on November 18 and we were engaged before Christmas!
We are still blissfully happy, but I must stress that this is surely more because we continue to build our lives on the solid rock that is Christ. That is a choice you make, and I commend him to you unreservedly. You will inevitably face trouble and even persecution, but you are guaranteed a life of purpose and fulfillment. He is worth it!”
Linda takes the Christian message to primary schools all over Doncaster through assemblies, RE lessons and special projects.
Charles, who is part Jewish, has published a number of books including ‘Israel the Chosen’, which can be ordered direct from Amazon – ORDER HERE. He has also written ‘Tongues of Fire’ and ‘Doctor on the Run’ (both published by Sable Publishing).
Charles’s most recent book is the acclaimed Peace in Jerusalem published by Olive Press Books.
Amidst the ongoing turmoil of the Middle East, where terrorism and civil war are erupting on every side, Charles has witnessed Arab and Jew embracing one another in the name of the Jesus Christ. It is Christ who has bought such reconciliation with the blood he shed on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.
In this latest work, Charles concludes that it is only through this ‘Prince of Peace’ that the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved. He tells some amazing stories of modern-day Muslims having supernatural encounters with the risen Jesus.
Peace in Jerusalem can be ordered from Amazon – ORDER HERE.
Story by Ralph Burden and Charles Gardner.
Feature Photo: Charles with his book ‘Israel the Chosen’
Photo 2: Charles competing in the Castle Howard 10K Run at the North Yorkshire stately home in 2010.