A camel recently passed through the eye of a needle. Jesus told His disciples that such a feat would be easier than for a wealthy man to enter the kingdom of God. Wealth has a way of messing up one’s perspective. It seems to produce uncorrectable vision.
Reading the story of John Pedley reminds us that much more happens in salvation than a sinner deciding to receive a free pass out of hell. Pedley describes himself as the poster child of self-centered living. His obsession with money began as a young teenager. He dedicated himself to acquire as much as he could. His strategies included theft and fraud, such as selling the furniture from a rented flat, which landed him in jail. He entered an adulterous affair with a married woman from whom he was taking money. They later married and had two children. More illicit relationships led to his divorce.
His success in business came only after his initial venture failed. He later rebuilt his consulting and marketing business into a company that made him filthy rich. The wealth only encouraged his hedonism and eventually alcohol entrapped him.
In 2002, after drinking all night, Pedley got into his car at 5 A.M. Falling asleep at the wheel, he drove under a van at 90 mph, leaving him in a coma for six weeks. Doctors did not expect him to survive. But he did. He spent the next few months in a wheel chair. Instead of taking stock of his life, “I came back worse because I thought I was indestructible. Nothing could beat me, not even death.”
Alcohol and women continued to dominate his life, until a random invitation to visit a church service got his attention. “There were 500 people at the service. It was different to anything else I had ever seen. There was a confidence about [the congregation]. I was sure I had more money, I was sure I drove a bigger car and had been to more places and done more things. But they were more at peace.”
In 2004 Pedley decided to participate in an Alpha course, a ten-week study that explores the Christian faith, and it changed his life. “The last thing I wanted to do was become a Christian!” he laughs. God had other plans, however.
A short time later, his six-year-old son commented, “Happy new you, Dad.” Pedley asked his son what he meant. “You’re like a brand new person.” Something dramatic had changed in him.
Pedley quit drinking and began serving in the church, especially in charitable works. He thought that God had called him to continue to earn large amounts of money and give a significant portion to the church. Over time that sense of calling began to change.
In 2007 Pedley took a trip to Uganda and his world was upended. “I worked there for a few days and these people who have nothing were stopping and giving me sacks of potatoes [in thanks] which is a fortune for them. There is a morality there which comes naturally. You feel so unbelievably humbled. And I wanted kids in the UK, especially those who are on a downward spiral of addiction and self-hatred, to experience this.”
This led to the development of Turn Them Around Camps. Troubled teens and young adults spend a month in Uganda, immersed in community work and Christian teaching. Pedley adds that they avoid putting pressure on participants to convert, “because that is not the way faith works.”
“It will be a very demanding program, culturally very different – there’s no electricity or running water – but I believe that during the process, the young people will be transformed. What I hope they will get more than anything is self esteem, to know that they can genuinely make a difference and that they are part of a family, a team and not powerless.”
In order to run the program effectively, Pedley knows he needs to live on site. He listed his home in Essex, England for $1.5 million and is trying to sell his Range Rover for $112,000 as well. He plans to move to Uganda and build a traditional mud and wood building for his home. All his assets will be used to fund the charity, which he hopes will improve the health, water and education facilities to the poor community, while changing the lives of recalcitrant youth from the UK.
When Jesus instructed the rich young man to give his wealth to the poor and follow Him, the man departed sadly. Although he seemed genuinely desirous of learning what he could do to enter the kingdom of God, he was not prepared for such an extreme condition.
On the other hand, another wealthy man volunteered to give half of his wealth to the poor and pay retribution to anyone he had defrauded by fourfold. The presence of Jesus brought Zacchaeus to the place of humble repentance, and he recognized that nothing the world had to offer could compare with the blessing of God’s kingdom and salvation.
Zacchaeus and John Pedley illustrate that no person is unreachable. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation, for any and every person. When God chooses to draw someone to Himself, that someone will find himself on a journey completely beyond his wildest expectations.