Tonight, all our normal church services were cancelled, to give us the opportunity to meet together in the huge auditorium at Rivermead Leisure Centre to hear the celebrated Tony Anthony speak and give his testimony of 'Taming the Tiger'. This title, of his book as well as his talk, is a reference to his Chinese grandfather's training in Kung Fu. Tony is half Chinese and half Italian but was born in England. At the age of 4 he was sent to China to be reared by his grandparents because his father had become ill with multiple sclerosis, and he described his extremely severe training as a Buddhist and in Kung Fu, which by tradition had to be taught to each generation. Then (I think at the age of 8), he was brought back to his parents and to school in England, where other problems awaited him. He could only speak Chinese and was bullied at school, until one day he hit back and then it was he who became the school bully. He continued with Kung Fu, winning prestigious awards across the world but becoming a harder, tougher person all the time.
He went into his life at this time in great detail, with humillity and much regret, so that we who listened should understand how low he had sunk, until it ended with his imprisonment in Italy. There his reputation as a thug grew even more until one day a note was pushed under his door saying that the writer was a missionary living there and he would like to visit him. Tony reacted violently because he didn't want a Bible-bashing Christian preaching at him, but he knew that if you had visitors you could also get coca colas, etc., and so he agreed to meet Mike and got a coca cola! Their meeting lasted 45 minutes, during which he was never once asked about his crimes and he was not preached at, because Mike said 'I only want to be your mate.' Those visits went on every Thursday for 45 minutes each time for two years, until one day his visitor read him John 8 verses 34-36. Those words, that Jesus could set him free, struck deep into his heart and so Tony became a Christian, along with 9 others in that prison who were visited by Mike.
There isn't time here to tell his whole story, which ended with his marriage in England (marred by a hit and run accident, which he lied about because he thought he'd only hit a deer, and which put him in hospital again), God's grace following him in the prison and resulting in 30 prisoners becoming Christians, and the birth of his two young sons. 'So now I can't keep quiet about Jesus', he declared and challenged all those present to rethink their lives, to turn away from sinful ways and surrender to Jesus, putting Jesus at the centre of their lives - and, having made that decision, to come forward as a public declaration of their new faith. A large crowd of mainly young people came forward to be prayed for and given a pack of helpful leaflets to ensure that they would continue in their new-found faith.
As a young Lay Worker friend of mine texted me when she got home, 'He was awesome, wasn't he? Such an honest man!' So if you who read this get the chance to hear Tony Anthony or to read his book, 'Taming the Tiger', you will be well rewarded - and I hope you will do so if the opportunity arises.