Billy Morrison spoke in our church in Aberystwyth on June 20th. I had not seen him for six or seven years when I visited the prison in Northern Ireland where he was serving twelve years for terrorist offences. His father had been a member of the loyalist para-militaries and so he was raised to consider fighting republicans as a justifiable action - 'defending our patch.' While Billy was in prison a man called Walter gave him a book of Spurgeon's sermons to read. That morning he had no interest in God at all, and no desire to become a Christian. That afternoon he read that sermon, and that evening he was on his knees before God asking God to be merciful to him. The next day he met his gang of friends and told them that he had become a Christian. Not only did that terminate most of his friendships but immediately he forfeited all the protection that membership of the para-military groups provide in that confined life behind bars. The sermon of Spurgeon's which he read was on Luke 7:42, "And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both."
The story gets more poignant by this: the man who gave him the book of sermons is called Walter, who had served five years earlier for various offences, been released, and then was converted. That confronted him with the terrible fact that he had not told the authorities all the crimes he had committed earlier. Should he tell them, and return to prison, or keep silent and work for the Lord outside? He had no peace and so he went to the police and confessed all his other actions to them. Back he went to prison for a further twelve years. It was then that he met Billy and gave him this book. The following week he was transferred to another prison.
Both of them have now finished their sentences, and both have completed university degrees (Billy's is in accountancy and business), and Walter is now Billy's closest friend. Walter has developed a painting business with work acknowledged to be of the highest standards, and he employs 25 men, Catholic and Protestant, to work for him.
Billy worships in an evangelical Congregational church, and his passion for years has been to be involved in literature work with African pastors. From his prison cell he wrote hundreds of letters setting up a number of schemes, and notwithstanding many disappointments, the major readjustment to leaving prison, and the death of his mother a few months ago, he manifests that single-mindedness. He has spent some months in Kenya and in Uganda and looks forward to returning next year. A little man, he is not yet an articulate public speaker, possessing a strong Belfast city accent. He can run his words into one another, but he tries to slow down and enunciate his story and his concerns so that we non-Ulstermen can comprehend what God in his grace has done in his life and yet may do. But there is also a fine self-effacement, and a horror and shame at what he had once done, of which he will not speak. His confidence in the power of divine regeneration and of literature as factors that have transformed his own life encourage us all who share the same convictions.