Anger at his family’s financial struggles led Shawky to drink and becoming a violent bully. Until one night, in a drunken haze, he drove the family truck over a cliff edge.
Home for Shawky* is in northern Algeria in the mountainous coastal region known as the Kabyle. It’s a rugged area where the Berber minority he belongs to have staunchly clung to their traditions and language, and from Roman times onward, have always resisted outside control.
Shawky shared his people’s fierce independent streak. He also grew bitter and angry as he saw how every day for his family was an uphill battle to make ends meet. Coming from a large family, there was even less money to go around.
When he appeared recently on Free Souls, a programme screened on SAT-7, he described how relationships with his family broke down and he became increasingly aggressive with them and anyone else he took a dislike to in his village.
An uncle found him work in the fields, but he lacked experience or interest in the job and quickly lost it. After that, his resentment toward his situation and other people grew.
He drank and mixed with other heavy drinkers who shared his anger, and would return home cursing all the village, the neighbours, and the village council. He bullied people in the village cafe and forced other customers to leave it. He even carried an axe or a scythe to threaten people.
Although Shawky heard some workers in his brother’s field talk about the hope they had found in Jesus Christ, their words fell on deaf ears. He tried to use alcohol to soak up his anger and would leave the house at night and wander the streets in a drunken state. This forced his family to stay awake and try to prevent him from leaving. But one night, he was able to slip out. That night changed everything.
A near-death experience
Driving back after drinking heavily, Shawky lost control of the family truck on a sharp bend. As the truck veered violently off the mountain road, Shawky remembered the conversation with his brothers’ workers. He called out the name Jesus as the vehicle plunged over the cliff edge.
All this happened within sight of his home, where his family who had been searching for him saw the accident and looked on helplessly.
The truck split in two as it fell and the family thought Shawky was dead. But miraculously, Shawky survived with only minor injuries and lacerations from cactus thorns.
That experience changed him forever. Villagers who went to church told him that when he had called out Jesus’ name, God had saved him. This intrigued him to go to church and learn more about Christ.
It was a completely new experience for him and he found a peace there which grew the more often he went.
It was as if I had found a fountain of living water to quench my thirst,” he says.
His passion to know God increased daily and he became eager to attend church twice a week.
A new heart
Little by little, Shawky began to change for the better. He talked less, spent less time away from the house and used more time to read the Bible and see what it was saying to him.
One thing was about rebuilding relationships with his family that had broken down over the years. Shawky and his mother had not spoken for 12 years but he learned to forgive her. Now he physically carries her the 50-metre walk to the physiotherapist for her weekly treatment.
He mended the relationship with one of his brothers, too, after years of not being in contact. After his brother underwent surgery, Shawky helped wash him, clean him and change his clothes. His brother eventually began to follow Jesus too.
Spending less time with his hard-drinking friends, Shawky made new friendships with local Christians and they gathered to pray for the village, for the sick and to help others.
“In the past, I used to hate the people around me. My heart was full of hatred,” Shawky remembers. “Now the Lord has given me a new heart, a compassionate one,” he says.
Members of the village began to respect him after seeing the changes in him and started to come to him for advice.
“Jesus Christ changed my life 100 per cent,” Shawky says. “I have a new heart and a new character. He changed my entire nature.”
*Name changed for security