Aged 15, Scott Watson had become, in his words, “a bit of a tearaway”.
He says: “I started doing all kinds of things, like burgling houses. My nan just couldn’t hack it anymore.”
Scott didn’t know his dad as a child, and his mum left home when he was only three years old. He was raised by his grandma in her flat in London.
“My mum didn’t really take responsibility on that well.” he says, “I can clearly remember the night that she left. I was at my nan’s, I was in the front room with my uncle, she stuck her head around the door and said ‘I’ll be back in a bit’ and that was it.”
A bright spot in his early life was his friendship with Jamie, the son of a pastor. Jamie’s dad was the pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Forest Hill, so Scott used to go along with his friend. Scott says he “always believed in God, from a young age.”
“I used to pray every night as a kid, always for different things. I used to pray for my Mum quite a lot.”
As he grew up, Scott’s grandma often tried to get him to not stay out too late, but he became frustrated and started to rebel. At a loss for what to do, Scott’s grandma phoned Jamie’s dad, the pastor, asking for help. They agreed to let Scott stay at their house for a bit.
“They took me in and I just ran away.” says Scott, “Eventually, my auntie tracked me down and took me back to hers. I went to Jamie’s house to pick up my stuff and just before I left, his mum gave me a book called ‘Run Baby Run’ by Nicky Cruz.”
Scott then went to live with his uncle in east London. His uncle was part of the Jesus Fellowship Church in Forest Gate at the time, but Scott struggled with going to church because there wasn’t anyone else his age. He couldn’t connect with anything.
So Scott ran away, to his aunt in Rochester. She didn’t want him to stay, but allowed him a few days, “just to figure something out”. Running away was becoming a pattern in Scott’s life, but it was at this point that he remembered the book he’d been given.
“I started reading ‘Run Baby Run’, because I realised that I needed to do something positive in my life.”
‘Run Baby Run’ tells the story of the conversion of Nicky Cruz, the leader of the infamous Mau-Maus, a gang in New York.
“I would never compare myself to someone like Nicky Cruz,” says Scott, “But I was reading it, thinking, I could easily end up going down this road. That had a bit of an effect on me. I really met Jesus through reading it and praying ‘God, make something better in my life’.”
Following this prayer, Scott moved back to live with his uncle and got more involved with church, including ‘London Jesus Day’, an event in central London and Roundwood Park. During that weekend, Scott looked at the people around him and thought, “There’s something so different here”. He watched people getting baptised in the evening and knew God was calling him to do the same.
“I really met Jesus. As I was getting baptised, I knew that He was setting me free from everything that had gone before.”
Life seemed to improve for Scott after that, but it wasn’t “all rosy”. He ended up living by himself in supported accommodation in West London. He was only 17 at the time. It was “a bit daunting, really”.
“I didn’t know how to look after myself and ended up getting back into bad habits. I was shoplifting and all that kind of stuff. At the time my uncle was living up in Northampton; he rang me up out of the blue and asked me if I was alright and I just wasn’t.”
Scott went to stay with his uncle and attended a festival weekend with the Jesus Fellowship. He felt accepted by everyone and hopeful about making a change in his life, but found himself falling back into cycles of bad habits.
But God hadn’t let go of Scott, and in 2005, when he was diagnosed with cancer, his friends from church became a support and strength to him like never before.
“Before then, it had felt like everything was just falling to pieces. During that time, something inside me definitely changed.”
After his recovery, Scott met Jemma, and they got married. He describes this time as “when things started to change for the better” and life continues to surprise him:
“Around six or seven months ago, I remember thinking how, over the years, considering everything, I never fully accepted God’s love for me in the way that He intends it to be received: a father’s love. How could I accept something that I don’t understand and don’t know?
“I thought to myself: I just want to know my dad, even if it never really works out, I want to get to know him somehow. I prayed to God: ‘if I’m meant to know him, make it happen’.”
God answered Scott’s prayer in an amazing way. His uncle in Croydon had been doing an open mic night at a pub for the last six months. Every week he’d been talking to the assistant manager, Doug. One day, he overheard Doug talking about working at his mum and dad’s electrical store in Forest Hill. He asked Doug what his surname was and was astonished to realise that Doug was the brother of Scott’s dad.
“My uncle found my dad’s Facebook page and I messaged him.” says Scott, “Doug had said to my uncle that my dad had throat and neck cancer but was in remission. My dad’s response was very positive; on the day that my uncle met his brother, he’d been given the all-clear for the cancer. It was a mad set of events.”
Scott says: “In any situation in my life, when I look back, where all hope seemed lost, Jesus was there. Every time. Just ready, waiting to receive me again. He is always there.”