Evangelist David 'Packie' Hamilton is a former member of the UVF, who was sentenced to 12 years for arson and armed robbery, during which time he was converted to Christianity. He lives in Manchester and is married to Sharon. They have five children and nine grandchildren. He is the author of A Cause Worth Living For.
Q. Can you tell us something about yourself?
A. I was born in 1956 in a whitewashed cottage directly facing the chapel on the main road in Cookstown. I was the middle of five children born to Cecil (Skipper) and Christina Hamilton. At the age of eight, we moved to Rathcoole in Newtownabbey, because my father got a job in an abattoir.
Q. How and when did you come to faith?
A. I came to faith while serving a 12-year prison sentence in Crumlin Road gaol in January 1980. I was in my cell that evening and, while drinking a cup of tea, I heard God's voice telling me He had spared my life a number of times and now it was time to become a Christian. After a period of struggling, I eventually knelt down and asked Jesus Christ to save me from my sin and, when my cell door opened the next morning, I was no longer a terrorist. I emerged as an evangelist and began to proclaim the Christian faith to all around me. I preach quite often at home in Ireland and very often in St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Brother David Jardine mentored me during my time in prison. I owe him a lot and we have remained friends.
Faith is not part of my life; it is all of my life. In Him I live and move and have my being, each and every day. I believe in Lordship salvation.
Q. Have you ever had a crisis of faith, or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
A. No, never. I live by faith. I have never doubted the reality of God - even before my conversion I knew He was real. His Word tells me, "And we know that, in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him." (Romans 8:28).
Q. Have you ever been angry with God?
A. No. Like Job in the Old Testament, I can say, "Though he slay me yet shall I trust in Him." Even when I do not know, I trust in Him.
Q. Do you ever get criticised for your faith?
A. I have been criticised many times, because I always bring God into my conversation with anyone new that I meet. I try to live by this rule in my life and some people get angry with me, but I am never offended, or upset, by this.
Q. Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A. I would not attend it if I were. I would seek somewhere else to worship.
Q. Are you afraid to die? Or can you look beyond death?
A. I have faced death several times in my life, especially during this past four years, through ill-health, including three heart attacks and stage four cancer. During my last heart attack, I had to apologise to my wife for being excited about the prospect of going home to glory. She was not amused. But I felt that way because "Jesus holds the keys to death and hades" (Revelation 1:19). I have no fear in death, or hellfire, the blood of Christ is my fire extinguisher. "Absent from the body and present with the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Q. Do you believe in a resurrection?
A. I most certainly do, because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of Christianity. It is something most wonderful, to put on immortality, to be with Him for eternity.
Q. What do you think about people of other denominations
A. I have a bond with any Christian denomination, as the New Testament declares Christianity is exclusive, only Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. I have a heart for the lost and see those of other faiths in this lost state.
Q. Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your own faith and trying to learn from other people?
A. I have no problem with doing this. I visit the mosque on occasions when they have talks on the Koran and then, as a Christian, I will respond with an answer from the Bible.
Q. Do you think that the churches are fulfilling their mission?
A. We cannot generalise. I have been in some churches and they are like entertainment centres: no one carries a Bible and it is a social gospel they present. Other churches are very Christ-centered and preach the need to be born again. See the letters to the Seven Churches (Revelation 2-3). Numbers one and seven are Churches in great danger - something is seriously wrong with them. Number two and number six are Churches that are in good shape and are not criticised at all. Numbers three, four and five are middle-of-the-road and are a mixed bag. That is how it is today: every Church is one of those Churches in Revelation.
Q. What is your favourite film, book and music, and why?
A. My favourite film is Hacksaw Ridge, which tells the story of a soldier who was a conscientious objector during the Second World War. I am an avid reader, mostly of religious books, but, occasionally, I read fiction. The best fiction I read last year was Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn, about Samurai warriors in feudal Japan. My favorite book is the Bible. Regarding music, I love old black gospel spirituals from the 1920s onwards, like Mahalia Jackson and Blind Willie Johnson.
Q. Where do you feel closest to God?
A. In the midst of worship.
Q. What inscription would you like on your gravestone?
A. "Those born once will die twice and those born twice will die once. Ye must be born again." (John 3:7).
Q. Finally, have you any major regrets?
A. I regret not taking my theology exam after three years studying at Bible college. I did not know the importance of having the certificate to prove it