The journey of James Peters at first sounds sadly familiar – Indigenous child taken from his family and abused in foster care only to end up on the streets of Toronto – but then God's intervention became apparent.
At age four, I was taken by the Children’s Aid Society. They placed me in about seven different foster homes in the space of two years because I kept running away, trying to make my way back home to the Caldwell Band on Pelee Island, Ontario.
All the places were very abusive. They used to beat me for speaking my language. I was just a little kid, but full-grown men would punch and kick me. That’s when I would cry out for my mom. I was sexually abused by the older boys and men in the foster homes. I was forced to do ungodly things that would affect me for the rest of my life.
My hair was cut really short. On Sundays I had to go to church and wear a suit, black shoes and a tie. I had to be quiet. If I wasn't, I would get beaten. I remember being beaten with lamp cords and belt buckles.
At Sunday School they talked about this man Jesus, and at night I used to cry out to Him. One time I was lying in bed — I think it was a Saturday morning — and all of a sudden, I saw this really bright light. There was this platform being lowered by ropes, and there was a man on the platform. He said to me, “Fear not for I am with you always. And one day, I shall use you for My purpose.” Then He went up again. I ran downstairs and told my foster parents, but they accused me of lying and punished me for it.
My life on the streets of Toronto began at 17, when Children’s Aid decided I had reached the age where I was no longer their problem.
I felt such anger, hurt, brokenness and pain. I tried to numb that pain through drugs and alcohol. But it didn’t work. The drugs and alcohol just made everything worse. I felt so alone.
I first met Terri LaMarche from Attawapiskat First Nation in a park in Toronto where she was serving soup and sandwiches. The street people would gather around, and she would feed them. Terri would talk to me about God. I didn’t react to what she was saying, I just listened. Then I’d go away saying, “Yeah, whatever.” I didn’t find out until much later in my life that she started praying for me then and kept on praying for me through the years.
It took me 33 years to quit drinking because I had so much pain in my life, so much suffering and sorrow as a kid. So, when a woman named Ruth at Yonge Street Mission said to me, “James, Jesus loves you, and so do I,” that was the first time I really heard that from someone.
It was about a month later that I gave my life to Jesus. When I said the words, “God, forgive me,” I felt this big burden leave my body. The darkness, the gloom, the feelings of death and anger and hate. It all left. And I felt the Spirt of God come into me from my head to my toes.
I’d been high all my life – but I tell you, I never felt that high! I felt loved. I felt forgiven. I felt like I was home. I finally found what I had been seeking all my life.
It says in the Bible, in Ecclesiastes 3:11, that God has put eternity into man’s heart. All my life I was looking back to the One who had created me and loved me. I just didn’t realize it. Even now, thinking about it blows me away. To think that God walked with His creation when He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. That He loved them that much. That He wanted to restore the broken relationship that we had with Him. Sin had separated us from Him, but He made a way through His Son Jesus so that we could have that relationship, that intimacy, with the Creator God. And that’s what I found to fill the emptiness.
In 2015 I was invited to be on a panel at The Word Guild’s national writers’ conference, Write! Canada. Ron Hughes was in the audience, and after the panel was over I was invited to do an interview with him on HopeStreamRadio. Cheryl Weber was also in the audience that day, and she invited me for an interview on the TV show 100 Huntley Street. In 2016 my life testimony was published in devozine, a youth magazine from Tennessee. Dorene Meyer of Goldrock Press in northern Manitoba also published a short version I wrote for First Nation Christian Writers – Volume 1 and an update in First Nation Christian Writers – Volume 2.
Many people have asked me to write my entire life story, which is now available in a book titled Broken Circle (Goldrock Press, 2018). I don’t know if or how my story will help others because I mostly see all my failures, but I guess if you look at the bigger picture, you start seeing how a seemingly hopeless life became a life filled with much goodness. All I know is that I gave God the huge mess that was my life, and He somehow brought me through.