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Terrorist To Evangelist

The True Story of Cornelius Kenneth McClinton

Born into abject poverty and lower working-class Belfast, Kenny McClinton became as hard-core as the life he was forced to live. From a violent, drunken father to abusive boys homes, from the Navy to a sadistic prison, from terrorism to salvation... this is Ken's remarkable and gut wrenching story of how the Lord rescued him from a life not worth living.

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On September 11 of 2001, terrorism came to the land of the free. What had only been a news segment up to this point in America was now real life. What had only happened in other countries was now happening in ours.

With the deliberate crash of planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon—American symbols of finance and military might—terrorism entered the American mainstream culture, and from all appearances, it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere.

Kenny McClinton didn’t learn about terrorism on 9/11. Long before that infamous day, he had already lived and survived a life as a terrorist fighting other terrorists and terrifying innocent civilians.

Many authors have written about the man prison guards called “The Maniac,” but none have told the full story. This first installment of Ken’s story presents the ex-terrorist’s life from his own memories and perspective, from his childhood to his conversion all alone in prison—traversing adventures that are almost two wild to believe.

Born into abject poverty in lower-working class Belfast, Ireland, Kenny McClinton became as hardcore as the life he was forced to live. From a violent, drunken father to abusive boy’s homes, from the navy to a sadistic prison, from terrorism to salvation—this is Ken’s remarkable and gut-wrenching story of how the Lord rescued him from a life not worth living.

Kenny had made contact with me through my daily Bible devotional ministry, and our friendship took flight on the wings of scriptural conversation. When he started sending me some of his own Bible teachings, I sensed something intriguing under the surface. Somewhere along the way, I made a request of my new friend: “Tell me about your life…”

After hearing his story and experiencing the response of my own readers to his testimony (I had included it in one of my messages), it became abundantly clear to me that I wanted to tell the world about how God can change a terrorist—yes, a real-life terrorist—into an evangelist who spreads life instead of death.

Kenny’s story vividly testifies that God can use any person—no matter who or where they came from. Abuse, trauma, broken homes, violence, war, politics, and hate—it’s a story of God’s unbelievable mercy and providence, a story of hope for the hopeless, a story of love where love did not exist.

No matter what you face today, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how lost you are, there is hope for you. Kenny is living proof of that.

Here is the story of Kenny McClinton, former terrorist, now an evangelist. Once spreading death, now spreading life. Once born to lose, now born again…

Here are some excerpts:

This Is It

March 24, 1983: McClinton, I thought to myself, this is it. You’re about to die.

I had known for quite some time that it was coming. I was keenly sensitive to the inevitable conclusion of being a man marked for death.

Walking into the break room of the prison, all of my senses went on red alert, sounding the alarm that things were not right. The first thing I noticed was the steam floating across the ceiling. The inmate in charge of boiling water had heated gallons and gallons of water to an angry, rolling boil—far more and far hotter than necessary for making tea.

The two prison guards who had been assigned to protect me were nowhere to be found. I was now alone and unprotected in a room of convicted murderers and terrorists. I felt strangely calm in the face of such imminent danger. Having become a Christian four years earlier while in solitary confinement, it was not my nature now to be the initiator of violence, even though I knew it was coming. I simply took my mug of tea and sat down like usual at the table.

Four convicted IRA terrorists slowly moved to block any escape through the entrance or exit. Each of them was carrying a large redwood plank that looked like a square baseball bat. The ashen color of their faces betrayed their fear and nervousness.

I reached for the little Gideon’s New Testament that I carried in my shirt pocket, but my hand never made it. I felt the heat before the boiling water actually touched my skin. In an instant, gallons of scalding liquid were being poured on my head and back. My first sensation was of the soft skin behind and around my left ear instantly bubbling up and disintegrating. Within a couple of seconds, a large portion of my body had been scalded and burned severely.

It seems strange now, but at the time, I felt no immediate pain. With calm resolve, I stood up and removed the reading glasses from my eyes. I couldn’t see well, because the boiling water had run over my face, but I sensed the danger coming in front of me.

Thud! A hammer from the workshop, wielded in cowardly fashion, struck me on the high right-hand side of my face between my temple and jawbone, quickly opening a profusely bleeding wound.

My natural survival instincts kicked in as I backed into a corner, shaking my head and wiping the water and blood from my eyes. I had not uttered a sound up to this point but knew that I was very badly injured by the boiling water and the blow to my head. The first thing I saw after clearing my eyes was a terrorist-prisoner I knew by the name of Becker. He was making his way toward me, holding one of the three-by-three, baseball bat-like sticks, his eyes already focused on where he was going to deliver the coup de grâce. In my heightened state of shock and adrenaline, I took the initiative and lunged straight for him, taking the first swing of the bat into the outside of my left bicep. Whack! He really nailed me, and the pain was excruciating, but I had successfully fended off an otherwise fatal blow. I ducked the next swing, grabbed the surprised Becker by the ankles, and with strength that was beyond normal circumstances, I picked him up and tossed him over onto my badly burned back.

With Becker flopped over my shoulders and my head actually between his legs, I was somewhat protected from the next round of hammer blows, baseball bat swings, and punches that were now coming from the other attackers. Like a movie scene, everything seemed to happen in slow motion, and twenty-two years later, I still remember it all in half speed.

One of the terrorists, a young guy whom I didn’t know, had slipped on the water that spilled on the floor and was now attempting to get a grip around my ankles to hold me for the others who would finish me off. Four others, armed with the bats, were still blocking the door and any attempt to escape. I charged them, holding Becker upside down on my back, and threw him off me and on top of them. The combined force of our two bodies sent the door guards stumbling backward against the wall and into the corner, like bowling pins being scattered.

That bought me an instant of opportunity to dive through the doorway and onto the steps toward the safety of being out in the open where others could see me. Landing facedown on the stairs, I thought I had succeeded in escaping when suddenly the door was slammed shut on my foot, trapping me. I felt the hands of the terrorists grabbing my ankle and holding me fast so that I could not get free. The door opened, and to my horror, another bucket full of boiling water was dumped on my already-blistered and burned body. Almost my entire upper torso now bubbled and broiled in the intense heat. The skin just simply melted away in a matter of seconds.

I kicked my free foot with all the strength I could summon, and suddenly my other foot was unexpectedly released. The door slammed shut. I was left there as good as dead. The pain rushed over me in waves and consumed every nerve in my body with intense fire.

I was still alive. In the coming days, I would wish that I wasn’t.


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