The earliest memory Les has of God is Scripture classes in primary school.
“We had to memorise the Lord’s Prayer,” he recollects. “We were told that God was listening and we had to get the prayer just right.”
I do believe Jesus can help us overcome whatever we're holding on to.
Fast forward 20 years and Les was no longer memorising Scripture. Instead he was drinking, smoking, gambling, fighting and dealing drugs.
“I was doing my own thing and God wasn’t a part of it,” he admits. “In my mind, God was someone who hated and punished people for doing the wrong thing. I was doing all the wrong things so I thought God must hate me.”
But despite Les’s feelings, God still found ways to remind him of His presence.
Brown snakes are the leading cause of snakebite deaths in Australia and are considered the world’s second most venomous land snake. Most of us would deal with this danger by staying as far away from them as possible! Being a professional snake catcher, Les doesn’t have the same luxury.
“I was bitten by a brown snake twice in my early twenties,” Les remembers. “I was sure I was going to die. As I stumbled home I said a small prayer—‘Please don’t let me die, God. Not today.’”
He credits his survival to God.
In his late twenties, he stole a whipper snipper from a store and was chased down by the owner, who threatened to kill him. For more than three hours, the man continued to terrorise and torture him, while Les pleaded for his life, to no avail. Convinced there was no way out, he whispered in a broken voice, “God help me.”
The man immediately snapped to attention. “What did you say?”
“Don’t worry, it was nothing,” Les whimpered, not wanting to repeat himself.
“What did you say?” the man demanded again, gripping Les a little tighter.
“God help me,” Les repeated, tears streaming down his face.
The man looked at him silently. “Well, He just did,” he said, and let Les go.
“That man would’ve killed me without divine intervention,” Les says with certainty. “How do I know? Because he’s now in jail for committing murder.”
That incident shook Les greatly. “I couldn’t believe what I’d said,” he says, shaking his head slowly. “I decided I would start going to church after that. But I didn’t end up going.”
He did occasionally watch religious shows, however—remembering one show in particular. “I’d be flicking through the channels and I’d see Pastor Lloyd Grolimund on Wahroonga TV and watch his show,” he says. “He caught my attention because he was an Aussie pastor.”
Meanwhile, however, his life continued to slide downhill. Les was married and then divorced. None of his subsequent relationships worked out. He continued to drink, gamble and take drugs, eventually growing marijuana. And by New Year’s Eve 2011, he was in a deep spiral of depression.
“I made a resolution that New Year,” Les confesses. “That if my life didn’t get better, that if I didn’t have an opportunity to turn my life around, I would kill myself by the end of the year.”
He didn’t want to live another year in the same condition.
2011 moved quickly and soon it was October. And things hadn’t dramatically improved in Les’s life—in fact, they seemed worse than ever.
“I was fighting with my sister but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” he says. “I was a door-to-door salesman at that time, selling cleaning products. I was storing the products at her place up until this point. Now, since we weren’t on good terms, I had to start going home earlier and catching the bus.”
It was at the bus stop that he met an 11-year-old girl who would change his life forever. He’d noticed something different about this girl and her brothers. They didn’t fight with each other. They didn’t swear. And they were always polite, kind and respectful.
One day, Les struck up a conversation with the girl, whose name was Hannah. Again, he observed how different she seemed from other kids.
“Do you go to church?” he blurted out impulsively.
“Yes, I do,” she said. “Why don’t you come to church too?”
Les chuckled at the idea of going to church in his condition. “I’m going to hell—it’s too late for me,” he joked.
“It’s never too late,” she told him.
The next day, at the bus stop, Hannah handed Les a Bible. “I told my dad you want to go to church,” she said brightly.
Again, Les declined. But God had other plans.
Les went to the local markets a couple of days later. As soon as he entered the markets, a stranger said to him, “Jesus loves you, man.” Les thought it was a strange greeting but brushed it off. He then observed a market stall he had never noticed before that was displaying pictures of Jesus. And as he left the markets, someone handed him a religious pamphlet.
And in each instance, he remembered Hannah’s invitation to go to church.
That afternoon, he ran into a friend of his sister’s whom he hadn’t seen for 20 years. Again, he was reminded of Hannah, because that happened to be this woman’s last name too. And when he got home and turned on the TV, where he didn’t think he’d be reminded of God, a stand-up comedian was talking about Adam and Eve.
To Les, these were all signs that he needed to go to church. “Tell your dad I’ll go to church on Sunday,” he told Hannah when he next saw her.
“No, it’s on Saturday,” she corrected him.
The next Sabbath, Hannah’s dad picked Les up for church.
“Everyone was really friendly,” he remembers. “They were all giving me hugs. We went to sing at the nursing home that day and I thought that was really nice.”
Les continued to attend church but he clung onto his old habits. He continued to take and deal drugs. And then the police raided his house and found the marijuana he had been growing. He was sent to jail.
“The first thing I got in jail was a Bible and my reading glasses,” Les says. He read the Bible from cover to cover.
“I had a lot of time to think in jail,” he reflects. “I remembered that pact I made to kill myself if I didn’t get an opportunity to turn my life around. I realised that God had offered me an opportunity to change but I didn’t take it.”
He would take it now. “I decided I was going to clean up my act.”
After two months, Les was released from jail and he stuck firm to his decision to turn his life around. He began attending church again and was baptised.
“I went to some seminars on Revelation by Pastor Lyle Southwell and I learned so much,” he says.
Gradually Les gave up the bulk of his addictions and habits but still struggled with smoking. He had cut down to just one cigarette a day instead of six, but was still finding it difficult to let go.
Recently, Les attended a Bible retreat in the Blue Mountains (NSW), run by HopeChannel’s Discovery team. To his surprise, there he met Pastor Lloyd Grolimund, the preacher he had watched on television long before he had turned to God.
“Lloyd did a sermon on overcoming and it has inspired me,” he says. “I do believe Jesus can help us overcome whatever we’re holding on to.”
When Les talks about Jesus his eyes shine. “I love Jesus and I love talking to people about Him,” he says. “He saved my life—I want to share what He does to save others.”
Vania Chew is PR/editorial assistant for Adventist Record.