I was born in Kempsey, NSW, one of seven siblings and a brother to many other children my parents raised. We all grew up on Bellbrook Aboriginal Reserve, west of Kempsey, in the Nulla Nulla Creek area.
The Seventh-day Adventist faith came to Bellbrook in the early 1900s, many years before I was born. Some of my earliest memories are of attending Sabbath School under the trees and on the school verandah. My mother taught us well-known Bible stories and my nan encouraged us to attend church, making sure we were always nicely dressed.
My childhood was a lot of fun. We played, rode horses, speared fish and went camping with family. There was also plenty of hard work, helping our grandparents and uncles as they pulled corn, cut cork leafing for medicine, fenced and grubbed stumps.
Our teacher at Bellbrook was very strict and I struggled to learn via his methods. I did well at mathematics, but couldn’t master reading and spelling. I stuttered badly as a young boy; maybe that was part of the problem, but most days I gazed out the window or annoyed the others in class. When I left school, I found work that didn’t require me to read. If I ever needed to fill out paperwork I would just get help from family or go to the Centrelink office.
My mother died when I was 17. Dad grieved terribly after Mum’s passing and he died from cancer six months later. Their deaths left a big hole; my life was filled with sadness and grief, and I began to lose my way. I eventually started drinking and went on to become a drug dealer.
Maree, my childhood sweetheart, knew what I was up to but was powerless to stop me. I continued to deal for more than 20 years. I thought I had joy and happiness because the drug money supplied our needs. We could buy whatever we desired—a car, bikes for the kids, and I always had plenty of cash in my pocket.
My family often encouraged me to return to church, but there was little room for God in the life I had chosen. One day, my oldest son Henry told me about Pastor Darren Garlett, who had just moved to Kempsey. Henry wanted me to meet Pastor Darren because we were both interested in old cars. I said I would, but really had no intention of turning up, even though my son kept asking me to.
My first major wake-up call came one Saturday when I went down to Sydney with some mates. We were driving home late that night when the driver went to sleep and rolled the car. I remember crying out, “Jesus, help us!” I woke up on the side of the road, and was flown to hospital with a suspected broken neck, but was released the next day with only minor injuries. God had answered my prayer.
Despite this experience, I was hard-headed and wandered away from God again. But Maree had other ideas and threatened to leave me if I didn’t change my ways. She had a look in her eyes I had never seen before and I knew she really meant it. She gave me the silent treatment for a week and I started to get desperate. I now know the Holy Spirit was working on my heart, and I suggested that we both start attending church. Maree agreed, and now all these years later we are still attending. God totally changed my life—before, I would iron my clothes on Friday to go out partying on the weekend; now, I iron my clothes to attend church on Sabbath morning.
Pastor Darren and his wife Cathy kept encouraging us with visits and Bible studies. On one visit, Pastor Darren suggested I attend Mamarapha College in Western Australia.
“No! I can’t do that,” I said. “I’m dumb; I can’t read and write.”
But Pastor Darren didn’t give up, and after about two years, I surprised us both by agreeing to go.
Mamarapha was very different to my school days—it had an atmosphere of care and sensitivity. Every student was given a Bible and we read verses together. This took away my fear of being exposed as a non-reader.
The changes in my life have been good for the whole family. My grandson Malik was always in trouble at school, disturbing the class and fighting with other children, just like me. But as I attended Mamarapha, we decided to have family worship. At first, we read from Malik’s little picture Bible, but soon, he began to read to us himself. After starting family worship, he went from the bottom of the class to become one of the better students.
God has really blessed me. My youth was wild; I was full of hate, always arguing with people and selfish to the core, but, thanks to Jesus, I now have a life of purpose, a caring family and a wonderful wife who loves me. I am now studying pastoral ministry at Mamarapha College and it is my hope that I will lead others to Jesus as I was led, so they will love Him too.
This story was extracted, with permission, from the book Our Stories, God Stories, published by the AUC Resource Centre.