I was not looking for any big change in my life in February 1974, because enough was happening already.
I was days away from emigrating from South Africa to Australia and at the age of twenty-one, that was change enough for a young guy looking forward to the adventure of relocating to another country. I knew only one person out of about 16 million, a friend from school and university.
There was an address, however, with the names of some missionaries in Perth, Western Australia, that I’d been given by friends of my Christian girlfriend. I’d been staying with them in a town called Stellenbosch near Cape Town, while I waited for an Italian ship, the Marconi, to take me across the Indian Ocean for ten days, to a new life in a new country.
I didn’t know all that much about Australia then. I’d watched a cricket Test match between South Africa and Australia in February 1970. I knew about the Seekers and Rolf Harris, but that was pretty much it. Oh, I’d also heard about Harold Holt, the country’s Prime Minister at the time, who disappeared while swimming at the beach. Now, that doesn’t happen every day!
But I was doing something a bit different for someone in my situation: I was reading the New Testament, in a paraphrase called the Living Bible. Why? Because my girlfriend had given me a copy and asked me to read it. She’d arranged for me to stay with a Christian couple she knew while I got ready to emigrate.
During my high school years I’d attended a Baptist church in Durban with my two older brothers and loved it— Sunday school, church services morning and evening on Sundays, youth group on Friday evenings, Saturday outings, camps— we enjoyed them all. But I knew that I had not become a Christian. I didn’t have anything against Christianity; it’s just that I hadn’t taken the step of committing my life to Jesus Christ as Lord and didn’t feel that I needed to during that time.
So I had a fairly good knowledge of the Bible, which I’d picked up over the previous four years. I thought I’d start reading the New Testament at the book of Acts, because I knew that was history, and I didn’t expect church history to change my life. And, remember, I was not looking for any more change.
After Acts, I started reading the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and then John. So far, so unaffected. I was doing what my girlfriend had asked me to do, and it was going well! No change!
But then I came to John 5: 39-40, where Jesus is talking to the Jewish people about His authority and witnesses, and He says, ‘You search the Scriptures because you think that you will find eternal life in them. The Scriptures tell you about me, but you refuse to come to me for eternal life’ (CEV).
It was around midnight when I read those words, and my life changed in an instant. For the first time I saw myself as a sinner, who needed God’s salvation. It wasn’t only the things I’d thought, said and done in the four years since I’d left school. I’d drifted far from the church and a Christian lifestyle while at university and working in Rhodesia in television and then in the law courts in Durban.
I realised, or God helped me to realise, that I needed Him. It was as if Jesus was in the room with me, saying these words to me, as if I was the only person in the world. I felt overwhelmed by my sin, and in desperate need of His forgiveness, cleansing and presence. I got down on my knees, tears in my eyes, and asked Jesus to take over, to be my Lord, and I’d make it my life’s goal to follow Him.
I remember leaving the house the next morning, and everything looked different! I later came to love a hymn called ‘Loved with everlasting love’, where one line summed up how I felt that morning: ‘Something lives in every hue, Christless eyes have never seen.’
It’s almost thirty-six years since my conversion and I can honestly say that God’s presence has never left me. Through working in insurance administration, being called to pastoral ministry, theological studies, fatherhood, marriage, twenty-five years of local church ministry, teaching English as a second language and two years of aged care chaplaincy, God has always been with me.
As a new Christian my first experience of His care was on the ship coming to Australia: there were about eight of us young guys sitting at a table and sharing a cabin. We came from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and England, and five of us were Christians! How’s that for a statistic? We had Bible studies and prayed together in the cabin. At night, I’d go out on the deck and look up at the stars, breathing in the salty air. Now I knew the Creator of the Universe! My future was in His hands.
A big adventure was ahead, but now I wasn’t going alone.
Transcribed from the book – ‘First Love’