It might be hard to believe but aside from 3 or 4 specific incidents I have little or no recollection whatsoever of my childhood before the age of about 12. No doubt a psychiatrist would make something of it, but I don’t think there is anything particularly sinister about it. It’s just that my mind chooses to not recall what I term as the “insignificant years.”
My parents’ lives had been hard. My mother had been abandoned at the age of 3 by her father and my grandmother and mother were left destitute. (There was no social welfare in those days so it must have been a hand to mouth existence shifting from living with one relative after another). My mother’s first memory is as a 3 year old sitting in the middle of the road surrounded by personal effects as the bailiffs’ evicted her and her mother from their home.
My father was born in Arkansas, America and grew up in the depression years little better off than the African Americans who he worked side by side with picking cotton. It must have been devastating for him to recall that his family had actually owned cotton plantations (and slaves) prior to the American civil war when my relatives mainly fought for the losing side, the South, and lost everything. Even worse, I guess, to recall that he was also descended from the proud American Cherokee Indians and even further back from deposed King Carlos of Spain.
My parents met and married towards the end of World War II as my father had been stationed here in Auckland, between fighting battles in the Pacific against the Japanese. After the war my parents lived in America for a number of years and although I was conceived in the United States my parents arrived back in New Zealand a week or two before I was born so I was born a New Zealander although I retained American citizenship as well.
We moved to the North shore when I was 13 and it seems like my life started from then when for the first time in my life I made some friends. My family were not Christians although both parents had attended church growing up. But in North Shore, Birkdale, where we had moved to, there was an amazing Methodist minister who was way ahead of his time.
This young minister, The Rev Widdup, allowed all the teenagers in the area to use his church hall on a Saturday night for dances on the understanding that we attend his Bible study classes on a Sunday morning. You need to understand that Birkdale was a real country area in those days before the Harbour Bridge was constructed and we teenagers had little to entertain us. It was also amazing that this was the early days of Rock and Roll and Elvis and I am sure that this minister had many battles with his older parishioners over the fact that he allowed the church hall to be used for “the devils work”
But he got away with it somehow and over the ensuing years we teenagers progressed from paying for our Saturday nights in his hall by falling asleep in his Sunday morning Bible classes to eventually attending Sunday evening social nights (what we might now call a Home group) at his manse.
I don’t recall that any of us teenagers gave our lives to the Lord as we would know it now but there is no doubt in my mind that the grounding this wonderful man of God gave us had a huge impact on how we progressed through our lives from then on. Of the 15 or so teenagers in the group at least 3 of us became born again Christians in later life and I can only guess on the other 12 who I lost touch with over the years.
So those years were reasonably good! By now my life’s experiences had aged me way beyond my actual years and at the age of 13 I had my first steady girlfriend. I dumped her when I was 15 when I caught her holding hands in the movies with me on her right hand and one of my mates on her left hand. Oh the fickleness of youth!!
By this time my parents had expanded the family to 7 children and one grandmother all living in a 900 square foot house. The pressure on me to contribute to the finances of the home were immense and I had been working after school since the age of 13. However at age 15, even though I did well at school and found school work easy, I left school to supplement the family income.
Due to our poor environment I grew up with a huge inferiority complex and lack of confidence in my abilities. Something I only overcame bit by bit in my 20’s and 30’s.
But by 16 I had had enough and I signed up and joined the Royal New Zealand Navy (only just beating the American draft which would have sent me to Vietnam). At 17 and a ½ not long after completing my Naval training I met Maureen who was to later become my wife and shipped aboard my first ship, an old WW2 minesweeper, HMNZ Rotoiti and had my first adventures outside of New Zealand.
At 19 years old I married Maureen and only a few months later shipped out on my next ship, a then modern frigate, HMNZS Otago.
I was away from home for 10 months on this deployment during which time I served in a war zone patrolling the Malacca straights against communist insurgents infiltrating into Malaysia. Also during this time our son was born whilst I was on R&R in Singapore.
A number of incidents occurred whilst we were on a war footing but one that stands out most was the evening we were just sitting down to our evening meal when all the action alarm’s sounded. At the same time the speaker system announced that this was not a drill and the ship healed hard over as the Captain ordered full speed and a full turn to Starboard. (Our meals ended up on the deck).
When I reached my action station on the upper deck I could see an enemy motor torpedo boat heading straight towards our starboard side on an obvious attack run. He had surprised us by hiding in the jungle growth at the lands edge.
However we had been training long and hard for such eventualities and within minutes (if not seconds) we were facing him and he was looking directly down the barrels of our 4 inch guns as well as numerous small arms.
Some would say the captain of the MTB then chickened out but others would say he saw discretion as the better part of valour and he high tailed it back into cover of the jungle and we lived to fight another day! I like to think now that God had other plans for me than to die on that day!
After returning to New Zealand, to my wife and newly born son, I served another year in the Navy and then sought greener pastures by leaving the Navy for civvy street.
I found work at a brewery where I completed my electrical training (as an adult), brought our first home (thanks to a rehab loan given to those servicemen who had served in combat areas) and then started the first of a number of businesses I had over subsequent years, some successful some not!
Our second child, a daughter was born, and died 4 days later. I think the hardest thing I had done until then was the day, as a man in his early 20’s, was to carry in my arms a tiny white coffin of our daughter to her grave site. That memory will stay with me for my lifetime.
Some years later another daughter was born but this time Maureen contracted German measles during her pregnancy and we were advised to terminate the pregnancy with dire predictions of what we could face if the child was allowed to be born. This was in a day when abortions were almost unheard of and although we were not yet Christians we had enough of a faith to know that this would be wrong and we proceeded with the pregnancy. Thankfully our daughter was born without major incident other than being born deaf.
At this time I also started to move forward in my career as one man took a chance on me and gave me a position at a senior level in technical sales even though I had no experience in this field. He told me later that he saw something in me that led him to give me the job over other applicants.
Over following years I progressed through sales, to sales management thence into the building industry as a factory manager, contracts manager running multi-million dollar building contracts and thence to General Manager. In between times I dabbled at running various business of my own from electrical contracting to importing and exporting and a heating business.
THE TURNING POINT
But the important milestone in our lives came when in the 1970’s two of the teenagers that I used to spend time with at the Birkdale youth group invited us to attend a church service at the Auckland town hall where they had found God!
It took weeks, if not months, of persuading but eventually to get them off our backs we agreed to attend a Sunday evening service with them at the town hall.
There is not a lot that we remember about that night except that we found ourselves at the front of the town hall stage responding to an altar call to give our lives to Jesus. Our lives were changed forever that night.
What a journey the last 35 plus years have been with God. Sure we have had highs and lows but we have never lost the presence of God in our lives and what a time we had during those years at Queen Street AOG! We attended every Sunday morning and Sunday evening. We hired baby sitters so we could attend Tuesday evening prayer meetings and we joined a home group as well as my joining a men’s fellowship group.
Although it was a very large church I came to the attention of the pastoral staff as I was then a business man and attended church in a suit and tie. Even in those days this tended to make one stand out in the crowd.
We started to fellowship with the senior staff and I had my first inkling that God wanted to use me in some way.
Then the church collapsed! What a catastrophe! We were utterly shattered! We realised later that we had put too much faith and trust in one man instead of God and his fall almost destroyed our faith.
Yet it did not! Sure we had a number of years, we call our wilderness years, but after a number of years we found a new church and even that is a story of miraculous intervention! Our son, then in his 20’s, who had also become a Christian at Queen street, decided that it was time he and his girlfriend, later his wife, went back to church.
He opened a telephone book to the churches listings, closed his eyes and stuck in a pin. That night he came home full of excitement to tell us that he had found the most wonderful church and that we just had to go with him the next week.
So the next week we dually attended Murrays Bay Baptist Church after years away from church and received what we like to call our re-birth. From that day forward under the direction and encouragement of Pastor David Marriot we grew and matured in our faith. Within a short time I became a deacon responsible for property, would you believe, and I have basically worked in some way for the church ever since.
David and other Pastors encouraged me to pursue my interest in Bible prophecy and future events, something that had been birthed in me the first time I heard a message that Jesus was coming back.
I started writing articles on this subject which were eventually picked up by overseas Christian publications and at one point were being read in 16 countries worldwide. One article was even translated into Chinese and published as a booklet that I cannot even read! I received numerous invitations to teach overseas but rightly or wrongly I never felt the calling to accept these invitations.
Eventually Murrays Bay relocated to Windsor Park and as I, at that time, was a contracts manager for an electrical contracting company I very quickly became involved with additions and alterations at the new site. Sometime later I started up my own electrical business and became even more involved in work at Windsor Park, one of the highlights being the complete wiring and installation of the new auditorium at that time.
Eventually my wife and I were offered the position of live in custodians at Windsor Park in the old managers flat. We prayed about this long and hard but eventually felt led to accept the position and lived at the church for the next 13 years. Part of this position also included the management of the motel block, which we then ran as a half-way house for ex-prisoners. The stories from this period would fill a book but the great thing was that a number of these men found the Lord whilst living in at Windsor Park. Maureen and I also often acted as mother and father to a number of these men and youths and found this very rewarding.
During that time I was spending more and more of my working day at the church until it reached the point where it was more sensible (and cheaper) for the church to take me on as part time staff. This in turn grew until the position became a full time one.
Whilst this role was a secular one dealing with property it did open up other opportunities such as co-leading a series of teaching seminars on end times, co-leading a home group and other opportunities which honed my confidence and skills.
Today I have left living on site in favour of living in a lifestyle village but amazingly the opportunities to serve God (and man) are still growing, almost on a daily basis.
As well as performing my “normal” job as property manager I now conduct funerals and perform hospital visits when needed and find this area of ministry to be the most rewarding I have ever experienced. This role is now expending into my becoming a lay pastor which will see me work even more in this area.
I have also conducted church services at my village and have recently been asked to conduct an ANZAC day service at another village. Maybe it has taken a life time of God working in me to get me to a stage where I can finally be of some little use in His kingdom. What he has in my future I do not know but to say that it is exciting is an understatement!
As I write this I am struck by the number of people in my life who God has used, whether they knew that or not, to take me down the path that God had planned for me….
The vicar from my teenage years whom I long to meet up with in heaven one day.
Friends from my teenage years whose insistence on going to church with them led to our salvation.
The many bosses who saw something in me that led them to give me a chance.
Our son who was instrumental in bringing us back to church.
The Pastors past and present, who encouraged and led me into doing something more than sitting in a pew.
Our children and grandchildren who keep me grounded and who fill me with love on a daily basis.
And most of all my wife whose encouragement and belief in me, even if I didn’t believe in myself, has made me what I am today.
What a life! What a story! And it’s only just begun!!!