I have about 5 happy memories of my childhood. None of them involve my immediate family. I am not saying that there weren’t more, but I just can’t remember them and I’ve tried. Childhood was tense, painful and strained.
My father was Pakeha of Scottish decent and my mother Maori of Te Arawa decent. My father married in his 30’s and my mother was his first girlfriend. Because my father was from a nominally catholic family, for a time we attended Holy Cross Convent School, Papatoetoe and De La Salle College, Mangere - both in South Auckland.
My earliest memories are of my parents fighting, constantly fighting, the yelling, screaming, and throwing kind of fighting. As kids we were totally out of control. My father worked long hours as a successful street cleaner. Dad promised me that I'd be in prison by the time I was 19.
My most vivid memory is this... Dad was crying, he’d collected us early from the family who lived at the end of our long driveway. We did not know what had happened but headed up the driveway. Mum had left us. She’d been having an affair with a guy who was renting downstairs from us. This began many years of bitterness, recriminations and tensions between my parents.
At the age of 12, I decided to live with my mother. My father out of his own pain, anger and sense of failure got a large white plastic bag, threw some of my belongings into it and sent me away. That was the last time I would see him, my brother and sister for a number of years.
SEARCHING FOR GOD
It was in this year that I went searching for God. As a scrawny 12 year old boy, I remember walking the streets of Glenfield looking for a church. The one I could see was Catholic. Not knowing any different I walked in. For the entire time I was there no one talked to me. I never went back.
A year later, now living in the East Coast Bays a neighbour invited me a long to Murray’s Bay Baptist Youth Group. Through the ages of 13-16, I began to meet a whole range of people my own age who loved Jesus. Andrew Greening, Mark Stevenson and within a couple of years Mark Picard all came into my life. I began to meet families who loved Jesus, which impacted me greatly. It is here that the message of grace and the experience of grace began to come together. I made a choice to accept Christ into my life.
Meeting Jesus has been the single most defining experience of my life. I still cannot fathom it, I pinch myself consistently that while I was still a sinner Jesus died for me. His Grace to me in being saved is the most precious truth to me. It was not all plain sailing though. First my brother, and then my sister came to live with my mother and her new partner. These were violent, fractured relationships we shared with each other.
When I was about 17, I met Bob and Gloria. Bob was a 6 foot 4 Englishman and Gloria was 5 foot 4 black African woman. They were part of Murrays Bay Baptist Church. They welcomed me into their family and I would spend most Sunday afternoons at their place. There was always a spare place at the table for me for lunch. Over the next 8 years they would become my family. I got to see and experience a loving, warm hospitable Christian home.
After leaving school, I worked in South Auckland. Then I established a Centre for at-risk youth on the North Shore. From there, at age 22, I headed off to Bible College.
The stand out memory of Bible College was sitting my Dad down and explaining to him, that apart from meeting Jesus Christ, and Him making me clean from the inside out, I would have been in prison for crimes stemming from a head full of messed up thoughts.
After Bible College, I had a very long goatee beard, almost no hair, wore leathers, Doc Martens boots, and looked liked a bikie from South Auckland. Every part of me wanted to start a ministry on K' Rd, Ponsonby. My heart and passion was for the poor the marginalized.
However, through what can only be described as a remarkable set of circumstances I ended up being called to become the Assistant Pastor at Palmerston North Central Baptist Church in 1996. This was not what I had planned. Central Baptist was a long way from K' Rd. I brought my first house deliberately in Highbury (a rougher part of town) and found out that my new neighbours were none other than the friendly local Mongrel Mob.
In 1997, I met a quiet, serious, conscientious country girl, who came from a stable Christian background. It was the ultimate case of opposites attracting. We got married on the 8/8/98. For Emma, hanging out the washing at our Highbury house to taunts of the Mongrel Mob, was a world away from her happy, high achieving upbringing. As for me, helping Emma at a local pony dressage competition years later was completely foreign to my South Auckland working class background. It felt scary and totally not me!
Outside my coming to faith through Bob and Gloria and the friends and community of Murrays Bay Baptist Church it is God’s Grace to me in Emma which has shaped my life.
Our marriage has been one of thirds. The first third was a lot of fun. Adventures around New Zealand together, purchasing our home in Colyton, and working on that together.
The second third is where the strain of differences between us began to show itself. But again, the grace of God which we saw in each other and which the covenant of our marriage is grounded in began to flourish. From scripture, the Holy Spirit, and from new relationships in our lives, grace began to break in. Hope, healing and health flowed into our marriage, followed by fun, and friendship and delight.
For the last five years our marriage has flourished in new ways. Emma’s parents have been hugely supportive at walking through the ups and downs of life with us.
Knowing my background, and where God has brought us to, has left me with a deep appreciation of God’s grace. The more I've grown with it, the more I see it in all of life.
I turned 40 recently, and it was such a privilege to gather together with my life long friends, Andrew, Mark and Mark and our wives. It was amazing for me to celebrate 25 years of following Jesus with the three guys who have been instrumental in my coming to faith and growing in Christ.
BY GRACE ALONE
My story is a story of God’s redeeming grace, but it remains tinged with sadness, I have not a genuine conversation with my sister for over a decade and I have lost touch with my brother.
The last of God’s grace I want to share is you, who are reading this now. God made us all, we are all here together by His grace. I cherish deeply God's family. May the grace of God be upon our nation and our people.
I was saved in my late teens by Christ through his people, Bob and Gloria, Emma and the kids, Nigel my boss and many others have been saving me ever since.
After following him for 25 years, I have a new sense on my horizon of beginning to look forward and long for, when all of his grace, which I have glimpsed so richly and deeply in so many different ways, will be complete, total and unbroken. That is when I will most truly and deeply be home. I have tasted this home at Bob and Gloria’s, at Murrays Bay Baptist, in my own home at different times and in the homes of others.
written by Mark Grace