This story is not my own. It is God’s story - of his love, hope and faithfulness. It begins in the Islands, where I was raised. I went to church, because as an Islander that’s what you do. But when I came to New Zealand at 11, I stopped going to church. It was never a real thing to me.
When I was about 18, I started having dark thoughts of suicide. I struggled to be on the face of the earth everyday. Now I know that abuse in my childhood was the catalyst for these destructive thoughts. I struggled to hold a conversation, so I isolated myself. I tried to maintain a confident face, but I was dying on the inside.
Alcohol became a means of hiding my true feelings. When I was drunk, I became overly confident; but when I wasn’t drunk, I couldn’t talk to anyone. It was like Jekyll and Hyde. I was always putting the mask on, and taking the mask off. Putting it on, and taking it off. Until I didn’t know who I was anymore.
Through all this, the biggest blessing in my life was my wife, Tamara. We met at high school and were together for 10 years before we married. She stood by my side and kept forgiving me through everything. She kept holding on when I had given up. She is still the greatest blessing in my life today.
One day I met a friend of mine; her face looked different somehow. She’d had some similar problems to me, but she said to me, ‘Ondray, you’re in a horrible state. You need Jesus.’ She had become a Christian. I was so annoyed. I thought she had a solution!
But she seemed to have answers to my questions before they had even left my mouth. I thought, ‘How does she do that?’ Her words satisfied my heart.
My friend asked me to come and hear an Australian evangelist, so I got on the bus and went along. I can’t even remember his name, but it seemed he was speaking directly to me. When he asked people to come up the front and receive Jesus, I was the first one up there.
That was my first experience of the Holy Spirit, at the age of 26. The spirit of suicide left me, and for the first time I wanted to live. I told Tamara that I had a new man in my life. Then and there, she prayed and gave her life to Jesus.
I began working as a chef for a while. I had never had a problem with gambling before. But I started spending a dollar or two on the pokies where I worked. I won $80 and I thought, ‘Wow, this is easy!’ Soon I was staying at work late, playing the pokies.
I would spend hours alone, playing the pokie machines. My life began to spiral out of control. I was in a pit of drinking, partying and drugs. I was gambling heavily. I would go missing for two days, leaving my young wife alone with our little girl, wondering where I was.
Twice, I tried to run away. I thought my family would be better off without me. I hitched up to Auckland—and both times I got picked up by Christians who told me I needed to go back to my wife and child. So I went home, and I told my wife that I wanted to get cleaned up. I stopped gambling and drinking. After six months, things were going really well. I wasn’t drinking. I hadn’t gambled once.
One day, Tamara gave me $490 to do the grocery shopping. I was on the way to the shop, when I went past an old gambling spot. I thought I might just spend $20. I gambled it all and lost it all. I was so angry with myself. I couldn’t go home and face my wife. I put a cloth over my head, hid an umbrella under my jacket to look like a gun and held up a petrol station. I felt like I was outside my body. I couldn’t believe I got away with it.
But I still didn’t have enough money to take home to my wife and thought I could make some more by gambling. So then I lost all the money I had taken in the robbery.
That was it. I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Go and kill yourself.’ I knew that voice of suicide, which had so often breathed down my neck. But then I felt another voice speak to my spirit. It said, ‘I want you to go and be accountable for what you’ve done. I will honour your decision. I will take you off this path and place you on the path of life.’ I knew this was the Holy Spirit’s voice.
I told Tamara everything I had done. I told my mum and dad. The next day I went to the Police, and I said, ‘I’m the one who did the robbery.’
I was arrested and put in jail. In the papers, I was called ‘The Umbrella Robber’. I felt ashamed, but on the day I went to court, I knew I had to look the judge straight in the eyes and face up to what I did. The judge told me that aggravated robbery carries a 10 year charge, but she said, ‘This is a rare case’. She carefully explained my situation and why she was reducing the sentence to two years ... then one year. Finally, she sentenced me to six months home detention. God had gone ahead of me, and I was so thankful.
After my detention, I carried around an unbearable shame. But God taught me that he was the ‘lifter of my head’ (Psalm 3:3). Good things started to happen. I began a fashion design course, helping out at a soup kitchen in my lunch time.
I started volunteering at The Salvation Army Hope Centre in Newtown. I felt God was taking me in a different direction, and that he had a new job for me. But I couldn’t live any longer on voluntary work. The Hope Centre’s manager, Ollie Seumanufagai, told me to thank God for the job he had in store for me. I did this: I prayed and thanked God for 10 weeks, but still no job. Ollie kept encouraging me: don’t give up, keep praying!
After 12 weeks and still no job, I was discouraged. I didn’t know what I was going to do. On the 13th week, the centre director, Dale McFarlane, said to me: ‘Ondray, come to my office, I want to hear your story.’
I told her the same story I have just told now. At the end of it, she said. ‘There’s a job for you here.’ I cried, I couldn’t believe God had answered my prayers.