A fortune teller once told John Maeva he would die at 51—and John says that’s what happened.
My parents are from the Cook Islands, but I was born in Murupara and moved to Auckland when I was three. I had a Christian upbringing, but I didn’t like church. For me, it was about people speaking a different language, a Cook Islands language, and if we played up my dad would give us a clip round the ear.
At 14, I gave up going, started smoking and got into drugs and alcohol. At 15, I started working for my dad, and at 16, I started dealing drugs and raising a family.
I had four kids, was working, dealing drugs and involved in gangs. At 28, I separated from my partner and met my now wife Pearl, and we went on to have six kids. I was still working, drug dealing, partying. Nothing changed. I worked as a telecommunications technician, before taking a severance from that. Then I worked as a bouncer in West Auckland—where I even got set on fire once.
In 1999, I was sent to jail for one year for drug dealing. I thought, ‘That’s funny! After all these years doing this, I only got one year,’ so I thought I’d continue. I met up with some associates who had learnt how to manufacture P and I learnt how to manufacture P.
Eventually the police got involved, as well as Child, Youth and Family, and I was separated from my family. In 2007, I was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison.
While I was on remand in prison awaiting my sentence, I got a call from Pearl. She told me she’d had enough of our life as it was—she’d met with a pastor and she was taking our kids back to church.
I could see all these young people around me in prison behaving disrespectfully and older guys still in there. At that moment I just thought, ‘This isn’t me.’ I’d been in that life so long I was ready for change too. I said, ‘You do what you have to, and I will do what I can from here to meet you halfway.’
I started going to the chapel on Sunday and saw these Christian groups coming into prison. The first two Sundays they asked if anyone would like to hand their lives over to Jesus and we were all looking up and down the rows to see who would be the first to get up, but no one got up. But the third time they asked, I responded and said yes.
I started going to chapel and all the meetings, I met the pastor Pearl had met and he gave me a Bible. I’d never read the Bible before, but I read that one—twice.
In 2008, I got a call to say that my mum was sick and wasn’t going to make it. That was on the Monday. I kept ringing her every day, saying, ‘I’m coming’, and on Saturday I was allowed out of prison to see her. Before I left, we repeated John 3:16 together—For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Then I told Mum I loved her.
The next day, I got a call saying she’d passed away. I never thought I’d be in prison when my mum passed. She was a very strong Christian lady who stood in the gap and prayed for me.
Three weeks later, I got a call to say my eldest son John had been murdered, aged 26. He’d been shot execution style. To this day no one has given me a satisfactory explanation of why my son was killed.
I thought, ‘I’m in prison, what can I do? If I was outside I could do something.’ But I knew what I had to do. I got on my knees and prayed and said, ‘I forgive the man who did this to my son’ and almost immediately I felt a weight come off me and a sense of peace instead. I still have that feeling today. I carried on believing that Jesus was the centre of my life.
In 2011, my father died. And then, in 2012, I was due to be released on 27 February. The prison gave me a 72-hour early release to sort out my living arrangements. I phone Pearl and she said, ‘Great, because I’ve organised your baptism!’
Six years before I was told by a man who read palms that I would die at 51. I had turned 51 in December. At the time, I was going out on work release, and when I left the prison I’d bike down the road early every morning and these trucks would come past in the fog. I’d see these truck lights coming and think, ‘I’m 51, which one is going to bowl me over and end my life?’ But it was on home leave that I was baptised, which symbolised that the old John had died and the guy I am today, a new creation, came up out of the water.
Two weeks later I married Pearl, and we’ve been so blessed ever since by God! We talk different, we work different, we even look different—we used to look like wrecks. People appreciate us now. In our past life they appreciated us, but for all the wrong reasons.
We were going to the Community Christian Fellowship, and it was cool watching all my family there praising God. But one day Pearl and I asked God which church he would like us to be planted in and to give us a sign. That night we went to a 21st birthday and we met Andrew and Maree, who were with The Salvation Army in Waitakere. Andrew asked if I would like to come and share my testimony at their youth group that Sunday evening.
We thought, ‘Wow that was quick!’, but a few days later we weren’t sure and prayed, ‘Lord, we want you to send a pastor to come and stand in our house and show us that The Salvation Army is the church you want to plant us in.’
That night my daughter came home from a camping trip in Wellington and she left the door open behind her. I thought her friends might be coming in, so I went upstairs to put on a shirt, and by the time I got back down, Captain Stu Tong— the corps officer (pastor) at Waitakere Salvation Army—was standing in our house!
Today, my wife works as a social worker in the area, we’re on the leadership team at Waitakere Salvation Army and also run a life group.
When I got out of prison, it was hard for me to find work because of my conviction. Work was always temporary and never enough, but at the time I was also volunteering at The Salvation Army’s Waitakere Community Ministries.
One day, Rhondda Middleton, the Community Ministries Manager, asked if I’d like to become their outreach worker, working with the homeless. It was perfect for me!
Each morning, I let homeless people in for breakfast at 8.30am. They can have anything from the fridge and I just make sure everything is topped up. We have showers for them to use and I make sure they have towels and things. There’s a washing machine and dryer, lockers to store their stuff, and a space for them to relax. I go out around the streets in the evenings between five and seven and engage with them then, too.
We have clothes and blankets and I organise food parcels if they need it. I’ve hooked up with a housing organisation, Affinity. I refer people to them and they’re helping get some of these homeless into houses.
You would have thought it would be impossible for me to change, but I did. So when these people are ready to change, I’m there for them. And in the meantime, I think, ‘What would Jesus do? He’d keep loving helping them and supporting them and giving until it hurts.’
At one time in my life you’d never hear of me helping people and talking like this. But praise the Lord, I’m a new creation!
by Robin Raymond (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 8 April 2017, pp6-8
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