A radical encounter with God in jail leads to a radical vision for Australia

Wesley Stubbings is an assistant pastor at Townsville City Church in Townsville, Queensland, where he lives with his wife Jessica and son Rocco.  Wes, 30, has travelled to many countries sharing his testimony, preaching and inspiring others to reach the lost.

In this testimony recorded for 40 Stories, he revealed how a radical encounter with God in a jail cell at age 17 began a transformation that led to him being named Queensland Volunteer of the Year in 2008 for his work with Indigenous youth.

Hi, my name’s Wes. I work at a homeless shelter. I’ve worked there for 10 years with guys trying to get them off the street. And a lot of them have alcohol and drug addictions and stuff like that. You know, I just love helping people. And I’m also married to my lovely wife, Jessica and I have a nine-month-old boy named Rocco.

I’ll tell people, you know, Indigenous people like coffee. And I just got a little bit more milk in my coffee when I was a kid. I’ll look at my dad, who’s really dark, he’s black and my mum’s white. And so I would think, well, Dad’s Aboriginal but I’m not, you know, because of the colour of my skin. And it wasn’t until many years later that I learned that being Indigenous is about identity and respect for culture and things like that.

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned that being Indigenous is about identity and respect for culture.

My dad never really talked too much about being Aboriginal or he didn’t even really identify himself, even though you can clearly see that he’s black. He grew up in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains, literally in the bush. He took me there one day and he showed me where he was born, he even remembers the tree. He was born under a tree.

So when dad was born in the ’40s, the local township in Katoomba wanted to build a racecourse because it’s so scenic. And it’s a bit of a local attraction thing for people who are in Sydney to come. The only problem was that all the Indigenous population were in the way. Well, that’s how they saw it at the time. And that’s where the kind of traumatic thing happened is that they rounded up all the Indigenous people that were living in the bush and my dad was a part of that. And they split everyone up, rounded them up and moved them on. And so they went ahead and built the racecourse.

And on day one, they did like a hot-lap type thing and all the drivers complained. They said, “Hey, it’s too steep. If we do go off the road, we’re going to hit a tree. Our cars will be write-offs.” So they never raced on it again.

So my dad moved as an adult up here [to Townsville]; he joined the army and went to Vietnam and so he kind of kept all that buried. And so as a kid growing up, me wanting to have identity and find out that stuff, he would never talk about it because he’d been stripped of all that, he lost all that so why would he want to? He just would tell me “just be good at school go and do what you got to do and be yourself.”

So I had a lot of identity issues as a kid and got expelled from school by Grade 8, was into drugs and alcohol really heavily by like 14, 15. I kept a lot of that life hidden from my parents, my brothers. I lived that life at all my teenage years, right up until the age of 17. And I got caught for doing a few things and it was there that I had an encounter with God in jail, just in a cell on my own.

I had an encounter with God in jail, just in a cell on my own.

I remember it being freezing cold; young indigenous kids are the highest suicide rates in jail and deaths in custody. So they were scared I was going to hang myself with something. So they took the drawstring out of my boxer shorts. I couldn’t even hold my own pants up, so I’m lying there and it was just rock bottom for me.

I just found myself crying and just calling and saying, “God, if you’re real, help me, change me, I need help.” God turned up that night. When I got let out it was a miracle because the magistrate, when I told her that I had genuinely changed, I want to go in and help people, she believed me.

I thought “Well, I don’t have a resume. I haven’t even finished Grade 10, where do I start?” So I thought, “Well, I’ll just start talking to people. So I started just walking around Stockland which is a shopping centre here in Townsville, just talking to young people that were committing crimes. “I believe that I’ve changed, you can change too.” So I was trying to help people in my own capacity.

I was trying to help people in my own capacity.

One day the magistrate is walking along, the one that let me go two years ago, and she sees me, and she’s like, “I know you, I remember you. What are you doing here? You’re not in trouble again, are you?” I said, “No.” She looks at the boy and goes, “is he bothering you?” And he goes, “no, he’s talking to me about God or something. I don’t know what he’s going on about.” And she said, “What are you talking to these kids about?” I said, “I don’t know. I’m just telling them about how I’ve changed my life and all that.” She’s like, “So you’re helping these kids?”. I’m like, “Yeah, I think so.” She’s like, “All right, we need to start a program.”

So I ended up working for the courts. The magistrate would look at the kid in the face and say, “See this guy here?” And the kid would go, “Yeah,” she goes, “he’s done 10 times more than you. And he’s sitting up here with me. He’s changed his life. So what I’m going to do, I’m going to give you to him. He’s going to help mentor you and stuff. And if you don’t listen to him, then, then you’re going to go to jail.” So we started this program for kids to stop them reoffending.

I started going to TAFE and that’s where I met a lady by the name of Linda, who is [pastor and school counsellor] Ada Boland’s older sister. Linda would pester me for two whole years while I was studying at TAFE, working in the courts. She would say, “You need to come to church. You know, you’re an amazing young man. You got a great testimony that would change young people’s lives.” I’d be like, “Yeah, I don’t know about this whole church thing, you know, I don’t know about this Jesus thing.” And by the end of it, I’ve had enough. And one day I just approached her and said, “Look, this weekend, I’m going to come to your sister’s church. But on one condition, if I don’t like it, you can never invite me again.”

All of a sudden, I fell off my chair and I was so embarrassed.

So that weekend I went to the church and I sat up the back. Somewhere in the midst of it I just felt like the Holy Spirit hit me. All of a sudden, I fell off my chair and I was so embarrassed. I walked out and I came back in at the end; I waited until the service was over. And I went up to Ada and I said, “What happened?” I said, “I felt something happen. You’re talking about the Holy Spirit or what is that all, you know?” And Ada said “The Holy Spirit’s touching your life and you need to give your heart to Jesus.” So right there then I gave my heart to Jesus and immediately just got involved with Ada in the church and I did that for about 10 years.

I had an encounter with God. I ran on that for two years, volunteering in the community, helping people. Yes, I didn’t drink. Yes, I didn’t smoke because God had helped me in all these areas, literally to the point I gave up all those things cold turkey. But at the end of the day, I needed a revelation of Jesus. knowing Jesus, the transformation that came wasn’t about just not smoking anymore.

You’re just in sin management, you’re just trying to have good behaviour. You just trying to have some good morals. Just want to be a good husband. You just want to be a good community member, but I think Jesus stretches you beyond that. And he says, “Hey, I’ve called you. You know, when I go I’m going to leave you somebody, he’s called the holy spirit, he’s going to teach you. He’s going to help you. He’s going to lead you. He’s going to guide you into all truth.” So I’m not going to just let life happen to me. I’m going to try and live this thing to the full and, and, you know, and enjoy it as well.

You’re just in sin management, you’re just trying to have good behaviour.

And so I think religion is a big problem, you know, people getting used to the rituals of church and if people would really just understand that we are the church, the hands and feet of Jesus, rather than just thinking that I belong to a church.

It keeps people disempowered from praying and keeps people thinking that they can’t move in the power of the Holy Spirit, but Jesus said “If any two or three gathered in my name, there I am.”

So I believe in Australia, God’s going to really bring a transformation in the church, empowering people to go out and do the Great Commission, go out and preach the gospel, heal the sick. The agenda will be about the lost and not about anything else. Helping people. The agenda will be about going into the hospitals, giving to the poor and all this sort of stuff that we’re supposed to be doing.

So it’s almost a call back to what we’ve lost back to the roots, back to our first love, all that sort of stuff. So Jesus made himself of no reputation. Then he became like us. And so that’s the challenge for us. If Jesus did it, we’ve got to do it.

40 Stories – Wesley Stubbings, Townsville, QLD by 40 Stories is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0