During a dark time, Ashley turned to Christ - now he wants to shine His light

Growing up in a country town in Western Australia, Ashley Garlett turned to alcohol and drugs early to numb the fear and grief that followed a tragic accident that killed a close friend.

Ashley, who is Balladong Noongar man from Merredin in the West Australian wheat belt, says that in a quest to find their own fun, he and his youth group mates got the idea of taking joy rides from the train that used to chug really slowly through the town.

“But one night took a tragic turn when my friend lost his life trying to joy ride on the back of a truck as it went around a corner. There were a couple of us joyriding on the back of the truck, but he stayed on longer than he should and the truck started picking up too much speed and he couldn’t get off. It took his life and we were there to witness it.”

At the tender age of 13, Ashley suddenly woke up to the fact that “our lives aren’t guaranteed and anything can happen.” To try to put the trauma behind him, he got into drinking and smoking, theft, and hanging out with the wrong crowd, as he puts it.

“Our lives aren’t guaranteed and anything can happen.” – Ashley Garlett

Having been brought up a Catholic in a large family of 13 brothers and sisters, Ashley knew he was doing wrong things and he found his sin “just continued to send me down a path of darkness and trouble.”

“That led up to getting to 19, 20, where it was like ‘This is not the life I want to be living,’ and I wanted to find something else that was different to what I was doing.”

Ashley Garlett

Ashley’s mother had been the first in the family to convert to Christianity and had begun attending an Aboriginal church on the north side of Perth. She kept inviting Ashley to go along and eventually he did.

“I heard the gospel there, and I started to think ‘Well if God is real, what have I done? He would be displeased with all these things that I have done.’

“So eventually I came to know that Jesus died for us. And he gave his life for us to forgive us our sins. So one day I decided I wanted to respond to the Lord’s call and started a new journey for me.

“Everything just stopped and I started down a different direction. First of all, he took away all the desire to drink and I no longer needed those things. Most of my life I was scared of dying, but Jesus put a peace and a joy in my heart and life.”

“Most of my life I was scared of dying, but Jesus put a peace and a joy in my heart and life.” – Ashley Garlett

At first, Ashley found his new life as a Christian hard. “It wasn’t easy being young and having friends hanging around who were still doing those things of the world. There were times some people didn’t understand what was going on. They thought ‘He’s no longer fun, he’s not on the team anymore.’ But God’s continued to take me down that path.”

It’s taken Ashley some years to see the big picture of where God wants him to be.

His conversion in the year 2000 coincided with fears of what the turn of the Millennium would bring. “I was a bit scared of what the future held because people were saying everything’s going to stop,” he recalls.

A few years later, he was asked to give a talk at a youth convention on the east coast, which led to some Koori ministry at the Baptist church in Coffs Harbour on the NSW mid-north coast. “We were doing some good work there trying to disciple young guys that had committed or recommitted their faith at the convention. I also helped around Sunday school and did some preaching in the mainstream Baptist church in Coffs Harbour.”

But Ashley struggled with a combination of homesickness and conflict between God’s ways and the ways of the world so he went back home and did some work in a youth hostel run by a church.

“There was a whole lot of jumping around in secular work, waiting on God’s will of where he wants me to be,” he says. “I’ve had my struggles and my ups and downs, but God has been faithful through it all.”

“There was a whole lot of jumping around in secular work, waiting on God’s will of where he wants me to be.” – Ashley Garlett

Now 43, Ashley is finally finding his feet and exploring what his ministry talents are. In April, he moved over east to work as a new Indigenous Ministry Trainee at St Peter’s Anglican Church in South Tamworth, NSW. He says none of the secular jobs he has had over the years has given him the joy that ministry offers.

“I want to commit my life to following Christ by helping others come to know him personally and get alongside other brothers and sisters who are passionate and dedicated to serving God,” says Ashley. “This is why I’m so excited about training in Tamworth.”

In this new position, he is supported by the Bush Church Aid Society (BCA), which a few years ago supported Indigenous Ministry Trainee George Ferguson in Tamworth and an Indigenous Ministry Student Nathanael “Jum” Naden in Sydney.

Today George ministers at St Peter’s Walgett, while Jum is a curate at St Peter’s South Tamworth, where he is training Ashley in various areas of ministry including engagement with the ministry of the Coledale Frontyard Church, where Indigenous people gather each Wednesday to hear the Bible preached and share a meal.

“At the moment he’s doing some study, some PTC stuff through Moore College and he’s involved with all the stuff in terms of Aboriginal ministry that happens through the week in the parish and he’s at Sunday service as well,” says Jum.

Jum is the son of BCA’s Indigenous Ministry Officer Neville Naden whose vision is to transform the church’s view of Aboriginal people as a mission field into a mission force.

In order to grow its work with Indigenous people over the long term, BCA is seeking to raise $230,000 by 30 June to help find and train more First Nations people to minister for their own people.

“I think the wider church needs to have a look at how they can be involved.” – Jum Naden

Although Jum is no longer supported by BCA, he is grateful for the support he received throughout his studies at Moore College, not only financially, but “being part of the BCA family meant that there were people right across the country that were praying for me.

“BCA is at the forefront of trying to encourage and equip Aboriginal men and women for ministry, but I think the wider church needs to have a look at how they can be involved and what it looks like to get on with the vision as well,” he says.

“Churches might not know what to do or where to start in regard to this, and they may have a heart to try and see and support ministry to Aboriginal people. BCA is an excellent way that they can do that.”

To support the BCA First Nations appeal, click here.