Annette Williams can’t believe how she let herself be so deceived … for so long. Her intentions were pure. She sincerely wanted to be close to God and spend eternity with him.
At nearly 60, Annette has spent most of her life trying to ensure her place in the afterlife with God. But for 25 years she got things so wrong. Her search for eternal salvation took her to ashrams in India, Bali and Sydney, where she spent all her waking hours chanting the names of God, desperate for acceptance, forgiveness and liberation.
“I would be months on end sitting in an ashram in India literally only doing chanting of these mantras – just that, 14 hours a day. Nothing but sitting cross-legged, walking around, but chanting really seriously, thinking of God, pleading to God, to accept me, to liberate me, all these things,” Annette tells Eternity by phone from her home on the NSW central coast.
“I was very sincere about wanting to be with God – I didn’t question my motivation … But I was deceived.”
Now, Annette is keen as mustard to warn followers of new age philosophies about the inadequacies of its teachings and promises. But for a long time she travelled far from her upbringing in a devoutly Christian family in Sydney’s prosperous Hills district. It wasn’t long after her confirmation at age 14 that she fell away – lured by the ’70s zeitgeist of sex, drugs and rock n roll, and rebellion against the values of her parents.
“I was empty inside. I was turning to sex, alcohol and drugs to try and fill that emptiness, always looking for fulfilment in relationships, which ended badly,” she confesses.
After a particularly toxic relationship – with a con man who stole from her and cheated on her – she realised she had to do something and was drawn into the alluring world of new age religions.
“All I knew was, I needed to change on the inside.”
“I kicked him out of the house and then I broke down on my knees to God and said ‘you’ve got to help me. I know there’s something wrong with me. There’s something in me that can’t stop attracting bad people into my life and continuing bad behaviour. And I need that to be gone, whatever that is’,” she tells Eternity.
“I did cry out to God, but it never occurred to me to go to church; it never occurred to me that that was a solution. All I knew was, I needed to change on the inside.”
Desperate for inner healing, Annette pursued the new age path of personal growth and self-development – counselling, therapies and group therapies. That led her into the world of yoga and meditation, which focuses on using breath as a way to release blocked emotions.
“It was very healing, I have to say. Despite knowing what I know now, it was a stepping stone. Because I did go into that, I cleaned up my act – I quit smoking, I quit drinking, I became a vegetarian, as you do, and I just quit having relationships. Now my relationship was with what they call Spirit, but for me it was God because I had a Christian upbringing … to me there were never gods, plural – there was just God,” she explains.
“I became so hooked into that that I just wanted more and more healing.”
The trap was that even though she cleaned up her act and gained insight into her fractured relationships with partners and parents, she wanted more – the mirage of enlightenment.
“I became so hooked into that that I just wanted more and more healing, I wanted more and more enlightenment – that’s the key word in all of this new age world. You now want something called enlightenment; you want to become the divine human being, the enlightened human being.”
Annette can now see how blasphemous this idea of turning yourself into a divine human being is, but, as she points out, the Devil twists things.
“Having read what I’ve read now, I can see how the enemy uses that bait – you can become enlightened, you can become God realised, you can see God, you can know God, you can become like God – and then you’ll be liberated,” she says, echoing the Genesis 3 story.
For the past seven years, Annette devoted herself entirely to one of the four paths of yogic teaching – the path of bhakti, the yoga of love and devotion.
“You love God – nothing wrong with that, is there, see? You love God and you surrender to God and you chant his names.”
“We’d sing all these Sanskrit hymns which we had no idea what we were singing or chanting.”
This, she explains, is the path of Hare Krishnas, who chant the names of their supreme Lord, Krishna, in an attempt to purify sin and attain liberation from reincarnation and eternal life.
“I studied these Scriptures very deeply and very intensely for many years. I lectured. This is how deeply immersed I was – I was teaching this stuff. I was leading people on this path, and I was convinced undoubtedly this was the way, and I spent a lot of my time living in India and Bali. That’s when I had an ashram as a yoga and meditation teacher … and we’d sing all these Sanskrit hymns, which we had no idea what we were singing or chanting, of course!”
“The more I’m spending time with these so-called very holy people in India, I don’t feel like I’m gaining anything.”
Doubts about the path she was pursuing began to spring up when she saw that nothing seemed to be resolved by this method of trying desperately to draw closer to God.
“For the crowd around me, problems never seemed to go away – people would still be plagued with the same things,” she says.
“For myself, I felt my friends and associates and fellow journey men and women, we could never do enough. There was always a matter of you don’t do enough chanting, or you don’t do enough fasting, or you don’t do enough meditating, or you don’t do enough yoga postures, or you’re not doing enough scriptural study or you’re not doing enough surrender to God. You’re certainly not chanting enough. So, there’s never enough and it’s all up to you.”
Weirdly enough, her gurus would contradict their message by saying salvation is by the grace of God, but the caveat was that you have to do enough work first to gain that grace.
“The real trigger for me to get me to come out of this was a feeling of despair almost, like feeling the more and more I’m doing this, the more I’m spending time with these so-called very holy people in India, I don’t feel like I’m gaining anything; I don’t feel like I’m becoming any more evolved or enlightened or spiritualised. In fact, what I feel is, I have God in my heart – and I’ve always had that – and I don’t now know exactly what I’m looking for because I’m not sure that what I’m looking for is even a truth.
“I would see things over there that were just contradictory in so many ways – if they say chanting is the way to self-realisation, then why isn’t everyone doing it in the community? I wasn’t understanding most of it. I was actually spending a lot of time in a very traditional orthodox Hindu environment with Brahmin Indians – they’re the top class; they wouldn’t even look at me, they consider us low caste … they would hate to have you in their homes, we would pollute their homes.”
Annette was further perplexed when she discovered that her guru had attended a Christian school; she suspected there was a political motive behind his insistence on chanting the names of God as the way to salvation.
“I thought ‘I know what he’s doing because this is a political situation’ because in India a lot of the Hindus don’t really like the Christians, so to protect the Hindu culture and the Hindu religion is really top of the list for the Brahmin Hindu community.
“I would watch this guru and we would do mass prayer meetings … I’d even say to my guru ‘A lot of this reminds me of Christianity’ and he’d just say to me: ‘The truth is one.’ I’d go ‘Oh yes, of course it is.’”
“Your guru won’t be able to save you because he won’t die for you.”
When Annette came back to Australia just over a year ago, doubts were assailing her mind about the validity and the assurance of salvation through this path of bhakti yoga.
And then the Holy Spirit set to work to bring Annette back to Jesus.
The first hit was at a funeral for her aunt at St Matthews Anglican Church, West Pennant Hills, where she attended church as a child, “and of course on my mum’s side of the family were all the women who were really devout Christians.”
After quizzing Annette on what she was doing in India, a cousin called Rachel hit her with this gospel truth. “She said, ‘Your guru won’t be able to save you because he won’t die for you; nor will he be raised from the dead. Jesus is the only one who’s died for us to save us and he’s the one who’s risen from the dead to be with God at his right hand as Lord and Saviour. No one else can do that or will do that.’
“Those words just kept ringing in my ears … the doubt was already strong enough in me of seeing things in my own experience, going ‘This isn’t right, there’s something missing here and I’m just getting increasingly frustrated and despondent and despairing – I put so much of my life into this and for what? It’s just not got me anywhere.’ And then she says this and I go away from there – it’s ringing in my ears.”
“It was like an epiphany – a light went on, and I was like ‘That’s Jesus Christ!’”
But Annette had already committed to do some yoga studies and teaching at a Hare Krishna farm in Murwillumbah in northern NSW. That’s when the next arrow pointed her towards Christ.
“As I’m studying the Scriptures on the Bhagavad Gita, one of the very last clauses says ‘Krishna says to Arjuna’ – Krishna’s god, basically, incarnate and Arjuna is his friend on the battlefield – ‘you just need to love me and surrender to me and I will make sure you come to me.’”
Even though Annette had read that passage many times, suddenly it pointed her towards Jesus.
“For whatever reason, in my mind I thought ‘That’s like Jesus’ commandment to love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul.’ I don’t know why I made that association, but I did. You can only put it down to the Holy Spirit … I thought ‘God incarnate was Jesus who saved us and if you surrender to him who died for you, you will be saved.’ It was like an epiphany – a light went on, and I was like ‘That’s Jesus Christ!’”
“When I was reading it in the Bible, I was shocked because Jesus is declaring he’s God, virtually.”
Now, Annette got curious and started to read the Bible.
“It was when Jesus was telling his disciples ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.’ Basically, he is saying ‘I am God and I am the one to save you and no one else can do that’. It was like an echo – Jesus was speaking the words that my cousin Rachel said. I was shocked. When I was reading it in the Bible, I was shocked because Jesus is declaring he’s God, virtually. And that just shocked me and I went ‘Oh my God, either it’s really true or he’s a complete lunatic. Like, it only can be one or the other; he’s got a complete delusion going on and he’s a lunatic or it’s real.
“I had to go through this almighty long, involved journey … to finally draw the conclusion that there is only one way and that way is Jesus Christ.”
“That stirred me up to such a degree because I had complete faith in the path I was in. By the grace of God, he shook me up so much and put so much doubt in me about what I was following. God is all merciful because he didn’t need to do that, but he did. He gave me such a fear, and such doubt, and such despair with where I was at, and I knew that my motives were pure. I knew my intentions were good – my intention was always to come closer to God, but I was always of the opinion that all religions were equal under the hand of God and I didn’t want to believe that that’s not true. I don’t know why, but I did, and I had to go through this almighty long, involved journey into other religions and other paths to finally draw the conclusion that there is only one way and that way is Jesus Christ.”
Annette finally woke up to the truth and power of the Lord Jesus and saw starkly the inadequacy of the teachings of the gurus and yogis.
“Does anyone else realise that this whole yoga and new age movement is a complete myth? It’s not true. You can’t come to eternal life, you can’t come to salvation through these paths and you can’t become fully healed and cured. It just gives you enough of a healing, enough of a fulfilment to keep you in it, but you always know it’s never enough. And you have to keep doing more and more spiritual practice, and I realised that I’m not really capable of doing that – so where does that leave me? Nowhere. And then coming to Christ, he’s done the work for you – my God has died!”
“It just gives you enough of a healing, enough of a fulfilment to keep you in it, but you always know it’s never enough.”
Curiously, Annette still did not think about joining a church but rather started watching testimonies on YouTube of new age leaders who had converted to Christianity as well as dramatic Near Death Experiences. Then, in a defining moment, she responded in repentance to an online sermon by American preacher David Diga Hernandez.
“I remember being at home and he was speaking over whoever was watching at that time. It was just all heavenly sent and guided; I felt that he was praying over whoever was watching at that time to be convicted to Christ; it was like an altar call and I was doing it on my knees in the lounge room.
“It was such an incredible moment and, honestly, the very next day I emailed my guru’s personal secretary and I told him I’d given my life to Christ … and all the paraphernalia that I had to do with the religion I wanted to return to them, to their temple in Sydney.
“The very next day I packed up the car with goodness knows how much stuff, took it down there, and burnt books and cleaned up the house of anything to do with new age and Hinduism and Buddhism.”
Convicted and transformed, Annette finally found a church home and now spends her time volunteering in whatever ways she can at church as well as training to be an on-air announcer at Rhema FM Radio.
Full of passion to use her experiences for good, especially to connect to the Hindu or yoga/new age community, she plans to start studying theology this year so as to be more effective in passing on the pearl of great price that it took her so long to find.
For Annette, the truth that Jesus is the right path to God is now clear cut, but she knows there is a lot of confusion, delusion and deception in new age movements, whose deceptive doctrine is that all paths lead to God.
“I thought ‘why didn’t I do this before?’ I repented so much of being so swept up and away from Jesus and the truth. I repented so much for it; I was literally on my knees. I just completely gave my life to Christ and completely repented, knowing full well I had been mistakenly going in completely the opposite direction.”