From homeless teen to school teacher and loving dad
One man’s remarkable journey to find love
“I was a pretty normal kid of a dysfunctional family separation,” 50-year-old Corey Gieskins begins.
“My parents separated when I was about five years old. I had 23 primary schools. I bounced between my parents, when one wanted me and one didn’t.
When Corey was 10, he and his father left New Zealand where they had been living, and moved to Australia. They left Corey’s mother behind in New Zealand.
“I realised that the easiest way to get attention was misbehaving, so misbehaving was what I did,” Corey continues. “I was often in trouble at school. I was regularly doing break-and-enters. I was a bully, so I would beat kids up.
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“I was a very angry boy because I wasn’t happy, I guess, so I struggled with anger management issues.”
“One day I got home from school to find some of my belongings packed in the car …” – Corey Gieskins
At age 12, in his first year of high school, Corey began skipping school.
“I actually wagged school for two weeks. I just kept wagging it, until someone noticed,” he recalls.
“One day I got home from school to find some of my belongings packed in the car. My dad said, ‘Jump in.’ He took me to the local police station at Petrie [25 kms north of Brisbane] and told the constable behind the desk that he had the car full of fuel and he was going to take me to halfway and leave me there and return home, or the police could find me somewhere to stay.”
Corey clarifies, “I’m sure Mum would have taken me but we couldn’t find her … And to be honest, going back to her would have been really bad because she was mixing with the wrong company, and there were a lot of drugs and bad stuff happening with my mum back then.”
Fortunately for Corey, the police took him to Carinity Orana, a crisis shelter for homeless youth in Bald Hills, North Brisbane, run by Queensland Baptists. At the time Corey landed there, Orana was only a few years old, but has since housed around 6000 young people in the 40 years since it opened in 1981.
The centre provides crisis accommodation for young people aged 16 to 21 years who have become or are at risk of becoming homeless. It’s run like a “family home”, with up to five residents at a time, staying for a maximum of six months. Orana’s youth workers provide emotional and practical support to young people during their stay, helping them to access education, training, employment, counselling services and permanent accommodation, as well as helping them create new social networks.
“It was an interesting place for me to be. I was exposed to more dangerous and wild kids than I was. I was a bit of an innocent kid really, although naughty,” says Corey.
“So there were a lot of kids there that were in need of a lot more assistance and help than me. It amazed me how much the volunteers there were making a difference in these young people.
“It really struck me, to be honest. It made me realise, ‘Yeah, people do care’, when I was a kid who thought no one could care less about you. Experiencing that [care] was actually a touch from God, when I look back at it – that’s the easiest way to describe what I couldn’t articulate at the time.”
“I still very clearly remember standing up in church … and saying, ‘I gave my heart to the Lord’.” – Corey Gieskins
When Corey first arrived at Orana, he “didn’t know God at all” and had never had “anything to do with church”. However, during his 18 months at the centre (the longest stay of any resident at the time), he began attending Rivers Baptist Church in Lawnton on Sunday nights with Orana volunteers.
After leaving Orana, Corey moved into a share house with members of Rivers Baptist. He kept attending the church and became a Christian.
“I still very clearly remember standing up in church on a night when Orana was visiting – and all my friends from Orana were there – standing up in front of all of them and saying, ‘I gave my heart to the Lord’.”
At 15, Corey began teaching Sunday school at the church.
“That was actually the way I learned the Bible,” he admits. “The little kids didn’t know how much I didn’t know, so that’s where I learned more about God’s love and what that means, how to pray – I learned by teaching them.”
Corey continued his involvement in youth ministry at Rivers Baptist for many years, and in fact only retired as a youth leader there during the last five years.
His desire to help young people also determined his career choice. At first, Corey dropped out of school and started working as a tradesperson because of the pressure to “pay my own way through life”.
But later he went back and trained to become a school teacher.
“My third job [after becoming a teacher] was actually back at the school where I was homeless as a kid,” Corey laughs, incredulously.
“Because I was heavily involved in youth ministry in the area, I was well-known by the young people at the school, and well-known by a lot of the longer-term staff. There were teachers there who I was quite naughty to at the time I was a student.
“It was amazing to come back into that space and have a testimony to tell and share. It turns out a that lot of the teachers that had probably the greatest impact on my life – teachers that I could remember and was actually keen to catch up and talk with– every single one of them was a Christian.
“And the way they treated me influenced me to want to go back and be a teacher that sees kids. You know what I mean? A teacher who actually saw you in a group of 25, 30 kids, and who actually made a difference and cared.”
“I’m trying really hard to make a difference for kids who have no hope.” – Corey Gieskins
Today – 20 years later – Corey is a lead teacher and head of the technology department at Ferny Grove State High School in Brisbane.
“I often see a lot of the less-engaged students,” he says. “I’m trying really hard to make a difference for kids who have no hope.”
While he’s restricted in sharing the gospel in state school, Corey says, “If a student asks me, I will have an open conversation with them about church and God.”
Over the years Corey has also been nurturing three children of his own – his sons, now aged 23, 22 and 21.
“To start with I didn’t want kids because I was too scared to,” Corey admits, “but my wife and I did eventually have kids.
“There’s been a lot of times when I’ve questioned if I’m doing an OK job as a parent. I’m very thankful for my church family for giving me a model of what that looks like in a healthy way.
“And I’m very thankful that I’m able to provide them with a really stable environment and the opportunity not to go through what too many teenagers have to go through – the broken family in Australia is the number one family issue.”
He pauses to reflect, then adds, “My boys are not perfect kids, but they know that they are loved and I think that’s priceless. And they know who God is – they’ve all made commitments to God.”
“The destructive path I was on would more than likely have ended in prison.” – Corey Gieskins
In later years, Corey also had the chance to extend love and grace to his estranged parents.
“My father just passed away this year actually,” says Corey. “He disappeared for quite a while. But, even after I’d left home, I would visit him up in Hervey Bay – do the three or four hour trip up there and back.
“I did spend the last three years of his life looking after him financially when he was in a nursing home, and was his Power of Attorney … That was quite weird to give back to my father what he never gave to me.”
He continues: “My mother is still alive, but I lost contact with her again recently because she’s in a nursing home with dementia.
“We have some lovely Christian friends who, about 16 years ago, paid for the entire family – my wife and I and my three boys – to go and visit my mother in New Zealand. It was a wonderful gift.”
When asked how his life might have turned out if he hadn’t been sent to Carinity Orana, Corey says: “I went back to high school – after I had apprenticeship and had become a Christian – to do some volunteering with the school chaplain. And some teachers there said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re not the person you used to be.’ They thought I’d be in prison. They didn’t think much would come of me …
“So the destructive path I was on would more than likely have ended in prison.”
And yet, in just 18 months, his life was turned around. Corey puts this remarkable transformation down to the power of love.
“I think [my time at Orana] gave a gap not only for the Holy Spirit to sow some seeds, but also for me to feel some love. That’s an environment Orana provides very well – safety and love. There was no Bible bashing or evangelism, honestly. It was just through people there serving in love and allowing that seed to sow.”