From prison to pastor, via Redfern

And how Will Dumas found Jesus in Long Bay jail

It was in Long Bay jail in Sydney that 19-year-old Will Dumas first discovered Jesus.

He’d had two drink-driving offences within a week and a judge had decided the jail’s weekend detention program was the best place for him. There, he met a Christian man who told him “Jesus is coming soon.”

Dumas had never heard such a thing before and didn’t understand what the man meant. But he says the words “began to ring in my heart and in my mind”. Later, he learned to recognise that “ringing” as the voice of the Holy Spirit.

So, on the Sunday evening at the end of their weekend detention, Dumas went home to his Christian jail-mate’s place. There, an old Aunty leaned across the table and said, “Son, would you like to give your life to Jesus?”

“I said ‘Ah, okay. Yes.’ So, I did … I received Jesus as my Lord and Saviour,” recalls Dumas.

Immediately, he felt his heart being transformed by the Holy Spirit in a way that “no one else could do”.

“Not my family, not even my culture could change my behaviour or the way I was living,” he says. “Immediately, my life was transformed.”

“They said, ‘What drugs you on?’ But you know, they knew something was changing in my life.”

Dumas is a proud Biripi man from the Aboriginal community whose traditional lands extend from Newcastle to Port Macquarie in New South Wales, but he grew up on the Gadigal lands of the Eora Nation in Redfern, Sydney.

“I went back down to Redfern – to ‘The Block’, [as] they called it then – and told people I received Jesus. They said, ‘What drugs you on?’ But you know, they knew something was changing in my life because I wasn’t doing what they were doing now.”

Before his conversion, Dumas’ life in The Block was “pretty rough”.

“In those days we had a lotta ghetto, which is pretty much where kids were totally into drugs and alcohol and stealing. That was a sort of a culture, the lifestyle in that area,” he says. “I began to get caught up in that flow of life and I was pretty much the worst kid on the street, I suppose… [as] probably a ten- or 11-year-old kid …”

“I began to walk in such a free way and only the Lord could do that,” he says.

Dumas fell in with the wrong company and on the wrong course, all of which led to him being getting caught drink-driving by police twice in the space of just one week.

At the time, Long Bay was running a weekend jail program for repeat offenders of minor crimes in a section separate to where maximum security offenders were imprisoned. The judge whom Dumas faced in court decided the program was “the best place” for him. Neither of them knew just how dramatically it would change Dumas’ life.

“I had no Christian background or any upbringing,” Dumas explains. “I always believed in God but never actually practised it. But when I did give my life to Jesus, my life changed.

“I went back to the community of all my mates that were smoking ‘yarndi’ and [were] doing all the wrong things in life. I used to do a lot of stealing and snatching bags … rolling people, drugs, alcohol, stealing cars. That was the way I sort of thought life was.”

But after receiving Christ, Dumas’ entire perspective changed, including the way he viewed those in authority, such as the police.

“I began to walk in such a free way and only the Lord could do that,” he says.

“It was just like when Jesus met the woman at the well and told her about her stories and then she received Christ. She went back to her village and, before you know it … the whole community got saved.

“Ever since then, I’ve been preaching the gospel. I didn’t know the Bible back then, but I preached the gospel. I told people about Jesus, that he saved me, that he changed me.

“Later on, I began to discover the Bible and the word of God. The Lord began to teach me and educate me through the Bible. He gave me the foundation and then I went to college to be trained. From there, the Lord gave me everything that I needed … and I’m still learning, by the grace of God, and hopefully I can pass it on to many other people.”

For the past 17 years, Dumas and his wife Sandra have pastored Ganggalah Church, located at Tweed Heads South in northern New South Wales – a part of the Australian Christian Churches movement.

“When they look at me, they can see that there’s hope.”

“’Ganggalah’ is a Bundjalung word that means ‘place of learning wisdom’,” Dumas says. He describes being a pastor who has the opportunity to encourage others to trust to find hope and solutions in Christ as “a privilege”.

“Some people are very wounded, very scarred from the past of things in life. When they look at me, they can see that there’s hope, because they know that if someone [God] can change me, well, then they can be changed as well,” he says.

Dumas has found that his own transformation is a powerful testimony that the faith that he has is “real and powerful.”

“Transformation is not only just talking about words but it’s tangible,” Dumas muses. “It’s the feeling… what people can sense and see from what I was before … where I came from.”

As a respected Aboriginal Christian leader, Dumas has a wealth of wisdom about life and leadership. He says one of the most important things he’s learned has been how to discern when to offer that wisdom (spiritual food) so that it not only meets people’s needs but is shared at the right time, as part of a bigger process.

“[Church] is just like another way of ceremony, where the body comes to worship God.”

“You sense the timing – where people are at and where their community is at that moment. And making sure you’ve got the right [spiritual] food … because if you take the wrong food in some places, they just don’t receive it,” he says.

Asked if he thinks it’s important for Aboriginal people to have Aboriginal churches, Dumas replies an emphatic “absolutely”.

“[Church] is just like another way of ceremony, where the body comes to worship God,” he explains. “And it’s just so great to see so many people when they do come together and see their own place of worship.”

Dumas is passionate about seeing the next generation of Indigenous leaders rise up and says it’s important that respect for Indigenous elders be balanced with bringing young Indigenous leaders through.

“One of the key things that holds our communities is our elders and we don’t want to disrespect that. But there has to be a giving way to bring our young people through, because if we don’t … they’re going to be caught up in the Western culture in the Western world. We’re not going to have any young leaders coming through in the next ten to 20 years. It’s important to pass the baton down,” he says.

“We need to look at generations today, look at who we can target towards and who we see that’s got the potential and ability. We can input into their life, mentor them and give them the right resources, the strength and encouragement so that they can take on that story – songlines – of what we laid before. They can take it further.”