Bindi Chocka Cole: ‘I ended up in a prison cell on the other side of the world, all alone with Jesus’
Bindi Cole Chocka is an award-winning Australian artist from Melbourne. In the last ten years, she has held 25 solo shows and been in over 60 group exhibitions. She has been shortlisted for 18 art prizes and won or placed in six. Her artwork is held in many collections across the globe. And yet, Bindi says, she was ‘cancelled’ by the art world after coming out as a Christian. Here, she shares her remarkable journey to faith, and why she’s willing to risk her career for Jesus.
October 9, 1999, 1:35pm – I wrote a diary entry while I was in prison in England. That was the day I gave my life to Jesus, after being in prison for a couple of months.
It’s important to establish how I ended up in prison. In some ways, there was nowhere else for me to go.
I grew up in St Kilda in Melbourne. I lived with my mother who was separated from my father when I was a baby. I was an only child.
My mother was very young when she had me. I was born on her 20th birthday, actually. Very early on in my life, she became addicted to heroin. And as a result of that addiction, she began to prostitute and to perform as a stripper.
And so my early life was very much dictated by this lifestyle that she had taken up. I was exposed to so many things that young children shouldn’t be exposed to. I was repeatedly abused, sexually and physically, and I was neglected badly.
When I was eight years old, I was removed from my mother’s care. I then moved around from family member to family member for a couple of years, until I landed with my Aboriginal grandmother (my father’s Aboriginal, with Western Victorian Wadawurrung heritage). I ended up living with my grandmother for a few years.
When I was 13, I moved back in with my mother. She had completed the Methadone program, however, she still smoked marijuana every day and drank heavily. She introduced me to marijuana and I began to smoke with her regularly and drink with her, too. That really was the beginning of my own addictions.
Three years later, when I was 16, my mother died from cancer quite suddenly – it was about three months from diagnosis to death. That really was a breaking point for me, especially after watching her make big efforts to turn her life around and get me back into her life. She had begun writing and had some success as a playwright. And so then watching her die this horrible, painful death, I felt like what’s the point of life? At that time, I made a vow that I would no longer allow myself to feel anything. And that was essentially my goal for the next ten years.
I continued using drugs and that progressed to other types of drugs. I entered into a relationship about a year later with guy who was a drug dealer, who had also had a very traumatic life. He began to physically abuse me for four years. We used drugs daily and he would torment me and beat me.
At 21, I got out of that relationship and I decided that I needed to get away. I tried to run away from all of my problems. So I bought a ticket to London and hopped on a plane, with $20 in my pocket.
Then one morning, as I hopped out of the shower, I heard God’s voice.
The day that I arrived in London, I found someone to give me drugs. Within three or four months, I was living with another drug dealer, selling drugs in nightclubs and using a cocktail of drugs myself. I overdosed three times within the space of two months.
I remember waking up one day and thinking, if you don’t stop this, you will die. I knew that my body couldn’t take much more. I was about 24 at this point. I tried to get help. I found some rehab centres and knocked on their doors, but no one would take me because I wasn’t a national there.
I would wake up in the mornings and think, today’s the day, I can stop this. But by the evening, I was high again. So I kind of just gave up. Then one morning, as I hopped out of the shower, I heard God’s voice.
I’d never heard it before. I had spent some time in church with my Aboriginal grandmother, who was a Christian. For a few years, she had taken me to Sunday school. But that was my entire experience with God and church.
So when I heard God’s voice, it was totally miraculous. He said to me, “Call out to my son. Call out to my son,” over and over and over. It was relentless and I fell on my knees and said, “Jesus, help me.”
Within a week of that supernatural experience (which I vowed at the time I would never tell anyone about), I was arrested for selling drugs in London nightclubs. I was locked up in a cell at the police station. But as I walked into the cell, this wave of peace washed over me.
I knew in that moment that it was over. I had run so hard and so fast from my life, from feeling pain, from trauma, from abuse, that I’d ended up in a tiny police cell on the other side of the world, all alone with Jesus. It was like his presence was there. I knew that things were going to change from that moment on.
And they did. I ended up getting sentenced to four years, but after two or three months in jail, I had given my life to Jesus. I continued to have supernatural encounters with Jesus in jail – I’ve never had anything like it since. I just knew he was sitting with me in the cell and he would speak to me.
I thought I was going crazy, but I wasn’t on drugs and I wasn’t drinking for the first time since I was 13. I had a clear head.
I ended up serving two years in prison and then I was released and deported back to Melbourne.
At that time while I knew I was loved by God, I hadn’t yet understood that I needed forgiveness. It was so important that God did it in this order – I needed to be loved so deeply and profoundly. And I had been victimised in my life – sexually, physically, emotionally. But I took my own victimisation and I turned it into a victimhood mentality, which allowed me to justify all the behaviour that I had perpetrated on others. So, for example, I justified my drug dealing. I had sold drugs indiscriminately, to anybody in those nightclubs. I didn’t care about their life. I just cared about money so I could take my own drugs. I’m sure I contributed to and perpetuated misery, lots and lots of misery over time.
When you come to Jesus, eventually you have the realisation that not only is he going to heal you from the wounding in your life, but he’s going to call you to account for the things that you have done, too. Nothing will change unless you begin to take responsibility. And so, a few years down the track after I had left jail, God slowly and gently showed me how I was also a perpetrator.
When God showed me that, I actually cried for two years. I realised how much I had hurt other people and how much I had hurt God. As I went through that process, he forgave me over and over. And that’s when I began to experience true freedom. I began to untangle inside. I began to experience some semblance of peace. I began to lose more and more destructive behaviour. The legacy of abuse began to fall away.
I’ve since spent time forgiving all my abusers – not only forgiving them but asking God to forgive me for judging them, too. The more I do that, the freedom that I have experienced is palpable. It’s amazing. I didn’t even know that you could live in such freedom.
When I began to understand the power of forgiveness, it also transformed my artistic practice. I made work, after work, after work, exploring forgiveness, trying to get people – Christians and non-Christians – to understand this tool that God has given us that works, whether you are a Christian or you’re not a Christian.
Bindi shares more of her powerful story on Eternity’s Run Like a Woman podcast, including how she was cancelled as an artist for her “conservative Christian views”. Listen to the episode ‘The Cancelled artist and Jesus’ here: