'I rolled myself in the bulldust to put out the flames’

Phil’s story | Change can be miraculous!

“At 16, I suffered a mental breakdown. I left school with no dreams, visions or prospects, and I drifted into various technical jobs. During this period, I loved cycling and I began to organise long rides with mates. It ‘saved’ me in many ways and led to competition cycling. It was also a catalyst causing me to have a run-in with the law. Being a dedicated sportsman, I was, at times, a bit short of cash, so my mate and I organised an ‘inappropriate activity’ to raise some funds. Alas, police were informed and we were duly arrested, charged and bailed on an indictable offence.

I was 23, and I hit the wall. As well as awaiting my third court appearance, I had a series of broken romances, my knee was giving me trouble, hindering my cycling, and I was a very discontented and disillusioned young man.

As it happened, a cycling mate of mine was contacted by a group of Christian young people and he became a believer in Jesus. Up until then, I had absolutely no idea what made a person a Christian. But my mate invited me, and others, to an evening Sunday Service and we went. We had nothing else to do. During the service, I began to feel completely undone. For some reason, I sensed in my mind an urge to say, “God, help me!” Well, nothing outlandish happened at the time – no flashing lights, or ‘complete peace’, but I knew I wanted to go to church the following week. I kept going, and during the next few weeks, an enormous change occurred in my thinking and personality and attitudes and morals. I know now it was the work of the Holy Spirit. Mind you, at the time, I really didn’t know much at all about Christianity.

The change was exponential, and I decided to read through the whole Bible, from beginning to end, which I did. I also met a young lass and she later became my wife. I started attending morning church, and youth Sunday school. I was asked to go on the Diaconate and become the Boys’ Brigade leader. Appreciate this didn’t happen all in one year!

There was more in the pipeline. I went to court for the final case and thankfully, was declared ‘not guilty’. It was strange finding myself in a holding cell beneath the court in Oxford Street as a developing Christian. It was a valuable lesson on humility and grace! Then, a year after our wedding, my wife and I, with eleven other friends, bought a double-decker bus and drove to Uluru. Without all the gory details, we had an ‘on board’ gas explosion and I was two feet away. I took the full blast and I was burnt on about a third of my body. I jumped out of the bus (going at20mph) and rolled in the bulldust to put out the flames. I was a bit of a mess!

It took three hours to reach the nearest outback cattle station to make a radio call to Alice Springs. An ambulance arrived the next day after being temporarily lost, and I was taken to the hospital and placed in isolation. Having been badly burnt and covered with blood, dust and grime, septicaemia was a distinct possibility. Alone in that room, I thought a lot about the fragility of life. What did I consider really important? By then, I was a qualified Engineering Surveyor, but I began to consider becoming a full-time Christian worker. I told my wife the next day and she said that she’d had exactly the same thought that morning.

For the next 40 years, I trained and then became the pastor at Oyster Bay. The verse in Hebrews 13:8 has always been important to me. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Jesus is the same today, as he was in the Gospels and when I was 26. God is always at work in our lives through his Holy Spirit. Sometimes, the change is miraculous! The older I become, the more I find myself contemplating eternity. It lasts forever! All the discouraging things that we go through here (which are many) are temporary, but eternity is forever. I’m very thankful to God!”

Phil’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click here for more Faith Stories.

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