'I developed very good ways of escape - pubs, clubs, gangs'
Les’ story | Scars in the hands of Jesus
“My Grandfather gave me a Bible for Christmas when I was 6 months old. He taught me the Lord’s Prayer and prayed with me. I also attended Sunday School until age four, and I remember it being an encouraging and safe experience where the Bible was taught and people were kind.
Then my mother became very ill, and I was sent away to live with people whom I didn’t know down the south coast. I stayed with them for three years until my mother died. At seven I returned to live with my father and brother, but my father remarried and, as a consequence, the next 10 years were hell on earth. Home life became violent, abusive and dangerous at the hands of this new person.
“As I moved into my mid-teens I carried huge scars.” – Les
As I got older, I developed ways of escape – pubs, clubs, snooker halls, gangs, music, playing rugby and surfing – I was accepted in that world. I found it safer to be on the streets than to be at home. I was forced to leave school at the end of year 10 and hand over my pay each fortnight. I was 16.
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There were violent break ups and reconciliations, but eventually it all ended, and some level of peace was restored. But as I moved into my mid-teens I carried huge scars, including an overwhelming sense that I was abandoned, alone and unlovable. I was searching for meaning in my life and trying to make sense of what had happened to me. Why did my mother have to die? Why the abuse at the hands of people who were supposed to protect and care for me? How could I take revenge on those who hurt me? Why is there evil in the world? What is truth?
I saturated myself with the classics in literature and poetry, art and music – jazz, blues and folk music. I thought that the answer may lie there. My brother invited me to church on occasions, as he’d now become a Christian, and I heard the Gospel faithfully preached there. But my life was such a mess that it bounced off.
One day in 1968 my brother invited me to the Billy Graham Crusade.
Billy explained that God loved me as I was, in all my mess, so much so, that he sent his only Son, Jesus, to die for me to pay the penalty for my sin. If I repented and turned to him, trusting him for my future, then I would receive the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
I prayed, and put my trust in Jesus that afternoon. The change in me was dramatic! I received a sense of peace, love and acceptance.
“I had a real sense of the burden lifting.”
I began attending my brother’s church where I was nurtured and mentored. I learned more about what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus and how to pray, read and study the Bible. But over the next few years my past would sometimes rear up, and I would struggle with the torment. The accuser would remind me of my past and that I had no future.
There came a day when I sat before the Lord and pictured a big sports bag into which I put my guilt, my shame, my doubts, my hurts, my abuse, my sense of abandonment, my messed-up family, my own failures. I zipped it up and laid it at the foot of the cross. I said to God, “I can’t deal with this anymore, and don’t want this to define me. Please take it. I trust you to deal with it.”
“Only he can take our burdens as we leave them at the cross.”
I had a real sense of the burden lifting. At the same time, an older guy offered to mentor me. He met with me weekly, and we read the Bible, and prayed together. It was transformative – the combination of leaving the burden at the foot of the cross and having that intense encouragement.
Ann and I got married not long afterwards [click to read Ann’s story]. And because we’d seen the impact of Gospel mentorship, we did that for the rest of our lives. It’s been nearly 50 years, now! Basically, there’s no getting around the truth that only Jesus is the answer. Only he can take our burdens as we leave them at the cross.”
Les’ story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click to read more Faith Stories.