I stopped attending church when I was 15 or 16. At a young age, I’d been taken off my parents after false accusations, and I questioned how God could do that to good Christian people. So, after leaving home, I got mixed up in drugs and alcohol and started to live a reckless life.
I got into the BMX scene and was lucky enough to get some sponsorships. I rode with some guys who were really good but also were travelling a lot for BMX.
I thought I would become a famous rider but that’s not what happened. Instead, I had three major accidents.
In 2007, I fractured my skull in two places and had a bleed on my brain. I woke up in the hospital on a spinal trolley, thinking: ‘Oh no. My life’s done‘. It took 12 months to walk again and the entire time, I was housebound. To cope with it, I turned to alcohol and drugs.
I had my second accident in 2009. I fell off the back of a car when we were “out bush” drinking with mates. This one really messed me up. Doctors said, “If you hit your head again, you’re going to die.”
I recovered miraculously and started riding again a few years later. But, in 2012, I came off my bike again. When I hit the ground, I went into violent convulsions. I was rushed down to Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney. Turns out, I’d gained severe epilepsy with my third brain injury. I would have two, three, sometimes four seizures every day causing incontinence, just totally knocked out on the ground, not breathing—“grand mal” seizures. There was not much hope for me.
Doctors told me. “You’ll never work or drive again. This is your life now.”
Hearing that, I just gave up. I started to drink more. I started to get on really hard drugs: not just pot, but chemicals and ice. I really started to get into some bad stuff. With that lifestyle and no job, you have to find a way to pay for drugs. I ended up stealing copper and doing jobs for people that I shouldn’t have been working for to earn cash to feed my addictions.
My life just got worse. Doctors told me I’d die if I didn’t stop living the life I was living.
My ageing parents were worried. People in the community would pull me up and say, “You’re a dead man walking. We can see that your life isn’t going to last.” I just thought: ‘who cares! It’s over for me.’
That’s why I got into the tattoo scene. A lot of my tattoos are skulls. My theory was that I was going to be buried in a coffin with no clothes, just a full suit of tattoos—death written all over me because I was going to die.
My dad would send pastors to me all the time. Here we go, I would think. This guy is going to tell me about some fairy tale that’s written in this little book. I’d just push them off until one day I met Steve Magitis, who came to pastor here at Grafton church.
He’d led a life like mine, doing similar things. When I met him, he never mentioned God. He just built a friendship with me. Then one day he said, “I want to study the Bible with you.”
I took that as an opportunity to take another pastor down.
Before the study, I was at my mate’s place, getting on the gear and drinking so I arrived at that Bible study off my face. I remember sitting on my parents’ lounge rubbing my hands, waiting for Steve to come in so I could show him what his Bible was really all about.
We opened in prayer and he started reading from the beginning of the Bible—the book of Genesis.
“God created the heavens and the earth.” So simple. As he read down the passage—about God speaking and things coming into existence—before I could even get a word out, the Holy Spirit hit me in the face, like a brick. I hung my head in shame, crying, knowing there was a God out there who loved me, even though He knew everything I had done. I heard that still small voice the Bible talks about, whisper to me and God said, “I know where you’ve been. I know what you’ve done. And I still love you.”
The next day I woke up and I decided: that’s it. No more drugs.
I went out to the coast and just cried out to God saying, “If You’re really there, You need to change me.” “You need to pull me away from the scene I’m in, from the people I’m around. My friends are going to jail, people are getting sick with too many drugs.” And my life was that way too. As I prayed that prayer, I made the decision not to touch drugs again.
Alcohol took a little bit longer and smoking was the last one.
A few weeks later I had another hospital visit. When the doctor came into the room she looked different. “Your epilepsy: it’s gone!” she said.
“What do you mean it’s gone?” I asked. “That’s not possible.”
If you know anything about epilepsy, you will know it doesn’t just disappear. “It’s gone. Your brain function is normal. Your scans are clear. You’ll be able to get your driver’s licence back. You’ll be able to live a normal life. We can’t explain how this has happened. This is a miraculous recovery.”
“I know it’s possible,” I told her. “God healed me.”
“Well, if that’s what you believe, that’s what you believe,” she said. But I knew God had answered my prayer and had something special in store for my life.
I went home and stuck my head in the Bible. I wanted to get to know the Person who knew everything about me and still cared.
I got my (driver’s) licence back. I returned to work. And as my relationship with God grew, I wanted to share with other people that their life didn’t have to be in chaos and turmoil; chasing drugs and running from the police. It was possible to live free from it all.
In the process of coming back to God, I began praying for my little girl—taken from me when she was only three months old.
I’ll never forget the day I had in court. Family court was packed.
People were standing around the walls but there as I was sitting in the waiting area, there was a spare seat next to me. It was the same thing in the courtroom—people decked out along the walls, but once again a spare seat next to me. This happened three or four times as I went in and out of the courtroom.
I began to think: man, do I stink or something? I heard that small voice again saying, that seat is for Me. It was God’s way of telling me “I’m here with you today.” To my surprise and joy, I was awarded 100 per cent custody of my daughter. I took her home that day.
As I studied the Bible my hunger for God grew. I decided I needed to work for Him. And, to do that, I needed to leave my job.
But now I had a daughter to take care of. So, I prayed, asking God: how is this possible? God seemed to respond: give Me everything. I decided I was going to serve God wholeheartedly and yet I didn’t know how we were going to survive. Yet through miracle after miracle God provided for us.
I would pull out my Bible at Bible studies and 100 dollar notes would fall out. We got down to our last carton of eggs—all the food we had in the house—and there was a 50 dollar note in the carton. Money arrived in my account from people I didn’t know. The local church supported me. I was a single dad, but life was starting to come back together. I knew I had to do further study so I enrolled in a program that would show me what the story of the Bible was all about, from beginning to end.
The only problem was that I didn’t own a computer. Nor did I have access to a printer or the internet. I was barely literate (I learned to read through reading the Bible). So I prayed again. Someone who had never bought me a Christmas present before bought me a laptop. Somebody else gave me a printer. Then my church decided to pay for my internet for 12 months so I could study while sharing Bible studies in Grafton.
During that time, I had a call from a girl who wanted Bible studies. “How many days are you in town?” she asked. “Two,” I said. “Well, I’ll have studies on both days,” she replied.
Bonita had a real passion for God; I could see it in her eyes. She ended up helping me give Bible studies to others and attending church. Our friendship developed. I had the privilege of baptising Bonita and we got engaged and were married within a few months. I proposed to her in Grafton Seventh-day Adventist church.
Soon after we married, we had our first child together—a honeymoon baby. With my oldest daughter who is now eight and four foster children—her half siblings—we now have a full house. And my wife is pregnant again!
God truly delivered everything I had lost. There are still tough times, living in a broken family. God forgives you for what you have done, but the consequences are still there.
However, I can deal with today’s tough moments instead of giving up, because now I have Jesus. He’s always there to pull me through life’s trials.
There is always hope because if God can bring me from that sort of life to where I am today, God can do that for you too.
Greg Fernance is serving his home community as the pastor of Grafton Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Greg’s wife, Bonita, recently shared her story with Signs of the Times. You can read it here.