Growing up in a rural town in Western Australia, Ashley Garlett turned to alcohol and drugs early on to numb the fear and grief that followed a tragic accident in which a close friend died.
Ashley, a Balladong Noongar man from Merredin in the Western Australian wheat belt, says that in a quest to find their pleasure, he and his youth group mates came up with the idea of taking pleasure rides from the train that used to run very slowly through the city.
“But one night, it took a tragic turn when my friend lost his life trying to joyride on the back of a truck going around a corner. A few of us were joyriding on the back of the truck, but he stayed longer than he should have, and the truck started to gain too much speed and couldn’t get out. It cost him his life, and we witnessed it.”
At age 13, Ashley suddenly realized that “our lives are not guaranteed, and anything can happen.” To try to put the trauma behind him, he started drinking and smoking, stealing, and hanging out with the wrong people, as he puts it.
“Our lives are not guaranteed, and anything can happen.” – Ashley Garlett
Ashley grew up Catholic in a large family of 13 siblings. Ashley knew he was doing wrong and found that his sin “kept sending me down a path of darkness and trouble”.
“That led to me turning 19, 20, where it was like, ‘This isn’t the life I want to live,’ and I wanted to find something different from what I was doing.”
Ashley’s mother was the first in the family to convert to Christianity and had attended an Aboriginal church on the north side of Perth. She kept inviting Ashley to come along, and eventually, he did.
“I heard the gospel there and started thinking, ‘If God is real, what have I done? He wouldn’t be happy with all these things I’ve done.’
“So finally, I came to know that Jesus died for us. And he gave his life for us to forgive us our sins. So one day, I decided I wanted to heed the call of the Lord and started a new journey for myself.
“Everything just stopped, and I started in a different direction. First, he took away all the lust to drink, and I didn’t need those things anymore. I feared dying most of my life, but Jesus brought peace and joy in my heart and life.”
“For most of my life, I was afraid to die, but Jesus brought peace and joy to my heart and life.” – Ashley Garlett.
At first, Ashley found his new life as a Christian difficult. “It wasn’t easy being young and having friends who were still doing those things of the world. There were times when some people didn’t understand what was going on. They thought, ‘He’s not fun anymore; he’s not on the team anymore.’ But God kept putting me on that path.”
It has taken Ashley several years to see the big picture of where God wants him to be.
His conversion in 2000 coincided with the fear of what the turn of the millennium would bring. “I was a little scared of what the future would bring because people said everything would stop,” he recalls.
A few years later, he was asked to give a talk at a youth convention on the East Coast, leading to some Koori ministry at the Baptist Church in Coffs Harbor on the North Shore of NSW. “We did a good job there trying to disciple young boys who had committed or recommitted their faith at the convention. I also helped around Sunday school and preached at the mainstream Baptist church in Coffs Harbor.”
But Ashley struggled with a combination of homesickness and conflict between God’s and the world’s ways, so he returned home and worked at a youth hostel run by a church.
“There was a lot of jumping around in secular work, waiting for God’s will from where he wants me to be,” he says. “I’ve had my struggles and ups and downs, but God has been faithful through it all.”
“There was a lot of jumping around in secular work, waiting for God’s will from where he wants me to be.” – Ashley Garlett.
Now 43, Ashley is finally finding his feet and exploring his ministry talents. In April, he moved east to work as a new Indigenous ministry intern at St Peter’s Anglican Church in South Tamworth, NSW. He says none of the secular jobs he’s held over the years has given him the joy the ministry brings.
“I want to dedicate my life to following Christ by helping others come to know him personally and alongside other brothers and sisters who are passionate and committed to serving God,” Ashley says. “This is why I’m so excited about training at Tamworth.”
In this new position, he is supported by the Bush Church Aid Society (BCA), which helped Indigenous ministry intern George Ferguson in Tamworth a few years ago. Indigenous minister student Nathanael “Jum” Naden in Sydney.
Today George preaches at St Peter’s Walgett. At the same time, Jum is a chaplain at St Peter’s South Tamworth, where he trains Ashley in various areas of ministry, including involvement in the ministry of the Coledale Frontyard Church, where Indigenous people gather every Wednesday to celebrate the Hear the Bible preached and eat together.
“Right now, he’s doing some study, some PTC stuff through Moore College, and he’s involved in all the Aboriginal ministry things that happen in the parish during the week, and he’s also on Sunday service,” Jum says.
Jum is the son of Neville Naden, the BCA Native official, whose vision is transforming the Church’s vision of Aboriginal people as a mission field into a missionary force.
To expand its long-term work with Indigenous peoples, BCA aims to raise $230,000 by June 30 to help find and train more First Nations people to serve their people.
“I think the wider church needs to look at how they can get involved.” – Jum Naden.
Although BCA no longer supports Jum, he is grateful for the support he received while studying at Moore College, not only financially, but “being part of the BCA family meant there were people all over the country who came to help me.” to bathe.
“BCA is at the forefront of encouraging and equipping Aboriginal men and women for ministry, but I think the wider church needs to look at how they can get involved and what it looks like to move forward with the vision,” he says.
“Churches may not know what to do or where to start regarding this, and they may have the heart to try to see and support the ministry for the Aborigines. BCA is an excellent way to do that.”
Click here to support the BCA First Nations call.