Bindi Cole Chocka is an award-winning Australian artist from Melbourne. She has held 25 solo shows in the past ten years and participated in more than 60 group exhibitions. She has been nominated for 18 art awards and won or was placed in six. Her artworks are included in many collections around the world. And yet, Bindi says, she was “canceled” by the art world after coming out as a Christian. She shares her remarkable journey to the faith and why she is willing to risk her career for Jesus.
October 9, 1999, 1:35 PM – I wrote a diary entry while in prison in England. That day I gave my life to Jesus after a few months in jail.
It is important to establish how I ended up in prison. In some ways, I had nowhere else to go.
I grew up in Melbourne’s St Kilda. 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. She became addicted to heroin very early in my life. And as a result of that addiction, she started prostituting and performing as a stripper.
And so, my early life was heavily defined by this lifestyle she adopted. I was exposed to many things young children shouldn’t be exposed to. I was repeatedly abused, sexually and physically, and was severely neglected.
I was taken out of my mother’s care when I was eight. Then I moved from relative to relative for a few years until I ended up with my Aboriginal grandmother (my father’s Aboriginal, with West 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 introduced me to marijuana, and I started smoking and drinking with her regularly. She had completed the methadone program but still smoked marijuana daily and drank heavily. That was the beginning of my addiction.
Three years later, when I was 16, my mother suddenly died of cancer – it took about three months from diagnosis to death. That was a breaking point for me, especially after seeing her go to great lengths to change her life and get me back into her life. She had started writing and had some success as a playwright. And when I saw her die this horrible, painful death, I felt, what’s the point of life? I then made a vow that I would not allow myself anything more. And that was essentially my goal for the next ten years.
About a year later, I started dating a man who was a drug dealer and had also had a traumatic life. He started physically abusing me for four years. We used drugs every day, and he tormented and beat me. I kept taking drugs, and that evolved into other types of drugs.
When I was 21, I left that relationship and decided to go. I tried to run from all my problems. So I bought a ticket to London and got on the plane with $20 in my pocket.
As I exited the shower one morning, I heard God’s voice.
When I arrived in London, I found someone who wanted to give me drugs. I overdosed three times in two months. Within three or four months, I was living with another drug dealer, selling drugs in nightclubs, and using a cocktail of drugs myself.
I remember waking up one day and thinking; if you don’t stop this, you will die. I knew my body couldn’t take much more. I tried to get help. I found a few drug rehab centers and knocked on their doors, but no one wanted to hire me because I wasn’t a citizen. I was about 24 at the time.
I would wake up in the morning and think, today is the day I can stop this. But by evening, I was high again. So I just gave up. As I exited the shower one morning, I heard God’s voice.
I had never heard it before. I spent some time in church with my Aboriginal grandmother, a Christian. For a few years, she had taken me to Sunday school. But that was my whole experience with God and the church.
So when I heard God’s voice, it was utterly wonderful. He said to me, ‘Call my son. Call my son over and over. It was relentless, and I fell to my knees and said, “Jesus, help me.”
I was arrested for selling drugs in London nightclubs within a week of that supernatural experience (which I swore I would never tell anyone about). I was locked in a cell at the police station. But a wave of peace washed over me when I entered the cell.
I knew at that moment it was over. I had run away from my life so hard and fast, from feeling pain, trauma, and abuse, that I ended up in a small police cell on the other side of the world, all alone with Jesus. It was as if his presence was there. I knew that from then on; things would change.
And they did. I was eventually sentenced to four years, but after two or three months in prison, I gave my life to Jesus. I continued to have supernatural encounters with Jesus in prison – I’ve never had anything like it since. I knew he was in the cell with me and would talk to me.
I thought I was going crazy, but I didn’t do drugs and hadn’t drunk for the first time since I was 13. I had a clear head.
I served two years in prison and was released and sent back to Melbourne.
At that time, while I knew God loved me, I had not yet understood that I needed forgiveness. It was so important that God did it in this order – I had to be loved deeply. And I had been victimized in my life – sexually, physically, emotionally. But I turned my victimization into a victimization mentality, which allowed me to justify all the behavior I had committed against others. So, for example, I explained my drug trade. I had sold drugs indiscriminately to everyone in those nightclubs. I didn’t care about their lives. I only cared about money so that I could take my pills. I’m sure I contributed to and perpetuated much pain over time.
When you come to Jesus, you eventually realize that he will not only heal you of the wounds in your life but also hold you accountable for your actions. Nothing changes unless you start taking responsibility. And so, a few years later, after I got out of prison, God slowly and gently showed me that I, too, was a perpetrator.
When God showed me that, I cried for two years. I realized 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 then I started to experience real freedom. I started to untangle inside. I began to experience some semblance of peace. I started to lose more and more destructive behavior. The legacy of abuse began to fall away.
Since then, I’ve spent time forgiving all of my abusers—not just ignoring them, but asking God to forgive me for judging them. The more I do that, the freedom I have experienced is palpable. It is awesome. I didn’t even know you could live in such a space.
As I began to understand the power of forgiveness, it also changed my artistic practice. I’ve done work, after work, seeking forgiveness, trying to make people—Christians and non-Christians alike—understand this tool that God has given us that works whether you’re a Christian or not.
Bindi shares more of her powerful story on Eternity’s Run Like a Woman podcast, including how she was canceled as a performer due to her “conservative Christian views.” Listen to the episode ‘The Canceled Artist and Jesus’ here: