Monthly Archives: April 2013

Post 47. Knocking on Heaven’s Door


Something had changed.  Tony realised the Bible wasn’t just another philosophical book.  It was alive.  It spoke.  He was still confused, but he started praying to Jesus.   From that moment of revelation in the jungle, his 10 years of drug taking stopped instantly; gone in a moment. 

From Rishikesh he travelled to Bombay and booked into the Salvation Army Hostel.  It was there that he met an elderly Canadian man, Arthur Rose.  Tony thought he was either a saint or an angel.   He talked about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Arthur patiently explained that it wasn’t possible to believe in both resurrection and reincarnation. It had to be one or the other; they were poles apart. By the end of the conversation, Tony knew he had to choose. He chose resurrection. 

Arthur invited Tony to attend an Easter service in a slum area.   While they were sitting on the dusty steps of the Salvation Army hostel, Tony looked at Arthur and said, “I know now that Jesus is the way.  I don’t have to look for any other guru.  I want to follow Him.” 

He had only been to two other church services in New Zealand.  Both were traditional and he had no idea what was going on.  He went to a youth camp when he was much younger but was too stoned to concentrate on anything that was said. 

The room was tiny and packed with slum dwellers.  Tony had his guitar with him and they asked him to sing a song.  He didn’t know any hymns or choruses so he sang the only remotely churchy song he knew; Bob Dylan’s, “Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door.” The Marathi speakers didn’t understand a word of it but were happy that a foreigner was singing in their church.

When he got to the verse, “Mama, take these guns off me..” they kept smiling, so he kept going. 

As he read the Easter story, later that day on his bed, tears flowed; he was overwhelmed and moved to tears thinking about how one so perfect could have died for someone so sinful.  He was grateful that Jesus had died in his place.

Post 46. The Bible and a chillum


He didn’t think he would ever see her again but within minutes of that prayer, she popped into his room.  She was concerned for his life.  She handed him a small Gideon’s Bible she had been given. “Here, you need this more than I do.”  He tucked it away in his backpack. 

Tony had been in India and South East Asia for over a year. His goal was to travel from New Zealand to Europe, make lots of money from his drug run and go home.  By the time he reached India, his journey had become a spiritual one. 

Buddhism had already been explored.  He had travelled into Darjeeling to join a monastery, but they wouldn’t have him.  Maybe they could see his hedonism was going to take more than a lifetime of meditation to get over. Or, maybe they knew it wasn’t going to be easy to get him to shave off his waist length hair.  There was no place for him to sleep so he spent the night under the stars.  It was freezing cold and all he had with him was a thin shawl. He left early the next morning, disappointed and disillusioned.

In his desperate state, he left  Delhi and set off for Rishikesh, the home of Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.    It was where the Beatles had gone in search of enlightenment.  

He got a bed in an ashram where he met others who were just like him.  Many were freaked out and paranoid; a Frenchman who had been in India far too long, stripped naked and ran into the forest, never to be seen again.  

It was in the ashram that he learnt the ways of Hinduism.  Because he played the guitar, he was asked to play for the “puja.”  He rang bells and meditated on candles and posters of deities.  One day while meditating on a poster of Shiva, a purple light shone out of the throat of the image. Tony wasn’t on any hallucinogenic at the time, so he knew it was a supernatural thing.  It freaked him out but he was excited that something was going on. 

A Burmese guy who knew Sanskrit and had been a follower of Shiva for many years told him what it was.  The throat was one of the chakras (power points) in Hinduism and literally translated it meant “neelkanth” or “purple throat”.  There was a Shiva temple at a place called “Neelkanth”, a day’s walk into the foothills of the Himalayas. Tony set off for the temple the next day.  He felt it was some kind of divine sign or message. He found a place to sleep and eat then went to the temple to do puja.  All the time he was meditating and ringing the bells, he was hoping that one of the gurus or pundits would help him in his search.  

No-one could explain the meaning of what he had seen.  He was disappointed and left Neelkanth very disillusioned.  He made his way through the foothills on the path back to Rishikesh and stopped to take in the view.  The Ganges River was way below, winding its way across the plains of Uttar Pradesh. 

He lit up his chillum and took out the little New Testament he had been given a few weeks before.  He randomly opened the pages and the first word that his eyes saw was the word “idol.”  

With that one small word, came a small gentle voice.  “I don’t live in images made by the hands of men. I don’t live in wood and stone.  I am the Living God.” Where he had been was a place of wood and stone.  He had been worshipping inanimate objects.   

One word was enough.   In his drugged out state that was all he could concentrate on.  That was all he needed.  Right then, Tony knew his lost, wandering soul had been found.

The God of the heart had found His man.

Post 45. Drugs, lice, scabies and stomach bugs


I had been praying for my husband since I was thirteen.  I had no idea he was a drugged out hippy roaming around Asia, getting more and more lost while trying to find himself. 

Tony arrived in India expecting to see lots of camels, women in saris carrying pots on their heads and deserts.  He saw  those things but there was so much more.  The crowds overwhelmed him. There were people everywhere. So much poverty was a shock to the Kiwi boy’s system.  The last straw was seeing children starving on the street outside an old age home for cows.  

There were no queues; there were huddles which reminded him of rugby scrums.  He travelled on every mode of transport available; trains, buses, horse and cart, boats, rickshaws, elephants, bicycles and camels.  At the end of each day, all he wanted was a bed, a place to wash, simple food and clean water to drink.  He stayed in some very low budget places and no matter how clean he tried to be, he picked up lice, scabies and bad stomach bugs.  His drug diet didn’t help matters either.  

Things went from bad to worse.  He mixed with some hard core drug peddlers and was planning to do a drug run to Europe.  There was a lot of money to be made.  He heard stories of drug-filled condoms bursting in runner’s stomachs and he knew of some who had died that way.   He just kept his focus on the ones who made it; REALLY made it.   

In Delhi, things got really ugly between him and the girl he had been living and travelling with.  They split up and went their separate ways.  Tony roamed around in a drugged out state and found a tiny room to spend the night.  He hadn’t seen himself in a full length mirror for a while and it was not a pretty sight.  His strong surfer, skier, rugby player physique had been reduced to skin and bone in a matter of months.  He stood in front of the mirror, looked at his ribs sticking out and mumbled, “Tony, what have you done to yourself?” 

India intrigued him, fascinated him and made him more frustrated and angry than he had ever been.  He was an emotional, physical, mental and spiritual mess. Suddenly there was something driving him to find answers.   For the first time in his life he had questions.  

He lay in his small, dark room.  He had been walking the streets of Delhi crying for his sad life.   He didn’t know who to pray to.  Only the God of the heart could have heard a prayer so quiet and so simple, 

“God help me!”

Post 44. An Island Too Small

Me at 16

Me at 17

Tony at 18

Tony at 18

Tony was passionate about many things.

The beach was just 500 metres from the Johnson’s house and he started surfing from a young age.  Doug was a lifesaver and made sure his boys were strong swimmers. In winter, he skied the highest slopes in New Zealand and did stunts that few dared to do.  His dream was to ski in the Winter Olympics.   Rugby was big for Tony and Ben.  They played for their school as well as for the local rugby club.  Doug had his own import tea company and wanted Tony to work with him.  That worked for a while but as soon as he learnt the ropes, Tony started his own tea business.  Wheeling and dealing was part of his life wherever he went.

His first trip off the little island of 3 million people was to the States, Canada and Mexico.  He was 20.  When he got there he bought cheap cars, used them, sold them and moved on.  One night, driving along the Mexican coast, he was stoned and lost.  He ended up on a dusty, dark road in the middle of nowhere.  He fell asleep and woke up to the sound of a hovering helicopter, spotlights shining in his face and a loud hailer telling him to get out of the car with his hands in the air.  He was searched for drugs and Mexicans.  Strangely enough he didn’t have either on him at the time.  He played the dumb foreigner and was pointed in the right direction.

He worked in restaurants and spent his free time skiing and surfing.  The American drug scene pulled him in and his use of hard drugs increased. He was becoming more dependent.

When he got back to New Zealand he got into farming.  He became the proud owner of his own little marijuana plantation in Piha, on the West Coast.   It was in a creative hippy commune he was living in that he heard stories of India.  One of the couples had travelled all over Asia and had written a book about it.  He started getting his dollars together to travel again.

This time he set off  with his surfboard to India via Indonesia and South East Asia.  He travelled around from beach to beach in search of the perfect break.  Getting from one island to the other was a challenge.  One of the ferries was packed to capacity, with people everywhere.  It smelled of urine and vomit.  The only place he could get any sleep was up on the deck, on his board.

By the time he arrived in India, Tony was already on a heavy drug diet and he knew he had just landed in drug “paradise.”

Post 43. The Johnson boys

Tony and his best friend Sandy

Tony and his best friend Sandy

Tony’s adventurous life started when he was given a red tricycle.  His best friend was Sandy the Cocker Spaniel.  Jan and Ben were at school and Sandy couldn’t keep up with all his energy.  Mid morning, Betty got a call from the principal.  Tony had cycled 1 km across main roads and through the town to go to school.  He was three.

Ben was the “scientist.”  He unscrewed anything that had screws; when he couldn’t find something to undo, he would put the screw driver in power sockets, or put tea towels on the stove to watch them burn.  He was four when he pulled the handbrake at the top of their steep driveway and smashed the car into the house.  He didn’t talk much, but when he did, it was meaningful.  Betty took him in his pram to the butcher, Mr Mooday.  Doug had complained about the meat they had for dinner the night before.  Ben greeted him and then said in a loud voice, “Mr Mooday, do you know what my dad said?  He said he was going to wrap those chops around your bloody neck.”

Tony, the little entrepreneur, made his dollars from delivering newspapers and getting deposits from collecting glass soda bottles on the beach.  He also made a quick but humiliating 20c from Jan.  She played dress ups and he was her little sister.  He just kept his mind on the money.  The clothes came off quickly when he saw Doug and Betty trying to hide their smiles.

He was tightly wound up.  His words wouldn’t come out fast enough so he spoke a kind of gibberish for a while.  Walking was another boring past time.  He ran everywhere and was always barefooted.

School was a drag apart from the “trips” he went on with his teachers and  Maths was only interesting when he had some substance assistance.

It seemed that the only common thing we shared in our childhood was our love for pranks.  Tony’s were just slightly more aggressive.  He threatened to get his teachers after school with, “We know where you live.”  Once he and his friends found a life size toy gun; they drove down the main road in their car and found a Mormon man on his bicycle.  Tony pointed the gun out of the moving car window and said really slowly, “I’m going to shoot you.”  The gun made a loud bang and the guy fell off his bike, thinking he had been shot.

Tony and Jan

Tony and Jan




When Ben dared Tony to push him off the roof of the house, he did.  While Betty was dealing with Ben’s broken arm,  Doug went after Tony.  He chased him around the house and garden and eventually gave up.

The more we talked, the more we realised that if we had met at any other time in our lives, we would NOT have been interested in each other.  Tony was wild and woolly.  He had experienced most of what life had to offer by the time he was 14.  He left school to work with Doug in his tea business.  Then it was life in fast cars with model girlfriends. He started to earn more money in a week than the average NZ family earned in a month.

His family had no religion to speak of.  Tony’s was hedonism. He lived for anything that brought him pleasure.  No holding back.

Post 42. Meanwhile, in the Pacific Ocean..


Letters came and went in different shapes and sizes.  The envelopes could hardly contain some of them.  I once wrote on a toilet roll and rolled it up again.  Tony found a piece of writing paper the size of a newspaper and wrote in tiny writing on both sides.  It was interesting trying to read it in the Beetle during my lunch break.   I also got HUGE cards which were too big for the mailbox.

We had lots to talk about.  We hadn’t talked for more than 20 minutes in total on the ship, so we knew very little about each other.  There were lots of questions in every letter.  How much sugar do you take in coffee/tea?  What size shoe?  What is your favourite food, movie, colour, music etc.

I didn’t know how tall he was or how old he was.  I even forgot what he looked like.  I was relieved when he sent a photo.  He was gorgeous.

I had heard Tony’s story, in brief,  a couple of times in conferences.  It was so different from mine and it came in instalments in the mail.

He was the youngest of three.  Jan was the first born and Ben was just 18 months older than Tony.  Their dad, Doug, was a successful businessman and an entrepreneur.  Betty, their mum had been a legal secretary before having children.

Both Doug and Betty had been raised in the old fashioned way, “Children should be seen and not heard.”     Betty, her two sisters and brother were ruled by a religious father who wielded an iron rod.  There was no-one to soften the blows and no-one they could go to for a taste of gentleness.  Their upbringing had such a negative affect on them that they determined that their children would not get the same treatment.

Doug began drinking as a young man and it got out of control early in their marriage.  When the children were in their teens, he joined Alcoholics Anonymous and started his battle to “get off the wagon.”

Tony got into all kinds of drugs by the time he was 13.  He started to deal drugs at school and trip with some of his teachers. During one wild party at their house, gate crashers broke in, gardens were trampled on and the police were called in. Other parties were held when Doug and Betty were out. The mess was cleaned up before they got home and they had no idea what had gone on.

Doug tried his hardest to be a good dad.  He was loving and generous, but just not around.  His absence really affected Tony. He was a risk taker, which scared Betty, but he was loved for his spontaneity and edginess.   He took some risks which paid off and others that didn’t.

Betty was barely able to cope.  She kept the house spick and span and made sure there was healthy food and baked goodies for the kids when they got home from school. She was doing everything she could to hold her family together while everything was falling apart.

Post 41. Snail mail and cassettes


Rolleston Place was smaller than ever.  Val had painted my room a pale pink and put all kinds of Holly Hobby figures all over it.  It was like going back to my childhood.  They were so happy to have me home.  I had gone from 48- 55kgs and they loved every bit of me.

I also arrived home to a huge bouquet of flowers and a marriage proposal.  “I know I haven’t been in touch with you for the past two years, but I want you to be my wife.  Will you?  Love, Ian.” Wilf and Val were hovering and hopeful.  I couldn’t believe the cheek.  I gave Val the flowers and put the note in the bin.

Being back in my neighbourhood was hard.  It was difficult to connect with people.  Not many were interested in my travels or experiences and not many questions were asked.  It was as if I hadn’t gone anywhere.

While I was away, Dave and Bev got married and Rigby and Sue had moved to Johannesburg to take on a small church.  Peter was working in a bank in Pietermaritzburg.  The house was quiet and I felt isolated.

I took a few months off then started to look for a job.   I accepted one with YFC and was going to start the following month.  At the same time, Rigby and Sue called and invited me to join them in Johannesburg.  It seemed to be the right thing to do so I called YFC to apologise and made my plans to move to the big city.

Tony had replied to my subtle note.  A few times actually.  Wilf and Val wondered about all the post arriving in our little tin post box.   They knew something was brewing.

Tony wasn’t going to mess around.  He did not want another girlfriend; he had had enough of those.  He was serious.   In one of his first letters he made it clear.   In the only way he knew, he said “I guess I am asking for Social Permission”.  I wasn’t going to make it easy so I replied, “What exactly do you mean by that?”   He made it clear he had marriage in mind.

By the time I moved from No 28 things were in full swing.  We were in a “serious long distance relationship.”  My address changed and Rigby and Sue had to deal with all the mail in their mailbox.

I applied for a receptionist job in an engineering company in Sandton and got it.  I worked for three companies; M.A.N, Sieva and Alsthom.   I was surrounded by naughty Germans and Frenchmen and I felt right at home.

Every day, just before lunch time, I called home to ask if any mail had arrived for me.  If the answer was yes, I jumped into my little blue VW beetle and drove home as fast as I could.  I grabbed my letter, jumped back in the car and read at every stop light, all the way back to work.   There were so many letters, I did that trip most week days.

Cassettes were my favourite.  Tony would chat and sing songs he had written.  He told me all about his day and night and everything in between.   I listened to them over and over again; especially the one where he farted while he was talking.  I couldn’t believe my ears.

He commented and laughed, but seriously, did he not know about rewinding and erasing?  I kept rewinding to make sure I had heard correctly.  I laughed so much.  That clinched it for me.  I knew we were going to have lots of fun.

I looked at the qualities I had written down years before.  He was everything I wanted in a husband.  He even played the guitar.

There were just two things I wondered about:

1. He wasn’t a pastor.

2. He was called to live in India.  Was I?

Post 40. Match making


I was exhausted.  My aunt and uncle wanted to show me the sights of London but I just wanted to sleep.  A week later my English friend Liz invited me to visit her in Belgium before I went home.  I got on the ferry and crossed the English Channel.

I had been in Belgium once before.  We had done a road trip through Spain and France.  On the way we met a team led by Normand Saidon.

My sweet friend Henriette had left the ship a few months before me and she was in a state.  From the day she had walked onto the ship, she knew she would marry Normand.  He was one of the busy, choleric types who didn’t seem to have any time or interest in romance.  She kept it to herself for two years.  In her last week, she tearfully blurted her dilemma out to me.  He didn’t give her the time of day and didn’t seem to know she existed.  She needed to know.  If she was wrong, then she would forget all about him.  If she was right, maybe he needed some prodding.

Henriette and I had been writing to each other and I asked her if I could chat to Normand about it.  She reluctantly agreed.  She didn’t know of any other way.

When our teams met up, I pulled Normand aside and told him Henriette had said hi.  His response was “Who is Henriette?  Oh, the South African girl.”  I told him what she had told me and he agreed to send her his newletter.  How romantic, I thought.  One newsletter turned into another and before we knew it, they were writing to each other.  He fell head over heels in love.

On my second trip to Belgium, I thought Tony may need some help.  He had no way of contacting me and I wondered how we would stay in touch.  He seemed to be very cautious about being in a relationship.

Liz was sending him her newsletter, so I scribbled a note at the bottom of it.

“Hi Tony, I’m with Liz and I saw her writing to you.  Have a good trip back to India.  Please send me your newsletter.  My address is:  28   Rolleston Place, Woodlands, Durban.  Linda”

One newsletter turned into another and before we knew it, we were writing to each other.

Quite subtle, I thought; quite subtle.

Post 39. Tony? Tony who?


Oh, Tony Johnson!   I only knew one Tony. He was the cute Kiwi boy.  I had heard his amazing story at conferences and he sang really well.  He was Robin Glass’s best friend.  Robin was the funny, tall, curly-haired, Brazilian/English guy.

I was living in Liverpool, waiting for the ship to arrive.  It had been weeks since I was on the ocean and I missed it.  I wondered about Tony.  What would it be like seeing him, knowing what I had heard?  Why would he be interested anyway?

The ship arrived and it was busy.  No time to sit around thinking about love and romance.  I was up and down the gangway, taking care of people who thought they were important and making sure they were fed and shown around.  I didn’t see Tony at all.

Late one night as we were leaving the ship, I heard someone playing a guitar and singing.  We walked around the corner and it was Tony.  He smiled so I stopped and commented on the stars.  He asked how things were going and I told him.  A lot happened that night and we hadn’t even broken the five minute rule.

He had been observing me for months.  We had a joint girls and guys Bible Study and we had talked about marriage.  I had made a comment something like, “When I get married I am going to love my husband more than anyone else in the world.”  Tony could not imagine being loved that way.  He wanted to volunteer.  On another occasion I spoke with the shipmates about something that was going on in my life.  He liked my honesty and vulnerability.

Over the next few months, there were occasions when we had short conversations.  A few times we found ourselves at the same dining room table, talking about the weather with 6 other people.

My two years on the ship was up.  I had stayed on 6 months extra to do the PR work on land.  It was time to go home.  I was visiting one of the families and Tony happened to be fixing their door lock.  He was invited to join us for tea and that was when we had our last and longest conversation.

Tony:  So what are your plans?  What will you do when you leave the ship?

Me:  (With a smile on my face) I am going back to South  Africa to marry a pastor.  What about you?

Tony:  I am going back to India.  That is where I am called to be.

The conversation went on.  He had never considered being a pastor and I had never considered living in India.  We were both so confident about where we were going and they were opposite directions.

It was time for me to leave the Doulos; my home for two and a half years.  My aunt and uncle had come to pick me up in Hull and they were taking me to their place in Kent.  I walked around for the last time, saying tearful goodbyes to the kids and their parents and all the amazing friends I had made.

As I was walking out of the door, Tony came up the stairs in his overalls looking very flustered.  We said goodbye and I walked down the gangway.

On the road again.

On the road again.

The ship sailed away and I stood on the quayside waving goodbye and crying my eyes out.  Tony was there and we waved and smiled.  I knew where he was going and he knew where I was going.  We had no idea how we were ever going to see each other again, but we knew we would.

Little did I know that Tony had been running around the ship trying to find a leader to get permission to ask if he could speak to me.  He had left it too late.

Little did I know that Tony Johnson was asking God if I could be his wife.

Post 38. Is this the Love Boat?


While no-one wanted to admit it, the ship was a great place to meet one’s life partner.  Some called it, “The Love Boat.”  That really upset the leaders.  Funny that, since many of them had met their partners there.

The big rule was “No relationships in the first year”.   When their year was up, a guy could go to their leader and ask for “Social Permission”.  That meant they could spend more time with the girl they were interested in; if feelings were mutual.

The second biggy was, “No more than five minute conversations alone, with the opposite sex.”    Things could get out of hand after five minutes.  Most of the shipmates were single.  Some were happy to stay that way, and others really weren’t.  It was obvious that some were there to find a husband or a wife.

Those who were single and satisfied didn’t really notice when the year was up.  The desperate ones headed for their leader’s office on that very day.  There were all kinds of surprises sprung on people.

When our batch’s year was up, I was called into the girl leader’s office five times.  “So and so is interested in you and would like Social Permission.”  I was horrified. Also slightly flattered, until I found out that the same desperados had done the same thing for just about every available girl on the ship.

Things got really awkward.  The guys who I saw as friends, got all weird.  I couldn’t be as friendly for fear they would get the wrong impression.  I decided I didn’t want to know who asked for “S.P.”

I told the leaders it didn’t matter who asked, my answer was “no”.  I was not interested.  I did NOT want another trip to the office.

It seemed angelic.  The truth was, I had broken the rules in my first year and not been caught.  Mike and I had talked too much and got on way too well.  To complicate things, he had a girlfriend, Debbie, who was at home waiting for him.

He was finding it difficult to make a decision, so he asked the cute Kiwi boy to pray with him about his dilemma.  He obliged.

Mike’s two years were up and he went back to the States.  I went on to do the Public Relations for the ship.  We went ahead and got the port ready for the ship’s arrival.  We got interviewed on local radio stations, wrote articles for newspapers and contacted schools, church groups and town mayors.  We lived with local people and got used to living on land again.

When I was in Liverpool, I got a letter from Mike, letting me know of his decision to stay with Debbie.   I had expected it.  I was prepared.

What I wasn’t prepared for,  was the almost audible voice that I heard in that moment.  I knew who it was.  He had spoken to me before.  He had told me not to panic.  He had told me to stay in the ocean of His love and I would be okay;  no matter what storms came my way.

Those messages were clear and they needed no interpretation.  This one was different.  It was sing songy and kind of cheeky sounding.  I could almost imagine a smile on His face as He whispered into my ear,

“There’s Tony.”