Category Archives: Tony’s story

Post 49. Voices


On his way to Sri Lanka he stopped at a beach in South India. He had been carrying thousands of dollars worth of drugs in his guitar, ready for a run to Europe.  He stood on the beach and threw them into the Indian Ocean.  That was that; forever. 

In Colombo he started to experience some strange things.  He was hearing voices which were freaking him out.  He ran into an old Anglican Church building to get away from them.   The voices were echoing through the rafters saying things like, “You’ll never make it! There’s no hope for you”.  He thought he was going crazy.  He also thought birds were talking to him.  Once, while lying on his bed late at night, something started choking him. He couldn’t breathe.  He screamed out “Jesus!” as loudly as he could and sat up gasping for air.  His heart was pounding but he was free.  

Tony was gripped with fear. The next day at the Y.M.C.A. a young guy spoke about fear.  He invited Tony to go with him to hear The Celebrant Singers in concert.  They prayed for him at the end of the concert and the voices and demons left and never came back.

The music was unusual; nothing like Deep Purple and Jimi Hendrix, but Tony knew it was good for him.  He went after every Christian he could find. They ranged from weird to wonderful.  An old Anglican priest led him through confirmation classes.  He told Tony that to get rid of bad thoughts he should make the sign of the cross on his forehead.  His finger never left his forehead and there was no sign of the thoughts leaving.  

He had his fourth church experience in Colombo.  He hung around at the end hoping people would talk to him.  No-one did.  He looked like a freak with long hair, funny clothes and rings on every finger.  He was disappointed but not surprised.  Some weeks later, he went back to the same church.  He had cut his hair and put on some “respectable” clothes.  It worked!  People talked to him.   One man even said,  “Wow, you have really changed!”  The change had taken place weeks before.  The only things that had changed that week were his hair and clothing.

Wherever he went people talked about a “ship” that had just visited India.   A monastery wasn’t an option, but the ship seemed like a place where he couldn’t hurt anyone.  Six months later he was on the Doulos.  He was safe. 

Post 48. Clean slate


Sitting alone in a quiet jungle

Wishing I could sweep a wand over my life

To wash me clean

To start all over again

In my mother’s womb.

How good I would be

How clean I would keep my slate

If only, if only.

In a flash, my soul was encompassed in darkness

My spirit snuffed out

Not a flicker of life

I was old

Too old for my years

Worn out and tired

Close to death.

Then a light

Within my reach

With every groping move, it came nearer

Until I was consumed

Crying out for mercy

Pity for my self, my dying soul

Then peace

Safe and soothing

Soft and warm

Curled up and waiting

Almost crushed

Then another light

Coming from the inside

My skin, soft and free

Untouched and innocent

A clean slate

A spirit alive

A dead man breathing

Born again.


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.