Both John and Sharon came from turbulent beginnings, until the grace of God transformed each of them, and began to work in their rocky marriage.
Since the early nineties John And Sharon have been on an amazing journey where they have shared the love of Jesus through their gift of hospitality with people from many and varied backgrounds.
My life was pretty messed up before Jesus became the most important person in my life. My story is proof that God can bring light out of darkness and hope from despair.
I was born in Sicily, into a poor family living in a small country town. My parents, with 3 children in toe, left their home to start a new life. Their dream of making money and securing a future for the family were high motivations for what happened next.
I was three when we left Italy, spent a year in France then migrated to Australia. My parents planned to return to Italy once they had realised their dreams. Upon arrival there were four boys (my sister was born some years later). My parents worked hard which took them away from us for many hours at a time. My dad worked all day while my mother worked through the night. Most of the time our aunty cared for us. There was little parental supervision before we were teenagers.
Through primary school I struggled because of poor literacy skills. I felt I was good for nothing. From the age twelve this attitude led me into all sorts of delinquency. Often didn’t go to school; a few times I ran away from home. My rebellious nature confirmed to everyone else that I was a lost cause.
I was 15 when I failed Year 9. My parents were at their wits end. They had no idea what to do with me. They asked me what I wanted to do with my life, but I hadn’t even thought about my future beyond school.
My choice of a career was based on a family friend who was a successful hairdresser. His name was Joseph. He was very good at what he did and I wanted to be just like him. He was a cool guy; had a nice hair style; dressed well; wore nice clothes; and always had a good looking girl hanging off him. So I became a hairdresser.
I began to work and quickly realised I had found my niche. I loved my job. In no time I was cutting my friends’ hair; experimenting on my brothers; and experiencing success. In my first three months I won the Victorian Hairdressing Championship for my section. This gave me the first real sense of meaning and purpose that I can remember. After coming from a background of trouble and being the black sheep of the family, I began to thrive. I had finally found something that I really loved.
Unfortunately, the hairdressing scene went hand and hand with the nightclubbing scene. I joined in and had lots of crazy friends from all walks of life. It was during this time that I met and began to date Sharon, who later became my wife. At this time we were both rather insecure. The two of us swung between being volatile and inseparable, and making up and breaking up, all within ten seconds.
This was a roller coaster ride for my poor parents. My father didn’t understand why I was so different from him. He was the strong, builder type. I was an emotional hairdresser. By the time I was 16 he had given up. Once he whacked me with a big rubber hose to try to straighten me out, but nothing helped.
My stormy relationship with Sharon began to affect my work. My parents told me that I needed to leave her and get stuck into my work or leave home. By boss gave me a similar ultimatum. Being a rebellious sort, I wrapped all my clothes up in a bundle and walked right out of the house.
At this point, I still couldn’t drive. So I rang Sharon. I told her to pack her things and to come pick me up. We were moving out. We drove to Dandenong and looked for a flat to live in together.
Sharon worked hard as a nurse while I was an unemployed ladies hairdresser. I used to get bored at home and often went looking for trouble instead of trying to find a job. I slept during the day and went clubbing at night. After some months Sharon realised that our relationship wasn’t going anywhere, so we split up.
I went to live with a couple of friends and continued to go out every night, burning the candle at both ends. Sharon and I were inseparable even when we were living apart. We always ended up together at the end of the night.
During this time Sharon had begun to do some serious soul searching. Her mother had become a Christian a few years back and began to influence Sharon’s life. Sharon decided it was time to change and told me that she wasn’t going to sleep with me anymore. This situation didn’t last long and Sharon fell pregnant. I was only eighteen years old.
When Sharon asked me what I wanted to do about the baby, I told her that we should go our own ways. I didn’t want anything to do with a baby in my unsorted, complicated life. We stopped seeing each other for a while, but every time I went to a nightclub, there was Sharon. When Sharon was eight months along my conscience got the better of me. I grabbed hold of Sharon and told her that we should get back together, for the baby’s sake.
For about a month it was quite a nice relationship. Then slowly, all the nitty-gritty cultural differences began to come out. For one, an Italian baby has to be named after the mother’s side. Such differences brought about nothing but arguing and stress. My mum didn’t help; she was constantly in my ear, telling me that my Aussie-girlfriend wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t cope with the stress of living at home and arguing with Sharon.
Sharon has her own story. She was from a home where Jesus meant nothing. I was a nominal Catholic. I had little to no real idea of God. I sometimes sought help from God when I was in trouble, but I had no idea who the God of the Bible is. Our family went to church about twice a year for Christmas and Easter, but with no real understanding of the meaning and significance.
So, because I decided that I couldn’t handle living at home or arguing with Sharon, I looked for a way out. My parents paid the airfare and I organised the paperwork to move to Italy, without telling anyone–including Sharon. As I stood in the airport, even before I boarded the plane, I felt excruciating pain in my stomach. I knew in my heart and mind that I was doing the wrong thing; I was chickening out of my responsibilities. But I just couldn’t see how two people, poles apart, could make it together.
So, I boarded the plane and went to Italy. I left only a note that said, “I’m really sorry. I love you both but we just can’t be together.” My parents did not tell Sharon where I was, only that I had gone.
In Italy I tried as hard as I could to make a new life for myself, but everywhere I turned something reminded me of Sharon and Shardi, our daughter. My conscience would be pricked. My aunties and uncles in Italy could not understand how I could leave my home and Sharon, and they continually asked me why I had done so. I felt trapped.
I was a million miles away from Sharon and Shardi, in an unfamiliar country and culture, and I was very unhappy. I thought that I could run from a life that I had messed up. I really liked Italy, but it was meaningless without Sharon and Shardi. Once again I began to stress about what I was doing with my life. I wrote to Sharon and told her I wanted to come home, but I had left Australia with a one-way ticket. It was hard to make enough money to buy a ticket home.
Meanwhile Sharon often visited my mother who had softened towards her. She had started to appreciate Sharon and had fallen in love with her granddaughter. Every time I spoke to my mother on the phone she would say, “Oh John, your little girl has grown so beautiful.” Again my conscience would be pricked. I felt awful.
I was just floating along, getting nowhere. Things became worse in Italy and I ran away to Paris and started living with an aunt and uncle. After a couple of months I realised I needed to ring Sharon and find some way to reconcile. God had been working in Sharon’s life while I was away. She had gone along to a mid week meeting at her Mum’s church and become a Christian. When I rang and asked her to take me back she said that she would, but only if we were married. I figured I had nothing to lose and agreed. My parents paid my airfare on the condition that I would pay them back, so I came home. We were married immediately.
Before long I realised Sharon was a different girl from the one I had left several months before. She told me that she had become a Christian. She went to church every Sunday. Now that we were married I dropped her off at church each week, but I never went myself because I was a Catholic. Mind you, I didn’t go to a Catholic Church either.
At this time I did not go back into the hairdressing and nightclub scene, instead I found work in a factory. I was working making refrigerators for Phillips Industries. Sharon and I went through quite a good stage. I was away from the temptations that always used to get a hold over me.
One day a friend asked if I would like to get back into hairdressing. I agreed. Before long I started going to the nightclubs, seeing other girls, and smoking dope. Of course this affected my relationship with Sharon and began a downward spiral in our marriage. Sharon suggested we get counselling. I couldn’t see how it would help, but I went along anyway. After a session the counsellor suggested we separate. We were so different and stubborn that it seemed impossible to resolve our differences. So we felt the best thing for us to do was to end our marriage.
Just before we separated Sharon told me she was pregnant again. This remarkable woman would now have to go through another pregnancy without a man by her side. She demonstrated to me her living faith in God, and I could see how much strength her God gave to her. Here I was, the man, weak as water, unpredictable and insecure, running out on her again. I was violent, out of control, and yet Sharon would put up with me. Every second word was a swear word, and I would give her a hard time because she was a Christian, mostly so that she would not want to live with me. We were separated for a whole year.
I did not think that a marriage with so much disorder and disruption, so much brokenness and unhappiness, could be restored. But God had other plans. At the end of twelve months I went to Bali to think things through. Should we divorce or shouldn’t we? I was convinced once again that I should make a new life for myself. This woman was not for me, and I was not for her. After arriving home from Bali I went to see Sharon and told her that this was really the end, our marriage was over.
About a week later Sharon came into the salon to have her hair cut. She was radiant. There was something very special about her. That night as I was thinking about things I suddenly knew I had to go home to my wife. I packed my bags and told my mum that I was going home. She agreed that it was a good idea. I could not understand this sudden desire, but I now know that it was the prompting of God in answer to the prayers of Sharon and her friends.
I went home and knocked on the door. Sharon received me immediately. She showed me unconditional love, God’s love. I tell people who do not believe that God is a loving God to look at Christians who demonstrate love in situations that are impossible for the world to bear. This was one of those situations. Technically Sharon should not have loved me. I was an unlovable person, and yet she received me back every time. However, things did not go well straight away.
One Sunday morning my daughter, Shardi, asked me if I would come to hear her sing in Sunday School. She was four or five, so how could I refuse? I went along and found that it was a very nice service, totally different from the nightclub scene I was used to. But it was nice; it was family; but it was certainly not what I was about.
During an intermission in the service and I found myself talking to a man who was a missionary in China. As he talked to me I realised, for the first time in my life, that I was hearing the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the first time I heard the news that I needed to hear, and it was the best news that I had ever heard! I could not understand how I had been a Catholic all of my life and never heard the story of Jesus and what he did for me.
I had been taught that the Catholic Church is God’s church, but this missionary told me I needed Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord. I needed to recognise that I was a sinner who had no way of getting to God on my own. And all I had to do was accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour. This gift was available for all the people of the world.
My life was still full of addictions, and I knew that it was going to be hard, but I also knew that God was real and these addictions would be overcome. I was aware of things that I had been brought up with that controlled my thinking and actions that also had to be overcome. I became a Christian that day and God began to clean up my life.
I stopped swearing, although I often felt like it. The Lord put a conviction in my heart that He was living there. He showed me that He is not some mystical character; He is not far away like the god of other faiths. For the Christian, our faith is one of a relationship with God Himself; it is one where we come to God with our difficulties. He is the God who is with us; He talks with us through His Spirit. God cleansed me and forgave me and I began to have a living relationship with Him.
As I mentioned, my reading and writing skills were minimal. Church had previously been boring and seemed like nonsense. But when I was born again the lights came on and I couldn’t wait to go to church! I would sit on the edge of my seat, week after week, knowing that the preacher was talking to me. There were issues in my life, and I knew that if I was going anywhere with God they had to be dealt with.
God is real. It doesn’t matter how long we have been Christians, God will always deal with us. I found myself being constantly challenged in my walk with Him.
Since I couldn’t read or write I listened to tapes while driving to work. These were tapes full of godly men expounding the Bible. I felt starved for the Word of God and listened to sermon after sermon of solid Bible teaching all the way to work and home. I discovered that not being able to read and write had its advantages – I found I could memorise slabs of information. I was amazed how much I could store in my little mind. Then as I learned to read I was able to retain more and more information. The more I learned, the more I applied to my life, and the more I grew in my faith and changed.
It was important for me to express what I was learning so I started a little Bible study group in my home. I was still illiterate so I asked a friend who was an elder of the church to come and lead the Bible Study while I shared what God had laid on my heart. We saw amazing things happen in that small group. We prayed for friends and family who were unsaved; invited them along; and they were saved. God was real. We prayed for God to work, and He did.
Sharon, who was very timid, needed to learn a lot about hospitality. She cringed at the thought of making cups of tea for people, but she overcome that and learned to love it. During those years we learned to put ourselves out, and learned to love people we did not feel comfortable around.
Around this time I had become very successful in my business. I owned three hairdressing salons; had quite a number of people on staff; and felt pretty good about it all. I had two brand new cars, a brand new house on an acre of land that I was going to make our palace, and some very well looked after kids. Spoilt, in fact. I could not have asked for more. Then the Lord started to prick my heart. He told me that it was all superficial. Yes, I could have honoured Him with it, but He wanted me to give it all up. That was pretty tough. One day the Lord put me in a corner and I couldn’t refuse.
Sharon and I were going to visit someone. I was unwell and feeling pretty down, so as we were driving along I asked Sharon to open the Bible and read to me. She began reading from where the Lord Jesus and His disciples were crossing the lake after feeding the five thousand. The disciples had not brought anything to eat and the Lord Jesus told them to stop worrying about something of little importance. They should have been more concerned about the yeast of the Pharisees. The disciples did not understand. The Lord Jesus explained that the tiny little bit of yeast permeates the whole of the dough and takes control.
Through this I felt God saying to me that I was allowing a small health issue to consume my thinking. It was as though the Lord Jesus was saying, “Look where I have taken you from; look how far I have brought you. You can’t really be so concerned about this tiny little bit of yeast.” I knew at that moment that God had spoken to my heart. I used to boast that I hadn’t cried for ten years, but I had to pull the car over because of the tears streaming down my face.
A paradigm shift had occurred in my brain and I knew it meant total surrender, abandoning my whole life that I might serve God totally. The realisation of this left me elated, and I was crying and laughing at the same time. Sharon was looking at me, not knowing what was going on. I said, “We’re going to sell everything and go to Bible College.” I did not quite understand it, but there were going to be some big changes in our lives.
Our Pastor came with us to the Bible College of Victoria where I spoke to the Dean of students. I told her I could not read or write but I wanted to come and learn as much as I could about God so I could serve Him fully. She said that was okay. I could come along and audit, and they would help me as much as I needed. (To audit means you just sit and listen.)
I sold my businesses; consolidated everything; and went to college. I went prepared to sit and listen, but they had other ideas. They not only wanted me to get through the course, they wanted me to learn to read and write as well.
At the beginning we had to read a portion of the Bible while sitting in a circle. When it was my turn I just blabbered and splattered, trying to say the words with no understanding of grammar. Unknown to me there was a teacher in my group. She looked at me in amazement and asked, “Are you joking?” I didn’t know what to say. The day I graduated I found out she had gone to the Dean of students and told her that I would never make it.
The first year ended and I passed every subject. The Lord made it possible for us to go back for two more years, and I complete my Diploma of Missiology without failing a subject. At my graduation the teacher who had heard me read when I first went to college came to me with tears in her eyes. I thank the Lord for making it possible. Without Him I would not have been able to do it.
When I finished college I knew the Lord wanted me to attend a church near the area where we lived. Our home church, Doveton Baptist Church, was 45 minutes away, and I felt the Lord leading us to serve in our locality. We began going to a little Dutch Reformed Church with a real heart to reach out in the community. We wanted to part of a church like that.
After attending for twelve months they asked me if I would consider being their pastor. I had only preached a few times in my life and I felt reluctant because I had no experience in pastoral ministry. After some prayer Sharon and I sensed God’s call to accept the role. Even though I did not feel very capable I knew if it were God’s call, He would equip me.
We took on the responsibility of leading the church on the basis that we would be free to go when the Lord made it possible for us to go to the mission field. The leadership was happy with this, and we were there for three years. In that time we learnt a lot and we praise the Lord for all this experience. Our journey continued. Seven years had passed since we stopped the car by the side of the road. Then we went to Italy and serve as church planters in Milan for 7 years.
I learned that without Jesus I was lost for eternity, separated from God. When I became a Christ follower, God didn’t see my sin anymore; He saw His perfect solution to my problem. His Son Jesus stands in the gap between God and me. I only became acceptable to God in and through the person and work of Jesus; I could do nothing to save myself. It was all God, and it is all God. I didn’t deserve to be rescued; yet God saved me and invited me into His place. That is grace.
One of the greatest outcomes of becoming a follower of Jesus is the progressive transformation into becoming more the person God intended me to be. What I have learned while on this journey is that you can’t reform the “old man”. My life did not end at the point where I gave my life to Jesus; it was the beginning of my new life. Now, God’s Spirit lives in me and teaches me, the “new man”, how to live the new life. Since then I have grown; I have changed; and I desire to continue growing and changing.
As I mentioned earlier my wife Sharon our children and I went to live in Italy in 1998. since then 21 year have passed. I now sit in a hotel Room in Brisbane reflecting on the story of my spiritual journey and in particular the last sentence. “Since then (my conversion) I have grown; I have changed; and I desire to continue growing and changing.”
So what does that look like over 2 decades on?
The old John was totally selfish and fearful, all my sins evolved around my needs/wants and my fears.
When God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit came into my life the healing began. Jesus was the Remedy that showed me that the Father loves me and wants to teach me a new way to live, that way is “the way of God’s Love”, the way that would progressively heal and make me whole with a mature character that reflects love and freedom. And what does that look like? God is Love and we see all through the Bible that God continually gives what is needed to promote life and continually gives freedom to promote a response that perpetuates that life in all relationships, this is called “The cycle of God’s Love and Freedom”. Like all designs laws this cycle, when broken leads to death as a natural consequence. Just like when you stop giving your carbon dioxide that trees receive as food and it then is converted to oxygen which we then receive so as to complete the cycle. All design laws operate in the same way. once the cycle of giving is broken death ensues. when the cycle is intact everything is in harmony and works as it should.