Choose Who You Will Serve
Aaron Ratima volunteers at the Newtown Centre and attends Wellington South Corps. He shares how he turned away from violence and gangs to seek after the prize—Jesus Christ.
I was born in Napier in a suburb that was a gang area. I lived with my parents, two sisters and one brother. My father was violent and an alcoholic. We were brought up knowing you solve things with your fist, not with your mouth.
We used to get a hiding for no reason from our dad. I was eight or nine at the time and my mum said to me, ‘If you ever get scared, call out to Jesus, he’ll protect you’. This one time I was coming home, I was sure to get a hiding for being late as it was dark by then. I said, ‘Okay Jesus, I ask you to help me not get a hiding’. In our home, as soon as you open the door, there’s always a big thick stick there with which our dad would give us a hiding. I walked up slowly, opened the door, and there’s the stick waiting. One hour, two hours go by, and nothing happens. Then, a week later, the same situation. I prayed again. That happened three times and each time I didn’t get a hiding. I knew Jesus was real.
Growing up I met brothers who were older than me and their families were in a gang. When I turned 18, I joined that gang. So began a life of drugs, violence and alcohol. That was my life for the next 10-year period. I was a drug dealer for most of my life, a good 20 years of it. I also had a family in this time, six kids.
I remember sitting one day and thinking, I’ve had enough of doing what I’m doing, there must be something else out there. I had a meeting that day with WINZ (Work and Income). The person who I had the meeting with gave me everything I needed and then said, ‘I’ll see you at church on Sunday; I’m actually a pastor as well’. I felt indebted to him, so that Sunday I went to his church.
I started going to church every Sunday, but I was going drugged up. At that time, there were also issues happening in my relationship. My kids’ mother committed suicide. This resulted in me leaving the gangs.
Her parents told me, ‘You’re the reason why our daughter did this’. I told God that I needed his strength to get me through because I was getting these accusations. My oldest child ended up living with her grandparents. They got her to go to the cops and to tell them every hiding she’d gotten from me.
On top of that, the grandparents went to WINZ and said I was in a relationship with their daughter for years while on the benefit. Now that’s fraud.
I said to God, ‘I’m facing a decision here. I can lie. They’ve got no proof. But God, I want to honour you.’ So I told the truth about the hidings I had given my daughter. I also told MSD (Ministry of Social Development) the truth about being in a relationship. That was $76,000 worth of fraud and that’s a three-year prison term. After the detective got involved with the hidings with my daughter, I faced another two years in prison, so I was facing a five-year sentence if I told the truth—for God.
I ended up only getting six-months home detention for the fraud, 12-months periodic detention and six-months anger management classes for the assaults on my child. That’s because I spoke the truth. God gives us the consequences, but in this case they were less.
For three years I went through trials and tribulations with God. At the end of that three years, he blessed me. I was reading the Bible, going to church and bringing my kids up by myself at home. Three years later, he blessed me with a successful business.
The Salvation Army in Napier used to have meals on a Friday night, so I went to those meals with my kids. In time, a man started preaching the Word to us as well. He invited me to come to church, so I went. I met a lot of great Christian people there. But I was lonely.
One day I said to God, ‘I want a wife’. But see, we have an enemy too. Somehow, he hears what we ask, and he’ll send a counterfeit. This woman came along out of nowhere and I married her after a month of meeting her. She took me back into the world of
drugs and then I ended up back with the gangs. I squandered everything that God had blessed me with, and even lost my house.
I ended up in prison, but found God again. I started going to the Sunday services in prison, and then all my memories of the Bible started coming back. I got clean in there, and got released six months later. However, I went straight back to the drugs and forgot God again.
I was in an emergency motel and coming down off the drugs and part of a Scripture came to my mind: ‘Choose this day whom you will serve’ (from Joshua 24:15). I knew exactly what God was saying to me. I said, ‘Okay God, I choose you’. The next day my sister rang me and asked if I wanted to come and stay with her in Wellington. So they came and picked me up and brought me to Wellington.
I’d only just arrived and I was struggling with my drug and pokie habits. It took six months of staying home. Slowly but surely I started getting back on my knees and asking God for help. I was set free by the Holy Spirit, and I didn’t need to go to any rehab programme.
I asked my sister, ‘Where’s The Salvation Army?’ She said it was in Newtown. So, I thought I’d go to the Newtown Centre and ask if they could help with housing, because my kids and I were living in my sister’s house but there wasn’t enough space. I started going to Sunday services at Wellington South Corps and trying to fill my nights and days with anything to do with God.
I now volunteer at the Newtown Centre every day. I drive around and deliver food parcels to people and I also volunteer on a Thursday packing fruit and veggies for communities.
Now my life is focused on the main goal: to get the prize and that prize is Jesus—he’s eternal life! That prize is one I also want for my children and the rest of my family.