By Karen Forman
‘’And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.’’
Heavy drugs. Prostitution. Mental illness. Physical illness. Abortions. Poverty. Homelessness. Domestic violence. That was the way of Ashlie Stevenson’s life, on a devastating repeat cycle, for many of the first 45 of her 63 years on this Earth.
Ashlie was a :junkie’’, a :victim’’, an :addict’’, a :schizophrenic’’ and a :baby killer’’. She had no self-respect, poor health, no money and no support and her life was on a spiral that seemed impossible to get off. Until God came into her life. Until she let God into her life. That is when everything changed.
Today Ashlie is a bubbly 63 year old reasonably long term member of the Revesby Presbyterian Church and Christ College graduate; and after spending years working with :the very types of people I once was’’ in jails, on the streets, in brothels and women’s shelters, she now runs Hope House, a beautiful facility in Sydney aimed at :saving babies and evangelizing’’.
Her story is one of God’s grace, God’s plan for a life that had seemed to have gone so wrong, redemption and love. A painful story both in the telling and the listening, but a story which clearly demonstrates how God prepares his children for :hope and a future’’.
Zip back half a century to an image of a decade-old girl, living with her parents and brother in Sydney, attending Sunday school and doing very well at school and sport, despite, she says, never studying.
Now try to reconcile that image with an out of control, rebellious, drug and addicted teenager having her first abortion.
How did that child ever reach such a point?
At the home she shares with a friend from church and a cat in Panania in south west Sydney, Ashlie speaks of, without blame but rather explanation, of a dysfunctional family unit that was bound to implode.
She was born in Sydney, back in the 1950s when :everyone in Australia called themselves Christian, but they were not active, nominal. They never went to church but sent off kids to Sunday School’’.
Ashlie attended until she was about 10 and the family moved to North Queensland. :I wasn’t really aware of any churches in Cairns in 1964,’’ she says, :but when we went back to Sydney Sunday School wasn’t on the agenda.
:I was very good at school and sport but I never studied, never did my homework. My father was mentally in the second World War where he spent four years in a POW camp, (he was) a kind gentle man but very distant, always somewhere else in his head.
:My mother never wanted to get married and have children, she wanted to be a professional woman, but that didn’t happen in those days especially after the war, women were kicked out of jobs so men could have them.
:She was forced to marry, a beautiful man, but when she announced she didn’t want children, the doctors forced her to have ECT and then she had two children.’’ (Electroconvulsive Therapy is a procedure used to treat certain psychiatric conditions which involves passing a carefully controlled electric current through the brain, which affects the brain’s activity and aims to relieve severe depressive and psychotic symptoms. Evidently in those days, a woman not wanting children was deemed :psychotic’’).
Ashlie recalls that her mother adored her brother, but didn’t like her. : I always knew that, but she actually told me when I was a teenager that she didn’t like me. She was a good mother, worked her insides out to keep house, provide clothing, the best food she could. A dutiful mother, but to me she wasn’t affectionate.
:I guess it had an effect on me, because as soon as I was old enough…13…I started rebelling, smoking was the first thing, having sex from 14, looking for someone who loved me. I thought if I gave boys what they wanted they would love me.’’
By 15 Ashlie was pregnant and coerced into having an abortion which she didn’t want. :They said because I had had the rubella vaccination, I wasn’t supposed to get pregnant for two months after and that baby would be damaged. The locum doctor came in the next morning and said the baby was perfect and a little girl. It broke my heart and I resented my mother even more.
:By 16 I started using drugs, finished high school, but was getting further and further into rebellious companionship and men and drugs.
:By 20 I was a heroin addict, but still working. I always worked, despite being a junkie. I got sacked from most things, but always found something else, in petrol stations, driving, supermarkets. I also worked for pharmacies and got a job in the lab that produced perfume; that was interesting. But I was a junkie by then so ended up getting the sack from that.’’
She moved out of home and lived with a fellow and by 24 she was seriously deep into a murky black world.
:Mum had been diagnosed with emphysema she was dying. I didn’t do much to help her. She told me if I didn’t stop, I would be dead by the age of 25. She got me onto the methadone program and she died one week after my 25th birthday. A few years on I mixed heroin and methadone and when I was 28 my father died and I decided to start using the methadone properly. I had to look after the plants and garden and my boyfriend said why don’t you start studying in that area, but to do the course you had to be employed full time. ‘’
That brought hope and Ashlie worked at a nursery for four years and passed everything with flying colours. She was using the methadone properly and working her way off it. A 31 she got a job in a native garden at Picnic Point, but got mixed up with a married fellow who ended up living at her house.
:But he was abusing me, mentally, physically, nobody helped. The more I asked for help, the more people ran away, they were all afraid of him. So was I, but it was my house, I couldn’t leave. The police were no help at all. They kept saying, it’s domestic. In the late 90s the police would do nothing.’’
Tragically, at 44 Ashlie hurt her shoulder and lost her job and that’s where her fragile new life began to unravel again.
:I used up some superannuation upon receiving medical redundancy then this man I was living with, got me involved in speed, a slightly less damaging form of ice. I started to lose everything. God started removing all my earthly support.
:I couldn’t get another job in the field, and started losing my mind, security, physical health, family and friends. ‘’
The one day the man pushed Ashlie around once too often and she ran out the door with my handbag and ended up in Port Macquarie. And God acted.
:I saw a wedding coming out of the Presbyterian church, I thought, I am a Presbyterian. I started thinking about God and whether Jesus loved me or not. Some things happened that showed me he did. I thought, I need to know more. The Church and the Bible. I bought a second hand Bible, then I walked into church one Sunday, late in middle of a sermon on domestic violence. I thought, God is talking to me.’’
The next thing to happen was that Ashlie got sick, her heart thudding so hard at night she couldn’t get to sleep. She was diagnosed with a disease of the thyroid, Graves’ disease and had to go to Sydney to get a nuclear scan.
:I was torn. The man had moved out, a lot of valuables had gone, I had $70 left. A friend knew where to buy heroin, so I got him to buy me enough to kill me, but he stole some out of the packet and when injected what was left, it knocked me out for 12 hours then I vomited for three days and it thought, what am I going to do now. I rang Lifeline, they asked if I would do it again and I said yes, so am ambulance was sent, I was taken to a mental ward and diagnosed with schizophrenia.
:Five weeks later I was in a half-way house, where I stayed for three years. I only knew one Christian (Rev) Robert Benn who lived in the house next to the garden where I worked. I asked him where I should go to church and he said there was a new man at Revesby…I have been going there ever since.’’
The past 20 years have seen a slow and steady healing. :God worked on me and I stopped using drugs, I started working at a hospital, witnessing to patients and getting into trouble for it. There were formal charges and (fellow Revesby member) Wayne Richards came along as my advocate. As the mission statement of the hospital said that we are to let people know about Jesus, they couldn’t sack me, but (my employer) waited till I made a mistake at work and they sacked me for that.
Ashlie then took advice from (Rev) APWM’s Kevin Murray, who said if she wanted to do mission work, she should do a year of Bible college.
:I spent four years part time at Christ College and got my diploma and all the way I kept praying, God, you have to put me somewhere where I can tell a view :from God to you’’. I wanted to work somewhere with women who had lived the life I had. So, I went to drug addicts, prostitutes, women with mental illness, women who had had abortions (I had two more when I was a junkie, homeless) and ended up finding four different groups in Sydney who helped women in these circumstances.
:Then Sarah’s Place (pregnancy help centre) closed and I was walking home thinking it would be nice to start somewhere of my own.
:A couple of weeks later I met a woman from Smithfield Baptist Church who asked if I would like to start somewhere, (Rev) Peter Barnes who leads Evangelicals For Life said they didn’t have anyone to sponsor and would sponsor us, Nadia Rysko who owns property Prestons and said we could use that, so there would be no rental or buying fees. I dropped all my other ministries but feeding the homeless people and that’s where Hope House started earlier this year.
: We can provide accommodation of various kinds, preferably short term, baby clothing and goods; we have access to charities like Salvos, etc, can help them look for work, study, basically we are there to tell them the truth about abortion and about what their options really are. So far it is Nadia and I plus a part time volunteer from my church.
:It is very large demountable building on a five-acre property, there is a church and a house on the property, and Nadia and her husband have fitted it out with carpet and lounges, and Evangelicals for Life (NFL) provided funding for office stuff and Jericho Road pays for fuel.
:So far, we have had one client who was referred to us, a young Indian woman from Fiji who came to marry her fiancé, but he turned out to be an abuser and she found herself pregnant. Her sister in law is Christian and when she ran from her husband, she came to us. She miscarried and did not return to her husband.’’
Ashlie, who still lives below the poverty line, has had a lot of experience in many relevant areas, but unfortunately computers are not one of them.
:It’s not going terribly well because we need women to be able to find us and are having trouble with the internet. We are trying to make our website visible using keywords, such as :abortion: or :domestic violence’’ and we are seeking an IT person who can help.
:Our aim longtime is evangelism. Short term is to save babies. We want to show them there is forgiveness. Hope House is run by Christians, and I truly understand what these women are going through.
:We also need funds. The greatest supporters I have are the elderly but I found people are divided down the middle. They want nothing to do with it or help as much as they can. I’ve only got one regular financial supporter.’’
Looking over her life, Ashlie still is working on healing.
:When I became a Christian the guilt and grief crashed in on me one day. I cried for days and prayed. And God healed me of that. The grief has mellowed, but regret remains about the choices I made and there is really no excuse for ignorance. I have no supportive family, no children, nothing. The only family I have is very hostile to Christianity. By God’s grace I have a wonderful church family at Revesby. They are more my family than my relatives.’’
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Donations BSB 012226 A/c 263741118
Bank for HH