Finding a faith community
Introducing Jesse's story
Even in our technologically connected world, finding a deeper connection with community can be difficult.
Listen to Jesse's story as he opens up about the feelings and experiences that led him to come to terms with his losses, understand his grief and find faith.
Host: Kia ora, welcome to Hear Me See Me, a chance to hear young New Zealanders share their experiences, speak their minds and maybe even change yours. I'd like to introduce you to Jesse, whose story shows the importance of community and how all of us can help make a difference even with the smallest gesture.
JESSE: I think culture is really important for all people because they have a sense of belonging, they know where they come from just as much as knowing who your family is or your whānau. For me growing up in care, I found that it was always something that I was searching for, understanding the language, understanding te reo Māori, I didn't know my Pākehā or my European side. But I think when young people don't have that knowledge of their whakapapa, their genealogy, you can be lost in some kind of way, trying to find where you fit in the world, what kind of person you want to be. Trying to fit in and sometimes trying to fit in where you don’t need to, if you understand what I'm saying and I think that is important that children are able to access that, especially if it comes to the point where they have to go into care due to the environment they’re in.
Having knowledge and skills of parenting is important as well and that’s something I've been passionate about because of my upbringing, having to be in so many houses, because it was temporary placements or things didn’t work out for me, that became you know that fight or flight or just surviving. You’re just almost waiting for the next house, so you never really unpack, even mentally, because you're in the mindset that we're going to move again and sometimes it's like you're worried you're going to lose things in the move as well.
Having earlier intervention where there’s support around the family and strengthening those pillars, there’s the four pillars that holds the house together, if those are unbalanced or out of balance then that house isn’t going to stand and it's building that backbone off the family because at the end of the day, it's the family that makes the home.
If there’s a way to kind of give young parents or parents the understanding of what a family looks like, what it looks like to raise children, what that environment should be, then there would be a better outcome in the statistics of young people that end up in care. I do believe that environment is a lot to do with the way your mind is shaped. If there was that education, if there was that intervention that helped correct those mindsets, kind of rewire and renew the mind in the way we think and the way we do things as parents, then there would be change.
I barely knew my mother's side because when she passed away, my father got involved with a particular crowd. He started to shut off that connection with that side of the family. I think cos they were quite hurt as well because of the way that he had moved on so quickly within a year of her passing. When I was put into care, they were told that I wasn't allowed to have contact with my mum's family, so there was no going to visit them. And I actually met one of my aunties one day because a friend's sister-in-law worked with my aunty. When I met my aunty, I started to get the connection with everyone else and even with my Grandfather and it seemed that they were really hurt at the way that I had been kept away.
My father hadn't been involved with me really from seven upwards. He would come see me occasionally. I kind of thought well why should he have a say if he's not here? Maybe he was trying to protect me but that's hard to kind of really say that with the abuse I went through because of the abuse that I undertook as well and a lot of it was from my stepmother as well. I think most of his say was from her.
When you’re a bit fairer than the rest it can be hard to fit in and that’s actually something for me that brought a lot of kind of hurt as well and pain towards that side of my culture, because I lived in a pā, a small Māori village, for a couple of years. You were outcasted because you were fair. The funny thing was I used to sound like a Māori but I didn’t look like one, so even when you come on to this side, you’d get made fun of because “you don't sound like us”. But for me at the same time, that’s something I embrace, you know, the world needs people that are outcasts because a lot of the times they are the people that make change because they understand what it's like. You look at a lot of people, like I said, they’re never gonna be good enough or you don't fit here and they’ve risen above that resistance.
Now because I'm happy in who I am because I know who I am, I don't have to prove myself to anybody and I think that's important for people as well knowing who they are. I always say this: it’s not for everybody, that’s okay, but for me at the end of the day it's my faith and God has actually made the difference for me because I don't think I would be where I am today if it wasn't for that. Actually understanding and knowing what a father's heart is and what a loving heart looks like and that’s something that I've learnt. That's something that gives me a lot of gratitude when I started going to the church I was going to, because I’d never really kind of been embraced or hugged in a way that didn't feel like it was forced. I struggled accepting that affection as well because I hadn't had a lot of that growing up and when you're used to the mindset of growing up not having that, that can be a big barrier.
I could see why people that I encountered at church thought “oh why is this guy here” at first. And even that was something I was passionate about when I had roles and leadership is that you need to be more welcoming, more accepting of people that come through, because we're supposed to be reflecting God. I’ve always believed ever since I’ve remembered that, that there's a God. And that’s what brought me in, I wanted to find a deeper connection.
I went for a while on and off and I thought this isn’t working, but because I was more focused on people showing me God still, rather than God showing himself to me, you know, without God I'm nothing, like that’s for me, I don't think I would have made it this far if I didn't have that connection.
Culture, identity and family, that's something that I’ve found in the church as well. I found the way a parents’ heart should be towards somebody and when you have parents come in that aren't your parents and accept you, so you know, I went from having none to having all of these parent figures in the church and in the community and that broke down those walls tremendously. I was just trying to survive and get through life and because I was going through a lot of depression as well, I kind of felt like I was in the dark, quite hopeless, and I just wanted to get anywhere away from the problem. That was probably what was always on my mind was how can I get away from these problems that are around me or that I'm facing. That was when I made my personal commitment with my faith. That’s when I kind of came to that conclusion, there's no running away from it, you have to face it at some point and you have to overcome it and that’s some of the principles and foundations of the Christian faith is being an overcomer and overcoming obstacles that are in your way.
I was angry with my father up until 18. I hung out with particular groups of people like mischievous people and go into a lot of trouble, got into a lot of trouble with the law as well and violence and gang-related stuff and that was really a cover or a facade for me to build respect or acceptance. Maybe get somebody's attention as well. Like I no longer had any connection with my father whatsoever, he had left New Zealand. For me, I remember trying to call him and get no answer. After a couple of months, I’d figured that they’d left and I did get to a point where I knew that I would have had a lot to say and a lot to do but that's one thing that my faith had a really strong influence on was learning to forgive those who’ve hurt you. Something that lessened my aggression that I had growing up and anger - and it’s quite funny [laughs] - was martial arts. I did martial arts and I had done it at first with the intention to be strong enough, so the next time when they tried hitting me, I would defend myself.
Young people do need a person they can trust that’s actually going to make them feel secure and safe, if they're going to disclose information like that. By that stage I had caused enough trouble to be almost looking at going to juvenile detention and I'd already moved a few houses. I had been told that was my last place because in the other places I had lashed out and then I would try to run.
I think everybody has something to offer. It’s not always comfortable or convenient but I think we all have something to offer. It could be we have mentors that get alongside young people and teach them life skills, things that you don't see a lot anymore, like having people that can show you how to fix a car or teaching you as a new skillset. I do think it builds relationships as well, whether it's teaching you a sport – that was one thing that I didn't have the privilege of being taught how to throw a ball by my father and even if you have community that can show you, they don’t have to be their mum or their father, could even just be like a big brother role, you know a big sister. That’s something I’ve brought up a lot as well is teaching young people if they’re transitioning from care or leaving the nest, how to budget, how to clean a house, how to cook a meal. That's just a general example but if they’re taught these things, it will make a big difference to their future.
We can always think of how the world would be better but it won't happen overnight, but it would definitely be nice for families to definitely support parents and children around that risk of going into care and maybe helping those other parents build skills, like even if it's parents that support other parents in those rough times. There are people that are already doing that or even having community organisations that will be able to teach and show and give parents or young people that education and knowledge. I definitely think that would help change the outcome.
One thing that makes me do my job and gets me up in the morning is that I hope that I'm able to change one young person's life in that they would be able to break the cycle. If it makes a difference for one person, then I feel like I've accomplished something. I definitely wish that they would never have to go through any of the things they’ve experienced or some of the things I’ve had to.
HOST: I think it is important to be shown love and affection when you're little, and, in some cases, people don't always get that which can lead to a lot of other problems like being on edge and defensive all the time. It's a really really good idea to have mentors in your life. It's important to attach yourself to people who resemble that position for you. People need people. Put yourself out there if there's a little boy in need cos being little is such a vulnerable age and being shown that love will be really really good for him.
if Jesse’s story has brought anything up for you, please talk to someone you trust. You can also free call or text 1737 to connect with a trained counsellor, day or night. Hear Me See Me is a safe place for young New Zealanders to share their stories. Please encourage others to listen to them. If you have a story you'd like to share, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or search Hear Me See Me NZ on Facebook or Instagram and send us a direct message. To find ways you can support young people and to see what others are doing, go to hearmeseeme.nz. Kia kaha, ka kite anō.
How to help someone going through a similar experience
If someone you know is going through what Jesse has experienced, you can help.
Reflecting on Jesse's story
Jesse’s story highlights the importance of having great connections to a strong supportive community.
Jesse reflects on going through state care when he was younger. He was shifted around a lot of homes and developed a ‘fight or flight' survival mode where he even stopped unpacking and never truly felt “at home.” During this time, he didn't have a lot of connection to his mother’s side of the family. He felt disconnected and out of place. Later, he was able reconnect with an aunt and learn more about his whānau and whakapapa.
As Jesse grew older, his search for connections and belonging led him into his Christian faith. He started attending a church and found a community he could connect and open up to. This sense of belonging and his faith helped Jesse overcome feelings of depression and brought joy into his life.
He values giving back to his community, though mentoring others and teaching the importance of accepting others.
How would you help someone like Jesse?