ANDREW SELLEY thought he’d found the true meaning of life in surf, girls and marijuana. But they led only to ill health and suicidal patterns. How did he emerge from them to find peace? He told NANINE STEENKAMP
Andrew (49) was born in South Africa’s coastal town of East London, and grew up in Cape Town. His father Tony was a financial advisor and president of Pretoria’s Chamber of Commerce, his mother Lesley a dental hygienist. He attended Wynberg Boys’ High School and now lives in Cape Town’s Melkbosstrand with his wife Emma and their daughter Enyah (13)
‘My sister and I grew up in a close family with caring, loving parents. At the age of 18 I went to the University of Port Elizabeth to study law. Except, I didn’t study much! Surfing was all I wanted to do. So, I basically woke up, hunted waves and surfed. And at night, I hunted girls. I lived for pleasure.
As a surfer, marijuana had been pushed on me a lot and I’d never taken it – I thought drugs were for losers. But I met this guy called Joey, a really good surfer, and we both thought we’d just try it once. I remember thinking, Then I can say I’ve done it and it’s a waste of time.
So we tried it. And had the most radical experience. We both went into a trance, which isn’t supposed to happen with marijuana. We both felt it was incredibly meaningful, that we had found how to become one with God.
‘I met this guy called Joey, a really good surfer,’ says Andrew. ‘We thought we’d try marijuana just once.’
Maybe Christians were deceived, we thought. It certainly now felt that they were narrow-minded. We decided to explore further. We weren’t actually rebelling, rather searching.
It all made sense, initially. We were trying to access more of our brain than the 7% scientists say we usually use. We learned how to meditate, trance and do astral projection. I started going to fewer and fewer classes but my parents didn’t know because they lived eight hours away in Cape Town. I absolutely loved life, it was a lot of fun. I had a number of close friends. This, however, started to change because I began to look down on ‘ordinary’ people who, I felt, didn’t have the same enlightenment as me.
A friend, called Jenny, and a couple that I’d met through friends invited me to a church service where a former spiritist, Fiona Desfontaine, was talking. I went because I was intrigued to hear she had powers of healing, and thought that I could learn from her. She stood at the front of the church and told everyone how she’d got sucked into the occult and been liberated by healing prayer.
I was overwhelmed
Fiona offered to pray for anyone involved in the occult. I didn’t want to put my hand up in front of the people around me, who looked kind of nerdy. But I heard a voice saying, If you don’t lift your hand, you’re going to die in your sin. This freaked me out and confused me. I thought, God, if this is you, you’re going to have to get my hand up, because I’m too embarrassed.
My hand literally went up by itself and I felt this incredible, warm feeling. I was overwhelmed by it. Fiona prayed powerfully for me and I ended up feeling totally free.
Back at the flat, a friend was rolling a joint. When I walked in, he said, ‘What happened to you? Your face has changed, your eyes are different.’
Andrew: ‘Back at the flat, a friend was rolling a joint…’
I felt very strongly that until this moment I’d been deceived and that in fact Jesus was the true God. I knew I wanted to give my life to him. So I prayed a prayer, giving my life to Jesus.
For the next year, I really battled. I didn’t know how to keep my thinking right. I was sick all the time with infections that even landed me in hospital, and I started to struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts.
Eventually, I came to realise that everything in my life was still about pleasure and doing whatever felt good. I realised that while this felt so gratifying in the moment, it was slowly destroying everything I was made to be. I smoked a joint in desperation one day, trying to escape my anxiety and fears but it didn’t have any effect at all. Sobbing, I prayed a prayer, offering the rest of my life to God. It was an incredible moment in which I began to learn about God’s kindness. I realised that despite what I’d done, He loved me.
‘What had previously given me pleasure started feeling empty’, says Andrew | Photo of Andrew by Rob Kennealy
From the time I prayed that prayer, I started to lose my love for other things. What had previously given me pleasure started feeling empty, shallow and not worth it anymore. My faith started to grow and I wanted God more than I wanted anything or anyone.
My father, a respected businessman, had realised I was wasting money and started to suspect I was on drugs. Later, I confessed to him and my mother, who were very shocked and shamed. They stopped helping me financially, in retrospect a very wise decision that forced me to start facing reality.
I had a bank loan for my studies and figured I could pay it back faster if I lived in my combi, which I converted to a camper. It was probably the first responsible thing I’d done in a long while. I got a job as a waiter and lived off this money, and from what I could find in the ocean. I still surfed and would shower at friends’ houses or at the fresh-water showers on the beach.
the first responsible thing I’d done
I started to realise that when I did life God’s way, it worked. It was like coming back home. Or like getting to know your iPhone properly! You get this phone but you’re still learning about how it works until you sit down with the guy who designed it. Then you get the benefit of everything that it gives you. When I tap into God, every relationship starts working the way He wants it to work. I get the peace that nothing else can give, the joy, a sense of overwhelming goodness.
One night, I prayed for a wife. I was even specific about her hair colour! I met Emsie a week later when I served her in the restaurant. One of the waiters I worked with knew her personally, and I had a sense she might be the answer to that prayer. Over the next three days I prayed a lot and felt God saying to me that she was. Amazingly, she felt the same! It took a week for her to tell me that she had serious health issues – no bladder and a 21% kidney function – but I believe to this day that I was hearing God’s voice.
I realised I needed to become a good citizen. I started studying law again and passing but ultimately I felt a strong calling to serve God with my work, and left my degree to study theology through a church in Port Elizabeth. Emma and I were married within the year.
Andrew met wife Emma when he served her in a restaurant…
… They were married within the year
That was around 30 years ago. After my theology studies, I joined a group called New Covenant Ministries International. Before too long, I felt called to Cape Town with the dream of building a healthy church that was based on hearing the voice of Jesus. Emsie had to give up her public relations job for a church organisation and my future salary didn’t even cover our rent, but we felt called to come and things somehow worked out.
In 1999, with four people in a living room, we started Joshua Generation Church, known by many as JoshGen. We named it after Joshua in the Bible, who led people into the purposes God had for them. The church grew very quickly. Today we are 28 congregations, with well over 4000 people coming to church on Sundays. The community is full of vibrant people, many of whom have found peace, joy and a great love for God and each other. It’s a no-pressure place where visitors are welcome simply to sit and watch and see if they like it.
Joshua Generation Church started with four people gathering in a living room
A great thing is that my friend Joey ended up having a very similar encounter with the Lord and is now a JoshGen pastor! It’s kind of amazing how God turned our lives around. We’re now linked with hundreds of churches, from Russia and India to America, through something I believe God asked me to start called FOUR12.
When I told my sister about my experience of Jesus, she believed straightaway. My parents were churchgoers but the Christianity that I was expressing to them was so out of their box that I think at one point they almost wished I had stayed on drugs! I had gone from one extreme to the next … why couldn’t I just be normal, like other people?
But over time, both my mom and my dad watched me and saw God in my life. After 10 years, they sat me down and told me, as churchgoers, they had thought that they were Christians, but they now realised they weren’t really there. I was able to explain to them how Jesus told us we could know Him, and ultimately led them to find a living faith. We were able to follow God together from then on.
Andrew addresses a church gathering: ‘I’m incredibly grateful that God found a use for me that I don’t deserve’
Most of my family ended up joining my church. My dad is now with the Lord and my mom and sister are still part of our church, and God has restored us as a family.
Today, God leads me, guides me and corrects me when I slip up. It’s incredibly comforting to come to Him, especially in situations where I lack understanding and wisdom. One of the things He promises is, if you lack wisdom, you can seek and you will find. I’ve learned He knows all the things that I don’t.
With Emsie’s health issues we weren’t meant to have a child, but we did and she’s a miracle. We called her Enyah, which means ‘gift from God’ in Hebrew. Being a parent is incredibly challenging, the situations you face are so unique because every child is unique. Over and over again I’ve found that when I’ve prayed and asked God for help, He has spoken to me: sometimes through the Bible, sometimes through the voice that I hear as He speaks to my heart. He shows me the way forward, and every time the fruit has been wonderful in my daughter and in my family. It’s comforting for me as a father to know that I’m not actually the ultimate authority here, God is.
Andrew with his parents, Tony and Lesley Selley, and his daughter Enyah. ‘At one point I think they almost wished I had stayed on drugs!’ he says. But, after 10 years, they ended up praying with him and joining his church
The church community he launched is ‘full of vibrant people, many of whom have found peace, joy and a great love for God and each other,’ says Andrew. Coffee before and after the service in Cape Town’s Kloof Street is enhanced by the services of a church member recently named top barista in SA
I’m so aware how far from perfect I am. With God, I’m trying to be the best I can. Knowing that He chose me liberates me. Jesus found me in this mess and loved me in a way I couldn’t have understood before.
Looking back on my life, I feel such gratitude to the friends who invited me to church. I was rescued then, and today, 30 years later, I feel I still get rescued every day. God is incredibly kind and merciful and very patient with me. I’m incredibly grateful that God found me, saved me and found a use for me that I don’t deserve and I’ll never justify. I wish that everyone on the planet would find Him just as I did, because He is kind and gracious, merciful, loving, redeeming, able to fix the mess we make and put us back together the way we’re supposed to be.
JoshGen is ‘a no-pressure place where visitors are welcome simply to sit,’ says Andrew
It was a great human moment for me to understand how finite, small and insignificant I am, and how frail and confused much of my thinking was. I can honestly say after 30 years of walking with God, He is the best thing that ever happened to me.
Many church leaders end up on huge platforms but lose God. I’d rather lose everything else than Him. I don’t want people to think I’m a cool leader, I want them to know everything about me and where I have come from and how I still am. I think it gives people hope.’