Stephen Nowak’s life was changed when he watched his friend die, trapped in a well he was constructing when an earthquake struck.
My name is Stephen Nowak. I was born in 1973 and grew up near Brighton. Although I had every chance to get a great head-start in life, I wasted all the opportunities given to me.
When I left school all I wanted to do was skateboarding – I had appeared in a few national magazines and on television, and got to travel all around the United Kingdom. But by the time I was 18, accidents had so damaged my knees that I could not continue skateboarding and I began surfing instead.
I always had a love of water (my father was in the Royal Navy) and I moved to Newquay in Cornwall so that I could surf all the time. I began to travel, surfing in Europe, Africa, Sri Lanka, Canary Islands and finally Mexico.
I fell completely in love with Mexico – the waves, the people, the food and the lifestyle – and decided to settle down there. I bought some land with an old house on it that needed renovation. Outwardly I had everything my heart could desire – surf boards, friends, parties and an easy life. But inwardly, because of all the drinking and drugs and unanswered questions, I felt unfulfilled.
Death of a friend
I grew up having many questions about life, death, God and the meaning of it all. These were not answered by so-called Christians in England nor by any of the Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus I met on my travels. I began to think I should forget about all these big questions because no one could answer them.
Suddenly, at the end of May 1997 when I was nearly 24, my friend Pedro died in front of me as we were completing construction work on a well. He was a lapsed Christian for most of the time I knew him but a few days before he died he had repented and recommitted his life to the Lord Jesus Christ. As a result he told me about the gospel but I was not interested – I felt there was too much to give up.
He died because of an earthquake that caused the well to cave in on top of him. When he realised that he was trapped and was not going to escape alive he began to pray.
He prayed with peace, joy, fearlessness in the face of death, resignation to the will of God, and absolute assurance of the salvation which Christ had given him. This made a massive impact on my life. I saw and felt something that I never thought could happen in this life.
You must be born again
Within days of his death I was humbly, honestly and fervently praying that if there was a God in heaven who could hear me and could reveal himself to me, I wanted to know him and have a relationship with him. I prayed this prayer once or twice a day for several days – not knowing if Allah, Krishna or one of the Hindu gods was going to reveal himself to me.
In the providence of God I ended up on 9 June in the evening with the Bible in my hand, desiring for the first time to read it. I did not know where to start so I prayed to a God I did not know – if he had really written that book would he please speak to me through it!
Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered that the Gospel of John was a good place to start, so I began reading from chapter one. I was amazed at what I read and was convinced that if God had ever spoken to humanity then these were the things he would talk about.
I read on enthusiastically into chapter two. There doubts arose because I thought if God had become a man he would have had more important things to do than go to weddings and turn water into wine.
But as I began to read chapter three an awful sense of need overwhelmed me. I read and believed that I would never see the kingdom of God unless I was ‘born again’. I saw that I deserved to go to hell but there was hope if I was born again. The problem was that there were no clues as to how to be born again. I panicked.
I remembered that there were some American missionaries living about two miles away, so at about 10.00 pm I ran as fast as I could to their house. A missionary named James Rynn just happened to be sitting up late outside his house reading the Bible and praying.
We sat down and talked and he explained the gospel to me. Then he asked if I wanted to pray and ask God for forgiveness. I told him that I needed to pray alone as this was between myself and God alone. He said that if I did not return within 24 hours he would come looking for me, to which I agreed.
I walked slowly home along the beach, went up on to the balcony at the back of my house and began to pray. I confessed my sins and told God that I truly believed that Christ died and rose again for my salvation. As I prayed I felt a huge burden being lifted from me – and an overwhelming sense that God’s promises that Pedro had told me were true.
Beginning of a new life
The next day was the beginning of a new life for me. My hunger and thirst for surfing, parties, drinking and drugs had been completely replaced with a greater hunger and thirst to get to know this living, all powerful and gracious God. From that day I began to read the Bible, pray and look for any opportunity to serve Christ.
Since then God has restored the years that sin and selfishness had stripped from my life and I know that he has a gloriously perfect plan for the rest of my life and for eternity. My prayer is that you too will be convicted of your sin and, in light of judgement day, will see your need of the salvation that only Jesus Christ can give you.