Stephen Morrison was overjoyed. The 16-year-old had won a prestigious basketball scholarship.
Stephen Morrison was overjoyed. The 16-year-old teenager from Kununurra, a town in the far north of Western Australia had won a prestigious basketball scholarship. Not only was the scholarship a confirmation of his talent and potential, it also meant a good future doing something he loved.
He had a celebratory drink. Yes he was only 16 and underaged but he'd been drinking since he was 14. Alcohol was as common in the young Aboriginal's house as plain water.
"I grew up with alcohol," Steve, 39, tells Challenge. "I can't remember a time when there wasn't alcohol in the house. My mum didn't drink but my dad did. I was always around alcohol and alcohol was always around me."
He moved to Perth and began his scholarship at Willetton Senior High School.
"It was the first time I lived on my own and had all this freedom," he says. "No adults, no parents. I had a little hair on my lip and I thought I was all grown up.
"That's when I started drinking hard. I lost all interest in sports. Soon all I could think of was where I could get my next drink.
"I drank at every opportunity and I drank to excess. Naturally I progressed to drugs. Then came the stealing, the breaking and entering, the selling to feed my habit."
He says it didn't take long before he became addicted. "I got into fights and into trouble with the law," he remembers. "I knew I was on the brink of being arrested and getting thrown into prison."
Things reached a head one evening after a particularly bad bender. Driving home he suddenly stopped his car and put his head on the steering wheel.
His shoulders heaving, he did something he hadn't done since he was a child - he prayed. "Lord help me, Lord help me, Lord help me," he sobbed.
"That night it hit me how bad my life had become," he says. "Four years before that I had everything to live for. I had a scholarship and a bright future. But I had lost it all. Lost my friends and members of my family who didn't want to be around me anymore. I used to have a good reputation but I lost that and instead I was looking at jail."
Why did he pray? Ironically, Steve was surrounded by prayer as much as he was by alcohol. His mother, a Christian, was the family's spiritual rock and had brought her children up to believe in and have reverence for God.
"I'd always known about Jesus Christ," Steve acknowledges. "I can't think of a time when I didn't know about Him. I didn't know much about Him, but I would look at creation and I just knew there was something out there, someone spiritual and bigger than me.
"My mum would pray and there was always reverence in the house. If we had problems, Mum would say 'let's pray'."
The next few months after his epiphany at the steering wheel "were a blur" Steve chuckles. But suddenly things started happening.
His mother worked at the Department of Justice and one day she saw a flyer for Teen Challenge on the floor. Teen Challenge is a Christian organisation, with a worldwide network of offices which run programs to help teenagers, adults, and families with substance abuse or self-destructive behaviour.
She gave Steve the pamphlet. By the end of the month, he had enrolled in WA's Teen Challenge.
He landed at the program's facility in Esperance on a Wednesday. That Sunday he attended its church service and by noon that day he had become a Christian. "I don't really remember much about the sermon but something made me go up and pray for the Lord to change my life," Steve says. His journey back to wholeness had begun.
He completed the two-year program and spent another year there as a mentor. This opened the door to what he is doing today.
Steve is a drug and alcohol counsellor with Hope Community Services in the mining town of Kalgoorlie - he is in fact the branch's first Aboriginal counsellor.
"I believe I have much to offer because of my own past," he says compassionately. "I was saved from that mindset and hopelessness."
He says he sees how God worked in his life. "There is no way I would be where I am today without God. God put me here for a purpose. I really do feel like I was lost but Jesus found me."
Steve is so good at his job he was recently awarded the prestigious encouragement award at the National Aboriginal Alcohol and Other Drugs Conference in Adelaide. "I feel sad when I talk to my clients and help them peel back layer after layer of grief and hurt," Steve says. "It can be very heartbreaking but at the same time I'm glad I can help."
Hope is not a Christian organisation but Steve directs his clients to his church, Mungagadugu Church, if they are interested in finding out more about the Gospel (the good news of Jesus Christ dying for our sins).
"My clients could easily be me," he says. "I used to be like that but thanks to Jesus I'm saved from that life. My purpose now is to rebuild others' lives."•