Neil Shaw is one of those larger-than-life characters who stands out in a small rural town. His background has given him a heart for the lost, and God has given him a gift for talking to people. No wonder, then, that his pastor calls him ‘The Pied Piper of Putaruru’. Neil shares his story.
I met the Lord when I was a child. However, when a supposedly trustworthy adult interfered with me, my anger built up. That road led me running from Christ and eventually to spending 27 years of my life in and out of institutions.
Fast forward, I finished with the prison system and decided to try and straighten myself out. Well, all that time life to me was marijuana oil, magic mushrooms and acid trips.
I was approaching 40 when a friend of mine got a blind date on the internet and that is where I met my future wife, Linzi. When I walked into the room and saw her, something inside me said, “You are going to marry her.” A year later we were married. I had long hair, a full-face beard, leather jacket, and was really hard on the eyes.
Free at last
It was about this time that I got hooked on amphetamines. In 2011 I hit the bottom of the barrel, having spent $15,000 of savings and needing to explain to my wife where the money had gone. I thought, “I am going to try and save my marriage because I really love my wife.” So, I came clean and told her, and went to a counsellor and explained what had happened to me as a child. She got me into Higher Ground, a therapeutic community for people affected by severe addiction.
In 2012 two guys from Putaruru Baptist Church asked me if I wanted to go to Promise Keepers in Auckland. I couldn’t afford it, so they paid for my ticket and took me there. It was then God took away my addiction; I had no more cravings whatsoever. When I came back my wife watched me for a month just to make sure, and then she gave her life to the Lord.
For three years before going to Promise Keepers, my daughter Seyah had been dragging me to Putaruru Baptist. She had been going on and off to church and was more spiritually awake than I was. She knew that I needed help.
I would go up front for prayer but nothing changed; I would go home and get on the ‘P’ pipe. After I had been saved I realised the Holy Spirit can’t move if your heart is not in the right place. It was in his timing that he set me free.
Working with youth
I started the youth group at Putaruru Baptist at the beginning of 2013. We began with five kids, three of whom were from the church. For the first couple of years I ran it and then my daughter stepped up. Along with Linzi, she has a band of four leaders from within the youth. Together we run the group and care for our teens.
On average about 18 kids attend a youth group night but we have got 30-something on the books. A number of them attend church. We baptised about eight in 2017, five in 2018 and six in 2019 at the time of writing.
Everybody in town knows me. I work in the op shop so I get to talk to people. I always try and find out where they are at. And I say, “Oh, by the way, we run a youth group for ages 13 and up and we would just love to have your kids come along. There’s games and structured events. We go camping and that sort of stuff.” Quite often kids want to come and check it out. Nine times out of ten they will stay.
Opening the doors
I don’t want any kid who comes into contact with our youth programme to go down the paths I went down. I want them to have a relationship with Christ—to know who he really is.
But there is no use preaching at them; you have to show them. You’ve got to walk with your community. I have shared a bit with the kids at times, about my testimony and the experiences I have had. But a big part of that is listening to where they are at. When you get to understand where their heart is at, they are looking to be accepted, to be loved.
Some kids think that Christianity is a religious thing. They haven’t got a clue until they actually get a touch from Jesus. That’s what we are trying to do—to open up the channels so these kids can feel the power of Christ. He wants us to have a victorious life. Some kids are living in defeat. It is just opening the doors for them to be released and to be all they can be.
Story: Neil Shaw
Neil’s whole lifestyle is about relationship, not religion. He believes everyone is dying to meet Jesus and that you’ve just got to let them know how to do that. He thanks God every day for his daughter Seyah and his wife Linzi and all the Putaruru youth in whom God is doing a work.