Piya's story: A mind-altering God
Piya is a man feeling the pressure of his convictions. He once lived the high life, working as an ice and ecstasy ‘cook’ for a Sydney gang. He was no short order chef: he made enough money to regularly fund a week at the Hilton Hotel and buy the latest designer fashions.
He now lives in a share house with several other former homeless men at Maroubra in Sydney’s south. He has little privacy: his bed is in the middle of the lounge room with a hung bed sheet separating him from the rest of the boarders. His clothes are ragged and the only food cooking in the house are the sausages and mash he serves up to his housemates.
He had big dreams when the drug money was rolling in. Everything changed when a deal went wrong convicting him to leave the gang and the lucrative drug trade—and live homeless on the streets of Sydney for years. It was on the cold streets of Sydney, sleeping in the open, that the story of Jesus resonated with him.
“I used to have the power, the money, and the women,” he said. “Now I live on $260 a week.”
“I’m thankful now to have a roof over my head and people helping me but I’m struggling big-time with this new life.” His Christian faith is a bastion against the old ways.
“God will take care of me now,” Piya said. Money and power were furthermost from his mind when he entered the illegal drug industry. His decision was fuelled by an intense hatred of his mother and unresolved issues from childhood.
Piya was born in Thailand but when aged five, his mother married a British man and headed to Australia to establish a family home and a new life. With a promise to return for him, she left Piya with his grandfather. Piya felt “absolutely abandoned” until his mother’s return to Thailand during his teenage years.
When Piya arrived at the new family home in the Blue Mountains, he was brimming with stored anger. To add to his sense of abandonment, his mother and his stepfather were busy with work and were rarely at home.
To square the emotional ledger with his mother, he began selling speed. He told his mother about his dealings. Perhaps through a mix of guilt and loyalty, she helped him hide his crimes from the police.
This did nothing to ease his hate for her, even as he entered his twenties. When she became seriously ill, he continued his vindictiveness.
“I told her I wished she would die,” he said. What Piya did not know was that his mother was terminally ill. A week later, she died in hospital. An intense dark cloud of guilt closed in on him.
Piya felt the force of his family’s fury. His grandfather flew from Thailand but disowned him after the funeral service.
“He said I had better leave the family alone,” Piya recalls.
“In Thai culture, that means the family is totally cutting its connection with you.” Piya felt the loss of his family and was now alone.
His loneliness was short-lived. One night in a CBD bar, he went to the rescue of an Indonesian man who was being beaten. The man he saved, Sam*, became his mentor, providing advice and money. He also introduced Piya to a group of other young Asian men who became his close friends. Piya had found a father figure and a ‘family’ he was yearning for. The family, however, had a secret.
On a visit to Thailand, Piya learned how to make ice and ecstasy. Sam grinned when he learned of Piya’s new skills. He revealed to Piya that he was the leader of a criminal gang and the other young men were its members.
Today, Piya keeps clear of the areas where the gang once traded: Kings Cross, Darlinghurst, Newtown, Surry Hills and Chinatown. He fears being lured back into his old life by the promise of easy cash. However, it was in the glare of the neon lights that Piya’s plans to continue his work as a ‘cook’ would end.
One night a man in his early 20s in an Oxford Street bar bought drugs that Piya had made. Piya was in the club watching the deal go down. He will never forget what he saw.
“I knew how strong the product was,” he said. “But I didn’t know the gang sold him double the usual dose.” The man was soon lying on the pavement outside the club frothing at the mouth. Nearby paramedics rushed to his aid. He was close to death. The impact of Piya’s years as a drug maker hit home, shaking him to the core.
“I had a broken heart and broken soul because I could see all the people who had been hurt by the gang,” he said.
Piya decided to leave the gang but was worried they might murder him. He eventually moved out of his beachside apartment and ‘disappeared’ onto the streets. With his illicit income gone, he was forced to sleep amid the stench of the Central Station toilets and beg for food.
He eventually found a safe place to live at Wesley Edward Eagar Lodge not far from Central Station. The centre also provided three meals a day and a dedicated caseworker. It was a welcome relief.
While Piya had a roof over his head, he was haunted by the guilt of his mother and the treatment of others. Just when he thought he would never find peace, a meeting with a Christian on the streets of Sydney changed his life.
Michael Tang, Youth Pastor at the Chinese Presbyterian Church in Surry Hills, and his team of dedicated volunteers have for the past 13 years offered food and the gospel to the city’s homeless amid the grit of the bus interchange at Central Station. It was here, under the blackened sandstone arches, that Michael first talked with Piya.
“We don’t do anything flash, just sandwiches,” said Michael.“Most people really just want to talk.” When Piya asked Michael for one of the sandwiches, he was surprised by the pastor’s response.
“Michael said he could give me food but he would also like to give me a relationship with God,” Piya said. During the next few months, Michael invited him to a Bible study group. He finally accepted.
“I heard all these stories about the life of Jesus,” Piya said. “He had no shelter, no money, but he was still there for his community. I wanted to lead a life like him.” Faith brought Piya a sense of peace and it was something he wanted to share with others. He had successfully hidden himself from the gang but now he decided to approach them to talk about his newfound faith and the damage their business was doing.
“Within six months, most of us had decided we wanted to go up to heaven and to commit to Jesus,” he said. “The whole gang collapsed.” The gang’s leader, Sam, watched as his underlings became more interested in prayer and less in drug payloads. Piya was fearful of what Sam might do, but with the courage of his faith, he decided to challenge Sam to leave his old ways behind.
In a smoky, crowded restaurant in Chinatown, Piya broke bread with Sam. He talked to him about how everything the gang had done was motivated by pure greed.
“I told him, ‘We can have a good time without taking drugs and destroying people. We can just be like normal human beings and go out for coffee and play snooker’,” said Piya.
“He hasn’t changed his ways yet but he saw my point that ‘enough is enough’.” Piya has only once returned to the gang’s night club. As the club resounded to the latest beats, the young staff members bowed to him as a gesture of respect.
“It’s respect, but it’s respect for the dark side: the dirty money and the drugs,” he said. “I now walk on the light side with Christ.” Piya is passionate about his faith and has the resilience to walk the narrow and difficult path. However as his life of poverty continues to bite, his resolve is tested.
In his commitment to Jesus, Piya has faced-down much of his guilt and resolved many personal issues. However, in a rare moment of privacy recently, he tearfully remembered the mother he once hated.
“I know God has forgiven me,” Piya said. “But I cannot forgive myself.”