At 24 years of age, my whole life was centered around sports and travel. I had just completed two years of travelling around the world, having previously taken a veterinary science degree at a university in New Zealand. I was living—for someone who loved surfing and scuba diving—in what was an earthly paradise, the island nation of Mauritius.
A Sting of Death
Surfing and fishing with the local Creole divers, I had gotten hooked on night diving. Accustomed to colder climates than the locals, I usually wore a thin 1mm short-sleeved wet suit, whereas the locals would wear the full 3-4mm suits and were totally encased from head to foot. Four days before I was due to leave the island to go back to New Zealand for my brother’s wedding, I went night diving with the local boys. As I dived that night, the beam of my torch light picked out a jellyfish right in front of me. Fascinated because of its unusual box-shape, I squeezed it through my leather-gloved hand, not realizing that the box jellyfish, a sea wasp, is the second deadliest creature known to man. Its toxin has killed over 70 Australians alone, more deaths than attacks from sharks. I had heard one report that the sting from this fish had stopped the heart of a 38-year-old man in 10 minutes.
Experiencing what felt like a huge electric shock in my forearm, like thousands of volts of electricity—and not being able to see what had happened—I did the worst thing possible. I rubbed my arm, and thus rubbed in the poison from the tentacles of this fish. Before I could get out onto the reef, three more box jellyfish stung me. My forearm began to swell like a balloon and blisters formed across my arm. As the poison moved around in my body, it hit my lymph glands, and my breathing quickly became constricted. I knew I needed hospitalization, and quickly!
One of the divers rowed me back to shore and dumped me on the road. Lying on my back, I heard a voice from somewhere tell me, “Don’t close your eyes or you may never wake up!” Being a qualified lifeguard and instructor in scuba, I knew that unless I got anti-toxin quickly, I would die. Having no money with me, I begged on my knees for a lift from an Indian taxi driver, who picked me up, took me to a hotel, and dumped me in the parking lot. The Chinese proprietor of the hotel, thinking the marks on my arm were from overdosing on heroin, refused to help. Finally, a security guard—who happened to be one of my drinking companions—rang for an ambulance.
Cries from My Heart
During the trip to the hospital, my life flashed before me, and I thought, I am going to die! This is what happens before you die—your life is displayed before you! Despite being an atheist, in that moment, I wondered whether there might be life after death. Suddenly, the face of my mother came before me, and she was speaking: “Ian, no matter how far from God you are, if you will only cry out to Him from your heart, He will hear you and forgive you.”
It had been 10 years since I had spoken to my mother about God—10 years of total denial that God existed. Yet at this very time, my mother was praying for me! She had sensed that I was nearly dead; God had shown her my face and prompted her to pray. I thank God for my praying mother who had not given up on a stubborn, rebellious son.
Pray to God! Which one? I thought. I had travelled throughout Southeast Asia and seen a million gods! But my mother’s face was still there, and I knew she had only prayed to the Christian God. So my mind began to recall the words of the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer my mother had taught me as a child. The words, “Forgive us our sins,” flashed before my eyes, and I could hear my mother saying, “From your heart, son, pray.” So, a prayer from my heart came: “God, if you’re real, if there is anything soft or good left in my heart, help me remember the prayer my mother taught me, help me remember the Lord’s Prayer.” So, from my heart, I cried out and asked God to forgive my sins.
It seemed as though God had heard my prayer, for another part of the Lord’s Prayer came to mind, “Forgive those who have sinned against you.” Since I was not a vindictive or aggressive person, it seemed that forgiving people who had backstabbed me or ripped me off would be easy. Then the face of the Indian taxi driver who had pushed me out of his cab appeared before my face. I might have been planning something for this driver—but it certainly wasn’t to forgive him! Before I could think, the face of the Chinese hotel owner who refused to take me to the hospital came to mind. I began to realize that forgiving others was not some head trip—this was where the rubber meets the road. I promised God that if He would forgive my sins, then I would forgive these men, and would never lay a hand on them. Their faces disappeared, as I offered them forgiveness.
“Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.” I thought, God’s will? I had been doing my own thing for 24 years! But I promised God, “If I come through this experience alive, I will find out what Your will for me is, and I’ll follow You all the days of my life.” As I prayed that prayer, I knew I had made peace with God.
Alive While Dead
The ambulance doors opened, and I was lifted into a wheelchair and raced into the hospital. Doctors and nurses rushed in, began monitoring my blood pressure, and struggled to inject anti-toxin and dextrose into my collapsed veins in an attempt to save my life. I was aware that I could not feel my arms at all, and I could no longer keep my eyes open. My head would not move and my eyes were filling up with perspiration. I closed my eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. At this point, I died—clinically dead, according to the hospital.
The moment my eyes closed I was suddenly wide awake, scared, and standing by what I thought was my bed in pitch black darkness. I wondered why the doctors had turned out the lights. It was so dark I could not see my hand in front of my face. I lifted my right hand up to my face and it seemed to go straight through. What was even more strange was that I couldn’t touch any part of my body. I had the sensation of being a complete human being with all my faculties but without a physical form. I was, in fact, outside my body, as when a body dies and the spirit leaves the body. Where was I? I could feel an intense evil pervading the darkness around me. A spiritual presence started to move towards me, shouting, “You deserve to be here!” When my arms came up to protect myself, the voice screamed, “You’re in hell now, so shut up!”
Experiencing this evil and deep darkness was long enough to put the fear of God in me for eternity. If I had not prayed my deathbed prayer in the ambulance, I would have stayed in hell forever. I thank God for His grace that heard this sinner’s prayer. Just before I died, I had put my trust in God, and He, like a Good Shepherd, led me through the valley of the shadow of death.
At this moment of deepest blackness, a brilliant light shone upon me and drew me straight out—translated up in a supernatural way. The brilliant light touched my face and encased my entire body, piercing the deep darkness and pulling me out. Looking back, I could see the darkness fading, and I could feel the power and presence of this light drawing me up into a circular opening, like a speck of dust caught in a brilliant beam of sunlight. Almost immediately, I entered the opening and could see the source of the light. The radiance, the power and purity that flowed from it were awesome! As I looked, a wave of thicker, intense light broke away from the source and came at incredible speed to greet me. A wave of warmth and comfort went through my entire being, and I felt the most incredible, comforting feeling I have ever experienced. Then another wave of light broke off and came towards me. When it touched me, I felt the most wonderful peace go right through me—total peace! In my past I had sought for peace in e ducation, in sports, in travel, in almost every avenue possible—yet it had eluded me. This, however, was a living peace—a peace so alive that it left its deposit within me.
As another wave of light came toward me, pure joy and excitement enveloped me. The light was like a white fire, a mountain of cut diamonds sparkling with indescribable brilliance. Everything seemed totally filled with this iridescent light, reaching out into infinity. I wondered if there was a person in the center of this brilliance, or whether it was just a force of good or power in the universe. Then I heard a voice asking, “Ian, do you wish to return?” Return where? I looked back toward the tunnel going into darkness, and said with certainty, “I wish to return to life!”
Out of the Valley, Into the Light
The voice responded, “Ian, if you wish to return, you must see things in a new light.” A new light! I remembered the words on a Christmas card someone had given me when I was in South Africa. “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). The thought came to me that I might be in the presence of God. If He is here, and He knows my name, then He knows my thoughts, and I am transparent before Him. He knows everything I have ever done in my whole life!
I pulled back, looking for some rock to crawl under, some way to go back down the tunnel where I thought I belonged. But as I pulled back from His presence, wave after wave of pure light flooded over me. The first wave that touched me caused my hands and body to tingle. I felt love go into the depths of my being. Then another wave came, and another. God can’t love me! I have committed too many sins, have broken too many commandments. But the waves of love kept coming to me, and every statement of confession I made was followed by another wave of love. I stood weeping while God’s love washed through me, becoming stronger and stronger. I wanted to step into the light, to see Him, to know God!
The light opened up and I saw the bare feet of a Man with dazzling white garments around his ankles. It seemed as if the light emanated from the pores of his entire face, like brilliant jewels with light and power shooting out from every facet. In total wonder at the sight of the brilliance and purity before me, I realized this person must indeed be God.
I was immediately aware that we were standing in something like a new planet Earth. The grass, though green, shined with a radiance of light, and a crystal clear river with trees on either side of its banks ran through the fields. There were green rolling hills, mountains and blue skies, flowers and trees. It looked like a Garden, a Garden of Paradise. I felt that this was where I belonged—where I was made to be!
God asked, “Ian, now that you have seen, do you wish to step into this new world, or return?” Wow, I had just gotten here by the skin of my teeth, through a deathbed prayer, and now I was seeing a place where there was no sickness, no death, no suffering, no pain or wars, and where there was life for eternity with God! With this view of the New Earth, I had no desire to return to the old Earth, to the cruel world I had known.
But while these thoughts were going through my mind, a vision of my mother came to my mind. She was looking at me and praying, as she had done every day of my life. She had tried to show me the way of God, but in my stubbornness, I had resisted. In this moment of decision, I realized if I stepped into Heaven right then, my mother would think I had gone to hell. She would not know of my repentance in the ambulance and my surrender of myself to God. I knew I had to go back and tell her that what she believes is real!
But how was I to get back?
I heard the voice, “Tilt your head, feel liquid run from your eye, then open it and see.” My right eye opened, and there was a doctor at the end of my bed prodding my foot with a sharp instrument. He looked up and saw me, blood draining from his face, as though he were seeing a corpse that had just opened his eye! The voice of God whispered to me, “Son, I’ve just given you back your life!”
I had been dead for 15 minutes, but now I was very much alive! I could move my neck, and over the next four hours I felt warmth and power flow through my body. I prayed that God would heal me, and the very next day I walked out of the hospital completely well.
What was I to do next? Over the next six weeks, I read through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I learned that many of the scenes and experiences in my death journey were similar to descriptions in scripture: Jesus clothed in garments of white, His face shining like the sun, the River of Life, no need of sun or moon in Heaven because Christ’s radiance and presence would fill the universe.
As I read through the gospels and the epistles, I read about being born again, having the certainty of sins forgiven, and being able to call on the Name of the Lord. I knew for certain that Jesus Christ is alive! He died for my sins on the cross, rose from the dead, and is the Resurrection and the Life! And I know that the earthly paradise of Mauritius is nothing compared to what awaits believers in the New Heaven and New Earth!
After my experience in Mauritius, I returned to New Zealand, reunited with my praying mother, and spent time on a dairy farm where God helped me get my life sorted out. I later returned to Southeast Asia, met my wife, Jane, and together we have traveled to 24 different countries telling the story of my salvation experience. We are amazed at the blessings of God in our lives as we share God’s unconditional love and mercy with everyone we meet.