by Matt Dutschke
Growing up in a large farming family on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, I came across as a fairly happy sort of a guy. I grew up in the church and was always involved in leadership within the youth.
So a lot of people who knew me had no idea of the pain that was on the inside. Through my teenage years and 20s I hated myself. I had been through various forms of abuse and was struggling with my identity and worth and was afraid of relationships. I had always suffered depression from a young age.
I had a breakdown in my late teens and spent years talking through things with psychiatrists. When I was 25, my psychiatrist retired and we thought I was okay.
I was heavily involved in my community and my church but felt I still had something missing. When I was nearly 30, I met a lovely lady who had a little boy, who became my son and, after we married, we had a baby girl. My wife did not share my faith and so this was a struggle for me in our marriage.
The farm always struggled; I was driving trucks and working long hours to supplement our income. My wife did not enjoy farm life and, after the best harvest ever, we could still not see things getting better. So, for the good of the family, we leased the farm out and I worked off-farm in many different jobs.
In 2010 we went to Vietnam to teach English, which was my wife’s dream, so I gave up my job as a hire franchise manager. I had a breakdown there and came home and the marriage was never the same again. And after nearly 16 years of marriage, my wife left me, which I knew also meant losing my family unit and my family farm. I slipped into absolute depression. I hid away and was making plans to finish it.
I was sitting in the scrub on my farm and having my last cigarette, with the intention of taking my life. I cried out to God and said, ‘Where are you? I’ve trusted you my whole life and yet here I am’. Then my phone rang. It was my sister, Carol. She realised something was horribly wrong and made me promise to wait and she drove two hours back to the farm.
I was in hospital on and off for the next 12 to 18 months. My dad makes beautiful wooden comfort crosses and my sister had written the verse from Isaiah which says ‘I’ve got your name on the palm of my hand’ on a cross. I just clasped that and cried many tears over that journey.
The following year, a cousin and mate who is involved with the Shed Happens interdenominational men’s ministry nights on Yorke Peninsula, invited me to share my story. I prayed for strength and then shared everything – the shame of what I had gone through, the shame of losing my family, the shame of losing my family farm.
It was a turning point for me. I met the Shed Night founder, Queensland Lutheran Ian ‘Watto’ Watson, at a camp and he has given me constant encouragement and been a real mentor throughout my journey.
I’d decided to move to Adelaide to be closer to my kids but went back to Yorke Peninsula in mid-2012 to help my brother out while he was battling cancer. When he died, it was amazing how God gave me strength I did not believe I had, to be there for my family.
Not long afterward, my sister encouraged me to get involved with Teen Challenge South Australia, which helps men to overcome addiction, and I’ve been volunteering there ever since, including running a monthly Shed Happens night there. I also hosted the first Shed Happens nights for Adelaide’s north after
I moved permanently to Adelaide in 2012 and I remain involved with the group.
Through volunteering at Teen Challenge, I was offered a job at Cornerstone Housing, formerly Lutheran Community Housing, where I fill a variety of roles, from maintenance to dealing with contractors and whatever is needed.
Last year I went to Africa on a mission trip for SOUP, a Christian organisation which provides housing, medical treatment and emergency aid for people in Uganda.
I also taught adults life skills in Kenya for two weeks. It was a life-changing time for me, as I trusted wholly in God and sought his guidance.
But despite the way God had already turned my life around, my heart still yearned for a Christian life partner. Then through a Christian singles site, I met a wonderful lady named Dodie. We’ve now been together a little over 12 months and we were married in February this year and were blessed to have our four children in our wedding party.
God has been such a God of restoration, of grace, of healing for me. We are deeply indebted to God and I thank and praise him for giving me a second chance.
Together Dodie and I have developed a children’s Good News Reader Bible storybook for Africa, adapted from one done previously for Cambodia. But this is not my and Dodie’s doing, this is God’s leading.
I believe God’s got me where he wants me. And Dodie and I will be really excited to see where he’s going to take us next.
Matt Dutschke is a member of Para Vista Lutheran Church in suburban Adelaide.
For more information about Shed Night ministries, go to www.shednight.com