Today’s guest is Catherine and she’s from Gambia in West Africa, which is different to any other guest I’ve had so far, which is very cool. And she came to Australia in 2010 to study construction management and she was the only girl in her class for a year and a half. Now she works as a project controller, we’ll hear more about that later, and she also is a writer which I didn’t know when I asked her to interview, so we’re going to talk about that. And she’s an actor as well, which I also didn’t know. So this whole [recording] setup is very familiar to Catherine. Hopefully you’re more relaxed than I am?
So you’re very welcome and I’m very grateful that you wanted to come on my podcast.
Can you tell us how you became a Christian?
I became a Christian in 2005, I was invited to an Easter program in my country back in West Africa, and when I went to the church, I heard the way they preached and I’d never heard the Bible preached that way. Because I was raised up from a Catholic faith. So I was there and I watched everything that went by. It was a three-day event leading to Easter, so from the Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, and then Sunday which was the Easter Sunday.
So I went the first day, I went the second day, I think by the third day when I went down there they did an altar call — salvation. I put my hand up but straight away there was this conflict within me. Am I ready to give up my life now? For this life that the preacher is talking about. So I quickly put my hand down again.
So later they made another call and said, ‘Those that have raised their hand to accept Jesus into their lives and start this faith journey can come forward.’ So there was this guy, I think he was one of the ushers, that saw my hand up before, so he walked down to me and said, ‘Sorry? Did you put your hand up? Can you walk towards the altar?’
I said, ‘No, I didn’t put my hand up for that. I just put my hand up to pray.’
I lied because I was so scared. Because after I put my hand up I said to myself, ‘Oh no. I don’t think I’m ready for this now. I mean, I have to give up my party life, and all of that. No, not today.’
Then I went home and then I started going there every Thursday because they had mid-week Bible study. And one Thursday I just couldn’t resist the urge anymore, I decided to take the faith walk and ask Jesus into my life.
How did your family respond to that?
Oh my goodness. It was a minor persecution in the house. Because my parents, my dad is Catholic, my mum is Anglican but got married to a Catholic husband. It was, I thought it was not going to be an issue because it was not like I’d left the faith or the religion for another one. But it was. For months it was really hard for my parents to come to terms with the fact that I’ve moved church to a Bible-believing church, where I can really study the scripture and know what the faith walk is about. So it took a while for them to really sink into it and say, ‘Yes, this is the path she’s chosen.’
But in the beginning, my dad, my mum, my aunties, they were all against it.
That’s not easy, is it?
It’s not. It’s not easy at all. But God gave me the grace to go through it and then a youth pastor in the church, I was telling him what was going on, and he and his wife were praying for me and said, ‘We’ll keep you in our prayers, God will make a way.’
But then I couldn’t see the way and I’m thinking, ‘I want God to make a way now. Because this is just too much. I’m a 19 year old, and all this pressure from home, it’s just too much.’
But then finally my mum was the first one to give in. And then she was the one that stood for me against all the other family members and said, ‘Yes, she’s chosen it and I’m going to support her.’ Which was a breakthrough.
What a precious gift.
It was. It was, yes.
What made you decide to come to Australia?
My mum’s aunt, she lives in Australia, she’s been here for 32 years. So she came back home in 2004 for the December holiday and then she said she wants one of the relatives to come and study and stay with her in Australia. Because she’s the only one from our family that lives far away in Australia.
So I was the guinea pig. Because I’d just finished high school then in June 2004, I’d just finished my year 12 and she came in December.
So when the offer came in, I said, ‘No, I’m not going’ and I was thinking, ‘Where is Australia?’ I started going to the map. I said to my mum, ‘I am not living here and going to a far away country for God knows how many years.’
And my mum said, ‘Well, your great-aunt said you’re going just for two years.’
I said, ‘No, I’m not going.’
But then, they didn’t listen to me, because in my culture my opinion didn’t matter, it’s what my parents said [that mattered]. So they started the process, they got me a passport, and everything started, the process started. In 2005, they started the process again, because they had a break just after my grandma came back, after Christmas. So they started again and I just had to listen to my parents. I started filling out all the forms they wanted me to fill but deep down within me I was praying that it falls off, that it doesn’t go. Because I didn’t want to go.
So by the end of 2005, because I’d already given my life to Christ in 2005, in April. And in May I had already enrolled in Bible College. So I didn’t want to hear anything of the Australia trip, anymore. Because it was exciting just starting this new faith walk with God and starting at Bible College, meeting up with so many Christian women out there in the faith. It was exciting, it was a new journey.
So the process then fell off. And I was really happy. Then in 2007 it came back up again. I was thinking, ‘Oh my goodness. What is happening?’
So you’d done Bible college a bit by that stage?
Yes, I was in the second year then.
And then they came back again, my great-aunt called and said, ‘This is what is going to happen. We want you to come.’
At that point I don’t even want to fill any forms. So I got some people, some friends that I know in church, and then went to our pastor and said, ‘This is what is happening but I don’t want to go.’ And I asked friends to pray with me that it would fall off again, so that it doesn’t go ahead. But my pastor mentored me and advised me and said to me, ‘See this in another way. Maybe this is God opening this door for you to go there.’
I said, ‘I don’t want to go there. I don’t know anyone in Australia apart from my great-aunt. What am I going to do there? I want to stay here. And besides, I have one more year to finish my Bible college.’
And then he said, ‘OK we’ll pray about it but we’re going to pray for God’s will. Not what you want, but what God wants.’
And by the time I’d finished Bible college, the process was so long. I finished Bible college in 2008 and then two years later I found myself in Australia.
And did you come straight to Tasmania?
No I came straight to Melbourne. So my great-aunt lived in Melbourne with her husband and her children.
So now you’re not even living in Melbourne with your great-aunt.
I know! I’m not living there. I’ve been in Melbourne for six and a half years before I relocated here for work purposes. But I was saying to myself, ‘How come I didn’t come to Tasmania when I first came to Australia?’ Because Tasmania is so laid back, it’s like my country. It’s not a busy life. So I was thinking, ‘If I was here maybe I would have loved it.’
Because I struggled my first four years in Melbourne. I mean I was like a little tiny fish in a big ocean. Thinking, ‘How am I going to fit in this culture?’ My accent, one, was an issue, and two, who is going to understand me? Who has gone through what I’m going through. So for the first four years I felt like a misfit. Because I felt like I don’t belong. There’s an unfamiliar setting and I don’t want to stay here one extra day.
That’s a long time to feel like a misfit.
It is. Four years.
It’s nine years now, and I love it.
Oh great. Phew.
So tell us what you do for a job?
I work as a project controller. So I work with Hydro Tasmania. I’m into power and water.
And as a controller, are you a team leader telling other people what to do?
As a controller I am supporting the project manager to run projects. So he delegates stuff to me and then I push it down to the team.
Have you found that difficult, in that technical area, as a woman?
Oh yes. It is very difficult. But it is easier than when I was studying. Because when I was studying being the only female student in a class of 60 for an academic year it was hard. I got all the mockery, all the racism, I got all of that. But I had to push through because I thought about, I’ve left family, friends, comfort and everything to come down here and study so for whatever it’s worth, I’m pushing through.
It was hard.
I took a whole semester off because I was going through stress. I was going through stress and depression so that I couldn’t continue, it was just too much.
I mean I had a classmate that walked to me and said to me, ‘What are you doing here Catherine? This is a male course, not a ladies course.’
That was breaking. That was nerve-breaking.
But I’m so grateful to God that when I finished that first stage of the 18 months which was the diploma He just gave me this courage and this faith that I could go higher. I went to further my studies and I went into the bachelors degree. But by the time I got into the bachelors degree there were more females in the course, so that was better.
But then, working as a project controller, it’s totally different from what I studied because I almost lost hope when I was studying. I didn’t have any courage left in me, if not for my praying mum, and God that helped me through the process.
And it’s totally different because at work you’re valued, your opinions matter, what you bring to the table matters. And I’m working with some of the best engineers and they are always there to help. So it’s been a shift from what the course was like and now what the real world looks like. So it’s been a shift.
And I’m grateful. Because I know for some, it’s not. It’s a continuous process for some women that I’ve spoken to, for some ladies into male-dominant fields but I’m really glad that it’s been a shift. Which I love. I really love my job.
So how does your faith show in your work?
That’s a tough one.
As you know, in this faith journey, I call it, it’s a death walk. You’re invited to take a death walk. Because everyday you’re dying to your own desires, dying to your own wants and what you want to do. And you’re picking up what God wants you to do. So I see it as a death walk.
When I’m leaving the house in the morning before I go to work, I just say, ‘God help me today. Help me to control my temper. Help me to control my words. Help me to live like you would. What would you have done if you were in my place?’
It is hard. Because sometimes I’m so tempted to give back an answer the way it was given to me. A harsh answer. But sometimes I have to swallow it down. I’m like, ‘OK Lord you have to help me with this.’
So it’s a constant fight to live the life that Jesus wants us to live out there. So I do my best. I do my best to share God’s love by approaching people in love. And swallowing my words, thinking twice before I answer, especially if it’s a harsh correction, or someone threw a word at me. But it is hard. Sometimes I just go to the bathroom and … squeeze my face together like, ‘God, seriously you have to help me. Otherwise I’ll say something I will regret.’
So it’s a daily walk, it’s a daily fight.
I also want to ask, did you choose this area of study? Or was that chosen for you by your family?
I chose it.
My great-aunt wanted me to come and study hairdressing. Because when she came back for that five week holiday she saw me doing hair. It’s part of our African culture, we change our hair almost every two weeks when we’re in Africa because we have aunties and sisters and cousins, everyone can do hair. So we change our hair every time.
So I learned how to do hair from my auntie and my older sister. So when she came and she saw all these little girls coming to our house and I’m doing their hair she said, ‘Oh, OK. I think with this discussion of you coming to study in Australia, maybe you can come and study hairdressing. It’s really good there.’
And I said to my mum, ‘I am not travelling all that way to Australia just to do hairdressing. Because I’m doing it here already.’ I said, ‘If you want me to travel to Australia I want to do building and construction.’
And my mum was like, ‘Wow. You’re really serious with this building and construction.’
Because I did it in high school. I loved technical subjects, so I did it from year seven right down to year 11. I did technical drawing. And I’m just so fascinated by having a structure, seeing a structure on paper and then bringing that to life on land. So I’m just so fascinated. Because my grandfather, my father’s father ws a builder. So I’m just so fascinated with that.
And my parents thought I was joking. I said, ‘Well, that’s what I want to study. Otherwise I’m not going.’
So that’s when they said, ‘Yep, you can go and study building and construction.’
So it was what I chose and I was really really happy that my family were very compromising because I know some of my childhood friends I grew up with, when their parents chose what they had to do said, ‘You have to be a doctor. So we’re sending you to the UK to go and study medicine.’ And they don’t have a choice.
But this is my passion. This is what I love doing. And I’m really grateful that my parents let me choose it.
But there’s another side to you which is a creative side. And I read your blog today and it was beautiful. https://aladyformyking.com/ So tell me more about your writing.
I started writing just when I gave my life to Christ, 2005, that’s when I started writing. But more of my writing was just faith based. Also because I was in a Bible college.
It just triggered me. Some of the subjects we’d do and I’d study and then I started writing. So I normally keep this journal. Anytime I’m studying or one of the subjects or I’m about to have an exam in the Bible college I started writing and then journalling in my writing.
So when I was coming to Australia, I came with them. But then the passion died, for a while.
Well, I’m not surprised, considering what you were going through.
It just died. And I’m glad it died at that time because I don’t know what I would have been writing with that time being stressed and depressed.
So it died. And then when I started my bachelors degree, by then I was more relaxed, more female students in the class, and I started doing all these assignments. And our lecturers would say, ‘One hundred pages. Do a feasibility study of 100 pages, 120 pages.’ And one day I said, ‘God if I can do this for a lecturer or for a professor that will just read it and later put it on file, or put it in the bin, I can do that for you. I can write a book about my faith journey.’
That’s when I started writing.
And when I started, I didn’t want to put the pen down.
So I’m old-school. I write with pen first. And then later I transfer it onto my laptop. My friends say, ‘That’s double work.’ I say, ’No, that’s how I flow.’
I flow with the pen better than the keyboard. Because I start typing, you type, you make a mistake and you go back to correct it. And before you know it, you lose the flow. So I just take a pen and I go, so when I’m typing it I can remember, ‘this was what I wanted to type.’ And I can fix it there.
When I wrote my first novel I wrote two drafts on the computer and then I wrote the third draft in longhand, with pen and paper, and different things came out, different things came onto the page. And then I typed that back into the computer again. That was really interesting.
I haven’t done it since, I tend to write just on the computer now.
I’m doing both now. I’m learning how to write on the computer. But sometimes I’m like OK. Especially when sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and then I have an idea or something. I quickly take my pen and my notepad next to me and I scribble. Sometimes I reach for my phone and go into the notes area and start writing it there. But when I start scribbling I go faster. It’s like all the ideas are pouring out faster than when I start typing. [With typing] I stop because I want to fix a mistake before I move forward.
Yeah, gotta get rid of that critical voice.
You have won an award, can you tell us about that?
Yes. So that was 2017, November. I started a blog (https://aladyformyking.com/) and the blog was not my initial plan. My initial plan was to get my book out.
I wrote a book which is called ‘I’m Waiting in His Courts’. That’s what I mean, the sub-line for the blog is ‘Dwelling in His Courts’.
So that book’s published?
It’s not yet published.
So I wrote the book and it was ready, I was now looking for a publisher. And it was just issues with gatekeepers, from the publisher’s end, ‘Oh no, no, no. No sorry, you’re not a known author.’ That was discouragement and I thought, ‘No, this word has to get out. I can’t let these gatekeepers discourage me.’ So that’s when I thought, ‘OK I’m going to start a blog’.
So I started a blog, and I started writing and when I started writing I thought, ’That’s it. I don’t want anyone to publish my book. I’m going to write.’
I started in May 2016. I started writing. Initially it was like I was just writing to myself. And for me, anytime before I write a blog, most of the time, I ask God, ‘What do you want me to write about?’ And when I finish, when I post it, I always say, ‘God, even if it’s for one person. I don’t care if I don’t have people reading it, I just want that one person that will read it that it will encourage. Or that person’s heart will turn back to you. Or that person will be encouraged to know that we all walk this journey, that we are not alone.’
I think within three or four months I started attracting readers, even from South America, from China, Singapore, America, UK. I’m thinking, ‘Who are they?’ And sometimes I want to speak to them because most of them just come to read. I’m like, ‘Oh no, I want to know who this person is.’ That’s how it started spreading. And when I write and I send it to my friends, they also share it.
That was towards the end of 2016. So in 2017 I continued writing. I mean by the end of 2017 I’ve had over 2500 visitors that have visited to read my blog. So towards the end there was this national African award. So a friend of mine in Melbourne said to me, ‘There is this award, this national award, I’m just going to put you in for it.’
She texted me, sent me a message. I’m thinking, ‘Whatever.’
I didn’t say anything.
Then she sent me another message saying, ‘I’ve put you in for a nomination for this award.’ I said to her, ‘You’re joking, right?’ She said, ‘No, check them out, this is the link.’
I thought, ‘No, this is not right.’ So I checked it on google to check if this was real or just a fraud. And when I checked it I saw that it was a prestigious African group, a media group that run this national award every year. Straight away my excitement was just turned up to another level. I started picturing myself being awarded.
I said to her, ‘Under what category did you put me?’
She said, ‘Under individual talent as an author of an online website.’
So I thought, OK.
The day after, or two days after, I got an email from the organisers to say that the nomination has been approved. Now, when I went to my blog I saw that some people have been doing some good research. So I think that’s the organisers or whoever, the committee went in to connect. I said, ‘Wow, who has been browsing?’ Because I saw a high amount of readers coming into the blog for that day. I thought it must be them.
So they said, ‘OK, my nomination has been approved and I will be up for an award, if I win.’
I’m thinking, ‘No, this is not happening!’
So I gave them a call and I asked and they said, ‘Yes, it’s real. The date is on the 18th of November. It’s in Melbourne. Come down.’
It was I think one of the hotels on Wrights and Swanson Streets.
So I got back to my friend and said, ‘This is what I’ve received.’ And she was so excited.
And then the second letter they sent me said that my nomination is going to be under Women in Leadership.
I said, ‘Oh no. You can put me in Women in Leadership. How many African women do you have in Australia. What are you saying? If you put me there I’m not going to win.’
I went back to my friend and said, ‘This is what they said.’
She said, ‘I didn’t put you in that award. I only put you in the award for individual talent.’
She said to me, ‘Well if they think you deserve the one for women in leadership, so be it. Just see it as a promotion. God is lifting you up.’
I said, ‘No, this one I don’t think I will have any award.’
But the day came and I flew over to Melbourne and I got some friends that were in Melbourne that came with me. And I sat down there I saw people from the media, from the African media industry. I saw people that were also in the movie industry, all of them there. I saw people that were in the fashion industry, they were all there. It was a big event.
I sat down there thinking, ‘Oh my goodness. What am I doing here?’ I felt unqualified to be there. A few minutes later the event started and then boom, on the screen I saw my face as being short listed. I’m like, ‘No way! They even shortlisted me. My goodness.’
So I told my friends, ‘Look! That’s my face up there.’ Because they did ask us to send a bio before that, and a photo.
Then I said to them, ‘If my face is on that screen I’m going to get an award even if it’s a certificate of nomination.’
I sat there and they started talking about the nominees and the work they are doing. To my surprise, they had been asking for people to recommend the short-listed candidates. And got people from, I think they got two people from the UK that sent in a recommendation, from Australia, and I’m thinking, ‘Some of them I don’t know.’ But I didn’t know the full story of the people that sent in recommendations. I did know that people were going to send in recommendations because my friend who sent in the nomination told me and then I shared it among the friends that knew about it. But I was really touched with some of the words that were read out by the chair, the host of the night.
So when they started reading about the category of women in leadership, they read all the nominees, and then they said, ‘The winners are …’ They called the first one (there were three winners), the second one, and then the third one they called my name. I almost fell out of my chair. Because I thought, ‘Oh my goodness.’ I was walking down there, I thought I was in dreamland.
I went there. I couldn’t hear anything that the host was saying. I went up there picked up the award, came back down. I was thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, God, I don’t deserve this platform, but you’ve chosen to lift me up to the platform.’ It was a big thing because it was a national award. I was just moved by what God did.
It says in the Psalms that it’s the Lord who bestows honour. (Psalm 84:11)
Exactly. He’s the one that did that, because there is no way. There are so many African women out there that are doing great things in their community, in their world. And I’m thinking, ‘God, why me?’ And I was the youngest. I was just amazed.
Thinking, ‘God, I’m not going to doubt your ability anymore.’
And He is really giving you a chance to put your word out there. So you’re doing an Africa Media Australia television show?
Yes they do the show as well, and then do the awards every year.
So you’re really being given a place to share.
I know, I know. I always tell my friends that it is a platform that I’m not ready for. I mean, when I think about myself and my abilities, what I can do, I think I’m not ready for it. But why God placed me there is because he believes deep down he’s given me the ability and the capability to really stand out in that platform. So he believes I can. So if God believes that I can, then I believe that I can.
When do you feel close to God?
At night. It’s when I have my quiet time with him. It’s one of those times that I just think, ‘God why don’t I feel this 24 hours a day? Why just when I’m in your presence?’
But having said that, I believe that God is with me all the time. But the busy-ness of my surroundings makes me think that he’s not there. But he is everywhere, he’s there with me all the time. But I think the reason why I said at night is because at that time I shut off all the distractions, put off my phone and everything. I’m like, ‘God what are you saying now?’
And it is helping me to understand that even in the busiest day of my life, God is there. If I just shut down, just for one minute, and then listen, he’s still whispering, even in the midst of the noise. But it’s me positioning myself in a place where I can hear him and know that he is closer to me than any other thing.
What’s one thing, or more than one thing, about God and Christianity that you wish everyone knew?
I wish everyone knows the love of Jesus. I just wish the whole world knows the sacrifice that Jesus went through for us. It amazes me. I was sharing with a friend that, I mean, I’ve done some really messed up things in my teenage years before I met Jesus. And I’m thinking, ‘God, you saw all that mess, and before you created me you knew I was going to [do that], there’s no day of my life that would take you unawares, you know every day of my life, every second. Before you created me you saw my days. Like Psalm 139 says, you saw my days. But then you still chose to create me when you knew that I was going to mess up, I was going to spit back in your face, I was going to make the enemy laugh at you and say, “Look at the person you say you love, look at how she’s living her life.” But you still chose me.’
The gospel of John says, Jesus said, ‘You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.’ [John 15:16]
And for me, I wish everyone can know that it doesn’t matter what you are going through, you can be in the biggest mess or whatever you’re doing, God loves you in that mess. God loves you in that brokenness. God loves you in that sinful life. Whatever it is that you’re doing, God loves you.
And he wants you to give him a chance.
Most of the time we think we have to clean up our mess before we come to God. And we find out in that process you spend years trying to clean up because you can never clean it up. And we think, ‘When I’m right, I’ll come to God.’ You can’t. You can’t do it by yourself, you need God to help you.
And God is just saying, ‘Come as you are.’
I tell people that Jesus is the perfect cleaner. What he can do in your life, there is no detergent. I normally throw that out, but he is more than that.
And that’s what I want people to know. The love of Jesus. The love that took him to the cross. The love that says, ‘Not my will, but your will.’ [Luke 22:42] That is what I want people to know. That he loves them, right now, whatever they are in. And he just wants them to give him a chance in their life.
Well I am very grateful that God has brought you here to Tasmania.
I’m grateful too, to be here.
And thank you so much for sharing with us.
Thank you, thanks so much Ruth.