The streets are no place for a 14-year-old, as Australian man Geoff Collins experienced firsthand. “My father committed suicide. There was nothing for me there,” he says.
After deciding to visit his older brother in Indonesia, Geoff never went back. A couple of years later, he instead found himself falling in love with a young Javanese girl.
“I tried all night to talk and dance with her,” he says, reminiscing about the evening out. “I gave her my number, and the next morning I got a call.
“‘It’s me,’ she said.
“‘…who?’ I replied.”
Geoff later concluded it probably hadn’t been his best first impression.
Erma and Geoff married and soon began a family of their own, but corporate life in Surabaya left them unsatisfied. Settling for the ‘white picket fence’ simply wouldn’t suffice. “We need so much less than we think we do,” Geoff says.
After moving to Bali, he and his wife opened up an academy in Sanur, where Geoff could train kids from the local slum in the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ).
Akademi Kristus is a place where street kids can come to obtain an education, learn some self respect, and train hard three times a week – an opportunity that was seemingly unavailable to the young Australian when he was growing up. “[I’m] turning the crap of my past, into the compost of my future.”
After training, all that can be heard in the garden by their house is the munching of little mouths. Erma prepares a meal before the children are driven back to their village. They scoop the rice hurriedly with their hands as their clothes and hair drip wet from a well-earned swim. When it’s time to go, they leave a muddy trail in their wake and a pile of dishes licked clean by the doorstep.
This life hasn’t been easy for Geoff and his family, though.
“For a really long time we had no furniture. We gave it all away,” Geoff says. “Up until only recently, we had been sleeping on a mattress on the floor for over two years. All Erma’s clothes were in boxes.”
Geoff and his family lived week to week. After partnering with the local C3 Church and the Grapplers for Christ (G4C) community of Christian grapplers back in Melbourne, Australia, they were able to rent a plot of land and a house for one year.
The academy, which used to be situated in an open dirt patch in the slum, gained a roof and a paved floor. Boxing bags, gloves and mats were donated by those wanting to help back home in Australia.
Geoff’s partner at the academy, Woon Ooi, flew in from Melbourne and took a look around for the first time. Tears lined his eyes.
“We did it,” Woon said.
“Yeah, we’re not done yet,” Geoff replied.
During a training session, Woon lined up a surprise Skype call with G4C back in Australia. Geoff was to be awarded the coveted blue belt after 20 minutes of continuous fighting, followed by a ‘whipping’ ceremony.
The fight was vigorous and evidently exhausting. Having to fight not only the young athletes he had trained so well, but also his equally matched partner, 20 minutes felt like a lifetime. Sweat dripped onto the mats as they fought under the tin roof on a 40-degree day. Pastors of the local church, fellow fighters and representatives from the Australian Consulate watched on.
Everyone held their breath in anticipation until the final timer rang out. Geoff stumbled to his feet while his wife and children cheered him on, then walked across the mat ten times whilst being whipped by the fighters’ belts as is customary in a blue belt grading ceremony.
“Get him behind the legs. It hurts more!” they called out.
“C’mon, Geoff. You want to earn this,” Woon urged, before delivering a final blow behind the thigh.
Finally, pushed to the limit, Geoff stood before the Skype screen with watering eyes. Children from the slum stood around him wearing their uniforms with pride. The blue belt was wrapped around his waist, and he locked his fellow fighter and ministry partner in a sweaty embrace. Cheers erupted on the screen as the G4C academy back in Melbourne, Renegade MMA, awarded Geoff his new rank.
“I know I don’t deserve this,” he managed to say, “but thank you.”
Later, after driving the kids back home, Geoff takes a walk through the slum.
“It’s more commonly referred to as the ‘kampung’, which means village or neighborhood,” he explains.
Speaking in fluent Indonesian, he checks in with the families still living there, passing by a row of government-built homes where the village’s disabled live.
“They [the disabled] were the boys I met. When I first walked in, one of them said to me ‘How are you?’ in perfect English. He just picked it up from other conversations,” Geoff recalls. “That’s when I knew. That’s what made me not sleep at night. These boys, their brains are working but they just sit around all day with no stimulation.”
Geoff now runs classes with some of the local teachers from the local special needs school. Three times a week these boys are educated, developed and cared for.
Geoff receives nods of respect as he walks through the kampung and back to the academy.
When asked why, Geoff and his wife Erma simply say, “Because we’ve never gone without.”
This article was authored by Bethany Ross after her visit to Akademi Kristus.