Coming from a broken family who had experienced the devastation of war, disease and accidental death, Soraya Ludwig-Green has risen above her circumstances and background to establish a well-known retreat centre in Warkworth, where others can come to a place of peace, healing and hope. Soraya shares her life story…
I was born in Wollongong in Australia – Wollongong means ‘between the mountains and the sea’ a beautiful place and a popular surf destination. We lived beside a lake, which had an estuary into the sea and long winding creeks running off it. Open fields and the Blue Mountains, where horses grazed, surrounded it, and there was an abundance of wild life idyllic for someone like me who loves the outdoors, a great place to grow up.
However, my family had come from a hard place. My parents emigrated with my six-year-old brother from Germany to resettle in Australia in 1957. Their families had been through two world wars and a major depression. My parents and grand parents had lost many loved ones during this time. My grand mother died when my mother was only two. My parents had learnt survival skills – they needed them. I remember them as determined, positive and creative.
My dad took up work in the steel industry and I was born in 1958. Two sisters followed at two-year intervals. An incident in 1964 turned our lives upside down. Mum had a seizure on Christmas Eve. Her condition was misdiagnosed and it wasn’t until one year later that we found out she had a brain tumor. This radically changed our lives, which now centered around Mum’s sickness and spending many hours visiting her in hospital. The diagnosis had been too late, and in 1971, just prior to my 13th birthday she died.
During this time, my elder brother did a lot to look after us and we all adored him. Dad was busy doing shift work so he could provide for us. I remember him as a very caring man with a strong German accent, which made him sound a little gruff. Though he was busy, he made a point in doing the fun things with us children, taking us out to the beach, out on his motorbike, or boat on the lake and we rode the horses I’d adopted over the years. Dad said I collected animals and people. Every stray seemed to end up at our place.
Dad remarried. His new wife had two daughters, so our family grew to six children. During this time one of my sisters became very ill with neurofibromatosis (soft tissue tumours which grow around the nerves).
My fondest memories of school were friends, art classes, sport and recreational activities. I left school to study at the local technical institute for secretarial work and later went back to study as a welfare worker, completing a three year welfare certificate I took a job with youth and community services in Australia, working in a remand and assessment centre, and then in a specialist unit for young people who didn’t fit into the fostering or home situation because they had been too damaged by their life experiences. Several of the young people at the remand centre were in there for murder before they had reached the age of 16. My art, craft, sporting and recreational interests came in very useful here. Plus the six horses I had adopted along the way, which I used to teach horse riding to these young people. I soon found this was a wonderful way to reach these young people.
Most of these young people had been abused and neglected. They had a lot of anger and I remember sometimes thinking, “What am I doing here?” There were times when I was physically threatened and times when I was really on guard because of their erratic behavior, especially if I was the only one on duty. I learnt it was best to laugh off those difficult moments and humor them through it. It taught me how to enforce my boundaries without aggravating the situation, which could be quite volatile.
I worked in these two units from 1979 to 1986. During that time I met a number of amazing people, who inspired me with their resilience and faith. I revisited my dormant faith and became connected with my church in a new way. Funnily enough seven of those special people have since moved to New Zealand.
In 1986 I took a year’s leave from work and came to New Zealand with a New Zealand friend. We headed to Te Puke to pick kiwifruit. I fell in love with the Bay of Plenty and decided to stay and explore the country further. After a brief period studying at the Bible College of New Zealand in Christchurch, I decided I wanted to do full time training so signed up for a three-year course at its Auckland parent college, which was a great learning experience. I stayed on to work there until going overseas to South Africa in 1993.
The next two years were one of the highlights of my life. I joined Operation Mobilisation in 1993 and headed off on one of the OM ships up the East Coast of Africa to Mozambique and other desperately poor countries to help the local people.
We also traveled to India working in Mother Teresa’s Calcutta centre for one month – an amazing experience. I loved the life aboard ship and the work with the poor and imagined I would continue this for many years.
However, in 1994 I got word my much-loved brother had been killed in a car accident, leaving a wife and three young girls behind. I rushed home to spend time with my family and to share their grief. I returned to the ship only to find I had contracted glandular fever, so I returned to my family in Australia again to recover.
Meanwhile the youngest of my sisters was in a near fatal car accident which had us gathered in the hospital once more. We were all greatly relieved when she came through with only some broken bones. This was a difficult time, as I wanted to go back to the ship or be with my family. But then the doctors advised me that I wasn’t yet ready to travel into third world countries.
Through a number of events, I came to Lifeway College in Snells Beach to do a counseling course. It was here a childhood dream of running a retreat centre resurfaced. I was amazed to answer the door one day to a Warkworth couple, Ian and Jyl Morrison, who presented me with the answer to my dream. They said they knew the ideal place for a retreat centre, a property on Hepburn Creek Road. Suddenly my dream was transforming into a reality.
In 1998 His House was opened and since then we have had hundreds of people through our doors, people from all walks of life coming for many different reasons. My aim is to provide a place of rest, restoration, recreation, revitalisation and restored vision for these people wherever possible.
I can identify with some of life’s hard knocks and experiences and am so grateful for those who have stood by me and still do through thick and thin. I believe nothing is wasted in this life. The things we go through all play a part in making us who we are and if we have faith to believe, it can work to make us better not bitter.
I feel so blessed that my life has been turned around and I believe there is hope for everyone, no matter what they have gone through. In 2005, much later than I had anticipated, I found a fine man to marry, Steve Green, who now shares with me the privilege of this work at His House.