When 12 undercover police raided Peter Noble’s house in western Sydney he knew he was done. Scouring his house looking for photographs of graffiti, bolt cutters, hacksaws and spray cans, the police found enough evidence to charge him with 26 graffiti-related offences. He was just 19.
At the centre of the evidence were 20 train panels, which he’d tagged. In order to convict him, police had to get a train expert to assess the photos found at his house and confirm they were indeed photos of the side of a train, and a sign-writer to certify that yes, this was done by the hand of Peter Noble.
There seemed to be no way around it—he would go to jail.
Shortly after his arrest, a friend invited him along to Bible study. Having grown up in a Christian home, he wasn’t a stranger to church, but he’d been living a double life. With nothing to lose, he went along. There he joined the group watching The Way of the Master, an evangelistic DVD produced in the US.
“The presenter said, ‘If you died tonight, where would you be going?’ And I thought, man, I’d be going to hell. I was really hit with the weight of my sin.
“I went home that night and I was just shaking. I could barely put the keys in my car. I remember going home and weeping and crying out to God to save my life.”
In that moment, Peter recommitted his life to Christ.
“Not everyone needs to have 12 policemen raid their house to wake up, but some people do. Some people need to go to jail, to have their life taken away from them, to realise that God’s trying to get their attention.”
Prior to his arrest, he’d become friends with a girl called Altamira who was a strong Christian. Peter says she played a pivotal role in helping him process what had happened, and encouraged him in his walk with God.
“The process of turning my life around took at least a year and a half to break off relationships with different girls, and different graffiti friends, friendships that weren’t appropriate and just dealing with baggage,” he says.
While on bail, with a lot of time on his hands, Peter began to think about what he was going to do with his life and decided he wanted to be in the army. But first, he had to receive his sentence.
A year and a half after his arrest, it was time. Peter stood up in court.
“I looked the judge straight in the eye and I said, ‘I’m sorry that I’m here. I stand before you now, with my friends, family and pastors who all know me, to promise that you will never see me in this court again.’”
Amazingly, Peter escaped a jail term because of his intention to marry Altamira and join the military. Instead, he was asked to complete some community service. “I didn’t get justice. I got mercy. I should’ve been given a suspended jail term but it didn’t happen.”
A month later, he married Altamira. Six months later he joined the army and began his training at Kapooka in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. While there he met Andrew Grills, an army chaplain (now church planter in Geelong). Andrew met up with Peter regularly to encourage him in his faith, and his marriage, and it was Andrew who inspired him to become an army chaplain himself. But to reach his goal, he would need to go to Bible college.
After graduating from Kapooka, Peter sent the two police officers who’d been on his case a photo of his wedding and his graduation ceremony.
“They wrote back to me saying they’d put the photos up on their morale board at police central in Sydney. They said, ‘We never hear success stories like that’. Neither of them was Christian, but they were really moved by the change and one of them said he’d shout me a coffee if I came to Sydney and saw him.”
Peter stayed in the army for a few more years before discharging in order to go to Ridley Melbourne and get a Bachelor of Theology.
Just before he started college last year, the policeman’s promise came to reality. The two met up for coffee in Newtown, in Sydney’s inner west. “Now he’s promised he’ll come to see me graduate with my Bachelor of Theology,” says Peter.
28 years old and with two children, Peter’s now half-way through his studies and it’s been eight years since the arrest; eight years since he picked up a spray can.
Apart from studying full-time, Peter runs the youth drop-in centre at St Luke’s Anglican Church in South Melbourne and has a busy hip-hop ministry under the moniker Nobee One.
Last year he released his first album How Great Thou Art after years of emceeing alongside his wife Altamira. As part of their ministry, they’ve performed in juvenile justice centres, at Easterfest, high schools and done countless open air gigs in the city with his boombox made from a recycling bin, giving out tracts and preaching the gospel. He’s been invited back to Kapooka to perform 14 times.
If that’s not enough, Peter’s also writing a book about the intersection of theology and hip-hop.
“Every rapper is a preacher,” he says. “The question is, what’s your sermon about?”
“I’m looking at the role of the emcee. Is a hip-hop artist performing at a church preaching? What’s the difference between a Christian who raps, and a Christian rapper?”
Last year, he was awarded a Mission Travel Group grant, which will go towards producing a new album.
“As a Christian, when you understand that the gospel is bigger than you and it’s something worth committing your life to, how could anyone not use their gifts to serve the church? You don’t own your own gifts.”
Looking back over his life so far, Peter says there’s no other way to describe what happened to him eight years ago other than that “Peter Noble died.” His former life is now foreign to him. “When I look back now, looking back at that mess, it’s so far away from me.”
But one thing remains true.
“God is just so merciful. I think over it all, I really see the mercy of God. I can’t find anything to boast in except in what God’s done.”