Through the valley of death to victory
How a pastor lost and renewed his faith through failure and loss
Scott “Sanga” Samways has been the Pastor at Hillsong Church in Newcastle, north of Sydney, for close to six years along with his wife Kety. They are so unassuming yet have one of the most tragic yet beautiful journeys – a story of faith, love, despair, pain, miracles and redemption.
Scott grew up in Newcastle as a Christian, but he can pinpoint a number of moments in his younger years that helped him grow in his love for God.
“It was the age of 14 when I went to church with my sister where I had my own revelation of Jesus. I always believed in God but didn’t really know too much about that personal side of just how involved Jesus can be in your life.”
Sanga reckons one of his most sincere prayers was at that service and for the first time he really experienced the love of Christ.
“It was like standing under a waterfall but not getting wet. I felt like waves of love started coming in. I felt like every bit of hurt and hatred started to leave.”
At the age of 19 he went to Bible college at the Hillsong campus in Sydney’s Hills district. That is where he met his future wife, Kety.
“It was like standing under a waterfall but not getting wet.” – Sanga Samways
Kety was at the same Bible college because her family had been persecuted for being leaders of the Assemblies of God Church in her home country of Bulgaria. The threat was real – one of her brothers was kidnapped for ransom twice. So the parents sent her and her siblings far away.
“She [Kety] travelled the world literally and visited about 15 countries before we’d met. I had probably travelled Newcastle and visited over 15 suburbs and so when we’d come together we were very different but, you know, opposites attract, as they say,” Sanga told Eternity in Newcastle.
It was in those years at Bible college that Sanga began to understand how faith is a real gift from God and how important it is.
“I had a revelation at a young age to stand on faith, to speak faith, to believe faith… and I would really preach that through my messages as well.”
Sanga became a “faith preacher.” It was his forte. But it was around the year 2000 when Sanga’s faith was first really tested. His mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“I was just out of Bible college and I was strong in my faith and I was believing for a miracle, like anyone does when someone gets sick. I would travel from the Hills back up to Newcastle regularly to visit and pray for Mum, put Scriptures all around her bed, encourage everyone in faith. We saw some real breakthroughs in her health in that season. We were believing for an incredible miracle over her life. But it was one year after she was diagnosed that she actually died. And I remember as a young Christian, man, it rocked my world.”
Sanga was in utter disbelief and shock. “When you believe in God for something and in faith for something and it doesn’t happen – it was a real challenge to my faith.”
Sanga began to learn the “journey of faith,” as he puts it. That faith doesn’t come and go; it doesn’t quit or give up. And it was in reading Hebrews (11:13) about how a number of God-fearing people “died in faith without receiving the promise they were given” that Sanga’s own faith was rekindled.
“I got a revelation that my mum, she actually died in faith as well. She died believing in God, trusting in God and she just went from this world into the next with him.”
“I can’t lean on what I don’t understand; I’ve got to lean on my trust in God.” – Sanga Samways
Sanga later married Kety and they had their first child Jaya, who brought them lots of joy. Life was great with their beautiful daughter, and not too long after Jaya was born Kety was pregnant with Noah. But sadly Noah died at birth.
“One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is go to a hospital and see a child born but then drive home with no child. That was a challenging time to go through that obviously tests your faith.”
But Sanga learnt that it’s okay not to be able to fully comprehend why things happen and why trust is so vital.
“It’s not until you got through something like the death of a child where you realise I don’t understand why, I don’t understand God why this has happened! And that’s where I had to learn ‘well, this is what it means to trust in God when I don’t understand. I can’t lean on what I don’t understand; I’ve got to lean on my trust in God.’”
He needed his newfound trust a few years later when Kety gave birth to their son Taj. During the pregnancy they were told Taj had the same complications as Noah. They were both distraught at the news but Kety, while crying, did a “flick and pick,” as Sanga described it, where she opened the Bible to a random page and then pointed to a random part of Scripture.
“It was this Scripture in John 4; it said ‘you may go, your son will live’ and the man took Jesus at his word and departed. And I remember reading that and just thought ‘you know, we’re going to believe in that for Taj.’”
It seemed their prayers were answered but then Taj died just after birth. But was resuscitated.
“To see him born and then die – and he was only dead for 20 seconds but it was the longest 20 second of our lives – but I just kept thinking about that verse. ‘Your son will live, your son will live, your son will live.’ And to see him get breath back in his lungs was a little miracle.”
Sanga and Kety now had two children and were happily pastoring at their church and preaching. But their ultimate test of faith came with their fourth child Zac.
Kety once again was facing complications with a pregnancy so she was put into bed rest on the doctor’s orders, which meant she had to stay in hospital for a few months leading up to the birth of Zac. Kety’s mother was in Australia during this time, so at home it was Sanga, his mother-in-law and the the two kids, Jaya and Taj.
“I don’t know what was harder, Kety being in hospital or me living with my mother-in-law! One of the only things she could cook is cabbage stew. I remember coming home every night to cabbage stew. And I remember the kids would say to me ‘Dad, can we have anything other than cabbage stew!’ And I talked to bubba [Sanga’s mother-in-law] but the next night on the menu was cabbage stew!” said Sanga, chuckling.
After Zac was born, sadly, he had some complications and had to stay in the children’s ward for two to three months while Kety lived there with him. To make matters a little more difficult during this time Sanga got appendicitis and ended up in the same hospital! But again, while relating the story, Sanga laughs it off.
“I thought ‘I’m not going to believe for anything anymore because I want to avoid disappointment.'” – Sanga Samways
Then Zac took a turn for the worse, his health deteriorated very quickly and he died. Sanga reached his lowest point.
“I remember when Zac died that was like … probably the biggest blow I’d ever faced. I felt like I was strong with Noah, I felt like I handled it with my mum but when it happened again … when Zac lived for three months then died – man, that really rocked my world. I’d lost my faith. I still believed [in] God, I still came to church. But if I was honest with myself, I was just all out of faith. I felt like I couldn’t believe for anything and I really chose not to. I really chose because I thought ‘I’m not going to believe for anything anymore because I want to avoid disappointment.’ And that was my view towards faith in God.”
But what shocked Sanga was suddenly Kety’s faith became rock solid.
“She would say to me ‘No! God is going to do a miracle for us! He’s not finished with us!”
Sanga was completely broken. But six to eight months after the death of Zac he read and heard the words “I [God] will heal your brokenness” in a sermon at Hillsong Church in Newcastle. This put him on a path to regaining his faith and hope.
“The transformation happened in the journey after that as I started to take baby steps back towards my faith in God and building my faith in God and trusting in him and believing in the promises I had always known and had always read.”
“How can I still stand and preach faith with joy? Because I speak from a place of victory now.” Sanga Samways
Sanga was living one day at a time. He felt he wouldn’t have the strength to go through another day but began to see that God would give him the strength to get through one more day.
“When I stood on God’s word, trusted in his word in those seasons where I felt I was out of faith, God really began to reveal to me how his revelation is greater than my situation.”
This was the greatest revelation for Sanga – that he could indeed rely on God revealing himself, the answer to all situations. He began to once again feel he could preach about faith with no shame.
“How can I still stand and preach faith with joy? Because I speak from a place of victory now. You can go through valleys and you can go through highs, but in every season when you stand on God’s word; that revelation will carry you through every situation.”
Sanga and Kety stood on the word of God and, indeed, God was not finished with them, as Kety put it. A few years later their tears turned into joy with what could be called their “double rainbow baby,” with the birth of their fifth child Aria.