Annual Change 2015 graphic
Photo: © ©

Discovering Real Treasure

A chaplain reunites a son with his family.

March 26, 2013 by Nathan Swartz

Photo: ©

Carlos*, a man in his 40s, came into my office at The Salvation Army Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre in Victoria, B.C. and said, “I don’t think I can do it anymore!”

Filled with dread, I immediately began questioning the possible meaning of Carlos’ statement. Was he frustrated by his recent failed job searches? Was he feeling the cold bite of poverty more profoundly since it was so close to the Christmas holidays? Or worse yet, was he planning to kill himself?

“What do you mean?” I asked. This may be the best question I have in my toolbox because the world and the people who live in it are complex. Though I’m usually good at anticipating the answer to this question due to past experiences, I wasn’t ready for the answer Carlos gave me that day.

“I want to be with my mom. I need my family.” Statements that reveal vulnerability like this, especially from an adult man, seem to hit me harder than most.

Carlos came to Canada last year in hopes of finding employment so he could send money back to his impoverished family in Cuba. Upon arrival, he began looking for a job, but unfortunately was told that his work visa wouldn’t be approved for several months. He began living in shelters and experienced a winter far colder than what he was used to. Finally, he had enough. He wanted to go home and his mother wanted him home too. She had told him that, “It would be better to have to share the little food we have with our son, whom we love, than to eat more food at Christmas all the while wishing you were at home with us.”

Needless to say, I was touched. His family understood what “real” treasure was and they knew they wanted to share it with the one they loved. As best as I understand it, this is the central message of the Gospel. God impoverished himself in order to share his greatest treasure with us.

As a chaplain, I have an obligation to see that through. Carlos wanted to go home and I wanted to help him. The problem I encountered was that our centre didn’t have money in the budget to assist with this sort of problem, so we had to look elsewhere.

The answer Carlos, his caseworker and I heard over and over again was “No we can’t help, we only have funding for people with addictions.” For days we called every social service agency and social worker. Carlos even pleaded with the Cuban embassy who finally told him, “If you can get to Ottawa, we will fly you home.” It was those words that gave us hope to carry on despite our inability to reach a solution.

In the end, through great prayer and petition, Carlos’ caseworker and I found Carlos the money he needed to fly to Ottawa—not from a social service agency—but from the kindness of others. They helped because they understood that their money could be turned into a “real” treasure for Carlos and his family.

Many who work in social services say, “We don’t provide that service” and send clients on their way so they can move on to someone who can be helped with more immediate assistance. Perhaps that may even be the best way for the average social service worker to deal with the dilemma of time and need. That is why The Salvation Army needs chaplains. We stand in the gaps of service that people couldn’t have anticipated when they painstakingly wrote their budgets. We do this as a matter of faith because when money isn’t there, God turns our poverty into treasure.

*Name changed to protect identity.

Nathan Swartz is the chaplain at Victoria Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre in B.C.


  1. Awesome story! God is still working mightily in The Salvation Army.
    We are thrilled about what He is doing in Nashville, Tennessee!

  2. Amanda S says:

    What a beautiful story of God’s provision through others. Sometimes we think that God will just magically make things happen, but the truth is God sometimes asks his servants to be the ones to give in His name. All the people involved learn so much more.

Speak Your Mind


In the Neighbourhood

In the Neighbourhood

Learning to see Jesus in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

God’s Green Earth

God’s Green Earth

Salvation Army warehouse in Prince George, B.C., takes recycling to the next level.

Opinion & Critical Thought

Spiritual Leadership

Spiritual Leadership

Commissioner William Francis shares ministry lessons in new book.

With a Vengeance

With a Vengeance

Should some crimes have no possibility of parole?

Territorial News

Messengers of Light Session Summer Assignments 2015

Messengers of Light Session Summer Assignments 2015

Salvation Army cadets prepare for hands-on experience in summer assignments.

Annual Change 2015

Full listing of the annual appointment changes for Salvation Army officers in the Canada and Bermuda Territory. These appointments are effective June 26, 2015 (unless otherwise stated).

International News

Salvation Army Leaders at Memorial for Victims of Germanwings Air Disaster

Army expresses condolences, offers support.

General Cox Visits the Middle East

General Cox Visits the Middle East

Meeting shows the international nature of The Salvation Army.

Faith & Friends

Film Review: Last Days in the Desert

Film Review: Last Days in the Desert

Just in time for Easter, a new film offers a refreshing look at the Son of God

Surviving the Den

Surviving the Den

As a Dragons’ Den graduate and successful entrepreneur, Desmond Choi fuses passion for business with his faith.