“Are you a Christian?” asked the maître d’ at the hotel I was working at in Toronto. I had to laugh. Christianity was the furthest thing from my mind. There were no Christians in my family and my parents wanted nothing to do with religion. The only extent to which Christianity was allowed in our house was when we watched The Ten Commandments on TV, and only because my parents were Charlton Heston fans!
So when the maître d’ posed that question, I said no. “Why would you think that?”
“You have to be one of the most moral people I’ve ever met,” he replied. “Have you ever read the Bible?” I laughed again, but God had planted a seed that eventually led to me to becoming a member of The Salvation Army.
I’d always been a bookworm and I knew I had a Bible somewhere in my pile of books, so I dusted it off and started to read.
I was intrigued and continued my studies, reading anything I could get my hands on that dealt with God and religion. The concept of a denomination confused me, though. Did it have to do with money? Imagine my embarrassment when I found out it means a type of church!
Once I knew what a religious denomination was, I started visiting various churches—all except The Salvation Army, as there were none in my neighbourhood. Had there been, I might have saved myself years of frustration.
Journey to Brampton
Six years ago, the company that I had been with for 18 years sold the facility. My co-workers and I were downsized in the subsequent restructuring, and 130 of us were left looking for employment. I had never been financially secure, so when I lost my job, I soon lost my house, too.
At the age of 54, with no job, no destination and no family, I took what I could carry with me in a duffel bag, a backpack and a suitcase, and started walking west from my home in Richmond Hill, Ont.
I don’t know where I would have wound up had I kept on my course, but a couple of hours into my journey, a police officer noticed my aimless wandering, stopped and listened to my story.
“Have you ever heard of the Wilkinson Road Shelter located in Brampton?” he asked me.
I had never heard of it, but that’s where I ended up, and that’s where I met The Salvation Army.
I spent two blessed weeks at the shelter. There, I met two wonderful Salvation Army pastors, Majors Cecil and Tina Mitchell. They found me a place to stay in the Meadowvale area of Mississauga, Ont.
Though I was receiving unemployment insurance, I needed to visit two food banks to get by. One of these was run by The Salvation Army’s Cornerstone Community Church in Mississauga. It was there that I became acquainted with the pastors, Lieutenants Jeff and Graciela Arkell, and I began attending church on a regular basis for the first time in my life.
Their support and the friendship of the congregation prevented me from becoming depressed about my plight. Instead, I did something about it.
In the late summer of 2013, I enrolled in several career-upgrading courses sponsored by the provincial government. With that under my belt, I successfully completed an apprentice chef’s course in the fall.
While I now had some certification, finding work was another matter entirely. From January to April 2014, I read more than 13,000 job listings, sent out 178 resumés and was interviewed 16 times. But despite everything, I was still unemployed.
Then one day, Lieutenant Jeff suggested I apply at the Salvation Army summer camp in Jackson’s Point, Ont. I did, and I was hired on as a seasonal kitchen-helper.
I am five for five with The Salvation Army now. A Salvation Army shelter provided a roof over my head, an Army food bank gave me something to eat, a Salvation Army church afforded encouragement and a place of worship, an Army program assisted me in upgrading my skills and a Salvation Army summer camp helped me find gainful employment.
More than that, though, The Salvation Army enabled me to find God. That is a gift beyond measure.