I remember the day they brought Anita to The Caring Place in Maple Ridge, B.C., after she escaped her captor and rapist. Her gaunt face was all that showed as she lay wrapped in a blanket in the women’s dorm. She was an addict who was drawn to the streets, but the RCMP officer who came to take her statement treated her gently, and pursued her attacker with the full force of the law. He was later tried and convicted.
I remember kneeling with her at the mercy seat as she gave her life to Christ. I watched her grow in faith, and make a decision to go into rehab and change the direction of her life.
I remember when she asked to sing on the worship team. Her voice was raw and untrained, so we practised together. I placed her beside my daughter, Sarah, so she could follow her lead. Anita was tall and willowy and swayed to the music.
I remember when she walked down the aisle to marry a great guy who obviously loved her with all his heart. And I remember dedicating her sweet baby, Shaylee, to the Lord. We watched her grow into a cute but shy girl with curly hair, who adored her mom.
I remember the pride I felt when Anita came to work for us the first time. She wanted to give back—a common trait among recovered people. She was intelligent, articulate and had a big heart for those who were homeless and suffering from addiction. Eventually, she became a full-time employee.
I remember saying goodbye in 2011 when I was assigned to a new posting. We cried, arms wrapped around each other, promising to keep in touch. I missed everyone I left behind, but Anita had a special place in my heart.
I’ll never forget the shock I felt when I heard Anita was gone, fatally injured in an accident
I remember the phone call. Things weren’t going well. The marriage wasn’t working. Life is like that. Sometimes the floodgates open, letting in one disappointment or tragedy after another—medical issues, mental illness, loss, grief—and we are overwhelmed. And when we hear trite statements, such as “God won’t give us more than we can handle,” we feel like failures. Sometimes we can’t handle it. Sometimes people give up. Sometimes people die.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw her after her life began to unravel. The gaunt look on her face, the missing teeth. She lied to me, like addicts do. I knew it. She knew I knew it. I just hugged her and said I loved her. I asked her to come in and get help. Every time I returned to visit, I saw her falling further into the past. I prayed for her. I prayed for the staff at The Caring Place who were reaching out to her. But even in addiction, after losing everything, she was still taking care of others, advocating for the homeless in her community.
I’ll never forget the shock I felt when I heard she was gone, fatally injured in an accident. Her mother and sister made the difficult decision to take her off life support.
My husband and I led the memorial service. We sang her favourite worship songs, and friends and family shared stories. They remembered her as a child and talked about her straight-up character, sense of humour and the way she loved her children, family and friends. And they loved her, no matter what happened in her life.
More importantly, God loved Anita. Just because someone makes a bad choice, or gives up, or can’t face life, doesn’t mean that he stops loving them. God loves us with an everlasting love—even when we can’t love ourselves.
I will never forget Anita. I know we will see each other again.
Major Kathie Chiu is the corps officer at Richmond Community Church, B.C.