Paul Craig had stopped at the mall to make a quick purchase when he spotted his teenage son smiling and walking toward him. He hadn't seen the boy in over a year but he quickly turned and left the mall as fast as he could, his heart breaking as he went.
Does he know why I'm walking away? Paul wondered. Does he know that I would love to talk with him, but I just can't?
Paul had recently been released from prison and was not legally permitted to see or talk to his sons or his ex-wife. If the wrong person saw him with his son, he'd go back to jail.
“God, please make this right,” he prayed. “I need my kids.”
Chasing a Dream
While Paul was raised in a religious home, “I went to church because I had to, not because I wanted to,” he says. “I never really learned anything because I never really listened.”
As a rebellious teenager, Paul drank and did drugs.
“I worked in a bar in Halifax,” he says. “I was very personable, and I was good at connecting people, but not for the right reasons.”
He sold drugs, committed fraud, stole, got into fights and drove while intoxicated. “I got in trouble with the law a few times, but I didn't really care. To me, it was just the price of doing business.”
When his girlfriend became pregnant, he married her, but that didn't alter his lifestyle. They had two more children, but Paul went on as though nothing had changed.
“I always had the feeling I was chasing something,” he recalls. “I moved my family 25 times in 18 years. A home didn't mean anything to me and I never realized how hard it was on my family.”
“Let's See What You Got”
In 2006, his marriage disintegrated. During one argument, his fearful wife called the police. Paul was charged with multiple counts of assault. The police held him as long as they could and finally released him. That same day, he was arrested again and charged with 35 counts of assault. Again he was held and then released. This continued over and over until he was finally charged with and convicted of five counts of assault and sent to jail.
While incarcerated, Paul was angry and judgmental of the other inmates. One day, one of them got in Paul's face and asked, “Who are you to judge me?” Paul stormed back to his cell. Filled with rage, all he could do was obsess about what he would do to those who continued to cross him.
Suddenly, his anger left him like a deflated balloon. If I get revenge, how will that help my kids? Paul wondered. And how can I be angry for being locked up, when I've done so many things in my life for which I deserve to be here?
“In that moment, the idea of forgiveness hit me like a sucker punch,” he states. “I sat on my bed and, just like in the movies, a light came through the cell window. Minutes later, something was tossed into my cell.”
“Here's the book you asked for,” a voice said.
Paul didn't recall asking anyone for a book, but he picked it up. It was a compilation of stories about prisoners who had come to believe in God.
“I hadn't read a book since high school, but I opened it anyway,” Paul says. “The first story was about a man from Halifax, so I read that first and realized I couldn't stop.”
When Paul finished the book, he wanted to read something else. He went to the bin where they kept the books. “There were usually dozens to choose from, but that day, there was only one in the bin,” Paul recalls. “It was the Bible.”
Paul began reading. Much of it was familiar, but as Paul read on, he often didn't understand what he was reading. “I knew something had led me to this and I decided to keep reading until I figured it out,” he says.
He started to attend chapel, finding that he enjoyed it, and Salvation Army Aux-Captain Bob Elliott and Reverend John den Hollander began visiting him in prison.
“They never pushed me or judged me,” Paul says. “They just put the right things in front of me. They opened a door for me, and I wanted what was inside. It was like I'd gotten new glasses. Everything was finally clear.”
After accepting God into his life in 2007, Paul spent six more months in prison, but it wasn't the same place for him. “Instead of judging people like I used to, I became a peacekeeper,” he explains. “I'd talk to anyone, regardless of their crime, and I'd tell them about the changes in me, too.”
After nearly a year in prison, Paul was released, but he had nowhere to go. “OK, God,” Paul prayed. “You say You will provide for my needs. I've got a list. Let's see what You got.”
By the end of the day, Paul had a bed to sleep in, food to eat and clothes to wear, courtesy of God—and The Salvation Army Centre of Hope in Halifax.
Paul had never stayed in a shelter before, but everyone was friendly and welcoming. Paul began to volunteer and attend church there. Soon, he found an apartment of his own, but remained involved at the Centre of Hope. Eventually, he started working there full-time as a housing support worker.
“I help people find suitable housing when they are ready to leave the centre,” he explains. “I also provide long-term support to make sure they're doing well.”
Now, Paul needed to make things right with his family. Just two days after bumping into his son at the mall, his second prayer was answered: Paul's ex-wife granted him access to his children.
Paul's sons saw the changes in him and wanted to find out more about what had brought it about. “All three boys—Aaron, Tyler and Coady—volunteer with The Salvation Army now,” Paul says proudly. “They help with the food bank and man the kettles at Christmas. The Salvation Army has brought changes in all of us.”
Now an official member of The Salvation Army, Paul chooses to wear the distinctive Salvation Army uniform and is thinking of applying to become a pastor in the next few years. “If I feel that God is calling me to do something,” Paul believes, “I don't think I have the right to say no.
“The Salvation Army's Centre of Hope helped me through some of the darkest days of my life,” he continues. “I'm truly a different person in every way now, and I am just thankful that I can give back a bit of the help that I was given.”