The Voice of The Salvation Army in Canada and BermudaView RSS Feed
Apr26TueThe Salvation Army was there for me, body and soul. April 26, 2016 by Derek Kerr
As a 15-year-old “rink rat” working part time at the Scarborough Centennial Arena in Toronto, I would walk past a church on my way to work every day and marvel at the life-size portrait of Jesus hanging prominently in the foyer. Outside, they also had an enormous sign with neon lights and light bulbs proudly announcing that Cedarbrae church was part of The Salvation Army.
- Filed Under:
- Faith & Friends
Week after week, month after month, year after year, I would walk past that building without ever pausing. Even in my wildest dreams, I never imagined I'd be inside one day.
Who Needed Church?
That was not my first experience with The Salvation Army. When I was 12, my mother was hospitalized during the holidays. I vividly recall visiting her along with my dad and younger sister, Stacey, one evening. Mom excitedly told us how two Salvation Army pastors greeted every patient on the floor, spreading Christmas cheer and gift baskets. When she came home again, she insisted on supporting the Army's kettle campaign during the holidays. Though I only realized it much later, Mom's love and respect for the work of the Army was instilled in each of us.
Our mother brought us kids to church every Sunday. (Sunday mornings for Dad were reserved for Coronation Street.) We stopped going in our teens but that didn't stop me from reading all I could relating to faith and the Bible.
However, as I entered the 1990s, church became a distant memory. After Scarborough became part of the Greater Toronto Area, I became a program co-ordinator responsible for the northeast portion of the new city.
Life was good. I had a great job. I was travelling all over the world. I bought a new car every other year. There was no shortage of money, and spending $500 a month or more on clothes and shoes wasn't any big deal. I was partying and clubbing. Who needed church?
The Right Spot?
In 1999, my supervisor suggested we partner with the local Salvation Army to help collect food. One of the recreation centres I was responsible for was located in one of the poorest and toughest neighbourhoods in Toronto. We met with two Salvation Army pastors to work out the details.
As a result, later in the year I was invited to attend a prayer breakfast sponsored by The Salvation Army. Why would I want to go to that? I thought. The look on my face must have shown what I was thinking.
“Derek,” my supervisor told me, “just come along if for nothing else than a free breakfast.” That clinched the deal.
I got up for work that October day, not knowing that my life was about to change forever. The guest speaker was Alan Speed, then Toronto's fire chief. At the conclusion of his remarks, Alan put out an invitation for all those in the audience who were not yet Christians to come forward. Before I knew it, I was on my feet, tears streaming down my face, and I accepted Jesus Christ as my Saviour. This man spoke so eloquently about his faith that I was curious as to what denomination he belonged to. I was told that he was a member of The Salvation Army.
Starting my faith journey where I had left off so many years ago, I began attending a local Anglican church. Having been brought up as an Anglican by my mother meant that it was the only church I really knew. Besides, one of the older parishioners had once told me that Jesus was an Anglican! I must be in the right spot then, I thought.
By the 2000s, I'd married a woman named Angela, a single mom with a deep faith. We bought a home and settled in Dundas, Ont. Now that I was making good money, I donated to The Salvation Army as Mom had always wanted us to do, and our son, Christopher, even volunteered on the Christmas kettles.
But in 2009, I became ill and was off work for a year and a half. After exhausting my sick benefits and my bank account, we amassed a large amount of debt. The cupboards were bare, and I had to do something.
A newsletter had come in the mail from The Salvation Army advertising their services, and I contacted Shirley Molloy and her staff at the Army's community and family services, who immediately called and told me to come in for a food hamper as well as register for Christmas. I'll never forget the kindness and warmth that greeted us that holiday season.
Once we began to get back on our feet financially, we also began praying to God asking Him to direct us to a new church. We wanted to put a bigger emphasis on helping the poor. At a Christian bookstore, I purchased a chart with all the denominations listed, along with their beliefs and doctrines. I began checking off one by one what we agreed with and what we couldn't agree with. The Salvation Army came out on top.
On Good Friday 2014, I attended the service at The Salvation Army's Meadowlands church in Ancaster, Ont., for the first time. After all the years that God had placed The Salvation Army in my life, I was finally sitting in one of their pews. People introduced themselves and invited me to bring Angela and our children back the next day for the annual Easter egg hunt. We did, and we haven't looked back since.
Now that we are part of a church family, we are volunteering whenever and however we can, whether it be working on the kettles at Christmas, food drives or fundraising, and I became an official member of The Salvation Army late last year.
Recently, I was chatting with my friend, Major June Newbury, a pastor in The Salvation Army, and she told me, “You know, Derek, sometimes God uses people such as you to validate the work of the Army.”
I believe that. My family would not be where we are today without The Salvation Army having met first our physical, and then our spiritual, needs.
I strongly believe God isn't done with me yet. I know I am a work in progress. But, then again, I'm not done with God, either—or The Salvation Army.