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Nov9WedMichael and Wendy Szczurko's love story encompasses two continents and a journey of healing. November 9, 2016 by Colonel Eleanor Shepherd
Michael Szczurko paced nervously around the officers' mess hall at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., this past June. He was about to marry the love of his life, Wendy Kingham. As guests filed in, they were welcomed by classical operatic arias interspersed with lively polka tunes and powerful selections from a Salvation Army brass band from Montreal.
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For the couple, the idyllic ceremony was worlds away from the war-torn area where they had first met, and their journey to true love had been equally harrowing.
Michael and Wendy met in Kandahar, Afghanistan. As a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, he was serving the second of three tours of duty, while she was there with the civilian support personnel. As part of the team that built and maintained the main communications link between Canada and the military command in Afghanistan, Michael was required to register for his computer accounts. At the reception window, he was greeted and captivated by Wendy, whom he described as a 'blond beauty.'
For some time, she resisted the attempts that Michael made to attract her attention. Then, one day, a co-worker, who was something of a matchmaker, invited both of them to join him for lunch. Thus their relationship began.
There were many aspects of their lives that made the idea of them having a future together seem improbable.
'I was a confirmed bachelor,” Michael says, “seeing myself as a kind of one-man super-band.'
“I was a single mother,” Wendy adds, “whose entire being was wrapped up in my love for my two daughters.”
Each of them had their own agenda, and making room for the other would be a challenge.
Time of Need
So it was that on their redeployment to Canada, Michael broke it off with Wendy. He was not convinced that he wanted to be the father of someone else's children.
“I wanted to have children of my own,” he explains. “I believed that was my right and my destiny.” At this time, he had not yet met Lisa and Angela, Wendy's daughters, who weren't with her in Afghanistan.
When he informed her of his decision, Wendy accepted it, “but I was devastated at his choice.”
Life became more complicated when Michael suffered from a life-threatening throat injury. Four months after leaving Afghanistan and ending his relationship with Wendy, he found himself in the intensive care unit of the hospital in critical condition. For three days, he saw no one. 'Depression and fear threatened to overwhelm me,' he says.
Every breath was a miracle for Michael, while hooked to the IV machines and a breathing apparatus, with the stitches that held his throat together stretching from ear to ear.
“With each agonizing breath I took,” Michael says, “I became more aware of the value of life and the gift that it is and I knew things had to change.”
On the fourth day, in the depths of despair, feeling lonelier than he had ever felt in his entire life, Michael opened his eyes. There was Wendy, holding him, her daughter Lisa, sitting quietly beside them. Michael could hardly believe his eyes. At that moment, he says, “I knew I had been given a second chance. This time, I would not squander the gift being offered.”
Michael describes his experience as awareness that God was leading him. Wendy had the same impression of being guided. She had responded to the call she sensed from within to come to Michael in his time of need and offer her comfort.
Journey to Healing
Life had not been easy for Wendy, either, during this time. Homeless, she was couch-surfing as she sought to re-establish her life after her years
in the Near East.
Despite his own health challenges, Michael offered her shelter if she needed it.
But even at this juncture, they could not move forward into “happily ever after.” The next few years brought them many ups and downs as they tried to sort things out, individually and collectively. They separated from each other. They reunited with each other. They scheduled a wedding. Then they cancelled the wedding.
Together, apart, what was their future?
Michael and Wendy had suffered and were badly broken from the service they had given for Canada. News of suicides of colleagues also hurt deeply.
“Our minds felt undone and our souls pained,” they say. “Together, we applied everything that was available to us through the medical system to put our lives back together.” Although critical to their healing, it was not enough.
Only their journey back to God gave them a new foundation. Sensing His call to follow Him, they went on a pilgrimage to Egypt, where Moses had been born.
Prayer became a resource and was answered. One day, a beautiful Salvation Army cornet dating from the 1890s was returned to Michael after a complete restoration. A gifted musician himself, Michael looked at the instrument with “The Salvation Army” emblazoned on it, turned to Wendy and said, 'I know where we are supposed to go.'
Michael contacted Colonel Glen Shepherd, who was the bandmaster at The Salvation Army's Montreal Citadel church, and asked if he could join the band.
“These people truly walk the way and share the light of God,” he told Wendy.
Michael and Wendy became members of The Salvation Army, and when they were transferred to Kingston with the military, they found a welcome at the Army's Rideau Heights Corps, where Michael plays in the band and Wendy leads an exercise program.
“Michael and I have experienced grace since we have become part of The Salvation Army,” Wendy says, “and the church has become a place of healing.”