“You Do Good With Me”

In my work as a chaplain at The Salvation Army's Gateway of Hope in Langley, B.C., I see the damage caused by trauma and years of substance abuse. I see the wear and tear of one painful experience after another. I see the isolation in people's eyes, and the desperation for something more to their existence.

I also see the incredible liberty that people experience when they grapple with their sin and learn there is freedom from captivity. The more I talk with people, the more I realize that redemption is a process. For some, part of the refining process is recognizing each day what they are holding on to, and then choosing to give it to God.

I recently spent time with a former resident of our transitional housing program. We met regularly while she lived with us, and periodically after she graduated from the program. In our final meeting before her sudden passing, she agreed to pray out loud with me—something she had never done before.

In her prayer, she said something so simple, yet so significant, that I scribbled her words down: “I don't do good with me; you do good with me.” It was her way of admitting how she fell short, and acknowledging the goodness of God in spite of it.

Every day, I am in awe of God's desire to redeem every aspect of our lives, from the small and mundane to the large and seemingly insurmountable. I am in awe of the beauty of grace and the power of resurrection. He does good with us.


Like the Sun Rising

When I first met Keith at The Salvation Army's Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre in Victoria, he had just got a full-time job as a security guard. He was about to move from our emergency shelter to transitional housing. Things were happening in his life, and he was feeling joyful and hopeful about the future. As we created a spiritual care plan, he shared his story with me.

A few years ago, his son, who was in remission from cancer, lay dying from a dormant virus we all have in our brains, which was “awoken” by his chemotherapy treatments. Doctors said he had 30 days to live. Keith cared for him as he deteriorated, rallying all the strength he could. But when his son died, life became unbearable. Add to that a difficult work situation, and he was a broken man.

Even in his brokenness, though, God was at work. Keith researched his own symptoms, found a doctor who supported his self-diagnosis of PTSD and began therapy, which included visualization. It started to work. A major turning point was when he had a vision of his son rising from his death bed, and seeing him alive again. Knowing his son will be whole again when he sees him in heaven gives him hope. He finally has peace about what happened.

In his research, Keith discovered something called posttraumatic growth—what occurs when people experience extreme trauma, but are able to turn it around and live an even fuller life. A charity to help people suffering from a disease, started by someone who lost a loved one to the same disease, is one example.

To me, this is a perfect illustration of how God works to turn around the suffering and pain we all experience in life. The miracle of the Resurrection is, as Keith says, like the sun rising. Every day we can bask in the truth of Christ's Resurrection, and find our hope in the cross and the promise of the empty tomb.


Making Amends

In 2010, a young man stayed with us at the Sutton Youth Shelter, Ont., for nine months. He was 16, and a nice kid, but had become involved in drugs. He was also in a struggling relationship, and they had a child together. As we worked with him, he grew close to the chaplain at the time and seeds were planted. With the help of his dad, who lived in the United States, he went to a treatment centre for youth in New York.

That was the last we heard of him until recently, when a local church came to help with our chapel service, and he was part of the team. He was excited to share how we had helped in his journey toward knowing God. It was amazing to hear how God had worked in his life, while at the shelter, in treatment and then living with his father for a few years.

He is now back in the area, employed, attending church and trying to reconnect with his child. When he left the shelter to go to treatment, he was a young man just starting to climb out of a hole. Now he is following Jesus and making amends in his life.

In shelter work, we only have a short time with people. Often, they leave and we don't know what becomes of them. It's easy to get discouraged when we don't see change and it seems like our words and efforts are falling on deaf ears.

But the God I know is a God of miracles, a God of love, who sent his Son to die for our sins and to bring us resurrection life. This young man has experienced resurrection life. He was on a path leading to death and God intervened. Our job was to support him and plant the seeds. Someone else watered them. But God made them grow.

Our task as God's fellow workers is to be faithful to what he calls us to do. It is an honour to be part of God's work and I am so thankful that he allowed me to see the resurrection life he has given to this young man.


A Relationship Restored

We sat across from each other over lunch at The Salvation Army's community services in Calgary. He seemed quiet and distant.

“How are things going, Malcolm?” I asked.

“I just found out I have terminal cancer,” he responded, eyes lowered, face sunk in sadness. “I never thought this would happen to me. I'm still young.”

“What are your options?”

“They said the survival rate is only 20 percent with chemotherapy.”

“Have you told your family?”

“Yes, I broke the news to my wife and two of my siblings. They want me to try the chemo.”

“What are you going to do?” “I don't want to do the chemo—it can't heal me. It would take a miracle.” Then he looked up and leaned forward, eyes glistening.

“But there's already been a miracle.”

“What do you mean?”

“I've been thinking about my older brother. We had a falling out and haven't spoken in more than 16 years. I was having dinner when all of a sudden a memory came to me—a time we went to a lacrosse game. In the middle of a game, a ball flew right toward my head. He reached his arm across his wife and caught it before it hit me. He saved my life. I needed to remind him of that.”

“So what did you do?”

“I phoned his wife—he won't talk to me. She told him why I called, and he started to cry. That big, self-assured man cried.”

“What happened then?” “The gates opened. We all talked. What a great conversation we had. Things are different now.”

“What makes it different?”

“The voice of God inside me said, 'You are forgiven now.' ” His face radiated with joy.

I sat there in silence absorbing the moment. Remembering an act of love had brought forgiveness, the resurrection of a relationship, healing in brokenness, life breathed into death. It reminded me of another man who reached out his arms in love to save us, who died and rose again to new life.


Abundant Life

When I first became a chaplain for adults with developmental disabilities at Lawson Ministries in Hamilton, Ont., it was a difficult time in my life. I was grieving the death of my parents; we had moved our family to a new city and not everyone was settling well; and my new role was vastly different from what I was used to. Self-doubt and anxiety were growing in my heart and mind. I felt lost and uprooted.

My natural instinct was to pull back, to retreat, but healing and recovery came as I gave of myself. In return, I received—more than I could have imagined. I found joy, hope and purpose as God revealed himself in new and life-giving ways through the people I met, such as Kevin.

Kevin has an intellectual disability. One of his hands is disabled, he limps when he walks and his vision is impaired. It would be easy to have low expectations of him. But he taught me to be faithful in prayer as, every evening, he prayed aloud for his roommates and the staff.

He taught me about love for God. When someone asked him what God is like, he responded, “God is like a hot dog.” For a moment, I wasn't sure what he meant. Then I remembered that hot dogs are one of his favourite foods. What at first seemed nonsensical was actually a profound and beautiful expression of love.

It is in working with people with developmental disabilities that I have witnessed joy in the midst of suffering, strength in the midst of weakness, wisdom in the midst of intellectual impairment, faith in the midst of doubt. There was no waiting for life to get better, or for a period of suffering to be over; life was to be lived just as it was, full of imperfect perfection.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). In a time when I felt exhausted and depleted, God gave me abundant life.


On Monday, November 19, 2018, Shauna Soukoreff said:

God bless you. Bless your work "in the trenches" and this vital ministry and these dear, dear people touched by the hand of His grace. So touching was this to read ... stay strong all of you. You are the ones making a difference in this world. May God uphold you all in His righteous hand!


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