“I am a former junkie,” states Réjean. “I wasn’t able to support my family and went through a divorce, all because I did drugs. I’m sure had I continued on the path I’d been on, I would have died. But The Salvation Army saved my life.”
Réjean’s first contact with The Salvation Army came about 13 years ago, when he discovered The Salvation Army’s Booth Centre in Montreal, which offers temporary housing and the support of intervention workers for men 18 and over who are experiencing housing difficulties and struggling with addiction or mental illness.
It was when Réjean was active at the Booth Centre and helping out at The Salvation Army’s Camp Lac L’Achigan that he got to know Major Rock Marcoux.
“The pastors, such as Major Rock, and the staff at the Booth Centre, took the time to listen and take care of me so I could get better,” Réjean says. “It was there that I welcomed God into my life.”
With the support of Major Rock and the staff, he entered the Booth Centre’s addiction treatment program and started the process of recovery. As he healed spiritually, physically and emotionally, doors opened to another part of his life that he thought were forever closed.
“Thirteen years went by without my children having any contact with me,” Réjean says. “I reconnected with them in 2012. They gave me a second chance and we got to know each other. I am part of their lives and they are part of mine now.”
While at the Booth Centre, Réjean was told about The Salvation Army’s Nouveaux Départs (New Starts) Community Church in Sherbrooke, Que.
There, he volunteered with community and family services, assisted in renovating the church, took care of the volunteers, worked at the food bank and, most of all, offered help to anyone who asked for it.
“I volunteered three times a week,” Réjean continues. “When I decided to get involved, I did it with my heart. No one forced me. Growing up, I was taught the importance of helping others. That was the most beautiful lesson my parents ever taught me, that helping others is priceless.
“I love volunteering,” he says. “Giving to people as much as I can. I do it with heart. Seeing people come to the food bank reminds me of where I was in another life. Without The Salvation Army, I would have been homeless and probably would have lost my life on the street.
“When people come to the Army for help, they know we care. We’re here to help them. Sometimes people come to the food bank and, often, the next time we see them, it’s in the church on Sunday.
“Helping others is priceless, it’s rewarding, and I know that the people I help are happy.”
But just as Réjean started a new life, he received some difficult news. Doctors diagnosed him with cancer, which necessitated surgery on one of his lungs in 2020. Unfortunately, after further tests late last year, doctors found more cancer, which wasn’t operable.
The diagnosis might well have paralyzed someone with less spirit, but Réjean refused to be cowed.
“We all have a way of grieving,” he says, “I’m not going to sit at home and twiddle my thumbs.
“All I asked God was to get me through Christmas and New Year’s,” he continues. “They are my favourite holidays. Then, for the darker days, Major Rock purchased tickets to a Christmas show at Place Des Arts and he told me to put them on the fridge and think about that when I had difficult moments.”
Réjean opened his heart to God when he arrived at the Booth Centre. He also knows his feelings of love and respect for his Salvationist friends are reciprocated.
“I know that the people at Nouveaux Départs are praying for me on Tuesday nights and Sunday mornings,” he says.
Réjean has decided not to have any extended treatment and is now in a hospice.
“I don’t want to be in hospital for six months,” he shares. “I don’t want to put my children through that. I don’t want them to worry. I spend weekends with them. I asked my son if I could talk to my 12-year-old grandson about my health. I told him that I would soon pass away, and he understands.
“What little time I have left, I want it to be beautiful and useful.”
Which is why he decided to share his testimony, to be an example for others.
“If I can help one person ask for help and pull them out from their own darkness, my goal will have been achieved.”
Larisa Chis is the communications officer at The Salvation Army’s divisional headquarters in Montreal.
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