The Voice of The Salvation Army in Canada and BermudaView RSS Feed
Apr11WedGary Penney found peace through hardship. April 11, 2018 by Melissa Yue Wallace
For most of his life, Gary Penney, 62, has lived in Buchans, N.L., a once-busy mining town with a population of approximately 3,000 during its most prosperous years. But in the late 1970s as ore reserves dwindled, production declined and by 1984, mining operations came to a halt. By 2016, there were only 642 people living there.
- Filed Under:
- Faith & Friends
“Most people that live here now are kids going to school or retirees,” explains Gary. “There’s not much for young people and not much industry now.”
But despite the shrinking population and lack of varied employment, Gary cannot picture his life elsewhere. “The community is pretty close knit,” he says. “When there’s tragedy or triumph, people come together.”
Looking for “Something”
Gary is no stranger to tragedy. On May 6, 1984, he was involved in a car accident that killed his four-year-old son, Shannon. Gary was so badly injured, he was hospitalized for four months and remembers little of what happened. His grief and depression also overwhelmed him.
“For almost a whole year, I hit the bottle really hard,” he says. “Even with my friends around me and my family, I felt bad and kept drinking. But while you get a bit of relief with alcohol for a short time, there’s no joy.”
Gary was restlessly looking for something, even though he didn’t know what it was.
In his childhood, Gary’s mother, a devout Christian, had brought him to church services. He never accepted the faith he was taught, but remained close to his family and his wife, Lynn, during his recovery.
“For a long time, I felt really guilty,” he says. “I always wondered why my son was killed and I wasn’t.”
The night before the one-year anniversary of the accident, Gary was out drinking heavily and playing poker. He went to bed and was suddenly jolted awake at four in the morning.
“I was scared because when I woke up, I was sober, which is physically impossible,” he says. A voice in his head told him to change his lifestyle or he’d lose his family and possibly his life. He realized that voice belonged to God.
Later that morning, Gary got on his knees and gave his heart to Jesus Christ.
“I could feel a weight come off my shoulders and peace wash over me like a flood,” he says. “I could almost hear Jesus say to me, ‘Look, it’s all right. You’re safe. I’ve got you.’ ”
He began attending church, but Gary felt it wasn’t enough. That’s when he began going to The Salvation Army Buchans Corps on Sunday evenings.
“I enjoyed the people, the singing, the openness of testimonies and being able to express yourself more,” says Gary. “I fell in love with it.”
Gary became an official member of The Salvation Army early in 1986.
Meeting a Need
Today, Gary plays the bass drum during worship at Buchans Corps. He finds joy in attending men’s ministry and special events that join the community together, which has happened more frequently with the arrival of Major Betty-Lou Topping, the pastor who was appointed to Buchans in July 2017.
During the week, Major Betty-Lou, the only full-time pastor that lives in town, is busy with a women’s group, a moms and tots program, and home and hospital visits. Recently, she started a group to care for people who are lonely, widowed or finding life tough in some other way. She also uses social media to stay in touch with people in the community who are not from the Army or who don’t go to church.
This past Christmas for the first time, the corps organized kettles at Buchans’ only grocery store. After ringing the bells over the holidays, they raised more than $1,300.
“That amount among approximately 600 people is pretty good because it’s the same people going to the grocery store every week,” says Major Betty-Lou. “People are so appreciative and supportive of the Army, and are willing to help.”
Major Betty-Lou has also organized potlucks and gospel concerts to draw in people outside the Army. And during the Christmas season, she asked five people to share their thoughts on love, joy, peace, faith and hope. Gary shared his story on peace.
“I had no idea about Gary’s story and it was very powerful to hear that he has peace in the midst of all that he’s been through,” says Major Betty-Lou. “There weren’t many dry eyes in the building.”
Calm in the Storm
Life did not get easier for Gary after he accepted God. Shortly after, his youngest son was diagnosed with autism. Then a knee injury caused him great discomfort and pain. And last summer, he lost his mother and father in a span of three weeks.
“Now that I have Jesus in my heart, there’s a big difference in how I face each storm,” says Gary. “Jesus didn’t promise to take the storms from us, but He does promise to take us to the other side to peace and calm.
“Jesus took me out of the gutter and put me on solid ground. The peace He brought me, there’s no other place you can get it. It’s only through Him.”