(Above) Commissioner Susan McMillan, territorial commander, greets Cpts Rob and Micheline Hardy during commissioning events in London, Ont., in 2016 (Photo: Timothy Cheng)

When a prison cot and three meals a day sounded better than my life, I knew my addictions were out of control. Taking matters into my own hands, I committed a crime and turned myself in. That’s when God and The Salvation Army changed my life.

I was born in 1958 in Toronto as the oldest of six children and raised in Moss Park, a low-income area of the city filled with gangs and drugs. My mother was an alcoholic, and going to church was not a part of our lives. I endured physical, mental and sexual abuse, and began drinking and taking drugs at a young age to hide from my pain and fear.

I remember seeing the Army’s Harbour Light and Maxwell Meighen Centre in my neighbourhood as I grew up, but I had no idea the significance the two buildings would have for me.

I married young and had two sons, but the marriage did not last. I wanted to be a better father than mine had been, but I wasn’t, and I was a bad husband. It was about that time that I came up with the idea of going to jail.

While sitting in jail, my lawyer suggested I go to an addictions treatment centre and that The Salvation Army was the best place for me. Pleading guilty, I received probation and was remanded to Turning Point, a 28-day program at the Maxwell Meighen Centre for people coming from jail with addictions issues. For the first time in my life, I was introduced to God.

When I finished that program, I walked one block to the Harbour Light and started a 90-day recovery program. Knowing I couldn’t do anything on my own, I accepted Christ and began reading the Bible. I especially love James 1:2-4 which says: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” This was a new beginning for me and I was at peace for the first time in my life.

I completed the program and Harbour Light Corps became my church home. I enrolled as a senior soldier and became president of the men’s fellowship, sang in the New Beginnings group, taught Sunday school and soldiership preparation classes, and looked after the community soup line program. When I felt called to be an officer, I knew I had to trust God to help me.

I did not have a high school diploma, so I enrolled at the Adult Learning Centre in Toronto and graduated at the age of 37. While in school, I met Micheline and we were married.

I eventually became the director of outreach ministries at Harbour Light Corps, which included an after-school program for children and a drop-in centre for teens in Moss Park. While the yearning to become an officer was still with me, I feared it would not happen. I owed thousands of dollars in child support, my reading and writing skills were not as good as I thought they should be, and I wasn’t sure how I would manage the academic side of training college. Then I heard about the Canada and Bermuda Territory’s auxiliary-captaincy program.

By the grace of God and the support of his people, Micheline and I became auxiliary-captains in 2010 and were appointed to Hope Acres Rehabilitation Centre in Glencairn, Ont. Since being commissioned as captains in 2016, we have been blessed to serve as the corps officers of Trenton Community Church, Ont.

When I first accepted Christ, I thought God would fix everything that was wrong with my life. That was not the case, and I’ve had my share of problems since then. I am still estranged from my sons, and in 2015, I underwent the amputation of my right leg, but I know God is with me.

I would love to speak to the child I once was to tell him he is loved and not alone in his pain. I would assure him I am no longer that scared little boy. I am a new creation, and I am loved by God.

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