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Jun27ThuHow an invitation to church changed my life. June 27, 2019 by Carl Fader
As I dropped a toonie in the Salvation Army kettle outside a liquor store one Christmas, I heard someone call my name. It was Billy Whittle, a man I knew from the dockyards in Halifax. I had retired two years earlier, in May 1990, after 25 years as a submarine charge hand.
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“What do you know about The Salvation Army?” he asked me.
“More than I want to know,” I told him. “You do your thing, and I’ll do mine.”
We talked for a few more minutes, and then he threw out a challenge.
“Why don’t you come to church with me tomorrow?”
Well, I never back away from a challenge. The next day, my wife looked at me in surprise as I got ready.
“Where are you going?” she said.
“Church,” I answered.
But I went, and I never looked back.
I grew up on McNabs Island, out in the middle of Halifax Harbour, one of four kids. My aunt was a brigadier in The Salvation Army, and she used to come and hold open-air meetings. We moved to the mainland when I was 14, in 1944, and I quit school soon after. My father took me to sea with him, and that’s where I learned to drink.
When I got married, I wanted to be around for my kids, so I came home and started working at the dockyards. We had three sons, and I was a Boy Scout leader for many years. My wife took the kids to church. I thought it was a waste of time.
At work, I was known as a tough boss—if you defied me, you were in trouble. I was a drinker and smoked a pack of cigarettes every day. I was always ready for an argument. I was willing to help people, but only on my terms. Although there were times I wanted to clean up my life, I didn’t know how.
When I retired, I tried to fill my days making woodcrafts and helping my neighbours with outdoor projects, but something was missing. Then I ran into Billy, and started attending the corps in Dartmouth, N.S. The officer at the time was an A1 guy and we became good friends.
I kept going, and the next year I offered to help on the kettles. One day, my wife came with me to go shopping, and we ran into the corps officer. He invited her to come along to church. “Just have a look and see what’s going on.”
So the next Sunday we went together. A few weeks later, she gave me a poke and said, “Come with me.” And that’s how I went to the mercy seat. I knew I was on the wrong path, with my smoking, drinking and everything else. I asked Jesus to come into my life, to help me straighten out and see if I couldn’t get my life back on track.
That was 25 years ago. I just turned 89, and I’m not the person today that I was back then. I attend the corps and Bible study, assist in the food bank every week, make soup and sandwiches for the street ministry, and volunteer with the kettles at Christmas. I help with everything I can.
My wife, Marg, died four years ago. We were married for 62 years and have seven grandchildren. I feel like I’ve accomplished what I should have. Billy’s challenge changed my life completely.