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May12WedGerry Mercer has never lost the faith his Salvation Army grandmother instilled in him. May 12, 2021 by Helena Smrcek
Gerry Mercer has a specific Bible verse that has helped him make sense of his life. “It’s Psalm 27:10 which says: ‘Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close’ (New Living Translation).
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“And He did,” Gerry smiles. “Ever since, I have had a burning desire to serve.”
“I Can Take You Out”
“My mother is a drug dealer,” Gerry states. “My father wasn’t in the picture. He was a motorcycle gang member.”
When he did show up, there was a party in the house.
“The driveway was lined up with bikes,” Gerry recalls, “and there was alcohol and drugs.”
From a young age, the neglect and physical and mental abuse was at the forefront of his life. In addition, there was a significant stigma attached to being the “Mercers’ kid.”
While his mother binged on drugs during the weekends, Gerry stayed in his grandparents’ house. After the authorities got involved, he was passed back and forth between family members and foster parents. His mother knew exactly what to say to the social workers, and got him back time and time again, so she could collect the child benefit, Gerry explains.
“I yearned for connection, so I’d return, hoping things would get better. They never did.”
Once, in a rage, his mother charged at him with a large dagger, yelling, “I brought you into the world, and I can take you out.”
Gerry escaped through the window. After that, child services placed him with his grandparents.
“My grandmother, Olive Mercer, was an official member of The Salvation Army,” says Gerry. “I’d go to Sunday night services with Nan. There, I found family, love and grace. I went from a young fellow looking for a mother to one who had 40, because the women in the church cared for me.”
After high school, Gerry decided to go to college. He got a job, volunteered with The Salvation Army in St. John’s, N.L., and started to date his future wife.
“My life was busy. I didn’t get to see my mother much.”
She called one November night and didn’t sound well. Gerry decided to check on her.
“The porch light was on, a sign that she was ‘open for business.’ ” Gerry found her in bed. “I woke my mother up, and she started to scream at me, evidently under the influence.” When he decided to leave, she followed him out the door and aimed a gun at him.
“There is a bullet in it. For you,” she said.
He jumped into his truck and took off, then called the police. She was arrested and pleaded guilty to firearms charges.
“My mother used to tell me I was a mistake, that I shouldn’t have been born, that I was never going to make something of myself.”
But God had a different plan. One Sunday, during the service, Major Les Barrow put his hand on Gerry’s shoulder.
“I don’t know if God told him I was ready, but that night I became a Christian.”
Gerry attended Booth University College and volunteered at The Salvation Army’s Weetamah Corps in Winnipeg.
That year, Gerry stayed there for Christmas. “We served full turkey dinners to the local community. Wanting to show people that I care by meeting their needs was big for me.”
When his grandmother passed away, Gerry went through another difficult period in his life. He worked with the Army in Triton, N.L., as a youth and children’s ministry director, yet had a lot of unanswered questions. He grappled with the understanding that God loved him, but that his mother had put him through such terrible things. Why did loving Nan, a faithful Salvation Army member and follower of Christ, suffer with breast cancer for 10 years?
“While my mother, a creator of chaos, trauma and pain, is going through life seemingly unscathed. I still struggle with this. It’s hard to accept.”
A big part of his story was the call to serve others.
“I really wrestled with that,” he says. “How was God going to use me, a young fellow physically, psychologically and sexually abused, who had been through so much, damaged and broken?”
While Gerry worked at a youth camp, one of his colleagues told him that God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. Gerry took hold of this truth. Despite his post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, he now understands why he went through all the hardship.
“I’m here to help others,” he believes. “I’m scarred, but I believe that forgiving someone is for me, not for the other person. In my mind, that is God’s way of giving me the tools.”
A Positive in Pain
Today, Gerry is an official member of The Salvation Army, and he and his wife, Julia, and their daughter, Olive, worship at The Salvation Army’s Conception Bay South church in Newfoundland and Labrador. He works as a youth outreach worker with Eastern Health’s mental health and addictions program.
“What helps me when I sit down to support somebody is that I know what I’m talking about, not from a book but from real life,” he says. “I tell the youth that no matter how many steps you take away from God, it only takes one to get back. I say to them that although you have experienced hardships or significant events in life that are challenging and hurtful, there is a positive in that pain. God is using these experiences to equip them for greater things in this world.”
Gerry never gave up on his call to serve in The Salvation Army. His passion is to be with the community, meeting with people where they are.
“I’m going to be with the outreach centre, the down and outs, as General William Booth, the co-founder of The Salvation Army, called them. When I stand alongside a person who is hurting, I can provide a little bit of empathy and understanding, show people I love them, and that there is a Creator who loves them, too.”
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