Kent Hepditch sat glued to his seat at a Salvation Army evening church service in Deer Lake, N.L. All around him, people were walking to the altar to become Christians or recommit their lives to the Lord. The young man wanted to go up to the front of the church, too, but he seemed glued to his seat.
Then he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Seed of Faith
Growing up, religion was never a part of Kent’s family.
While his mother had been a member of the Army during her teens, she left her faith behind when the 15-year-old moved from a little outport town for St. John’s, N.L. There, she met her husband and they married. He, too, had stopped attending church regularly in his teens.
“They never brought me, my younger sister or older brother to church,” Kent recalls. “It just wasn’t a part of their lives.”
By the time Kent was in his teens, his mother had become a weekend alcoholic.
“When we were kids, we would go from St. John’s to my grandparents’ place,” he says. “While we were babysat, my grandparents and my parents would hit the clubs and the bars. That was their routine.”
As the children got older, Kent’s mother would drink at home.
“Friday and Saturday nights, she would sit at the kitchen table with her bottle and her country music cassettes until she got drunk,” he says. “It made for an unhappy home. She’d be drinking, playing her music loud, and there would be yelling and fighting.”
Sometimes her drinking would start on Thursday night and end on Monday night, which would impact the children’s sleep schedule and preparations for school.
“It was discouraging and frustrating,” Kent says. “We felt embarrassed that our mother was an alcoholic.”
But a seed of faith was planted by his mother one Sunday. He had been given a little red Gideons Bible, and she told him through an alcoholic haze, “Kent, you really should read your New Testament.”
And he did. Kent read it faithfully for six years.
What prompted her to do that?
“She understood salvation,” Kent reflects now. “She hadn’t brought faith into her family, but she wanted me to have a right life.”
Exacerbating his family woes was Kent’s shyness. It was not an issue at first, but by the time he entered high school, it had become serious.
“I started avoiding the cafeteria, so lunchtime for me meant standing at my locker feeling embarrassed, or I would take my lunch and eat it inside a washroom stall, which was humiliating.”
When Kent started at Memorial University of Newfoundland in 1984, he avoided friends altogether and ate his lunch on a bench several buildings away. By his second year, his shyness was so debilitating, he quit school.
“I became a recluse for a year, basically shut up in my room,” he says. “I wouldn’t eat meals with my parents. I couldn’t go three houses down the street to the mailbox. I was afraid I would meet somebody that I knew and would have to speak to them.”
Kent tried to see a psychiatrist but didn’t feel he was improving and gave up. Worse, he started depending on alcohol to enable him to talk to people, something he swore he’d never do.
Through all this, Kent continued reading his red Bible, and six years of God’s Word had its effect on him.
When Kent was 20, he started going to The Salvation Army’s Conception Bay South church with his parents, who had started attending.
“I’d finally had enough of my life, which had been so miserable,” he says. “I needed God, and I thought this might be a good first step.” Church soon became a part of Kent’s life, and he heard the gospel message, but he refused to commit.
Even though his father had become a Christian, Kent resented him because he wasn’t a perfect Christian.
“Of course, I know now that none of us are,” he smiles. “But I had so much bitterness against my father, I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me come to the Lord.”
Instead, he took the bus to Deer Lake, where his good friend, Derek Fudge, was the corps sergeant-major, the top lay person in the Army church.
“He’d been a friend of the family for years, a happy person who liked to have fun, and I looked up to him as a Christian. I didn’t want to get saved where my father was, but I figured if I went to Deer Lake where Derek was, it might happen.”
Kent attended the Sunday evening evangelistic service.
“I wanted to go up to the altar,” Kent continues. “Not that we have to go forward to become Christians, but that’s how I wanted it to happen. I knew I wasn’t right with God, but I couldn’t move.”
A Life Changed
All of a sudden, Kent felt a hand on his shoulder and a voice asked him, “Is this the night?”
Startled, Kent looked up. It was his friend, Derek.
Then Derek asked him again, “So, is it tonight? People are getting saved. What about you? Is this the night for you?”
Kent looked at him and replied, “Yes, I think it is.”
Derek helped him to his feet.
“I’ve always said it wasn’t when I got to the altar that I felt the Lord coming into my life,” states Kent. “It was the moment Derek helped me to my feet.”
As Kent started to walk to the front of the church, he felt a great weight come off him.
“I felt forgiven,” Kent says, “and when I knelt and prayed, I knew God forgave me and welcomed me home.”
No Longer Empty
Kent returned to school to take a two-year college course in community recreation leadership, his shyness fell away, and he was accepted to The Salvation Army College for Officer Training in 1991.
Major Kent and his wife, Major Dena Hepditch, are the pastors at The Salvation Army’s Church and Community Ministries in Red Deer, Alta.
“I invited God to come into my life, and He changed it,” Kent says. “Now, not only do I speak to people but I speak to people on a regular basis every Sunday.”
“I think his story is an important story to share because God can take us as we are,” says Major Dena, “but He doesn’t want us to stay in our situations as we are, stuck forever. God can transform us, He can work in our lives and, in spite of our personalities, our difficulties and our situations, He can use us for His glory. Kent is proof of that.”
“Without Jesus Christ, I would be empty,” Major Kent says.
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