Aug3ThuThe Salvation Army supports community and families after three teens commit suicide in Sydney, N.S. August 3, 2017 by Major Corey Vincent
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Last school year, our town of Sydney, N.S., lost three young people to suicide. Vincent Nugent, Justin Newell and Madison Wilson were only 13 years old.
After the third suicide, in June, there was a dark cloud over the community. It was impossible to go anywhere in town without someone mentioning the crisis. Many discussions in the community and the media revolved around bullying. The overall feeling throughout the Cape Breton region was a sense of hopelessness, disbelief and grief, which was being expressed through anger as people were rightfully searching for answers.
In our town, the Salvation Army corps is called Sydney Community Church, and that’s what we strive to be. If our community is hurting and grieving, our corps will show the community that we are hurting and grieving with them, and offer love, hope and support.
I was praying about the situation, wondering what we could do as a church, when the idea of a “walk of hope” came to me, and I asked three passionate and caring individuals from the church to help me plan it. I closed one of our planning committee meetings with the prayer, “Not one more suicide; not one more bullied child; not one more child who feels alone; not one more, please Lord.” The committee was inspired by the prayer and we decided to call the walk Not One More. It was challenging to make this event a reality in a short period of time, but we had faith that it was God-inspired and would help bring healing to a desperate community.
Despite inclement weather, more than 200 people attended the event, including the three families who had lost their children to suicide. Our walk was lit by glowsticks, which we presented to the families of the deceased teens with a bouquet of flowers. We were escorted through the busiest street in Sydney by the Cape Breton Regional Police Service. Cars pulled over to the side of the road out of respect for the families and the walk. At the conclusion of our walk, I shared a prayer that I had written especially for our community, asking “that there will be ‘not one more,’ in Jesus’ name.”
After the walk, which finished at the corps, we invited everyone to come inside our hall for refreshments. I was moved to tears as I watched Chris Royal, the father of the young woman who had taken her own life less than two weeks before our walk, embrace one of the other families who had lost their son to suicide.
This event was important for us as a church because we are called to stand up for the disadvantaged—including victims of bullying, people struggling with mental illness and grieving families. We have a responsibility to be light in the darkness. Suicide is a difficult subject, and many people shy away from talking about it. In dark times such as these, people want to help and support each other, but struggle to find the appropriate words or venue to express themselves. This event gave the community an opportunity to show our love and care for the families of the three teens who saw no other option but to take their own lives.
Members of the corps actively promoted the walk of hope by collecting donations, walking with the people and passing out pamphlets with emergency contact information for people needing help. Those who came to the event left knowing that they belonged to a beautiful, caring and loving community.
It’s important that we learn from the deaths of these three teens. We are currently discussing how we can support our local students as the new school year begins in September, and we look forward to seeing where God will lead us. We have already decided that Not One More will be an annual event. I pray that God will use Sydney Community Church as a beacon of hope that will show people that there are supports available, people care and life is worth living.
Major Corey Vincent is the corps officer at Sydney Community Church, N.S.