Apr15WedAlcohol and gambling were destroying George's life, until an Army pastor posed a simple question. April 15, 2020 by Diane Stark
George Preston and his wife, Robina, walked into the casino they visited all too often. They’d already agreed to only gamble a certain amount of money and then leave. But like most visits, after the predetermined amount was gone, George wanted to keep gambling, convinced he’d win back everything he’d lost and more with just one last spin.
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However hard he tried, George couldn’t seem to stop gambling. And he feared it was going to cost him everything he cared about.
Down a Dangerous Path
George was born in Trinity, Bonavista Bay, N.L. As a child, he attended church with his mother, but he didn’t enjoy it. “I never got into church as a young person,” he remembers. “I didn’t think it was important.”
After high school, George got a job at the local fish plants in Marystown and Fortune, N.L. But as an adult, George decided to move to Toronto with his uncle.
“We had almost no money to pay for travel,” he recalls. “The Salvation Army helped us along the way with food and a place to stay. Even then, I was grateful to them.”
Now in Ontario, George became a truck driver. In 1971, he married Robina, and the couple had two sons.
George thought he was living the good life but, in reality, he’d started down a dangerous path.
Agent of Change
“I started drinking on the weekends,” he says. “I often drank so much that I didn’t remember what I’d done the next day. I did a lot of stupid things back then.”
While George’s drinking was a problem, his gambling was an even bigger one.
“The casinos were like a magnet to me,” he says. “I had no willpower when it came to gambling.”
Every time George and Robina went to the casinos, they saw the same people. “Those people were trapped, just like I was,” he says. “I don’t believe they actually wanted to be there, but they had no control over it. Gambling is a powerful addiction.”
At the time, George didn’t realize how much his addictions affected his wife. Robina loved and supported him, but neither she nor George were happy. Many times, Robina suggested they start attending church, but George wasn’t interested in doing that.
In 1978, George’s mother was critically ill with cancer, so he returned to Newfoundland and Labrador. “It was heartbreaking to see her like that,” he says. “She’d lost so much weight. She was only 55, but I knew she was dying.”
During that last visit before her passing, George’s mother reminded him that having a relationship with God was important. She told George that she prayed for him regularly, wanted him to make things right with God and begged him to return to church.
“But I just couldn’t make that promise to her,” George says. “I was so far from God at that time. I was more concerned with what my friends thought of me. I wasn’t ready to give up my bad habits and go to church.”
George bought his own truck, which helped curb his drinking. “I was on the road a lot, so I couldn’t drink as often,” he said.
The longer George stayed in his gambling addiction, the worse his situation grew. “We never went bankrupt or anything, but my visits to the casino definitely made our finances more difficult,” he says. “I needed to make a change.”
Then a friend invited him and Robina to attend church at The Salvation Army in Glencairn, Ont. Desperate for a change, they decided to go.
“It was a small congregation, but I really liked it there,” George says. “People at the church knew about my problems, and they were kind and helpful. The pastors shared their faith, but they never pressured me to change. At the church, I saw other men who I knew had had drinking problems in the past, but they were clean now. I wanted that, too.”
One Sunday morning in 2009, the pastor asked a life-changing question during his sermon: “What’s holding you back?”
“I was fighting it, but I knew I needed to commit my life to God,” George says.
He and Robina had been attending church for about a year, and they knew it was time.
George and Robina knelt at the front of the church that morning.
George immediately felt freer. “I was forgiven and, with God’s help, I quit drinking. The gambling had a stronger hold on me, but I’m happy to say that I’ve been free of that addiction for 10 years now.”
Letting God In
In 2017, George and Robina made the decision to move back to Newfoundland and Labrador, and settled in Conception Bay South. Some of their relatives attended services at the Salvation Army church there and invited them to go.
“We felt comfortable right away,” George says. “Everyone knows everyone else. Our church family is right there to help us if we need them. We love it.”
Robina attends the home league, a fellowship for women, and George enjoys the men’s fellowship group. George is grateful for the life he has now.
“If I hadn’t stopped drinking and gambling, I think Robina and I probably would’ve separated,” he reflects. “But now, we spend time together, having fun. We go on long drives and enjoy the beauty God created. And I don’t spend money on alcohol and gambling. We’re so much happier.”
George’s desire is to help others escape their addictions, as he has. “Gambling is a sickness, but God will help you overcome it,” George believes. “You just have to let Him into your life.”