Major Helen Hastie was excited. A long-time Salvation Army pastor currently serving in retirement as chaplain at the Army’s New Directions Halfway House in Kitchener, Ont., she was volunteering at INSPIRE, the weeklong Salvation Army conference and congress gathering that occurred in Toronto last year. The highlight of her week was attending Skeleton Army, a play about the early days of The Salvation Army in England.

That day, Helen received a text message from Neil Leduke, the territorial director of marketing and communication for The Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda, who had been friends with her since they had both participated in a mission trip to Cuba.

“Do you remember a Gerry Robert?” Neil asked her.

Gerry Robert. That was a name she had not heard in 46 years, though she had often wondered what had happened to the young man she had last met in 1977.


Though Gerry is now a successful author, entrepreneur and the happily married father of three children, he had been a troubled young man growing up in Hull, Que.

“I was addicted to alcohol, and I did a lot of stupid things back then,” he says now.

The “highlight” was in the spring of 1977 when Gerry stole a beer truck, drove it to his apartment and proceeded to carry eight cases of beer inside.

Not content with this heist, he then ordered dinner for six from a Chinese restaurant, waited outside and took both food and money from the unsuspecting delivery person, then fled—around the corner and up to his apartment by the back stairs.

There was only one problem with this perfect crime: Gerry lived directly across the street from a detachment of the Quebec Provincial Police.

“I was not a smart criminal,” he laughs.

The delivery person phoned 911, and the local police congregated around the scene of the crime.

“Let me tell you something,” says Gerry. “When 20 police officers are in your house and they’re all pointing guns at you, it can really mess up your weekend.

“My life was completely out of control,” he reflects. “I’ve got hundreds of those types of crazy stories of things that I’ve done. It just shows you the insanity of alcohol.”

“Old Ladies, Bingos and Bazaars”

Arrested, the 18-year-old was sentenced to a nine-month term for armed robbery.

“It was the most negative event that ever happened to me,” he says. “But it was also the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Part of his sentence was served at a Christian rehabilitation facility, and it was there that he had an encounter with God.

“I was a mean dude back then, but I experienced love for the first time,” Gerry says. “The man who ran the facility, Norm Sharkey, introduced me to Jesus in a deep, personal way. Even after all these years, I still chat with Norm every week.”

At that time, Helen was a Salvation Army pastor in Ottawa and, as part of her duties, she served as a chaplain to the halfway house around the corner.

“I would go and meet and minister to the people there, and we’d have prayer meetings,” she says. “And then they’d come to our Salvation Army church and share their testimonies.”

Gerry was one of them.

“He was hungry for purpose,” Helen continues. “Gerry had to do some time, and I visited him in jail, and when he was released, I connected with him on and off."

“Up to that point, I thought Christianity was old ladies, bingos and bazaars, and I wanted nothing to do with that,” Gerry says. “But people like Helen showed me that God is real, and I just ate it up.

“She mentored me and discipled me while I was in prison, where she visited me once a week and unpacked the Bible.

“Thanks to Helen, I knew that God was real. I knew that Jesus died for me, and I knew that I was a new creation—and that I would never go back to being the man I was before.

“There were many people who brought God into my life, including my wife, Anne, and her family, Norm and Helen. I wouldn’t be here today without her.”

Worth It

With Neil’s help, Helen met Gerry, Anne and his son, Corey, at an evening performance of Skeleton Army. As a digital marketing and project manager, Corey works with Neil, and Gerry had asked his son if it might be possible to locate Helen. Neil took it upon himself to make the connection.

“It was a great place to meet Helen after all these years,” Gerry relates. “The whole message of the play is that reprobates can get turned around, in this case with the help of a devoted Salvation Army officer. It gives me goosebumps even thinking about it, that at the play, I reconnected with somebody who was still in ministry doing the same thing, helping people who needed help.”

“I spent most of the play watching it in tears, thinking about that,” agrees Helen. “You know, the ministry and the effect it has on you. You have no idea the impact you can make on someone, and for Gerry to remember me after so many years was kind of special.”

“Helen needed to know that, for at least one guy whom she opened the Bible to, his life was turned around,” Gerry concludes, “and the seeds she helped plant fell on fertile ground. All that she did was worth it.”

Photo: Courtesy of Gerry Robert and Major Helen Hastie

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