Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Memories in a Canadian Coal Mining Town -2-

Christmas Memories in a 

Canadian Coal Mining Town

Part 2

In part one I recounted how meaningful Christmas was growing up in a coal mining town in Cape Breton, Canada, as well as how I had abandoned my once-strong faith when I got hooked on alcohol and drugs, as well as radical left-wing politics and activism in 1968. Somehow I had travelled to Winnipeg, Manitoba, but I couldn’t remember how I had arrived there.

To continue: I decided to contact The Salvation Army Men’s Hostel for shelter and to try and figure out what to do next. On my 2nd day there a Salvation Army Officer (pastor) spoke with me and suggested that I did not belong at the shelter. As we talked I realized that I needed to address my lifestyle of alcohol and drugs. The Officer suggested I enter their rehabilitation treatment program, “The Anchorage”, where I met the program director, Captain Bill Hanson. He mentored me throughout the treatment program, spent time talking to me about faith and God, and on October 31, 1973 I made my commitment to Christ. On Christmas Day 1973 I participated in the Program for the Joint Salvation Army Winnipeg Corps (community churches) and The Salvation Army Institutions (providing community services) Christmas service, where I shared my story.

On New Year’s Sunday 1974 I was enrolled as a Senior Soldier (a church member who pledges to follow God and abide by The Salvation Army’s principles to live a holy lifestyle). My life was already improving: I had finished the Anchorage Program and was hired to temporarily work as their Science Resource Specialist until the end of January at a local high school. Then I started a new position as the Evening Supervisor and Chaplain at The Salvation Army Men’s Social Center, which I retained until the next August. Afterwards, I resigned to take on a new job as the Science Resource Specialist at a different high school for the academic year. During the early months of 1974 I also met Edna Taylor. After dating awhile we got engaged and married in December 1974. We believed we were called to be Salvation Army Officers (pastors), and we entered The Salvation Army William Booth Memorial College for Officers Training, in Toronto, Canada, in September 1975.

Reflecting on the Barra MacNeils’ concert in Winnipeg, I recalled that as the sister in the group sang “O Holy Night” in Gaelic, the haunting melody touched me and reminded me once again of that special birth of Jesus. Adding to the beauty of the evening, I had a moment of serendipity. I saw a guy walking around in a sweat shirt saying East Coast Life with Cape Breton encircling the words. When I asked him if he was from down home (Cape Breton) and he responded that he was from my hometown, New Waterford, I almost fell over! We introduced ourselves as we shared more details. The guy smiled as he told me that my brother had been the best man at his wedding. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t seen this individual since 1967; and, furthermore, I had been classmates with his brother from primary school through to university. And then he shared one of his memories of me—of being addicted to booze and drugs. We talked some more, and we will be getting together for coffee and more sharing. How wonderful to reconnect with a childhood friend so far from home!

Christmas is indeed a time to marvel at the Holy Night and reconnect with our long-lost friends in a community of faith!

John Stephenson,
Former Salvation Army Officer (pastor)


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