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I am here because people cared

Tony Lee
Tony Lee's happiest childhood memories.

It’s because of people caring for me in the Sallies that I am where I am today.

As a toddler, my mother put me into The Salvation Army’s Hodderville Boys Home. Those days were the happiest of my childhood. It was there I first felt loved and valued. Even during my darkest days, I always said to myself that if I ever went back to church, I would go to the Sallies.

I had been rejected and abandoned by my mother, but when I was nine she took me out of my ‘home’ to live with her and my stepfather. I couldn’t understand why. I lived with them for three years, but it was not a safe place. Through the Department of Social Welfare, I went to live in another boys home. Foster homes then became the norm, but none of them worked out. I was not happy. I hated school, hated schoolteachers, hated life and was angry with everyone. Sexual abuse, frustration, anger, hatred, not trusting any one … that was my way of life.

The Department of Social Welfare sent me to Otekaieke in the South Island for seven years. When I was 17, I was sent home to my mother, but she made all sorts of trouble for me with my employers, so I lost several jobs. My mother was taking my wages, so one day I stole a cheque from my boss’s desk drawer for food. This saw me end up at Waikeria Borstal, a youth detention centre.

When I left the borstal, I found my mother again, but our relationship was still bad. I hated her for taking me out of the Hodderville Boys Home where I had felt loved, safe and secure. I eventually found myself back at Waikeria, but this time as an adult prisoner. It was 1971 and I spent my 21st birthday in prison.

Coming out of jail, I moved to Auckland for work. I had two children with a woman, but ended up as a solo dad. At the age of 47, I married and had three more children, although my marriage ended some years ago.

Even in my lowest times, I always knew that I could go to the Sallies and that they would help me as they did when I was a young boy. I’d had enough of living in a negative way, so at Christmas 2011, I emailed Corps Officers Jillian and Geoffrey Smith at the Cambridge Salvation Army church to see if I could come to their meetings. They emailed back, ‘Of course!’

This was the first step in re-dedicating my life to Christ, and has been a journey I am so grateful for. Cambridge Corps has welcomed me and never judged me, and I have brought along my flatmate and daughter too.

I have been in the pits, but I am now a new man, born again and wanting to serve God more and more within The Salvation Army. I am proud to wear my uniform.

I don’t know where my mother is but I have forgiven her. I don’t know who my earthly father was, but I know that I have a Heavenly Father who will never abandon me. I love God and want to serve him and give him my all.

I am still new in the faith and learning all the time, but I want to praise the Lord and just to say ‘Thank you, God’, for his hand upon my life.

ByTony Lee (abridged from War Cry, 15 June 2013, p9)