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Helping youth get through

Sam Parker

Sam Parker, children and youth worker at Kapiti Salvation Army, struggled with depression and self-harm. But God restored him and his whole family.

When I was about four, my grand-mother took me to church. If you ever met her, she’d always tell you two stories. Firstly, about the day she heard me talking to someone outside the house. She came to have a look and I was demanding, ‘Jesus, if you’re real, come to me right now!’

Then, there’s the time she took me to a church bonfire. I stood in front of everyone and said, ‘Right, now we’re going to sing this song.’ They obliged, but I would get bored, so I would say, ‘Stop, stop, now we’re going to sing this song’ … like only a bossy four-year-old can do.

I moved away with my parents and stopped going to church. For about 10 years, we moved around the country a lot and I lost my way. My father has always been a very heavy drinker and chain smoker. We had an incident of domestic violence between my parents. It only ever happened once, but was quite severe.

I lost a lot of trust in my father—he was the one that was supposed to protect us and look after us. We lived in the same house, but I didn’t talk to my dad for about four years.

My mum fell into a deep depression and tried to take her own life. At the time, I didn’t understand why and what was going on, and that led me to my own depression and self-harm.

As I was going through all that, I got invited along to youth group at Browns Bay Salvation Army (now Albany Bays). I was invited to Easter camp, and that’s where I really felt God’s presence for the first time.

I told my story to the corps officer (pastor)—the first time I had ever told anyone what was going on. I was nearly in tears when I prayed, ‘Lord, I need my dad back.’

Soon after that, my dad came home and told me and my siblings he was quitting his job because he realised how much of our lives he had missed. My dad and I are like best mates now. I’m so proud of my dad. This year he has cut down his drinking and has decided to quit smoking. Ten years ago I couldn’t even speak to my dad, but now I can say I’m so proud of him.

I’m a qualified primary school teacher and had worked as a youth worker at Albany Bays Salvation Army. One fateful day I saw an advertisement for children’s and youth worker at Kapiti Salvation Army. When I started in my role, there hadn’t been a youth group for 15 years, so it was exciting to start that up again. We now have almost 20 kids and it continues to grow—a lot have come to us through our Community Ministries centre and playgroup, and we’ve been able to just wrap our support around them.

The thing I love about children and youth work is that you never know who you’re talking to—they could be the next prime minister, and you could be a small part of helping them achieve their dreams. It’s also a real honour when young people trust you with their pain, and you can be that person that helps them through. The greatest joy is just knowing I can help someone, some way, somehow, some day.

More info | Salvation Army Youth Online

by Sam Parker (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 25 March 2017, pp11
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.