Petrina grew up in a violent household. She was a Christchurch street kid at 12 and living with an abusive gang member at 14.
When her partner was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2001, Petrina was abandoned by the gang and found herself homeless, pregnant and with two young children to care for.
She says the beatings and psychological abuse became a normal and accepted part of domestic life. But she still grieved deeply for her partner, suffering depression and living with her children as a recluse, the four of them camping out in the lounge of her house. Petrina started taking hard drugs to take the edge off her grief, which eventually led to Child, Youth and Family taking on the care of her children.
In the depths of despair, Petrina found guidance from an elderly kuia. She stopped taking drugs, moved to the Hutt Valley, started her first regular job, and discovered a love for hard work and helping the less fortunate.
Petrina’s first contact with The Salvation Army was when she was helping a lonely and impoverished elderly woman clean her dilapidated and rat-infested house. Petrina asked the Army for cleaning products for the job and afterwards began visiting her local Family Store for bargains.
Petrina was asked to work in the shop and gradually became part of The Salvation Army community in Hutt City.
With her confidence and self-esteem still at a low point and struggling to keep her family afloat, The Salvation Army helped with food, budgeting, counselling and literacy classes. But it was their moral support, encouragement and acceptance, Petrina says, that were life-changing. Gradually, her emotional turmoil began to subside and God became an anchor for her life.
‘It was like how a flower grows—I started to blossom. And, of course, that’s brought me much closer to my children.’ Petrina has been reunited with four of her five children. She remains in contact with a daughter with severe cerebral palsy who is in foster care.
Petrina’s work with the most disadvantaged in her community is spontaneous and an extension of her own generosity. She approached elderly women visiting the local WINZ office, offering to mow lawns, weed gardens or take on any job required. The work expanded to the point where Petrina needed help to cope with demand.
She set up a soup kitchen, operating out of Hutt City Salvation Army, cooking for up to 50 people at a time. She distributes unsalable items from the Family Store to families in the most deprived neighbourhoods. ‘The last time I left the community hall in Taita, I broke down crying, just to see the looks on the faces of all the happy, grateful people,’ she says. ‘This really touched me and motivates me to do more.’
Petrina is now a Salvation Army soldier (church member) and engaged to be married.
‘God has put meaning into my whole life. He tells me how beautiful, valued and worthy I am. I can’t say thank you enough to God for all he has done.’
By Petrina (abridged from War Cry, 12 January 2013, p9)