Growing up, Kim Bent says the movie Once Were Warriors was like a home video. Ahead of The Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal, Kim tells War Cry how her life marked with abuse and poverty was transformed by the love and care of the folk at Mt Albert Corps.
I clearly remember the day I first entered Mt Albert Corps as a foodbank visitor almost eight years ago. I was emotionally broken and detached from society, with little hope of anything better in life for my daughter, my sons, and myself.
I had been living a Christian life for the previous two years, but the more I learnt about God, the angrier I got. I had learnt how loving God is. How he blesses people. How forgiving he is.
I couldn’t understand why all these bad things had happened in my life and why they were still happening. If God loved me, why would he put me through so much pain, loss and destruction? This was what I have seen all my life in my own family. Was this really what love is?
Someone once said to me, ‘God will never send you more than you can cope with’ [a misinterpretation of 1 Corinthian 10:13 – ed]. I remember scoffing quietly to myself and thinking, ‘God, you and I both have very different ideas about how much I can cope with!’ I had been physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by various people. Judged and persecuted for others’ actions. The movie Once Were Warriors was like a home video to me.
Alcohol ruled my parents’ lives, more so after they divorced. As I grew up, I suffered numerous beatings, relationship break-ups, two miscarriages, a home invasion, two stab wounds, theft and threats to me and my children’s lives—many at the hands of my family.
Two of my brothers introduced me to drugs and alcohol at the age of 15. It very quickly became my escape. It numbed my pain and my memories. Pretty soon I found it difficult to feel anything at all. I stopped caring. I worked hard, and partied harder. I thought this was happiness: not a care in the world.
For safety and protection reasons, I disconnected from my family apart from one brother, but I didn’t want to burden him with my problems. Detachment became my default setting early in life. I would isolate myself when the hurts of life presented themselves. It was extremely unhealthy, but a safe option.
My relationship broke down with my sons. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I was lost and broken, with little hope of anything better for me and my family. I thought that was my lot in life.
People often wear masks to hide poverty. I knew I needed help badly, but when someone asked me if I needed help I would say, ‘No thanks, everything is okay’. But I needed to tell someone how heavy the weight of my pain and worry had become. No one knew.
One night, when my daughter was three, she saw me being beaten up by my then-partner. That assault was my breaking point. I fled to a local refuge where we hid for five months before being placed in a Housing New Zealand home. I didn’t know anyone and had nowhere else to go. One day, when I was low on food, one of the other people staying there suggested I go to The Salvation Army.
I didn’t know much about The Salvation Army. I remembered driving past one of their centres each day. I remembered the cross on the building.
The next day I walked in to Mt Albert Corps. I was seeking a safe place, safe people, kindness, and someone to trust with my burdens, without being judged.
I was greeted by this love that wrapped around me, listened to me, sat with me, prayed with me. I was nurtured. There was a presence in the building that just kept calling me. Someone could see that I was worth saving. Someone saw the good in me, when I couldn’t see any. At first it was one staff member, then two, then three … Then I felt God’s hand on me—his love and acceptance. Seeds had been planted. God was trying to save me.
Among many others, three ladies in particular guided and encouraged me every step of the way. Gill Scoltock, who was the Community Ministries manager, Gael Laughland who was our children’s worker, and Pam Uhlmann, who has just retired from her role as corps administrator. They were hugely important in my journey and are still special friends today.
I also started counselling with Major Brenda Ennever. She helped me build up my self-esteem and self-worth. Brenda would tell me my good points, and it was the first time I had ever been praised. I was confused, and thought, ‘How are you seeing that when my family has been saying my whole life that I’m worthless?’
Through the kindness I found at The Salvation Army, my walls started to come down. I became interested in my life, my future and what was on the other side.
I was invited to a ‘drop in’ at The Meeting House to meet others, but at first I was so shy I would just sit in the corner with my coffee.
Eventually, I was invited to be a helper. This was so far out of my comfort zone, but I eased into it slowly and began to find my way again. Healing was taking place in serving others. A seedling was breaking ground.
I came with an empty, dark and broken heart. Then, after a year or two, I started to experience feelings I had never felt before: love, fulfilment, satisfaction, happiness, confidence, self-worth and trust. God’s promises and blessings were in
my heart. A hunger to do God’s work and a thirst for his word was growing.
When I first attended church I felt uncomfortable and out of place, but I also felt accepted straight away. People were walking up to us and wrapping us up in hugs. Growing up we weren’t hugged, we weren’t shown any love. Here, I felt
A lady called Liane sat with me and asked, what was the thing that worried me the most, and I said the first thing that popped into my head—‘curtains’, as there were no curtains in our home when we moved in.
She said, ‘Well, I’ve got some spare curtains in my garage!’ That afternoon she came around with them and we hung them up!
Almost eight years later, I have come full circle. A flower has appeared. Salvation Army Community Ministries—the place that saved me—has now become my official job. When Gill retired as the team leader at the Drop-In Centre, I felt God gently guiding me towards the role.
For the first time in 17 years I was able to completely come off a benefit. Even though I was still working part-time, it was important to me to support my family on my own. I was terrified to do it, but it was the right decision—in terms of self-esteem, I am so much better off.
In my job, I can offer hope and support to many people with complex issues and diverse backgrounds. I have found my calling—my dream job, where all my past hurts are relevant and even helpful at times. I remember when I was in their position and I felt that was my lot in life, and I can share my story and offer hope.
I have lived the cycle of poverty. My daughter has seen me fall—and she has seen me pick myself up time and time again. This is the example I want to set for her: it’s okay to fall, as long as you get back up again. I have also rebuilt my relationship with my sons and we are closer than ever.
I am at the happiest point in my life. And it seems that everyone that knows me well takes pride in how far I’ve come. I get teary-eyed and overwhelmed with feelings of warmth and love. I am ever so grateful to those who have played a significant role in this transformation. I love you for taking the time, and having the patience and persistence with me. You are my family.
As told to Robin Raymond (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 21 April 2018, pp6-9 - You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.
One in five New Zealand children live in poverty. Half of them—about 100,000 children—live in severe poverty.
This can seem untrue because poverty in New Zealand isn’t always easy to see, say Territorial Secretary for Community Ministries Major Pam Waugh.
‘Poverty in New Zealand is often behind closed doors, but we see it in the parents who skip meals, families who will spend days without power this winter so they can pay the rent and keep food on the table, or the children who sleep in a garage or on an overcrowded lounge floor,’ Pam says.
Last year, 60 per cent of the families who came to the Army for food parcels were new clients; that’s an average of 336 new families every week.
This is where The Salvation Army steps in, our Community Ministries centres alone helped almost 40,000 families last year. More were helped through Education and Employment, addictions treatment, housing, Reintegration Services and more.
These are people like Kim who are at rock bottom. We help them with their urgent needs and we give them hope for the future. We do this with the support of New Zealanders who generously donate through the Red Shield Appeal every year.
Do you need help? | You will always be welcome at Community Ministries. To find your nearest centre go to www.salvationarmy.org.nz/centres