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A new identity

Posted March 11, 2018

Martin Barratt grew up with an abusive father, but Jesus gave him a new identity as a son in God’s family.

My father grew up in an authoritarian household and served in the Royal Marines, where he saw combat. After my sister and I were born it wasn’t long before he started to outwork that. The slightest thing would set him off—I’d scuff my shoes or didn’t do my homework on time. From when I was four or five it would be a thrashing with a stick or a belt, because that was what he knew.

He threw me down the stairs, and a couple of times he locked me out of the house, which was quite scary for a little kid sitting on the doorstep in the dark for hours.

My mum was the opposite, lovely and encouraging and would always tell us how much she loved us. He was abusive towards her, but she shielded us from it.

We were well off and I went to a prestigious boys’ school, but I was very withdrawn and I started getting bullied there. School reinforced what was happening at home and home reinforced what was happening at school.

When I was about 15, my mum became a Christian—she got saved at a Billy Graham crusade—and my sister became a Christian as well. She was going to youth group and they kept saying, ‘You should go’. I thought, ‘They can’t be worse than the people at school’. I met this amazing bunch of people—they were loving and kind, and the difference was God. I lived near some of the guys and we spent literally every day of the summer together. It was nice to be around people with a ‘normal’ family life.

I became a Christian in my last year at high school. I started volunteering as a youth worker at my church. I wanted to help other young people, but I hadn’t addressed the brokenness underneath. Even though I was meeting amazing people and having cool experiences I was still quite a broken child myself.

I remember going on a camp and the last night a guy came up to me and said, ‘I feel I should pray for you.’ I’d never met him, but he seemed to know everything about me and he was saying, ‘You’re not your father’s son, you’re God’s son. It wasn’t your fault.’ I’d always felt somehow it was.

That started a journey of dealing with that stuff. It’s been a journey from a certain type of imprisonment to freedom in myself. Twenty years later it’s still an ongoing journey.

After that, I felt I wanted to stretch my faith. I’d always lived in Bristol, going to a nice church and a nice youth group. I saw an advert for work in a homeless project in Watford. I worked with people living on the streets, with addiction issues and mental health issues, who’d just come out of prison into secure units, and at least one person who was possessed. It was one extreme to the other, but I really felt this is what Christ has called us to do.

I moved to New Zealand in 2009 and now work for The Salvation Army as the territorial web manager. Even though I sit behind a desk I still feel I’m enabling the mission. People write to us with their questions, problems and their hurts—when I respond I’m the voice of The Salvation Army, and even though I’m not always the person that can resolve their issue, I want them to know they have been heard.

by Martin Barratt (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 10 March 2018, pp11 - You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.