I was brought up in the Anglican church in the UK, but drifted away as a young person. I discovered a talent for cycling and became heavily involved in triathlons. Sport became the centre of my life: I had real drive and represented Great Britain at the World Age Group Championships.
When my wife and I moved to London in 2000, I was looking to do my first Ironman race and put out a request on a forum for someone to train with. A reply came from Andy Tong, we became great friends and training partners. I knew Andy and his wife were involved with The Salvation Army, but it really meant nothing to me.
In 2008, my wife Nicola and I decided to move to New Zealand. I came three months ahead of Nicola, who was finalising the sale of our home and looking after our daughter and nearly one-year-old son. Although I had a job to come to and accommodation, the initial few months were an immense challenge. I rented a room in a house, but at 9 pm one night had to gather my things and was forced to leave by the landlady. I ended up living at a Top 10 holiday park.
I started praying intensely for the first time since I was young. Prayer became essential to get me though the day. Communicating with God and sharing the load helped me move forward. Sometimes you have to get low before you look up.
Nicola and the kids joined me, and God began to answer our prayers. I got a new job in Levin, where we moved, buying a house we loved. It felt like the fresh start we needed. Nicola had been taking our children to a Salvation Army children’s programme during the week, so we went to a meeting one Sunday. The only seats left were on the front row, so we couldn’t hide! We were immediately welcomed and were like instant family.
That’s when we discovered the link back to my good friend Andy Tong: his uncle Selwyn had good friends at our corps.
God clearly had plans for me and it wasn’t long before I was playing cornet in the band after a 20-year break. Suddenly, my musical ability had purpose—to contribute to worship.
After 18 months, I become a Salvation Army soldier and Andy was one of the first people I told. It was a real honour to have him stay with us when he returned to New Zealand for the funeral of his cousin, our corps officer Lisa Collings. After seven years, Andy and I went for a run together and chatted. It was wonderful to have this new, mutual understanding.
I am now trying ultra-marathons for a change. Endurance sports create some fantastic highs but also very low lows. Our Christian race is just like an endurance race, and we need to rely on God to get us through. I’m looking up now, and I won’t stop looking up.
by Robert Buckland (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 10 January 2015, pp9.
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