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Walk With Me

Vianne O’Byrne is Community Ministries Coordinator at East City Corps, Auckland.
Vianne O'Byrne
Posted September 23, 2013

My father was a very, very hard man of Dutch descent. He didn’t tolerate anything that he saw as a weakness, such as fear, and was very controlling. For example, I never wore a school jersey because my father didn’t want to pay for it, so I learned to block out the cold and not feel it—even in the middle of winter when all I wore was a cotton shirt. I also learnt to block out feelings like fear.

I gave my heart to God when I was 10 years old at Rally (a Christian group like Girls’ Brigade), when we were away at a camp. I was always close to the Lord and grew up in youth group.

At 15, I left my father’s house and went to live in a home for young people. That same year, I was raped at knifepoint. It didn’t really affect me at the time, as I had learned to block out trauma and disassociate from my feelings.

At 20, I married a man who called himself a Christian. But it wasn’t a Christian marriage. There was a lot of domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and it was not a healthy relationship. Five years into our marriage, my husband had a brain haemorrhage that changed his personality and magnified all the problems.

We had four boys in the space of seven years. We separated several times. He stopped drinking and I went back to him, but it all just started again—the violence and the drinking.

I didn’t want my boys growing up thinking that this was normal, and felt a huge responsibility to raise them to become good fathers. When my youngest boy was four months old, I got a protection order and escaped the marriage for good. During this time, two of my boys were diagnosed on the autistic spectrum. I was trying to raise four boys by myself with no family to turn to and hardly any support.

A light in my life was The Salvation Army single parents’ dinner at East City corps in Howick, Auckland. My friend told me about it, so I started going along. It was great to have a hot meal provided for my boys every week, and it was a really supportive environment.

Searching for peace

For about 10 years, I’d had flashbacks and nightmares from the rape and other abuse. Things started to pile up and I became depressed. I ended up at Adult Mental Health and saw a psychiatrist. I said, ‘I’ve lived with this all my life, I don’t understand why I’m here now.’ He said, ‘I don’t understand why you weren’t here years ago.’

The only time I felt peace was when I was in the presence of the Lord, and I just wanted to go and be with the Lord. I overdosed twice.

I was in and out of respite, as I needed a break. The church I went to didn’t know what to do with me, so that’s how I started coming to The Salvation Army. We’re not designed to walk by ourselves, and the people at The Salvation Army really walked with me.

I went to the corps officers (pastors), Mat and Jules, and I said to Mat, ‘I’m going to kill myself because I can’t live like this anymore and I want to be with God. But I want to know what the Bible says about it first.’ Mat said, ‘Well, the plans God has for you are good and this [despair] is exactly where the enemy wants you to be.’

I had never thought about it like that. I thought, ‘God, you and I have been through so much together, and there’s no way I’m bowing down to the enemy.’ It was like a light came on for me that day. I’m not going to say that God waved a magic wand and made everything better, because it’s a process. And when God starts healing you, that’s when all the rubbish comes to the surface.

It’s been about eight years of seeing a counsellor and psychologist and renewing my mind in Christ. It’s taken 30 years of being a Christian, before letting God kick down the walls I built around me and coming to a place where I could help others in the community.

A SAFE family

I started volunteering at church and just loved it. Then, in August last year, I began my role as Community Ministries Coordinator. I love my job—I can’t believe I get paid to share Jesus with people all day!

For many years, it’s been the desire of my heart to teach people skills that used to be passed down from generation to generation, like knitting, cooking on a budget and creating a garden. So that is something we’re starting up—some of our staff recently completed budgeting training so they can run a course for the community.

We’ve begun a SAFE drop-in centre, which stands for ‘Salvation Army Family Environment’, since our goal is for people to find a sense of family here. From Wednesday to Friday we have lunch for about 20 people, with jigsaw puzzles out and music playing.

One man came in for food parcels. He’s a chef but can’t work, so when he found out about our lunches, he said, ‘Can I cook?’ He makes delicious lunches and says it’s given him a sense of purpose.

We’re all really excited today because one of the guys who’s been coming along just got a job! He came along originally for a food parcel and we’ve been praying for him to get work. I put his request on the prayer chain—and today he came in and announced that he got a job. It was so awesome that he could share his news with a room full of people that were so excited for him!

Many times I’ve been able to put my arm around someone and say, ‘I understand.’ God gives us back the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25). When someone is sharing with me, I know what they are going through, but I’m no longer coming from a place of pain.

One woman was in a bad relationship, and as I was talking to her, she said, ‘I just can’t do it, I can’t go on.’ I said to her, ‘Have you thought about giving Jesus a go?’ and she said, ‘Yeah, I’d like that.’ She was saved that day.

Another time, a woman came in for a food parcel and I learnt she was in a bad relationship. She said she wasn’t scared of her husband, but was sleeping in the car to avoid going into the house. I said, ‘That’s being scared of your husband, and you shouldn’t live like that.’ I connected her to Women’s Refuge. A while later, she came back and said that with help from her older children, she had confronted her husband and told him he needed to change. She had never known she had the right to say that what was happening to her was wrong.

I was on the benefit for 10 years, and even that is being used by God to help others. One guy came in and said he couldn’t live on his Sickness Benefit. I took him down to Work and Income and told the advisor that his doctor’s fees were meant to be paid and that we need to look at what other living costs could be subsidised. When we came out he was getting $400 back pay, and an extra $120 a week. He said to me, ‘Can I come to church?’ He’s been coming to church, has given his life to the Lord, and is now being discipled.

A lot of people come here who don’t fit into society, but they fit into The Salvation Army. People may come to our drop-in centre for lunch, but they stay because of the relationships.

He will fight your battles

When I was 18, I went overseas for a two-month mission with YWAM (Youth with a Mission). Someone gifted me the money so I could go. For years, I asked God, ‘Why did you pay for that? I didn’t become a missionary or anything.’ I felt the Holy Spirit reply, ‘You really wanted to do it, and how much more will I look after you with the things you need?’

‘[God] makes his sun rise on evil and good, and sends rain on the just and unjust,’ says Matthew 5:45. I’ve been through a lot in my life, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is to trust God. He will fight your battles. I’ve said to God, ‘I’m your child and you said you would look after me.’ He is my father, my husband, my provider and my protector.

I never expected to raise four boys by myself, and life is still not easy. With teenagers, and two on the autism spectrum, I can’t do it in my own strength and am continually giving it to God. My two oldest got to the stage where they wanted to go and live with their dad, and I had to let them go and give them to God. But they came back, saying, ‘Okay Mum, we’re happy with you.’ Today, we all have a great relationship—my oldest son Cameron is 20, Jaydin is 19, Ben is 15 and Max is 13.

I’m not going to say I’m completely healed, because it’s not like that. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. But what I can say is that I’m here by the grace of God who poured out his life for mine. He has given me back the years that were stolen.

As told to Ingrid Barratt (War Cry 21 September 2013, p5-7)

Come On In!

Salvation Army drop-in centres are places where you’re always welcome. We asked drop-in centres around the country what they’ve been up to.

ASK Drop-In Centre - Albany Bays, Auckland

Since late 2011, Albany Bays Corps has run a drop-in centre called ASK. Clients, church members and people passing by are invited to socialise and share morning tea. Clients relax into the informal setting, as we seek to help them with food parcels and other concerns. Our team includes caseworkers, hosting staff, budgeters, a counsellor, drivers, food bank support staff, advocacy services and ESOL support. This holistic approach filters through other parts of the corps, with ASK clients going on to volunteer in activities like the Friday night kids’ club and our Family Stores. Many attend our Sunday service and become part of the wider corps family. Lives are being changed for the better—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually—and people are being won for the Lord!

Upper Hutt Drop-In Centre

A small story from a few weeks back is a good example of how we are helping our community: a volunteer from our Family Store brought in a lady who was moving out of her rented property and needed assistance with clearing her section. We got together a group of six guys—mainly from the youth group—to spend a few hours moving concrete garden slabs out, moving and stacking broken concrete pieces, dismantling a large desk and clearing a track in the bush on her section. Later that afternoon, another couple of guys from the Family Store finished the job, so it was a good team effort in helping someone in our community.

The Hope Centre, Wellington

Around 87 guests visit Wellington Community Ministries’ drop-in centre in Newtown each day, with many regulars. It’s a warm and welcoming place of safety and social interaction. Guests enjoy games, puzzles, newspapers and hot showers, as well as tea, coffee and juice from surplus fruit and vegies. Activities have included exercise and cooking classes, with karaoke sessions twice a week. Lunch is provided if food has been donated, and guests volunteer to say grace. Guests are invited to attend life group, Community Church at the centre, or their local corps. The transforming message of salvation is shared with those who are interested—and in the past year, 100 people invited Jesus into their lives.