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14 September 2021
Dropping everything to help someone in need
Words Dean Simpson
By the time the phone had rung out for the third time, I knew someone was desperately trying to get through.
I had been ignoring the incessant ringing coming from the Wollongong Salvos church office where I was a youth worker. It was a Sunday morning, and I was preparing to lead a children’s program. There was no admin staff about because the office was only open weekdays.
It was the early 1990s, so the main form of communication was the old cradle telephone with its piercing ring tone. It started ringing again, and this time I felt compelled to answer it, albeit reluctantly. On the other end was a woman. A distressed woman. It took me a while to settle her down so I could understand what she was saying.
Through intermittent sobs, she told me she was calling from Redcliffe in Queensland, 1000km away. She was a single mother of a teenage boy named Brad, who required daily medication for a health issue. Tension had been building in the household for some time, and three days ago they had argued fiercely. Brad had fled the house without any medication or belongings. She couldn’t even remember what her son was wearing at the time.
An hour ago, the mother had received a crackly call from a phone box. It was Brad: “Mum, I’m sorry, I want to come home. I jumped on a bus and now I think I’m in a place called Wollongong, sleeping on a beach. I’ve got no money, I’m hungry and I ...” The phone cut out.
The mother’s request to me was simple. “Can you please find my son? I need him to come home.”
I asked the mother if she had called the police. She had. But she said they were reluctant to engage in a full-scale search at this stage. She admitted she wasn’t a religious person, but she had prayed to God and “the Salvos popped into my head”.
“Please find him, please. I’m worried sick,” she sobbed. I did my best to reassure, told her to keep the police updated and took her number.
I sat there in the office in two minds about what to do. I had responsibilities at church that morning and it really wasn’t my job to answer the main office phone. And how on earth am I supposed to find a missing teenager in a city of 250,000 people. Why me?
It was then that I looked up and saw a poster on the wall. It was a Bible verse from 2 Corinthians chapter 5, verse 14: “For Christ’s love compels us.” As a person of faith, I knew Jesus loved that woman, he loved Brad, and I knew they needed to be reunited. And I knew Christ’s love was compelling me to find Brad.
But how? Wollongong is a coastal city that stretches for about 60km along the eastern seaboard and contains about 30 beaches!
I quickly offloaded my Sunday morning responsibilities, grabbed a reliable youth leader, told him the story, and we prayed. “Lord, lead us to Brad, wherever he is.”
Using our detective brains, we roughly calculated where Brad may have got off an interstate bus, and then roughly calculated where he could have wandered. After a fruitless search of several beaches, we sat down and prayed again. This time, we both had the feeling that the colour red was somehow involved.
With renewed enthusiasm, we hit the next beach. After a few minutes we spotted someone sitting in the dunes with a red cap. As we got closer, we could see it was a teenage boy and he was crying. “Brad? Brad is that you?” I said hopefully. He looked up in surprise and said, “How do you know me … how did you find me?” He then saw my Salvos uniform and said, “Oh … mum.”
Brad was quite distraught, dishevelled, and disoriented. I took him home and my wife cooked him a hearty lunch. He showered and we found some clean clothes for him. I arranged for a doctor to check him over and sort out his required medication. And I called him mum.
The next day we put Brad back on a bus and he made it back home. His overjoyed mother called me and gushed with gratefulness. During the short conversation she said something I’ll never forget: “Everything felt hopeless but calling the Salvos gave me hope.”
And that’s what Salvos do best, giving hope where it’s needed most … because Christ’s love compels us.
Dean Simpson is part of the Communications team for The Salvation Army Australia.