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26 April 2021
Craig is back in Sydney, serving in the same places that changed his life 20 years ago.
Words Naomi Singlehurst and Lauren Martin
Just a few weeks ago on Good Friday, the Salvos’ Captain Craig Harlum joined believers around the world to remember the sacrifice Jesus made to bring us life to the full in relationship with God. Craig also celebrated his own life – Good Friday 2021 marking 20 years of being “clean and sober”.
It was on Good Friday 2001 that Craig finally realised he had a serious addiction problem. He spent the day calling rehabilitation centres, but each one he tried to contact was closed. When he reached the last on the list – The Salvation Army William Booth House* – he got through, and that one phone call put Craig on a challenging journey that eventually led to becoming a Salvation Army officer (pastor).
Although he doesn’t use it as an excuse, Craig believes his struggles with self-image and addiction started after years of violent bullying when he returned to Australia after being at school in the United States for three years.
At 16, Craig finally found acceptance with a group of older guys who smoked marijuana. He later became addicted to gambling, marijuana and heroin. By his late 20s, his weight had plummeted to less than 40 kilograms.
His voice still chokes as he talks of his time at William Booth House: “I was so ashamed and guilty about who I had become, but they just loved me anyway,” he says.
Determined to find the source of that love, Craig says he slowly came to recognise it was Jesus.
In his third week in (addiction) recovery, Craig was given a copy of the Bible’s New Testament, and read it all. He was later invited to “Alpha” – an evangelistic course that introduces the basics of the Christian faith through a series of talks and discussions. It was there that Craig accepted Jesus as his saviour.
Craig graduated from recovery and in 2004 became a Salvation Army soldier (member) at Sydney Congress Hall. The moment he saw himself in uniform, a powerful memory hit him.
“I remembered when I had only been three weeks at William Booth House, seeing these people in Salvation Army uniforms,” he says. “And I remember clearly in my heart hearing the words, ‘You are going to be doing that one day.’
“And I had no idea at the time what that meant. I didn’t know anything about The Salvation Army.”
Now, as a captain in the Salvos, Craig is back in Sydney serving in the same places that changed his life 20 years ago. As Inner-City Network Chaplain in Sydney, he provides spiritual support for Salvos employees, volunteers and community members who access Salvos services in the city.
And every Wednesday night, he is part of a team of city Salvos who meet at Sydney Congress Hall for a city-wide service called ‘Wednesday Nights with City Salvos’. He says it is heart-warming to journey alongside people with similar issues to the ones he was facing two decades ago.
“These are my people,” he says. “I became a [Salvos] soldier here, 20 years ago. This has been a very special space for me.”
On Good Friday, the 20th anniversary of his new life, Craig says he wasn’t celebrating himself, but “celebrated Jesus!”
*William Booth House, located in the heart of Sydney, offers both withdrawal management support (detox) and residential treatment options in a therapeutic community environment.