The Salvation Army URL has changed to salvationarmy.org.auFind out more
4 September 2020
Mark Stanley attends Gawler Salvos with his daughter, Patricia.
Words Bill Simpson
As we sat at the back of the church hall after a pre-COVID-19 Sunday morning service, Mark told me he had a string of convictions for illegal activity. He was now 56. “But I am not a bad man,” he said. “Please don’t think that I am a bad man.”
There were tears, even at this early stage of our conversation. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but it’s been tough.” The word ‘tough’ turned out to be an understatement.
Mark Stanley was born and raised in a brothel environment. His mother was a brothel madam. Brothel life is what he knew growing up. He didn’t know his father. He didn’t know real love. Nobody had ever told him that he was loved.
He moved easily into a life of crime. He was married and divorced. He and a girlfriend had a baby girl 11 years ago. The day his daughter was born, his girlfriend asked him to help her do something illegal. He pleaded with God to protect his little girl. He recalls hearing a voice that he believed to be God saying that his daughter would need a lot of protection.
He did his best, he says, but due to wrong and difficult decisions, he lost custody of his daughter several times. Four years ago, there was a series of unpleasant events, he says, that convinced him the world was against him. He decided to end his life. “I didn’t want to live any longer,” he says. At the last minute, he remembered he had an appointment with The Salvation Army. He set aside his suicide attempt and went to the appointment, just in case there was something better.
It was at Gawler, 50km north-west of Adel-aide. Gawler Salvos officer (pastor) Major Darren Cox walked into the room. “Darren said that he had been waiting for me. He just hugged me,” Mark told me. Mark needed time to compose himself before our conversation could continue.
“Darren understood. He knew what I had been through. He told me that I was a good man. Nobody had told me that before. I am a good man, and I just needed a chance to show it.” With Darren’s help, Mark was given the chance. He was rescued, not only by Darren, but by the entire Gawler Salvos congregation.
Mark joined Gawler Salvos and they embraced him. He attends regularly with his daughter Patricia, who is also now part of the youth group. Mark has full-time custody of Patricia. “I didn’t know what love was until I met Darren and his family,” says Mark. “I had a horrible life. Horrible things happened to me for most of my life – until I met Darren and the people at this church. I might have tears right now, but I am the happiest I have ever been.”
I also met Cameron Brewis at the back of the church that day. Cameron is 32. He’s been going to Gawler Salvos for over a year. Cameron grew up in a church family. At 21, he walked away from church and into a life of drugs and alcohol, and, like Mark, marriage and separation. Cameron has two daughters, one who lives with him and another of whom he has 50 per cent custody.
Cameron Brewis with his daughter, Aubree.
Twelve months ago, Cameron ran into Darren, who was doing his Friday night outreach at a local pub. They talked and they kept talking every Friday night at the pub after that, Cameron often giving Darren an earful about what he thought of church and Christians. Darren listened. Sometimes it wasn’t pleasant.
Cameron gradually saw Darren as authentic, because he listened. “He was the real deal,” Cameron says. “He invited me to his church. When I had to appear in court for some criminal activity, Darren came with me. I hated church and everything to do with it, but Darren changed my whole idea about church. I gave his church a go.”
Now, Cameron plays guitar in the Sunday morning worship band. Cameron’s daughters – Aubree, 3, and Grace, 7 – attend church with their dad every Sunday.
Cameron has also recently started a youth group at Gawler Salvos and is now a Salvos employee.
Gawler Salvos embrace single fathers as they escape ‘horrible’ pasts