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The power of a heartfelt hug

24 October 2021

The power of a heartfelt hug

 Albert Shaw - the man who hugged Andy "back to life".

Words Dean Simpson

I was surprised that I hadn’t heard the story before. It was told at my grandfather’s funeral 20 years ago during the eulogy ... and it still makes me quite emotional today.

My grandfather was one of those good ol’ fashioned Salvationists (member of the Salvos), in the mould of the Salvation Army pioneers who epitomised the traditional ‘heart to God, hand to man’ style of mission synonymous with Co-Founder William Booth’s fledgling movement.

He loved The Salvation Army and all that it stood for – the uniform, the band, the songsters (choir), the traditions ­– but he also thrived on the Salvos’ public image of ‘Christianity with sleeves rolled up’.

His gift was ministering to the down and out. He would often catch the train from his home in Wollongong to Central Station in Sydney and spend the day in the surrounding parks and streets chatting with the homeless, the drunks, and many more poor, desperate souls of our community. He’d buy them a sandwich or a pie, perhaps link them with a Salvos service, but always share a prayer with them.

But one story stands out in my mind, the one I heard at his funeral, and I still treasure it today when I think of my grandfather.

It starts with a fellow called Andy. Andy was a Scotsman, recruited to come to Australia to play soccer in the NSW State League. Andy was apparently a top player, and quite popular in the soccer community. At some stage, however, he fell victim to the “demon drink”, as my grandfather called it, and was eventually admitted to the Salvos’ William Booth House, where he underwent the alcohol rehabilitation program.

Andy never found true freedom from alcohol, but he did ‘find God’ at William Booth House. After completing the program, he made his way south and linked with the Wollongong Salvos. It was here that my grandfather befriended Andy and “kept an eye on him”.

He knew Andy’s struggles, so he checked on Andy every week to ensure he was going okay, sometimes taking meals to his home. My grandfather had a warm heart for people with alcohol problems. While Andy made significant progress as a Christian, he was also prone to the odd ‘slip-up’ with alcohol.

Concern for Andy

One Sunday, my grandfather noticed Andy wasn’t at the morning church service. He was quite concerned, so he asked a fellow Salvo to accompany him to Andy’s house to check on him. They arrived and knocked on the front door, but there was no response. My grandfather sensed that Andy was inside and perhaps in trouble, so he persisted.

Seeing a neighbour, my grandfather and his friend expressed their concerns for Andy and said they would try the back door. It was open.

As they walked into the house, beer cans and bottles were strewn all over the floor. They called out to Andy. There was a muffled sound coming from a bedroom. They found Andy lying on the bed, amid a sea of more beer cans and bottles.

As they walked towards the bed, Andy began crying, saying that he was sorry that he had let everyone down. My grandfather pushed his way through the cans and bottles on the bed, took Andy in his arms and hugged him. He held onto Andy for some time. He then told Andy to keep trusting in God because God loved him and wanted to help him.

That hug made a difference because Andy was back at church the following Sunday. He said he now knew that someone had cared enough to seek him out during one of the lowest points in his life.

Not long later, Andy decided to go back into rehabilitation in Sydney. There was the occasional ‘slip-up’, but he maintained his faith in God. My grandfather continued to visit Andy in rehab, and Andy always got a hug from him, no matter his condition.

Over the remainder of his life, during all his ups and downs, Andy never forgot that initial hug. In fact, he was overheard many times referring to my grandfather, Albert Shaw, as the man who hugged him back to life.

Dean Simpson is part of the Communications team for The Salvation Army Australia.










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