Mark and the miracle of Christmas hope and faith

26 October 2022

Mark and the miracle of Christmas hope and faith

Mark-(left)-is-dedicated-to-supporting-others,-after-receiving-life-changing-care-and-support-himself
Mark-(left)-is-dedicated-to-supporting-others,-after-receiving-life-changing-care-and-support-himself

For many years, trapped in addiction and estranged from his family, Mark hated Christmas. Then, through the love and care of others he found hope and is now dedicated to sharing the gift of hope with others, at Christmas time and beyond.

Mark is the Community Garden Coordinator at Garden of Hope, at The Salvation Army’s Harry Hunter Recovery Centre in Western Australia. During one of four Christmas events held there last year, he looked up at the garden’s amphitheatre and was awe-struck. Lights were shining against the evening sky, and he could see 200 smiling faces. 

It was a special moment.

Years earlier, Mark literally had a dream about creating a community garden, with an amphitheatre, at the centre, that would serve people in addiction recovery and provide a space for community events, family connection and mentoring. 

Over several years, the dream of the garden became reality with long term support from a local builder.

Others also threw their support behind Mark and his vision.

Today, the space includes a giant table that seats 70 for regular communal meals, a ‘yarning circle’, a huge veggie garden, a barbecue, a pizza oven, a large shed and even a large chicken pen.

Mark firmly believes that his recovery from addiction, and the vision, provision and strength to create the garden, came from God. 

A long journey

Mark (right) pictured with his brother
Mark (right) pictured with his brother

Mark not only manages the garden, but also regularly sings, plays guitar and leads worship at events at the garden, as well as his local Salvos church. He is happily married to Salvation Army officer (minister) Nikki and is a mentor to many, as well as being mentored himself by men he deeply respects.

Just over 10 years ago, Mark’s life, struggling with addiction, was very different.

“I weighed 35 kilograms less than I normally do, like a walking skeleton. I was living on the streets, sleeping anywhere I could find shelter. I’d lost everything,” he explains. 

Born in Wellington, New Zealand, Mark’s parents were only 17 when they got married. They had Mark when they were 18 and went on to have another daughter and son. 

Mark says: “There was a tragedy in our family. My sister passed away (just before I turned five). It just tore the family apart.”

Mark’s parents divorced and, Mark says, “I’d spend six months with Mum, six months with Dad, back with Mum, back with Dad, and then living with an uncle for a bit. I just had that feeling of never belonging.

“I think I went to 15 different schools.” 

At 14, Mark left school and started hanging out some with older guys. Smoking pot and drinking with them – he felt like he finally fitted in. By 16, he was using heroin and amphetamines.
Reach out to find hope this Christmas

One day, while working in the mining industry, Mark had a serious head-on car accident at work. Trapped in his car, he smashed his leg and broke his ribs and kneecap. 

After the accident, his drug use accelerated. He says: “By the beginning of 2012 I’d blown the whole lot of [my compensation payment] and I was sleeping on the streets in Perth.

“All my family had wiped me, and I lost everything, all my belongings. I was taking food out of rubbish bins and ended up in jail. That was my rock bottom.

“I was probably the last person I thought would ever be picking up a Bible, or calling out to God,” Mark says, “[but] I just remember screaming out to God, laying in my bed [in prison, saying], ‘I don’t want to wake up. If you’re there, just take my life.'”

Today, Mark believes God did ‘take his life,’ but in an unexpected way. 

He attempted to end his life, and Mark was sent to see the prison chaplain, who linked him to the Prison Fellowship organisation. During that time, Mark was directed to undertake fulltime, residential recovery through The Salvation Army’s Harry Hunter Rehabilitation Centre.

“I’m a New Zealand citizen still. I didn’t qualify for Centrelink, so I had no way of paying for my rehab,” Mark says. “Through Prison Fellowship, I met this old guy, Les, and he offered to pay for my rehab. That act of kindness changed my life. I don’t even think I’d be [alive] today if it wasn’t for him doing that for me.” 

Learn more about The Salvation Army’s alcohol and drug support services like Harry Hunter
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Finding faith, hope and love

Mark says he found the residential recovery experience ‘amazing’. Through the classes, counselling, 12-step program and spiritual support, Mark’s sense of faith in God began to grow.

He says: ”Major Colin was the manager there and he had a really big impact on my [faith] journey. He said to just sit in the chapel and ask God what I needed to ask forgiveness for. I hadn’t cried in years, but I just had tears falling out of me. I think God was cleansing me of all the shame and the guilt.

“One night in the chapel … I’d felt God speak to me [for the first time]. He said, ‘You can’t do this anymore. You’ve got to be honest and real and I’m with you.’ My life changed that night.”  

Mark explains his faith grew ever stronger. He says: “A peace came over me. I was reading in the Bible about when Jesus was walking on water and his disciples were in the boat and there was a storm and huge waves. They were afraid and they were not getting anywhere.

“I remember reading it three or four times and thinking, ‘That’s me in the boat. I’m filled with fear and I’m not getting anywhere in life. Outside of that boat is a world I don’t understand. God’s calling me to step out [in faith] and trust him.'”

The road to hope

After completing the program, in his time of extended care through the service, Mark found a job, cleaning bathrooms at a new Salvos homelessness shelter. 

During that time, Mark met Nikki, who was running a youth program (and who was to become his wife). “Probably halfway through the year I asked Nikki on a date. I just loved her heart,” Mark says. ”She had amazing faith, just a beautiful woman … It took a bit of courage to ask her.” 

Christmas connection

Mark says he used to hate Christmas — when he was struggling with addiction and estranged from his family — but now he finds great meaning and hope in the season. 

He says: “The world changed forever the day Jesus came down to Earth, so I celebrate his birth. It is a time to reflect on all the stuff he has set me free from, and a time to connect with family. My relationships have been restored. 

“Nikki and her family are also really good at celebrating Christmas. It is a massive change in my life. Nikki goes all out with Christmas decorations. She loves it.” 

In the lead-up to Christmas 2022, the Garden of Hope will again be used for a range of events to celebrate Christmas and build local community connection. 

Mark says he wants others to know that there is always hope, no matter how dark life may seem. His life is now dedicated to helping people.

He says: “There were so many other people who cared and journeyed with me. I feel like I was loved into God’s kingdom. I wasn’t dragged. I wasn’t pulled. People just came alongside me and loved me at a time when I didn’t deserve it. It really had a massive impact on my life.”

Find out more about God’s gift of hope this Christmas

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