Christmas chaplaincy shining the light of God’s goodness
At the age of 27, in remand in Parramatta (NSW) prison, facing the possibility of 18 months in prison, Grant Kingston-Kerr prayed what he describes as his “first honest prayer”. Four hours later, in what he sees as an astonishing answer, Grant was released into Salvos residential rehabilitation. There, his life began to change. Today Grant is a Salvos officer, and heads the Salvos chaplaincy team in Queensland. He talks about the importance of chaplaincy care at Christmas time and beyond. He says:
It was a chaplain who provided the answer to a desperate prayer I prayed — one that helped turn my life around.
My dad was a navy man, so he was away a lot in my early years. Unfortunately, as a child, I didn’t feel connected to him and felt he’d rejected me. Mum and Dad split up when I was seven years old. I went to live with Mum and my sister, and Dad moved to Queensland. I didn’t see him much after that.
Around the age of 12, I started to spiral out of emotional control. I became a real handful, and so Mum kicked me out at 14. I started couch surfing and living on the streets.
Eventually, at 16, I started injecting amphetamines. I went back to live with Mum after I turned 18 [but] I hadn’t dealt with the alcohol and drug issues, which led to more crime and three short stints in prison.
Miracle of opportunities
While I was waiting for sentencing again, at the age of 27, I started talking to a Salvos chaplain who came to the prison. I learned about The Salvation Army’s Bridge Program [alcohol and drug recovery] and, sometime later, while waiting in the cells to go to court to be sentenced, I prayed my first honest prayer.
I said, “God, if you get me out of here, I’ll do anything you want.”
There were so many ‘coincidences’, including the fact that the same chaplain I’d been talking to in prison was only filling in and was actually the court chaplain at the court I was in.
He said, “Grant, there’s something about you, I’m gonna go and talk to someone across the road (which was the Salvos territorial headquarters at the time). So he got permission to call the Bridge Program — William Booth House — which was just around the corner. There was actually a bed available and he came back and said, “I’m going to represent you in court today.”
About 20 minutes later, I’m up there in front of the magistrate with the Salvos Major and he’s saying to the magistrate, “We believe in this young man. We think he’s the right candidate for our Bridge Program and we’d like to take him today. We’ll help him turn his life around.”
So, four hours after I prayed that prayer, I was laying down in my room at William Booth House looking up at the ceiling, thinking, “How did I get here?”
Hearing a holy call
Twelve months later, I was back before a judge — and didn’t have to go to jail. He said, “Okay, you can stay on probation for another 12 months, because you’ve done so well.”
One night, I heard a voice call my name. It was God’s way of saying he knew me and was there for me. I gave my heart to Jesus and asked him to be my Saviour and Lord of my life. There were no [other] bells or whistles, but my motivation for recovery increased. That was 28 years ago and I never had another illicit drug, or drink, again.
After some study, I started volunteering with the Salvos and got a job with them as a drug and alcohol case worker and I eventually became a Salvation Army officer (minister).
Christmas is about the good news of Jesus’ birth bringing us hope and purpose, and we invite you to discover what that means for your life.
Being accepted by God helped me accept myself and stop chasing unhealthy acceptance from others. I have a beautiful family and we have faced many challenges, but I’ve learned to grow from the challenges over the years.
I am so privileged to now be supporting a team of chaplains in Queensland. The main role of the chaplain is pastoral care — and to listen. It’s absolutely vital.
Particularly in prison, people have all their ‘walls’ up and feel they can’t let their guard down. But, when they meet with a chaplain, they don’t have to pretend. They can drop everything and be themselves. If that’s for five minutes, or 50 minutes, they get to breathe freely and it’s like taking in oxygen for a week.
Christmas care in tough times
For people in prison, or people feeling hurt or facing tough times, find Christmas can be the hardest time of year. It’s a time when Salvos services, churches and chaplains work really hard to support those who need it. Often, we are serving the hardest done by and the most hurting people.
Salvos Christmas care includes a small Christmas pack for all prisoners in Australia. One of the chaplains on our team recently sent me a note, a reminder about how important chaplaincy care is.
He wrote: “There has been so much talk and anticipation among the inmates of my prisons about these packs leading up to Christmas. To be honest I have been surprised at just how much they mean to the men. The thought of receiving these packs has brought the men so much hope and joy. I find it hard to believe that such a ‘small’ gift can have such a large impact…
I was a part of the team who distributed the packs at one of my prisons this week. The impact of the gift hit home when I observed one inmate receiving his pack. He was in tears. He was just overwhelmed. On another occasion an inmate asked me specifically to let the leaders know how much of an impact the Salvation Army Christmas packs has had on the lives of those behind bars…”
Because Christmas is a busy time, I sometimes have to fight to keep a focus on Jesus despite the busyness. It is a special time — a reminder that God has provided an opportunity for a new beginning, for all of us. That’s why I serve others in any capacity that I can — because I’ve been given so much by others and by God and I am just so thankful!
If you’re facing a tough time this Christmas and would like some support, contact your local Salvos and see how we can help.