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The power of a heartfelt hug

The power of a heartfelt hug

The power of a heartfelt hug

31 October 2021

Albert Shaw epitomised the ‘heart to God, hand to man’ style of Salvationism.

By 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, 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, the traditions – but he also thrived on the Army’s public image of ‘Christianity with its 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 John. John* was a Scotsman, recruited to come to Australia to play soccer in the NSW State League. He 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 William Booth House, where he underwent the alcohol rehabilitation program.

John 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 Corps. It was here that my grandfather befriended John and “kept an eye on him”.

He knew John’s struggles, so he checked on John 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 John made significant progress as a Christian, he was also prone to the odd ‘slip-up’ with alcohol.

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

Seeing a neighbour, my grandfather and his friend expressed their concerns for John 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 John. There was a muffled sound coming from a bedroom. They found John lying on his bed, amid a sea of more beer cans and bottles.

“How are we ever going to clean up this mess!” my grandfather’s friend thought. My grandfather, however, ignored the mess, and as he walked towards the bed, John 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 John in his arms and hugged him. He held on to John for some time. He then told John to keep trusting in God because God loved him and wanted to help him.

That hug made a difference because John 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, John 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 John in rehab, and John always got a hug from him, no matter his condition. Over the remainder of his life, during all his ups and downs, John 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.

* Name has been changed

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

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