A young man wrote:
“I am thirsty for education but doors are much closed even after spending much time and money on the scholarship application process but to no avail.“
I thought the best way to respond was to share how the life God has given me has not been a straight line of education and then a career. I wanted him to know that the best life is filled with times of laughter, joy and struggle. After you read my response I ask that you would offer your advice to this hard-working young man, who is feeling so much in need of your prayers, encouragement and support. If anyone knows someone I can be connected with who would offer this dedicated man of God a bursary, scholarship or an opportunity to work and learn, please contact me at this email address: email@example.com He lives in Africa in poverty.
I feel a call to my heart to share with you not to give up. I will be going into prayer over your situation. I have my angiogram on April 10th to see if the problem with my chest pain requires surgery. You will remain on my spirit and mind. If you don’t hear from me for a while it is because I will be recovering from my procedure. In the mean time I feel based on what I know about your interest in helping people with their problems if God may be closing the doors to an education in business and opening ones to counseling, pastoral ministry, social work.or teaching. Be encouraged that God is going to use all of your experiences for His glory. He has not forgotten you.
Perhaps, as I share my life’s journey you will see that God often takes us on twisting pathways to carry out His Kingdom purposes.
At 19 I graduate from high school. I think the Lord wants me to train to be a journalist. I apply to the journalism program at Ryerson University in Toronto. I can”t go because I don’t receive enough funding. Then, I think that my grandmother is right and I should become a lawyer. I am skilled in debating and dispute resolution. I think as a family law lawyer I can make a difference in helping families through problems with issues such as abuse, since I was abused by my schizophrenic father as a child and into my young adult life. The Lord speaks to my heart that a career in family law is not His plan.
I apply to enter the Canadian Armed Forces. Although the recruiting lieutenant is impressed that my aptitude testing shows that I qualify to train for 32 of the 64 fields they had to offer, I am rejected because I do not meet the vision and weight requirement. I do remember that each of us received $5.11 for our lunch. I would be quite interested to know how they arrived at this exact figure.
Being in the Canadian Armed Forces would have allowed for me to have a university education free and receive a monthly salary. I become depressed. I cry out to God and ask why He is making the path so difficult to get an education and career. I am battling with this gnawing fatigue and have no reason why this is happening. All through my schooling and careers I will fight this unknown illness, which will at 38 be diagnosed as pernicious anemia, also known as B12 deficiency. In high school I will often stay up past 2:00 a.m. pounding facts, figures, concepts, dates in history into my mind.
At age 17 I have a flu that nearly takes my life. My fever goes to 105 degrees farenheit. I will be off school for over a month. I am thankful that my teachers have a special meeting about me. They unanimously agree that they will grade me for that term on my term work.without having to write any exams.
Some tests I do quite well on and others I barely pass. The reason for that in addition to my pernicious anemia is that it will be at age 52 be assessed by an occupational therapist as a poor auditory learner and a very strong visual learner.
In spite of these challenges I graduate from Northview Heights Secondary School In Toronto with an 80 percent average. I receive the award of Ontario Scholar. I have squeaked by getting this honour because it is for those with an 80 percent average or above.
It is clear that God is firmly for His time closing the door to a straight line of a four year university degree followed by graduate and post graduate schooling.
I am really sad about this. I keep praying for God to give me some clarity for His plan for me. I reflect on how one of the fields I qualified for with the Canadian Armed Forces is to become a chaplain. Perhaps, this is the direction I should go.
I realize I will need to get a job. I think if I work for the federal government I will be able to save enough for God’s direction to become a chaplain. Unfortunately, because of a problem with fine motor control of my fingers I am a slow typist,. I can’t type fast enough to qualify for a job with them..
An employment counsellor tells me about a government-funded program called the Winter Experience Program. For 12 weeks you get minimum wage to work for a provincial government department. I would get work experience and a pay cheque. What more could a fellow ask for?
I apply to 13 different government ministries including the Ministry of the Attorney General. My humanity says that perhaps God is wrong and I am right. I will be accepted for an entry position with the attorney general’s office and go to law school at night. That door is firmly closed. The application that comes through is to work for The Salvation Army under the branch department of the Ministry of Correctional Services.
“Come on, God. You’re kidding, right? You want me to work with criminals. No way! I need to do something else, anything Lord, but working with people who have broken the law. I’m a skinny fellow. They could hurt me!”
The Lord said to my heart He wanted me learning to become a Rehabilitation Counsellor in correctional work. I said in response to this calling I know I will hate, “Okay, Lord. Fine. Be that way. I’ll go for the interview at The Salvation Army Bunton Lodge.”
I prepare for the interview writing down all the possible questions the Director could ask me. I read a book entitled “What Colour is your Parachute?”, which has a chapter on interview preparation.
I am interviewed by Jim Stoops, who is the Director of Bunton Lodge, on a Friday in November 1982. The first question I am asked is not any of these: !) What are five adjectives you would use to describe yourself, 2) Tell me about yourself, 3)What are your greatest strengths?, 4)What is your greatest weakness, 5)What skills do you have that would match what we are looking for in this position we are offering?
I am prepared to answer all of these questions. The first one I am asked is: “Do you like maple tarts?” I stutter and say, “Um, uh, yes.” I have some maple tarts. They taste so good. Then, I am asked, “What is your favourite hockey team?” I respond saying, “The Toronto Maple Leafs.” It turns out that Jim is a Maple Leafs fan. Hey, Jim. You aren’t asking any of the questions from the chapter I read. I wrote all the possible questions you could ask me and you’re not asking any of them. Oh, well. The tarts are delicious. I think to myself, Hmm…Ill ask him for more. I think two should probably be my limit. After all, I am having a job interview or perhaps I am asleep at home and this is just a dream. Oh, here comes another question. Maybe, this isn`t a dream after all.
He asks me if I have any experience working with offenders. This is my opportunity to say, “No, They scare me. I’m so sorry for taking up your valuable time, but this is not the right career for me.” Instead, without thinking I would say this I say to Jim, “No, I don’t have any experience, but I’m willing to learn.”
Jim says, “Great! You start on Monday.”
As I am leaving I am wondering who got hold of my tongue.
I am only supposed to be there for three months. Jim gets it extended to five. Then, he comes to me and asks me if I would be interested in working full-time. I respond with an enthusiastic, “Yes, Jim! I accept your offer.”
God has used these five months to help me see that those who have broken the law are human-beings who need to be cared about, who need to be shown that their mistakes don’t have to destroy their life.
I find that by playing pool with them that they begin to open up to me. Never thinking this will happen I learn to be a fairly decent pool player. The residents who are those serving time in a community residential centre are patient with me as pool balls first fly off the table when I use the pool cue. People learn to keep a respectful distance of several feet. The message gets out loud and clear that I`m dangerous with a pool cue. We laugh together as I learn to play pool. I surprise myself when I startle the residents how I can make some difficult shots. I never win any of the games, but I do learn to make a few really good shots.
A three month winter experience program turns into a three year full-time job.
While I am living with my parents I am able to save money to take a year of courses at then Ontario Bible College, now Tyndale University in Toronto. I also take a complete Honours Bible Diploma Course through The Salvation Army Territorial Education Department.. In addition, I take courses from them in Christian Journalism and Introduction to Psychology. ”
I feel that God is having me take all of this training for a reason, There is a growing call to become an officer, which is a minister in The Salvation Army.
In high school I end up of all things playing a member of The Salvation Army mission band and chorus for the play Guys & Dolls.”
You would think that my parents would be focusing on my performance that has taken several months of rehearsals to perfect. No! The number one thing on their minds is: “Whatever you do, don’t drop the bench you are carrying for Major Sarah Brown to preach from!” And to answer your next question, I didn’t drop the bench, but it sure came close because for a prop it is way too heavy.
There is this strong poke in my spirit that God is leading me into the ministry, but why?
For 19 years God is close to my heart, but I have not yet made a commitment to know Him. While working at Bunton Lodge one day I feel led to ask Major Jessie Mayo how I can find out more about The Salvation Army. She is a retired officer working there part-time as the bookkeeper. She says to me with enthusiasm, “Kevin, the best way to find out more about The Salvation Army is to attend one of their meetings.” This is The Salvation Army term for a service.
During one of the services then Captain Maxwell Feener asks the congregation this question referring to Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a colt. “Are you riding the horse in victory or walking alongside in defeat? I feel that the Lord is speaking directly to me. I need to stop sitting on the fence about my commitment to God. A force not of my own propels me to the mercy-seat, which is also known as the penitent form or altar. A counselor is there with me as I make my commitment to have Christ in my heart and life.
Through my tears I tell the counselor about the many years of abuse I receive from my schizophrenic father, the many names he would call me, how he says I am stupid, lazy, clumsy and will never amount to anything. My brother will be smarter than I will ever be. I tell him about times too numerous to count when he would beat me up. Ìt would take me over 20 years years before I would begin the journey to forgiving my father, to start seeing the illness and not judge him for how much he hurt me.
The counselor prays with me. He tells me that God has an amazing plan for my life. For me to have gone through so much pain, so much heartache, God would do something wonderful with it. He would use all of my experiences for His glory.
I feel a deeper sense of purpose more than ever before. I finally get on board more with God’s plan than my own.
After writing book reviews for my church, The Salvation Army North York Temple and taking a soldiership course, which is a membership course, I am asked by Captain Feener to prayerfully consider helping out in an outreach ministry in the Jane/Finch area of Toronto. Prayer and talking with senior members of my church confirms the rightness in my spirit that Christ, my Commander-in-Chief, is going to use these experiences to further prepare me to enter the ministry.
I learn that general labour can be part of ministry work. I start helping out the pastors in the area, David & Evelyn Sears, by setting up chairs for open-air, which are outdoor services. God teaches me through listening to David & Evelyn, how to construct a brief message. I see by observing what thoughts shared really connect with the listeners.
David will spend 10 to 15 hours each week for three years mentoring me in all aspects of ministry work..I am so blessed to have him take me under his wing. David has just graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky with a Master of Divinity degree.David pours in much of what he has learned into me. It is like going to seminary with a personal tutor. I learn how to visit people while they are in the hospital, how to construct a sermon and deliver it, the importance as a counselor of listening more than I speak.
David teaches me how to form an argument on a given position with him taking one side and me taking the other. He hones my ability in developing my points that can state my stand on an issue and why I am taking that position. This ability will be used when I will later be called into social advocacy work that I have been much more involved in now for the last 15 years.
We start out the Jane/Finch outreach ministry in a school gymnasium. I learn how to make do with what you have and be thankful for it. Our first collection plate is a Salvation Army hat. The podium is a music stand. From the gym we move into a building where we will have much more room for ministry work.
David has me develop and co-ordinate a junior church program. I end up training teenagers and adults in how to be Sunday School teachers.
I apply to train to become a Salvation Army officer in 1984. My application is deferred for another year. It is felt that I need more ministry training and life experience. When I become an accepted candidate in 1985 I take several months of lessons from The Salvation Army Territorial Candidate’s Department in Salvation Army history, doctrine and learn more about sermon preparation and delivery by actually doing it and how to develop an interactive Bible study. Each lesson has a Scripture passage to examine and do questions on.
I do well on my Candidate’s lessons. I am accepted to the two year ministry and leadership program at The Salvation Army William & Catherine Booth Memorial College for Officers Training in Toronto. If you think that’s a mouthful saying all of that, you would be right. The short form we would use is that we are in Salvation Army Training College.
During the two years I am there I am sent on pastoral assignment to Thompson, Manitoba and Timmins, Ontario.
Sadly, my training is terminated. It is stated that I am not the well-rounded well-developed person they are looking for. God in His time will begin a long healing journey over this rejection.
I fall into a dark depression. I will sit in a chair for hours doing nothing. I watch hours upon hours of mindless TV to dull the inner gnawing feeling of failure. I feel I have failed my Lord and my church. I go to my parent’s place where they are building superintendents in Etobicoke. Helping my step-father throw out garbage helps with my depression. In my anger I throw pieces of broken glass with such force that they shatter.
In 2001 I am diagnosed with pernicious anemia after over a year and a half of testing by Dr. P.T. Williams, an Irish doctor with the dogged persistence of Sherlock Holmes to dig for the truth. I had been slowly starving to death from inability to absorb vitamin B12 from my food..
One night while I am on a bridge near my parent’s home I think how easy it will be to end my misery by committing suicide. No longer would I have to look into my parent’s and other people’s eyes and see their sadness that my ministry training with The Salvation Army had been ended. As I am crying and can’t stop a couple comes along saying, “You look so sad. What is bothering you? How can we help?”
I tell them, “I’ll be okay. Thanks for asking.” I stop crying, pretending to be the brave soldier,
I look around for that couple. They are nowhere to be found. They couldn’t have walked off of the bridge that quickly. Did God send His angels to help me not take my life? Perhaps, He did.
Through the next 28 years God will take me on a divergent pathway into the ministry by having me work as a federal rehabilitation counselllor with The Salvation Army under the auspices of the Ministry of Correctional Services, missionary teaching English as a Second Language in South Korea, journalism intern and assistant to the Dean of Communications at Canada Christian College & Graduate School, in Toronto, Assistant ESL Coordinator at Canada Christian College, and security administrator as well as being a parking enforcement officer.
It will take me 13 years to get my Bachelor of Theology degree in 1997. God will use all of my education and training to allow me to have 96 credits towards my four year Bachelor of Theology degree from Canada Christian College.
Here I am at 52 working on my M.A.-Ph.D. program in Clinical Christian Counselling. through St. James the Elder Theological Seminary. I am also hoping that I will continue with the journey I started towards my Master of Divinity degree with Trinity College in the University of Toronto in 2005..
For the comfort of God’s people St. James the Elder Theological Seminary has awarded me the honours of Doctor of Divinity, Doctor of Science in Clinical Christian Counselling and Diplomate Honours in Creative Ministry
God has moved me on from The Salvation Army for His Kingdom reasons. I still thank God for the lessons I learned in practical ministry there. I thank my Lord for the loving, caring, kind and committed people I met there, who have a passion to serve Christ with their whole heart,mind, body and soul.
Where will God lead next? That, my friend, will be a continued journey of faith. I pray that everything I do will be for His honour and glory.
Remember also that God uses our hurtful experiences to shape us into the people He wants us to be. I am healing from my termination of my ministry training with The Salvation Army. After over four years of counselling I am learning that God teaches us through our painful experiences, especially when we have been rejected or experienced being fired from a job. We either become bitter or better. I have become a much more caring, patient and understanding person because of the people who hurt me. Whether they realize it or not I thank them now for making me a better person.
Karen wants me to tell you that she thought God wanted her to be a computer programmer. She took over a three year course in it at Devry Institute of Technology in Toronto, which is now Devry University. She thought she would get a job in computer programming. She instead got a job as a trainer in computer data systems at Sears. Through a series of occupations Karen is discovering at age 57 that she is being called to be a psychotherapist through St. James the Elder Theological Seminary and also be a Master of Divinity student at Trinity College in the University of Toronto.
I pray hat the sharing of my life testimony will encourage you that God doesn’t send everyone on a straight line of university, graduate or post graduate school and then to a career. For many it is a divergent calling with many detours and winding pathways. Most of us will have as many as six careers or more. Please always remember though that all you are experiencing from poverty, terrorism, attacks on your faith and rejection will be used for God’s glory because as a song says better than I ever could, “He makes all things beautiful in His time.”
The peace and abiding comfort of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Kevin Osborne, B.Th. with honours, D.D., D.Sc., Diplomate in Creative Ministry, is training to be a Christian psychotherapist through St. James the Elder Theological Seminary. He will be a Master of Divinity student at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. He will soon be opening a Christian counselling practice called You Can Hope Again with his wife, Karen, who is an M. Div. student at Trinity College. He is a member of The Word Guild, a Christian writer’s group in Canada. We are available to go where God sends us to do His will preaching, doing motivational speaking, teaching, singing, giving marriage enrichment seminars or however needed. You can reach me at my email address firstname.lastname@example.org