Jo shares how making peace with her past, and with God, has enabled her to live authentically.
I was raised in a Christian family, but as a young adult chose to walk away from that family, and my heritage. From there I walked the downhill path into the world of the occult. For the first five years I just dabbled in it, but it ruled my life for the next five. That led to broken relationships and, as I was just about to have my third child, a broken household.
During this upheaval I felt that my children weren’t being raised properly and needed to go to Sunday school. I investigated several churches in the area and chose the Salvos because I knew they wouldn’t judge me.
My children, Michaela and Emma, started Sunday school just before Christmas. I felt accepted and part of the Salvos, so I went to a night service. The minister invited me to a Bible study just after my baby, James, was born in March.
My life was beginning to fall into place. I loved my Bible study, childcare was provided, and I felt accepted and at peace. The Gold Coast Salvos nurtured our family over the years, and the ‘saints’ there are like family to me.
Around this time, I really started turning towards God, although it was still definitely on my terms.
Then, in August 1990, I had an experience that changed my life forever. It was cold, we were all inside, and the kids wanted me to read to them. I grabbed the big children’s Bible and opened it to an account of the death and resurrection of Jesus. As I was reading, I became overwhelmed with what I read, and was just hit with Jesus telling me that I didn’t have to suffer, he had already suffered for me.
It was like my life flashed before my eyes. I saw the blood of Jesus covering all that was bad and ugly, and it was, in the true sense of the word, awesome. It was as if Jesus had appeared to us in that room.
My life changed instantly. I wanted the Holy Spirit to fill me. I didn’t want to smoke or drink any more — my life had been decluttered and all my junk taken to the tip!
For several years I volunteered with the Salvos and was happy doing that. I then felt a burning within me to become a Salvation Army officer (minister). I applied, was accepted, completed my training and was ordained at the end of 2003.
To me, being a minister of God is about being real, genuine, honest and approachable. I minister in the grey, not in what is black and white, and I minister to broken people. To do that I have had to learn to be myself, to be authentic and real.
The process of living authentically has not been an easy one and it often gets me into trouble! I can live with my authentic self and God knows me for who I am, but so many of us, including me, have been so busy trying to hide our authentic self from each other that it’s hard to be real. Now, I just fit the mould that God made for me.
I hope to be the best chaplain The Salvation Army has. I was asked what that would look like, and I could happily answer, “Me”!
To reach this goal, I have completed a Master of Arts degree, specialising in chaplaincy and pastoral care, through the Sydney College of Divinity, as well as other certificates and training.
To continue my journey, I had to make peace with my past and all that has happened, to make peace with my God, and with myself. I strongly believe that God has enabled me to do just that. This has allowed me to help others to find peace with their past, with God, and with themselves.
I want to be perfect — perfectly me — and God in his graciousness is with me every step of the way. He reminds me of this in Joshua chapter one, verse 9: “Be strong and courageous. Never be afraid or discouraged because I am your God … and I will remain with you wherever you go” (The Voice Bible translation).
My journey continues.
Jo is a Salvation Army chaplain working in courts and prisons in Queensland.