He sat at our table at the Alpha Course looking dishevelled and malnourished. Another night sleeping under the bushes on the mountainside trying to shelter from the gusting wind and warding off the spiders showed in his tired eyes and the stubbly chin resting on cracked hands. He looked around the group trying to sound confident. The subject of the talk was “Who is Jesus?” and he knew about that. He had even been to Bible College for a year. How long ago! How his life had changed since then ....
Peter was a successful manager in a transport company. With his children now adults and away from home, he lived, with his wife, in a comfortable middle class house content with his little luxuries.
Although business was challenging in 2008, he was unprepared for the call to the director’s office; the uncompromising shake of the head; the promise of a good severance package; the regrets spoken, but not apparent in the attitude. He walked out of the door with a swirling sense of unreality. The future was a yawning chasm that he was tumbling into. How long would the retrenchment package last? Two months? Then what? How, at his age, could he find another job in these times?
At first he and Lorna pulled together, but as the hardships came, the arguments started. Worry, accusation and insecurity coiled around each one isolating them till there was nothing but bitterness left and they parted.
Peter had been seeking solace at the Horse and Trailer; not that he drank much, but he escaped into a place where there was life and a crowd.
Also Shirley was there; beautiful, bright, quirky, fun-loving Shirley. He spent much time with her and after the divorce, with nowhere to stay, she invited him home. Living together he was drawn into a hopeless, uncontrollable obsession. Though everyone, including her own family warned him to beware, he was bewitched. Shirley, abused as a child, had a bipolar disorder and was addicted to alcohol and cocaine. Peter’s life became an exquisite nightmare of high excitement and rapture and then abuse; of moments of tenderness and vulnerability colliding with despair and pain. She spent all his money on drugs and alcohol and ruined his possessions with mad frenzies of destruction. On one occasion he arrived home to find all his designer shirts in a flaming pile in the bath. Many times he had tried to break away, yet always the longing for her drew him back to his siren.
Now he had walked out yet again and, with nowhere to stay, had taken to the mountainside. Nearby a shelter for the homeless provided a midday meal. While partaking he heard about churches combining to hold an Alpha Course there. He pleaded to be allowed to come, though he was not resident.
Making acquaintance on that first night, I spoke of how I had come to Cape Town without work and the Lord had provided.
“How old were you?” Peter interrupted.
“Sixty two.” I replied.
“That’s encouraging. I am only in my fifties. Perhaps if I trust the Lord I might get back on my feet.”
So began a journey of discovery. With each week of the Alpha Course he found himself in the presence of people who loved him, encouraging every positive decision, he made. On the Day Away he learned of the power of the Holy Spirit, sought His infilling and was empowered to break away from Shirley altogether, recommitting his life to serving God and walking in His ways.
It is over eighteen months since that Holy Spirit encounter. Peter has a part-time job that pays for a bed in a shelter. He is clean shaven, healthy and confident, with his Irish sense of humour back. Although a far cry from where he wants to be, he continues to trust God to restore him. Shirley sends an SMS from time to time but he resists the urge to respond. He and other Christians in the shelter have started a fellowship, encouraging others just as he received encouragement. The road is hard, but he is free. Praise is on his lips and hope is in his heart. We meet regularly and he is a true friend.
“Praise be to the ... God of all comfort (and encouragement), who comforts (and encourages) us in our troubles so that we can comfort (and encourage) others in trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.” 2Cor 1:3,4 (Amplified)
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