Robbie (70) hasn’t had an easy life. From feelings of abandonment by his mother to the death of his two children, he’s often felt very alone. After 23 years in the British Army, Robbie returned to Scotland. He shares with us how God took him “out of a dustbin and into a palace.”
I don’t know who my father is, I’ve never met him. I spent the first part of my life in Hawick in the Scottish Borders, until my mother married a farmer. Our family moved around a lot after that, first around Scotland and later to England.
When I was eight, we moved to Nottingham. Then, one day, my mother walked out on us. I’m the eldest of eight children and, since my stepfather was out working all day, I was the one responsible for feeding, clothing and bathing them. I also did the housework. It was a really tough time in my life – and things were about to get worse.
My stepfather was diagnosed with a brain tumour, so he couldn’t work anymore. My brothers and sisters were taken into care. The brother closest in age to me and I continued to live with my stepfather. We started running out of money and survived mainly on bread and sugar.
Eventually we were put into a foster home and I was moved around from one foster home to another until I was 15. It was then that my mother decided she wanted to be part of my life again, so I moved in with her. We lived in a very rough part of Nottingham, and I was always getting into scrapes. Being involved in fights became a normal part of my life.
One day, I saw a poster which said: ‘Join the army and see the world’. I really wanted to travel so I decided to enrol. At that time, we were mainly involved in training the troops going to Northern Ireland as it was the start of The Troubles. I rose rapidly in the ranks, eventually becoming a sergeant.
It was while I was in the army that I met my future wife, Brenda. It was a whirlwind romance and by the time I was 21, we were married. Our daughter, Lorraine, was born soon after. We discovered that she had cystic fibrosis. She died when she was only two-and-a-half years old. We were absolutely devastated, you just don’t get over something like that. In 1980, we had a son, Brian. He was also diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and died just after his ninth birthday. I fell to pieces and lost the plot completely after his death, which resulted in the breakdown of my marriage. In 1995, I decided to return to Hawick.
About six years ago, I started going to Mary’s Teas, a weekly get-together which gives people feeling lonely a chance to socialise, enjoy a home-cooked meal, play games etc. It’s run by the Scottish Borders Centre of Mission and Refresh Community Church, which is the church I now go to.
I met Church Army Evangelist, Paul Smith, at Mary’s Teas. Paul is my mentor and my friend. He often drops by my house to see how I’m getting on, and if I need anything. I live on my own, and I often feel lonely.
The people I’ve met through church and Mary’s Teas are genuinely interested in me and willing to help any way they can.
I’m part of a men’s Bible study group Paul invited me to. It’s relaxed and informal. We read bits of the Bible together and chat about things. It’s really helped me to understand the scriptures and encouraged my faith.
In September 2016, I decided to take the plunge and give my life to God. I was baptised two months later. I felt like a brand new man.
Since becoming a Christian, I’ve tried to give back to my community. I’m well-known in the village because I’m a football coach, member of the British Legion and on the music festival committee.
Next, I’d like to help Paul with outreach to people with family problems, addictions and other issues. I’ve been through a lot myself and I would love to share with others how much Jesus has helped me.
I look at people differently now. I’ve learnt to be patient. I’m not as hot-headed as I used to be because I’ve found inner peace. The best way I can describe it is that God has taken me out of the dustbin and put me into a palace. Life’s not always going to be kind to you, but you’ve to get back on your feet and enjoy being alive.
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Peter is also involved with our Scottish Borders Centre of Mission - read his story here.
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