FROM BRITISH ARMY TO CHURCH ARMY
Neil Obbard shares about his upbringing, time in the British Army, how he found faith, and how what he's been through helps him support people in Leeds...
When I was born, I was classed as a mistake by the world and my parents.
I was therefore put up for adoption. My adoptive parents were loving during my early years. But later on I became a bit of a rebellious teenager and so I was told that I was not a wanted child and that my adoptive parents did not have to have me. Small arguments seemed to escalate very quickly into personal insults, such as giving me my birth certificate and saying: “Well go and find her then! We aren’t your real mum and dad why should we care?” So, I just rebelled more.
I eventually joined the army – The Light Infantry – and into the heart of the action. It did not disappoint me. I did not disappoint the army. I was selected to train to be a sniper. I did all the relevant combat infantry courses. I was an expert at surveillance and even did the Close Observation Platoon (COP) which is now reserved for Special Forces. I was one of the top snipers in the British Army. On top of all that I was still active within the Regiment and their duties - I saw service in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, and Iraq.
The tours had really taken their toll. I had PTSD but did not really know what this was.
I drank more and more over the years – this was just so I could get to sleep. Images would flash up in my mind’s eye; piles of bodies with belongings (Bosnia) and being blown up and set on fire (Northern Ireland), just to name a couple. The fear and nightmares would consistently be there. As I couldn’t sleep, I would have few more beers, but then when I did sleep the nightmares came, so I would just sit up and wait.
I was quite ‘hard’; no one used to mess with me. I had briefed members of the Government about situations on the ground, and I had the power of life and death over people. Why would I need God? Tina my wife was always by my side praying for me – but what did I need God for, right?!
The church that Tina went to offered my family a free holiday.
I decided to go… after all it was free, I didn’t have to do any of the ‘religious stuff’, and the boys and Tina needed a holiday. We went, I hated it. What on earth could these Bible-bashing, flip-flop wearing, bearded, do-gooders ever teach me?! Look what I had done compared to some of these people! The way I looked down upon them was disgusting; my attitude was so bad.
One evening there was a thing called ‘reflection’. I found myself in the session and everyone was given a small stone. The reading was from Matthew 11:28, ‘Come you who are heavily laden and I will give you rest.’ We were invited to lay the stone – representing all your troubles and worries – at the foot of the cross. When I was ready I thought, ‘This is it God, if you are there, I need you now.’ I lifted the stone which felt so heavy and placed it at the foot of the cross. At this moment I felt God was saying, ‘I have got you now. I am carrying everything.’ I had the first night’s sleep that I’d had in years. I woke up a changed man.
Since then life has been so different! I now run the holiday, I saw my time out in the Army but at the same time I trained to be a Licensed Lay Reader, and I ran a Church whilst in Germany as there was no one else to do it. I had the opportunity to travel to different countries (with another organisation) and preach the Gospel in some of the world’s toughest prisons and places. This time only armed with the Word of God – this felt much safer!
What I've been through helps me support others.
I find that everything I have been through in life, from the early rejections, being told “you’re not good enough", alcohol dependency, living with death on a daily basis, the adrenaline experiences, living with imposed restrictions… just to name a few things have really helped me connect with people, especially during this time of lockdown where people have restricted freedoms. That is the life of a person who serves in the Armed Forces.
Where people can be dependent on drugs, I understand. Where the youth love the adrenaline – I understand. The rejection from family – I understand. The “you’re not good enough” narrative in your head – I understand. I connect because I have been through that and I know exactly how God can use that in order for that person to be able to turn their life around.
So, Leeds Centre of Mission…
I was just getting going after having established two small new worshipping communities within the two schools I’m working with. So, when lockdown begun, I just concentrated on what I could do! I increased my social media presence with Leeds Centre of Mission Facebook page and created a YouTube channel. The YouTube channel includes things such as my brief testimony, teachings for new Christians, fun ‘sniper challenges’, and some basic Christian teachings. I have also recorded some school assemblies for schools. I was only in Leeds approximately 3 months before lockdown begun, so I am excited to see how God develops the centre of mission in the months to come!
20 November 2020
Neil’s life journey in brief: from sniper in the British Army, to Lead Evangelist in Leeds Centre of Mission for the Church Army, fighting in the real war – the spiritual battle! Find out more about Leeds Centre of Mission.
Pete looked round his church one Sunday and realised he was one of only two men. So he founded Shed Men as a place to give a place for men to meet and talk, and a place to share God's love.
Hannah's ministry normally involves lots of tea and chats. The COVID-19 pandemic has stopped face-to-face meetings, but the need to talk remains. Hannah shares how she's keeping in touch with people who have poor or no internet.