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Testimony of the Month

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My name is Zach Harris. When I came to the Rescue Mission last year, I was only 21 years old, but had already beaten cancer three times. However, my fight with cancer, which began when I was diagnosed with childhood leukemia at age four, had left me listless. I needed something to change on the inside, and I found the change I needed at the Rescue Mission.


Healing my Heart


While I didn't know it when I walked into the Rescue Mission, after about a month and a half, I realized that I hated God. At the very least, my true feelings toward God were distrust, anger and frustration. I came to realize that deep down, I blamed God for my cancer. Why did I get childhood leukemia when I was four and spend the next three years of my life undergoing chemotherapy and radiation at Primary Children's Hospital? Why, when I was almost eight, did I wake up from a nap ghost-white and discover that the cancer had come back? Why, after being in remission for several years, did I walk out of Taylorsville High School with a crippling headache, only to find out that a cancerous tumor was growing in my brain?


In my heart, I answered these questions like this: "Because God hates me. He did this to me." I didn't realize that I felt this way until I came to the Rescue Mission. While I was skeptical of religion, I had always believed in God or a "higher power." In my darkest days of going through cancer treatment, hearing about my prognoses and feeling like I was going to die, I would cry out to God. I begged Him to reach down and save me.


And while God has always answered my cries (even my brain tumor responded to chemo and radiation treatment), I still blamed Him. I felt like He was punishing me for something or that He had forgotten me.


It was only after I had been at the Rescue Mission for over a month that I realized what I needed to do to change. I was sitting in the nightly chapel service at the Mission. I started praying quietly to myself. I told God that I couldn't hold on to my burden anymore. I realized that it was a burden to hate God. That hate, carried around inside of you, especially when the one you hate is God, can cripple a person.


It sounds strange or even blasphemous to say this, but in that moment I forgave God. I told Him that I didn't want to hate Him anymore. I asked Him to help me forgive and let go. In that moment, I felt reconciled to God. And then I just thanked Him. I thanked Him for Jesus and making forgiveness possible. I thanked Him for my family who was there for me when I was stuck in Primary Children's Hospital getting chemotherapy. I thanked Him that I was alive.


I thanked Him for my father, who had become a Christian a few years ago, after he and my mother divorced. It was really because of my dad that I came to the Rescue Mission. I had seen such a change in his life since he became a Christian. He was like a different person. My father had become so kind that I wanted to be like him; I wanted what he had.


On that night at the Rescue Mission chapel, I began to have a real relationship with God that led to my life change. I came to the Rescue Mission without much of the drug addiction and alcoholism that many deal with. Instead, I just lacked hope and direction.


Cancer and Laziness


After I graduated high school (which I was proud to do, despite my continuous childhood treatment), I bounced around from my dad's house, to my mom's house, to my aunt and uncle's house, to couch surfing at friends' houses. Everywhere I went, I was kicked out for not paying rent or not doing what I had committed to do. My dad, for example, told me that I could stay with him rent-free as long as I went to college. So I enrolled at Salt Lake Community College, but after a few weeks I quit going to class and dropped out. When my dad found out, he told me that I had to find another place to live.


Similar situations kept happening, and eventually there was no one left who would put up with my freeloading. I felt bad about burning bridges, especially since my family had always been there for me. When I stayed at Primary Children's for treatment, my aunts, uncles and other family members would spend the night with me when my parents needed a break. They even arranged for special teachers to come do schoolwork with me at the hospital or in my house when I was getting treatment as a child. My family had always supported me and I blew it. I could make excuses about how chemo and radiation had caused me to have a bad memory and made me unable to concentrate at times, but really it just seemed like I was being lazy.


So after losing everyone's trust and hospitality, my dad and step-mom suggested I try the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake. Maybe, they said, the New Life Program could help me. And after that night in the chapel when my heart changed, I can truly say they were right.


When I first arrived at the Mission, I thought I was better than all the "homeless people." I wasn't a drug addict or alcoholic, so I looked down on those who were. But after getting to know people, I found that they were just like me. They had the same thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears that I did, only they struggled with sobriety.


I came to appreciate all the people I met, including my community discipler, Kevin Hanly. He helped me reconnect with my mom. Kevin encouraged me to reach out to my mom on Facebook and then start communicating with her. Now I visit her and her fiancée regularly, usually once a week. It's awesome to have a good relationship with my mom again.


In December, it was time for me to move to the employment stage of the New Life Program and start looking for work. Employment, in all honesty, has been one of my biggest struggles in life. My poor work ethic was the biggest reason my parents would not let me live with them anymore. My typical pattern was to be lazy in looking for work and then, only when people were putting a lot of pressure on me, would I actually get a job. The jobs I got were just fast food or convenience store clerk positions, and I never lasted very long at one place.


Breaking Free from my Pattern


So when I first started looking for work in the New Life Program, I fell back into a pattern of procrastinating and working at temporary jobs. Finally, Greg Sheffield, the Mission's job placement coordinator, implored me to go up to Primary Children's Hospital, talk to the human resources director and share my story.


At Greg's encouragement, I did just that. I took the light rail up to the hospital and sat down with one of the HR representatives. I told her the story of how Primary Children's had helped me beat cancer three times. I told her how the nurses took care of me and how they made me laugh, even when I was at my lowest points. I told her how much the hospital had meant to me and how I probably wouldn't be alive without it.


Then I shared how I had become homeless and how I was living at the Rescue Mission. I shared how my life, in many ways because of cancer, had gotten off track. I told her that I needed a job and that I wanted to work for Primary Children's Hospital since it was a place that I knew and loved.


I have heard that it can be a long process to get hired by Intermountain Healthcare, the company that owns Primary Children's Hospital. However, I got a call from the HR person that night. She said she wanted me to come in the next day for an interview. I had one interview and was hired as a custodian. I was so happy. It was just one more way the hospital had stepped in to save me.


Today, I feel like I have a future and hope. My job at Primary Children's Hospital has great benefits, including tuition reimbursement. My plan is to use this tuition assistance to get into a nursing program and, hopefully, move into a nursing position at the hospital one day. I remember how much the nurses at the hospital meant to me when I was there. I feel, because of my experience, I could be a great nurse and help others who are struggling with things like cancer and have to stay in the hospital.


I can't believe how my attitude and outlook have changed because of the Rescue Mission. Without the Mission's support, I would not have the future I have now. My goal is to get my own apartment when I move out of the Mission this month. Please pray for me as I transition out of the Mission. I have always struggled with managing my finances and paying bills. Usually, I just spend and waste money without any financial discipline. But I think that, with God's help and the budget the Rescue Mission is teaching me to put together, I can make it. I know I can also rely on great support from my home church, K2 the Church, where I attend with my father and step-mom. So thank you for supporting the Rescue Mission and creating a place where people like me can get back on their feet. God bless you!

To learn more about what is happening at the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake in May, check out our monthly newsletter, The Rescuer:

pdfMay 2015 Rescuer

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