AS a youngster, Stephen Naylor drifted into a life of crime after problems at home.
But after turning his life around, he is now celebrating 30 years’ service as a Salvation Army officer.
Major Naylor, leader of The Salvation Army at Sunderland Millfield Corps, says his childhood was filled with much emotional pain and brushes with the law.
But then his life was turned around by the church and charity where he has worked for three decades.
As well as meeting his wife through the Salvation Army, then becoming a father-of-two and a grandfather-of-three, Major Naylor was able to turn to his beliefs to help him overcome his past. “I’ve found it very difficult to come to terms with it and come to the point where you can try to forgive,“ he said.
“That is the hardest part, but it comes to the point where if you don’t forgive, then you don’t move on.
“If you want to move on then you have to do that.
“It’s down to having the grace to forgive. If you don’t, you are going to be dragged down.
“My faith has been a tremendous help in helping me come to terms with all sorts of things.”
And he has words of advice for young people facing a similar situation.
“If they feel they are being abused or need help, they should seek help. They are not the guilty ones.
“If I had that time again, I would find someone I could confidentially share things with.
“While my childhood has been filled with painful memories I believe my experiences have helped me on my journey to becoming a Salvation Army officer.”
Problems began at home after he went through the horror of discovering his father dead.
It was never explained what had happened to him and his mum, who died in 1981, re-married.
Aged 15 and living in Romford, Essex, he was arrested for breaking into a property and found himself remanded in custody for a week at a Juvenile Remand Centre.
He said: “The remand centre was very difficult. I knew I had done wrong but there were boys in there who had done far greater things than I had done.” But when his case came to court his life took an unexpected turn after he was sent to a probation centre run by The Salvation Army in South Wales.
He was initially sent for a year but ended up remaining at the home for another two years.
However, it was during one of the compulsory visits to the Sunday services at the local Salvation Army Corps in the grounds of the probation centre in 1974 that Major Naylor believes he was saved.
He said: “There are those that are brought up in the Christian family and it is just expected of them, but for me it was like Saul on the road to Damascus. The Lord just broke into my life.”
He entered the William Booth College in London for officer training in 1979, where he met wife Hilary.
What then followed was a 30-year career as a Salvation Army officer that has included posts across the country, including spending three years working with alcoholics in London prior to entering the training college.
Now aged 56, he looks back on one of the highlights of his career as being part of a 12-man team taking equipment and supplies to needy people in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
Back in Sunderland, he helps meet the needs of the growing number of people struggling financially.
“We are helping folk who are finding it hard to make ends meet, which has increased with the current economic situation,” he said.
“We have seen an influx of folk asking for help.
“There are many challenges during a typical week because when you deal with people they bring with them all their complexities and needs which are both spiritual and practical.
“However, I enjoy the challenge of leading my congregation in worship and making sure that my ministry is vibrant and relevant for all age groups.”