Hope in tragedy
After a string of family tragedies, Shirli Congoo encountered God’s grace first-hand.
In November 2009, my nephew, who was in his early 20s, died of a heart attack. I used to care for him while he was growing up. He died in Sydney, so we had to take him back to Mt Isa, which cost the family a lot of money. Not many of the family work, so we had to tap into our superannuations and take out personal loans to cover the costs.
In April the following year, one of my uncles passed away. It was a similar situation, with a lot of travel involved for the family. Then, just two days after we returned from that funeral, my younger brother, who was 37, committed suicide. While I was organising his funeral, my young nephew, who was going to Salvos’ Ipswich indigenous church, rang to ask if Joel (a Salvo) could come and stay with us.
During this time, we spent about four days searching for an older brother who we hadn’t seen for a while because he moves around. When we did find him, he looked like he was on his deathbed, too. We took him to hospital, but they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. He couldn’t walk or talk.
The hospital staff could let only one of us in the room with him at a time, so I said to the rest of the family, ‘I’ll stay and you guys can go home’. My sister, who goes to church, gave me a small Bible and said, ‘Can you read Psalms to him while you’re in there?’
I pulled out the Bible, because if my sister asked me, I wasn’t going to lie to her and say I hadn’t read it to our brother. When I got to Psalm five, verses one to three, where it speaks about when you wake up in the morning you’ll hear God’s voice, my brother sat straight up in bed and said, ‘I can talk!’ It was amazing. I rang my sister and she said, ‘I knew that would work. I can sleep now.’
The doctors didn’t know if my brother would walk again. Joel (who was staying with us) prayed for him in hospital on the Friday, then they went back and prayed for him again on Sunday. My brother actually walked out of hospital on that Sunday and went to church for the morning session.
I said to Joel, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ and thanked him, but Joel said, ‘Don’t thank me, thank God.’ It was like a light went on. I wanted to get to know that God. I started attending The Salvation Army Townsville Riverway (church). I found it difficult at first because of the historical things that have happened to Aboriginal people, but I felt comfortable with the church leaders. I said to them, ‘Do I have to leave my culture at the door to mature in my faith?’ They said, ‘No, no, you don’t have to do that.’
They got me to go to a Christ in Culture conference with combined indigenous churches in Sydney and I’ve matured in my faith so much in a short period of time. I became a soldier (member of The Salvation Army) because God spoke to me and said ‘You’re going to become a soldier’, and I know I’ll be a soldier for the rest of my life.
God has done such a lot in my life. I’m a private person who doesn’t disclose much to other people about my problems, but I find the Bible has a lot of answers for me. I draw so much strength from God and the Bible.
Shirli, recently appointed as a Salvation Army indigenous engagement officer in Townsville, hopes that through her new role she will be able to ‘help create a just society by engaging in social issues and advocacy’.
Story republished courtesy of Warcry.