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From Stock Market to Prison
Some might have blamed God and turned away in anger. Instead, when a life of wealth and leisure faded, and the pain of loss gripped him, he chose the opposite.

On my necklace is a cross with a mustard seed in the centre. Mathew 17:20 says: "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'"

From Stock Market to Prison
Harold Park

This mustard seed is a reminder of my journey. It represents the first step of faith taken in surrendering my life to Christ.

After graduating from university with a bachelor of science degree, I worked in a winery in Vancouver. I soon became restless and, in November 1999, I decided to make stock market investing my full-time occupation. My priority at that time was to live a comfortable stress-free life and make lots of money. It was a bull market for high-tech stocks so it was possible for me to live very comfortably off my investments.

My life consisted of playing golf two or three times a week, frequent visits to the gym and sleeping in. But after eight months of this lifestyle, I thought to myself, "Is this it?"

The euphoria of living a life of leisure was quickly fading.

It was around this time that the stock market started to take a big dive, and seeing my vast portfolio shrink quickly was extremely depressing. During the dark days of the high-tech crash I didn't want to wake up in the morning. I knew without a doubt that I would just suffer another day of big losses. I was sinking into a depression that caused me pain like I had never known before. The Bible points out that "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Timothy 6:10).

During this time, the Salvation Army Southmount Citadel in Vancouver was my home church. Unfortunately, I was a "Sunday Christian." I sat in my pew for an hour-and-a-half each Sunday, yet never prayed or read the Bible outside of church. Due to the pressures from the stock market, however, I began to reflect on my purpose in life. That summer, my pastor, Major Glenn Patey, stated in a sermon: "If you are not moving forward in your faith you are actually moving backwards." My heart told me that my faith had been stagnant far too long.

It took faith for me to decide not to turn away from God, but instead have Him as the centre of my life. Romans 12:2 says: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will."

On October 22, 2000, I truly accepted Jesus as my Saviour and became a soldier in The Salvation Army. I was excited about fully trusting in God, yet frightened at not knowing where He would lead me. I found my new motto in Proverbs 3:5-6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."

I started to read Scripture regularly, pray to God for guidance and attend Bible studies. My faith started to develop as my relationship with God strengthened and I could feel a transformation in my life.

During this awakening of faith, my stock portfolio continued to spiral downward. In hindsight, during the year-and-a-half that I traded stocks full-time, I realized that God had given me a valuable experience. I was wealthy, but when I got what I thought I wanted, I realized that it really didn't satisfy. Through the financial losses I felt the pain and despair that many other people feel in their lives. It was God's way of preparing me for my future ministry. I learned first-hand that money does not fulfil the longings for security and significance. As my portfolio continued to shrink and my faith in Christ continued to grow, I realized that only He could provide me with everlasting security and significance. Jesus said: "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money" (Matthew 6:24).

… inside or outside of prison, we are all in the same boat …

After January 2001, materialistic pursuits no longer interested me. Instead, my focus shifted to volunteer work. I started helping at the Union Gospel Mission drop-in centre for street youth in downtown Vancouver. This gave me insight and empathy for people in distress and provided the opportunity to discuss spiritual and deep-rooted issues with the youth, yet I did not feel qualified for this ministry. After much prayer and counsel, I answered God's call and entered seminary to study counselling.

In September 2002, I was offered a position as a prison chaplain for The Salvation Army in Winnipeg. I work part-time at both provincial and federal institutions, Headingley Correctional Centre and Stony Mountain Institution. During chapel services and Bible studies, I often think how God has blessed me to share His love and hope with people often forgotten by society. Ministering to inmates and discussing with them their fears, struggles and outlook on life has been a privilege. Each inmate is a precious creation of God, with goodness and abilities which may be imprisoned under a mass of problems. In the eyes of a perfect God, inside or outside of prison, we are all in the same boat—"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

My journey as a Christian has been an exciting and challenging time, following God's lead. Looking back over the past 28 months with Christ as the centre of my life, I can honestly admit to some struggles with my faith, but through this I have been strengthened as the Lord has provided for me in so many ways. I can truly say that the greatest satisfaction in my life thus far is knowing that what I am doing is part of God's purpose for my life. My journey has been very rewarding, and no amount of money can buy the true joy and peace that only Jesus Christ can provide. There will be many obstacles ahead, but I am looking forward to what God has placed along my path. I am filled with hope because I know that He will equip and guide me on this journey.

Harold Park is the institutional outreach chaplain for The Salvation Army Correctional and Justice Services in Winnipeg.

Originally published in Faith and Friends, April 2003.




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