Major Mark Unruh
Major Mark Unruh, administrator for business at the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Scranton, Pa., talks about surrendering to God, how welding became part of his ministry, and what he says to beneficiaries when they arrive at the ARC.
One day while welding some metal in the ARC, some beneficiaries said they were interested in learning how to weld too. Using my experience as a welder, I made a syllabus, lesson plan, and held classes for them. When you’re an addict living on the streets, your self–worth feels non–existent, but keeping yourself active and creating something helps you overcome those feelings. One of the men who took my class was recruited by a local gas company to continue his education so they could hire him to weld gas pipes. This young man suffered through years of addiction; but now he has his own home, a car, and a career path. It all started in my ARC welding shop.
I enjoyed being part of the men’s fellowship at the Harrisburg ARC. They had activities and events with the Harrisburg Corps Home League, where I met my wife, Major Mary Unruh. She was a 3rd generation Salvationist with her own call to serve. At first, I only wanted to talk about the path to becoming an officer, but God placed us in each other’s lives. Today, we’re partners in ministry. I’m 13 years older than she is, but they say that when people start using drugs, they stop growing emotionally. I joke that, if it’s true, then we’re about the same age!
At 13 years old, I began a 20–year drug and alcohol addiction. I was a “rounder,” someone who goes in and out of rehab programs. In the winter of 1993 I took my last drink, went to detox, and to the Salvation Army’s ARC in Harrisburg, Pa. For the first time, I was going to rehab and not drinking or getting high on the way. I felt that God could never forgive me for my years of sin, but to make this rehab attempt work, I had to surrender to Him. I went to my room, got on my knees, and said to God, “Now I’m ready.” I finally surrendered.
When addicts come to the ARC I remind them that people in their lives will not accept their change overnight; it will take time, possibly years, to make amends to people they have hurt. I know this because, even though I was 10 years clean and a Salvation Army officer in uniform, my mother still followed me into the bathroom to make sure I left the medicine cabinet as it was.
I was on my way to Camp Ladore when my sister called to tell me that our father, who was suffering from renal failure, was about to die. I was able to get to Philadelphia in time to be at his side. Praying with my father in his last moments was a blessing from God. My mother, who passed away more recently, lived in Philadelphia while I was serving in Portland, Maine. But every time I preached a sermon, I recorded and posted it to YouTube so she could watch me. Today, I still upload my sermons. My parents always had faith in me and prayed for my well–being. I’m happy to say that they both lived long enough to see their prayers answered.
interview by Hugo Bravo