Stepping out for the poor

Orphanage founder Bernie Scanlon personally identifies with the kids at his orphanage and this encourages him to do extraordinary acts of kindness

Bernie Scanlon
Bernie Scanlon says that in his failings and struggles he didn’t sense God rejecting him.

Earlier this year Bernie enthusiastically set out to walk 1,000kms from Rio in Brazil to Machu Pitchi in Peru to raise much needed funds for his organisation The Home of Hope and Dreams.

He knows the absence of love from a biological parent leads to hopelessness of the kind that led him to attempt suicide as a young man.

When Bernie was five his father abandoned his family and as affection and encouragement was not available from his mother he found a father figure in his football team coach.

This coach moved away when he was 12, Bernie recalls, and almost immediately "the reality of not having a Dad hit home, leaving me feeling lost, rebellious, angry, insecure and depressed".

Seven years later he tried to kill himself three different ways over 24 hours.

"I felt unable to cope with the sense of alienation, loneliness, purposelessness, depression and guilt," Bernie explains.

He ultimately decided he was not "meant to go" and went to Sydney to "find some answers to the meaning of life".

On the inner city streets, he was inspired by the songs of people with robes and shaven heads and later visited their temple.

He was so fascinated by the mysticism there he enthusiastically began an isolated lifestyle of devoted celibacy: rising at 4 am after six hours of sleep on a hard floor, cold showers, consuming only vegetables, reading selected scriptures, and persuading potential followers.

I endured years of wandering until God rescued me"Every waking moment", he says, "was given to be pure and free from sin committed in this life and previous ones."

But there was no assurance he was getting anywhere with the divine, or that his life was changing for the better.

After two years he returned to normal life and through a friend he heard about the good news of Jesus Christ, who claimed to be God in the flesh and sacrificed His life so that imperfect man can be right with God.

This made sense to Bernie, but he initially thought Jesus would make him sinless.

After surrendering his life to Jesus, Bernie recalls quickly realising "I still had a sinful human nature that was far from perfect. Yet in my failings and struggles I didn't sense God reject me.

"As I read the Bible I also realised I needed and wanted the fellowship of other Christians and joined a church where I found acceptance, love and a God who forgave sin."

He travelled in India, which he "loved despite bouts of malaria", before embarking on an Operation Mobilisation ship in England that ministered practical and spiritual help and the Christian message to people in developing countries.

After nine months on board he returned to Adelaide and joined an inner-city church that helped the poor and needy.

He then befriended and became engaged to his next-door neighbour Gail, whom he loved "like no-one else".

For Bernie the problem that he was yet to resolve, was how he could consistently live the Christian life.

Sadly, the collapse of the relationship led to another failed suicide attempt and years of wandering until God rescued him again.

Some of the orphans at The Home of Hope and Dreams orphanage.

"Again I knew I wasn't meant to go, but a part of me died inside.

"For eight years I just travelled, worked, got stoned every day and lived an immoral life."

He says he felt lost until God inaudibly spoke these words into his mind, "Choose life or death", a quote from Deuteronomy 30, verse 15.

"I knew I had to get my life right with the Lord, so I returned to Adelaide and the same church, and slowly my life became more consistent with the life of a believer in Jesus, but not without many failures."

Now Bernie is walking across South America to raise support for the previously hopeless kids at his orphanage.*As he battled loneliness, wet weather and lack of roadside footpaths, Bernie said, "If I am going to finish this for the kids, it will definitely be in the Lord's strength. It is a great time to commune with Him and know that He is with me.

"On day five I was exhausted and asked God if I had taken on too much this time. Suddenly my strength was renewed for another day!

"I thank God for His amazing grace and mercy."

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