The Dave and Charis Burton Story
Before they met
“As a child, my grandparents were the spiritual leaders in the family, while my parents were ‘passive and reluctant followers’.
“When I was seven, my family relocated to Red Deer, Alberta. We moved 11 hours away from everything I knew and loved. When we moved away from my mother’s parents, it was as though we moved away from God as well.
“In time, the importance of God and belonging to a church family faded. I made a decision when I was 13 that God and I should part ways. I rationalized it by telling God that by associating myself with Him, I’d make Him look really bad. I told Him it’d be in His best interest if we pretended not to know each other.
“My teen years were difficult on everybody I loved. I broke my parents’ hearts over and over, to the point where I was sure they couldn’t possibly love me anymore.
“When I was 16 I found my ticket out. His name was Lorne, and he was the best thing I’d ever possessed. He quickly became my everything and I became utterly dependent in the worst sort of way.
“I had come to learn some things about my mate in the five years previous to marriage that should have made me run the other way. I’ll never forget that little voice nagging at me all day long, on the day of our wedding. It was there as I got my hair done and only increased in volume and insistence as we got closer to the ceremony. My ultimate defiance of that small, still voice was sealed when I said ‘I do’.
I insisted that he would get better after we married and that he was capable of becoming the man I needed him to be. He didn’t evolve. In fact I felt more and more alone and devalued as the marriage went on. My disillusionment gave way to anger and thoughts of revenge. I sought out opportunities to cheat on him, and cheat I did. I felt completely justified in what I was doing; after all, it paled in comparison to what he had done to me. I went through a short period where my guilt made it impossible to continue cheating. But I knew that I had to leave. By this time we had one son and another on the way.
Dave was a drug addict and a drinker when he met Charis. He was married, but separated, and had a string of one night stands stretching back over four years. He had two teenaged children whom he hadn’t seen in years.
After they met
“I was scared, miserable and three months pregnant when I met Dave,” says Charis. “We had talked a few times, but we didn’t really hit it off until we were at a friend’s wedding. My husband had decided to stay home. Dave and I hung out all night. Dave gave me all the gory details in his life story. He was very drunk, but his vulnerability and unabashed honesty awoke something in my spirit. It was a surprisingly easy decision to leave with him.
“Dave and I moved into a place together with my 15 month old son and my growing belly on June 20th,
2005, a date forever known in our house as ‘The first day of the rest of our lives’. We faced challenges at every turn, from my raging husband to keeping ‘us’ a secret. We had caused a scandal among my church friends; my closest, most trusted circle of friends dropped me and got months of good gossip from my lapse in judgment. So it was Dave and I against the world. We had to make a decision to love each other right away, and our mutual love and respect flourished despite all the adversity we faced.
“Dave intuited that there was something broken in me. He pressed and I stonewalled, but eventually he got me to talk about the hole in my heart. I had to explain my upbringing and the fact that I used to know God. This was an extremely difficult conversation to have, as I knew that Dave was a firm atheist. He listened to me with great concern as I explained how God had let so many bad things to happen to me. I had become bitter and angry with Him, so rebuilding a relationship was the last thing on my mind.
“But my atheist mate realized the void in my life was God‐shaped so he set about bringing me back to God. He set up lunch dates with pastors, he dragged me to church and he encouraged me to go back to the women’s group I had been attending. He even managed to sign us up for the Alpha course, securing weekly babysitting for our two young sons.
“During the year and a bit previous, God had begun to soften my heart. But an unexpected, wonderful side‐effect of Dave’s efforts to get me back to a God he didn’t even believe in, was that Dave’s heart began to soften as well. He figured he’d lead me back, get me comfortable and happy, then he’d step back. God obviously had different plans!
“Alpha was good at first. But I eventually started to hear that little voice again. The same still, small voice that had tried to get me to avoid disaster on my wedding day was back, nagging me about something. I became increasingly irritated as Alpha went on.
“It all came to a head on February 16th, 2006. It was a Friday night. Dave and I routinely talked about God and talked to God with each other, but this little ‘God‐talk’ took me by surprise. Dave told me he was ready to ask God into his life, to be forgiven and to be saved. Everything in me screamed “NOOOOO!!!”
“I was far too upset to talk to him, so I called my grandmother. She had ensured I had a Christian upbringing as a child, so I figured she was my best option. Through conversation with gramma, I was able to acknowledge what God had been trying to tell me for weeks. Dave and I were living together, enjoying a full marriage relationship, but we weren’t married to each other yet. We were both still married and were eagerly awaiting divorces so we could marry each other. I knew that, although our lives were getting better, we were ‘living in sin’.
“I got off the phone with my gramma, formulating a strategy as I went upstairs. Dave was glowing when I found him; he wanted to pray ‘the’ prayer with me. I had to think fast; so I told him if he did it, there’d be no more sex until we married. Much to my dismay, without skipping a beat, Dave said he’d give up anything to be saved. So we prayed. And we committed to abstaining.
“We were married in our back yard on September 17th, 2007. Doug MacDormand, our Alpha leader, performed the wedding ceremony in partnership with a JP. It was the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever been to! We had 20 or so of our closest friends in attendance, and our little guys played in the sandbox as we exchanged vows and revealed our unique wedding rings.
“Life is not easy. In fact, in many ways life has become more difficult since we handed it over to God. But oh, the blessings! He has provided and protected, convicted and comforted. God has seen us through losing two pregnancies, family crises and financial hardship. He has carried us through some dark valleys and has used us to minister to others in similar situations.
“Without the Alpha course, I do not know where we would be right now, as individuals, a couple or as a family. Because God gained access to our lives through this ministry, our children will grow up in a home that worships God.
The story continues…
Dave and Charis became a regular part of the Alpha team at CrossRoads Church in Red Deer, helping run course after course. Sheila McNamee, one of the other helpers, says, “Dave and Charis are such amazing people! It was thanks to Dave that I no longer judge ‘scary looking’ guys with tattoos and metal in their faces. Dave has such a heart for God that he just melts your heart by standing next to him. And when Charis prays, it is like poetry coming from their lips.”
In April 2010 Dave and Charis moved to Wabamun, a community 45 minutes west of Edmonton. They soon noticed a lot of tension and unrest in most of the homes on their street. There was abuse, issues with blended families. In one home the mom wanted to take the kids to church, but the dad flatly refused, and they would routinely come to blows over it.
“That summer we ran an Alpha course out of our home for all our neighbours,” says Charis. “We ran it to the best of our abilities, providing a meal once a week for 25‐30 people, providing child care (we took the kids on fun field trips so the adults could focus). It was busy and crazy and amazing… our house is pretty small, so space was a challenge.
“As we ate together once a week, and people started to share, a strong sense of community and belonging developed. A support network materialized, and we started calling on each other for help and encouragement.
“Two whole families accepted Christ, one couple chose to finally live right in the sight of God by getting married, and a pre‐teen accepted Christ. It strengthened the friendship bonds on our street. We’re all agreed that this street has been forever changed because of the work God did through the Alpha course.
Dave and Charis are currently involved in helping plant a church in their neighbourhood. “If you had told me a few years ago that my husband and I would be involved with anything Christian, I would have laughed,” says Charis. “God blows my mind! And I love that He’s using us to reach out to others in situations and life circumstances similar to what ours used to be.”
—Lord, I pray that I would be available to you in such a way. Thanks that you use broken people to bring hope to others.