Gerri Healey emerges from a tub of water at Harrison Gospel Church last June

Gerri Healey emerges from a tub of water at Harrison Gospel Church last June

A miracle in the making

Forty years of hard drug use washed away in emotional baptism

Gerri Healey has a lifetime of sins behind her, and it’s come time to wash them away.

She sits beside her pastor, Brian Cool, at the Harrison Gospel Chapel on an early Friday morning. In two days, she will be baptized here. She’s nervous about what’s to come, and looking for guidance.

She looks to the young cleric seated beside her, asking him questions of a higher nature – questions of God, and of rebirth. Healey wasn’t raised in a church-going family, so even at the age of 52, the idea of redemption is new to her.

“I know I’ve done wrong in my life and I want it to go away,” she explains, then turning to Cool to ask: “Is that okay?”

Of course it is, he assures her. Baptism, he tells her, is a symbolic gesture of a Christian’s love for Jesus – “an outward sign of an inward reality.”

What shows on Healey’s outside isn’t the typical churchgoer image, but one of a hard drug user, a vagabond. On the outside, Healey is a street-hardened woman who has watched good friends die. Her skin is mottled leather and her body is bound by its erratic twitching. Drug use has left her with the effects of a stroke, a diabetic and epileptic.

Her voice is thick like three-day-old coffee, with the scratch of loose gravel rolling over concrete. She knows that when strangers see her, that’s all they see. And when she takes her walks around the Harrison Lake lagoon, thinking about the last 40 years of her life, she knows why some people pass her by, not returning her sunny smiles and “good mornings!”

And she understands.

“Maybe it’s not a good morning for them,” she jokes.

Healey has been drug-free for more than two years. She’s been alcohol free. She hasn’t touched so much as a cigarette. Devil’s playthings are a thing of the past, she says. She’s moved on, and now she wants the world to know why. More than anything, she wants her story shared with the world.

“I’ve wasted so much of my life,” she says. Tears start to form as she delves into her story, tracing back from her hard beginnings to this new road to redemption. She doesn’t candy coat a thing. And when she gets to the difficult parts, she lovingly pets Squeak, a small mutt of a dog she adopted from the streets of Chilliwack – years ago, when she was still homeless and spending her days in search of crack. And through the stories, the tears and the laughter, Squeak watches the room warily, constantly keeping guard from the comfort of Healey’s lap.



Healey’s eyes are bright today, twinkling and alive. It’s something that Cool points out to her time and again. He calls her “a miracle” more than once or twice.

“People don’t come back from that type of hard drug use,” Cool says, as he smiles at her. Healey started drinking and using as a young teenager, at the same time she was learning to play guitar and sing. There were happy times at one point, but by the time she was 13, Healey left her home to get away from her stepdad and a family rife with alcoholism.

“He hated me and I hated him,” she said. Her bad habits grew stronger over the following 40 years, and eventually her life became a constant search for the next hit.

“One hit’s too many and a thousand ain’t enough,” she says.

There wasn’t much she wouldn’t do to score. And the one time she was convinced to visit a recovery house, she sat outside the building with an eight ball of cocaine getting high. And then she left.

Even a stroke, brought on by drug use, didn’t stop her.

“I had just had a stroke, and they took me back to my home, and they gave me crack,” she said of her former friends. “I went out of my mind. I didn’t pay the rent.”

She watched as women went missing, and others died.

“Those were the hardest days, watching people I knew get beaten or trunked,” she said, “and nobody doing anything to stop it.”

On one of her darkest days, Healey walked into a Chilliwack pawn shop with her father’s four war medals. She walked out with $20. Enough to buy two hits of crack, at best, she says. A 10-minute high.

“That’s something I’ve had a hard time in my heart about,” she said. “That was something special to me, and special to my poor dad.”

Healey has no family left now. Many of her close friends have also died. During one binge, coming down from one high and looking for the next, tragedy struck once again. Healey’s best friend overdosed, but she was too high to notice at first. She was too intent on heading out the door to find more crack, or maybe a bit of heroin.

She tried to wake up her dead friend, and got no response. While she’d seen others die, this time was different. This time, she sobered up.

Seeing her best friend dead brought Healey to her knees. That was the moment, she says, when God came into her life. It was her last high, and she’s never looked back. But the guilt still eats away at her, for introducing that friend to crack.

“I still walk around the lagoon, thinking ‘I shouldn’t have done that,’” she says.

But more than guilt, she is feeling freedom these days. And that freedom comes from something beyond what anyone can see. When Healey found God that fateful day in a small Fraser Valley apartment, it also brought her to husband and wife, Robert and Sam McGregor.

“They are very good church people,” she says. “They showed me the way.”

Life changed immediately for Healey. With the McGregor’s help, she had a bed to sleep in and a roof over her head.

“The first time I went to church, I cried and cried and cried,” she said.

She started attending Harrison Gospel Chapel regularly. With time, she began to think about becoming baptized. And she began to believe in redemption.



Sunday morning has come, and Healey is sitting in a pew in the Harrison Gospel Church, just a few blocks from her favourite walking place at the lagoon; just a few steps from the home she shares with Squeak. The home that now announces No Smoking at the entrance.

“My old friends say I’m so damned boring now,” she says of her new rules, her new life.

The church is packed for the service and everyone is excited for what’s about to transpire. While adult baptisms aren’t uncommon, it’s not every day there is such a story of inspiration.

Her new friends smile and hold her hand. They hug her, and welcome her with open arms. As the pastor talks about Healey’s choice to be baptised, she smiles back at him from her seat. It’s an ear to ear grin. She gives her testimony to the congregation, and the McGregors lead the church in a prayer.

While Healey had wanted to get baptised in Harrison Lake, she also didn’t want to get sick from the exposure to the cold waters. So on this day, the baptismal tub at the front of the church is filled with water. When the time comes, everyone gathers around for a closer look.

The McGregors hop in the water with Healey, holding her hand to comfort her. A prayer is said, while Healey shivers in the tub.

“In the name of Jesus Christ,” Robert McGregor says, “I baptize you a child of God.”

And in the blink of an eye, Healey is underwater, submerged just long enough to cover her head.

She emerges with a whoop, and a rock and roll verse:  “I feel good! And I knew that I would! Hallelujah!”

There are tears of joy, more smiles, more love. And just minutes later, Healey is walking up the road toward her home, wrapped in a towel, her wet clothing, and a smile.



Over the last year, Healey has heard in the news of others dying from the effects of street life. Overdoses, suspicious deaths.

But she is still clean and sober. She still walks around town with her friend Squeak, smiling and greeting strangers and friends along the way. And she is still glowing from the new relationship she’s formed with a higher power.

And while some may ignore her greetings, thinking she looks like trouble on the outside, others see Gerri Healey and know that even when it seems all hope is lost, miracles can happen.


Just Posted

(Adam Louis/Observer)
PHOTOS: Students leap into action in track events at Kent Elementary

At Kent Elementary, when the sun’s outside, the fun’s outside. The intermediate… Continue reading

Kindergarten kids from Evans elementary school in Chilliwack painted rocks with orange hearts and delivered them to Sto:lo Elders Lodge recently after learning about residential schools. (Laura Bridge photo)
Kindergarten class paints rocks with orange hearts in Chilliwack for local elders

‘Compassion and empathy’ being shown by kids learning about residential schools

Chilliwack potter Cathy Terepocki (left) and Indigenous enhancement teachers Val Tosoff (striped top) and Christine Seymour (fuchsia coat), along with students at Vedder middle school, look at some of the 500-plus pinch pots on Thursday, June 10 made by the kids to honour the 215 children found at Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack students make hundreds of tiny clay pots in honour of 215 Indigenous children

‘I think the healing process has begun,’ says teacher about Vedder middle school project

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Webinar looks at sexual abuse prevention among adolescents

Vancouver/Fraser Valley CoSA hosts free online session on June 15

One person was transported to hospital with minor injuries following a two-vehicle crash on Hot Springs Road June 10. (Adam Louis/Observer)
One hurt following two-vehicle crash on Hot Springs Road

Agassiz Fire Department, B.C. Ambulance Service attended with RCMP

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Most Read