A Father Keeps His Promise
Jamal Agnew–El grew up in the Muslim faith, but as a teen, he was never sure that he mattered to God. Many times, Jamal wondered why God had even bothered to place him on earth at all.
“Like many teens, I was questioning everything in life, searching but not knowing what I was searching for. My family situation did not leave me with anyone to guide me to the answers,” Jamal said.
Though it took decades, Jamal feels that he has found what he was searching for as a teen. This June, Cadet Jamal Agnew–El and his wife Cadet O’sha Agnew–El will graduate from the College for Officer Training as officers of The Salvation Army. Their children have grown up in the Army and with a knowledge of God’s presence that was absent from their father’s childhood.
“The Salvation Army was not just the plan that God had for me and my wife, but rather for our whole family. God gave my children head starts on a connection with Him that I never had.”
A young father
Before either of them had finished high school, Jamal and O’sha became parents. Jamal promised his son Tray a better life than he had.
“My parents were separated by the time I was seven years old,” says Jamal. “I remember the screaming, the fighting, and the drinking—it was just pure chaos. At that age, kids don’t understand adult problems. They blame themselves for what they see.”
When he was a teen, Jamal went to live with his father in Syracuse, N.Y. By Jamal’s own account, his father loved chasing women; Jamal has five brothers and five sisters from his father’s side, all of whom have different mothers.
“My father didn’t set an example of what a dad, or a man, should be. When I told him that I wanted to be responsible and support O’Sha and my child, he didn’t want to hear it. He simply didn’t care.”
But Jamal did care. Tray was born six months before Jamal finished high school, and Jamal worked two jobs to support his family, giving O’sha a chance to graduate and go to college as she had always planned to do.
“I never regretted having my son as young as we did, but I think if our choices would have kept my wife from her ambitions of becoming a lawyer, that would have made me feel remorseful.”
“The only thing more difficult than having kids at an early age is making it work with your high school sweetheart. We didn’t take the time to get to know each other as people and as a couple until years later.”
The family grew when they welcomed two more children, Trayliesha and Traymia. In 2003, nine years after first becoming parents, Jamal and O’sha married. The next big change for the family would come a year later when O’sha and her mother signed up to work the kettles at the Salvation Army’s Syracuse, N.Y., Corps.
Every morning before going out, Captain Dennis Young, then the corps officer in Syracuse, did devotionals with his kettle workers, and invited them and their families to come to the corps on Sunday.
“When I went to the corps for the first time, it felt different. At the time, I didn’t even own a Bible,” Jamal remembers. “I had been to Christian churches before, but I had never heard anyone speak about the Lord like Captain Young did. He broke down Scripture to the very basic core. It was like getting an instruction manual to help you read the instruction manual.”
Jamal accepted the Lord into his life. With the Army also came summer camps, dance troupes, and Star Search competitions for the Agnew–El children. Two years later, Jamal and O’sha became senior soldiers. Majors John and Anita Stewart offered to mentor and prepare the Agnew–Els when they decided to enroll as cadets in the College for Officer Training.
“We had already built a life, owned a home, and had attained college degrees and careers. We knew that God had given us so much. So how could we not thank Him by serving His Church?” asked Jamal.
A promise kept
As he prepares for the role of being a Salvation Army officer, Jamal Agnew–El says the hardest lesson to learn was to forgive his father and move on from the struggles of his teen years.
“Though I still haven’t made my peace with him, I now know that we all fall short in the eyes of God. In spite of that, God will always love us and have our best interests at heart, even if someone close to us may not.”
“It has given me a new understanding of His love. You can’t thank God in enough ways for what He’s done for you.”
Tray, now 23, will graduate college only weeks apart from the day his parents become Salvation Army officers. Jamal smiles, knowing that he kept his promise to give him and his sisters a better upbringing than their father had.
“No matter what we go through in our lives, we are allowed, by His grace, to move past it, and teach the younger generation to avoid our mistakes,” says Jamal.
“Remember to love yourself—mistakes, obstacles, and all! Because that’s the love that you will pass on to your children.”
by Hugo Bravo