A Salvationist Showman
“Will you content yourselves with sitting in a chapel, week after week, while countless men and women, boys and girls, die and go in to eternity without ever hearing the good news of Jesus Christ?”
At the recent Candidates Seminar, Lt. Colonel Eddie Hobgood asked this question of his audience as he portrayed Joe the Turk, the Salvation Army’s legendary evangelist.
The rhetorical question tested his spectators and himself.
“Every time I say that line, it challenges me,” Hobgood said. I think, Eddie, are you doing everything you can to proclaim the Gospel?”
He also said to listeners, “You’re a Salvationist. And regardless of whether some of these folks here this weekend decide to become officers, you should be proclaiming the salvation story—every day.”
Hobgood has played Nashan Garabedian, better known as “Joe the Turk,” more than 200 times. When asked how he might tailor his portrayal to convince people to become officers, Hobgood offered a thought–provoking response.
“I’m not tailoring my portrayal,” he says. “The message is actually strong and powerful enough. There’s a strong challenge for all of us to stand and carry the message of the flag to this generation. I think the story works into this [candidates’ seminar] perfectly.”
Also at the seminar, Hobgood portrayed Samuel Logan Brengle, the Salvation Army’s iconic apostle of holiness.
“We’re called to live a life of holiness before the world. And I’m a strong believer that, if I’m living like Jesus, people are going to be drawn to that,” Hobgood says. “We desperately need examples of that kind of living and we need officers who live lives of holiness.”
Hobgood and Lt. Colonel Kathy Hobgood are the divisional leaders of the USA Southern Territory’s North and South Carolina Division. Hobgood said that, years ago as divisional youth secretary, he began portraying Joe the Turk. Subsequently, people asked him to reprise his performance at various events.
“I decided I didn’t want to just preach every year,” he recalls.
Initially, Hobgood developed a 10–minute monologue, but through further research, he developed a 45–minute presentation.
“I just fell in love with Joe the Turk,” he says. “For the past three years, I’ve performed extensively across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. I’ve even done it in Argentina—in Spanish.”
Hobgood said he chose to play “Joe the Turk” because he was the “most colorful” of Salvationist icons. A native of Turkey, Garabedian was Armenian and could easily have been insulted by being called “Joe the Turk.” But he “embraced” the name for the sake of saving souls, Hobgood said.
“[Garabedian] saw all this as an opportunity to tell the gospel story. He was an amazing evangelist,” Hobgood says. “He was all about telling anybody and everybody about Jesus.”
In high school, Hobgood was a theatrical performer. He said his Salvation Army division was “way ahead of its time” when in 1976 it produced the musical “Godspell.”
“I was chosen for the cast and it changed my life,” he says. “Ever since, I’ve had this theater bug.”
When Hobgood became an officer, he thought that his days on the stage were over. “But I’ve been given more opportunities than I would have ever imagined.” He has written musicals about Brengle and about Army founders William and Catherine Booth.
Hobgood said the early days of The Salvation Army were “theatrical,” and he is a strong believer in using the Gospel arts to reach a lost generation.
“There’s always power in preaching,” he says. “There’s always power in music. But I think there is equal power in theater. I believe God to be a God of props and stories. When you look at the Old Testament, it’s full of them. In the New Testament, Jesus taught in parables and used familiar objects. It’s theatrical.
“Theater is a wonderful medium that draws people in and speaks to some people who would otherwise stay outside the church rather than hear a sermon.”
by Robert Mitchell