She’s Been There
“For me personally, I’ve been there,” Holly says. “My family is the product of Salvation Amy services. We were often homeless.
“I can understand how that makes a child feel because I was a child in that same setting when I was growing up. I know the potential of what can take place in the lives of the clients that we serve because I was there at one time.”
Holly is the personification of 2 Corinthians 1:4, which says “[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Today, when Holly preaches on Sunday mornings at the Cincinnati Citadel Corps, her congregation is made up mostly of “street people” looking for a good meal after her sermon.
Holly’s background is invaluable in coordinating a Salvation Army shelter for families. A victim of sexual abuse as a child, Holly is also involved with an anti–human trafficking effort run by the Army. (See ‘New Identity’ for Trafficking Victims.)
Finding a home
When people come in looking for help with food, clothing, or a place to stay, Holly is patient and kind as she makes phone calls for clients and tries to help them solve their myriad problems.
“I’m overwhelmed that God would allow me to have a part in His plan for their lives,” Holly says during a rare quiet moment. “When I think about that, I’m just in awe of His ability to see the whole picture.
“When I’m able to help these families, I know that I’m fulfilling God’s calling on my life. I also have the assurance that I’m fulfilling a part of His plan for them. It’s a real blessing to see that.”
That calling for Holly began in Red Bank, N.J. She was only 7 when her parents divorced and her mother was left to raise Holly and her five older sisters alone.
“I saw my mother struggle trying to make ends meet,” she says. “Very often I had to rely on my older sisters to help me. They raised me for the most part. We were always moving from place to place. We were pretty much transient because we didn’t have our own home.”
The family lived with neighbors and relatives, and her mother often sought the help of The Salvation Army. Holly also went to the Army’s Red Bank Corps for church and other programs.
“We just got more and more involved at the corps and I stayed. They [couldn’t] get rid of me,” Holly recalls with a laugh.
“I believe that God used The Salvation Army to really save my life,” she says. “I don’t know where I’d be today if it weren’t for The Salvation Army entering into my life.”
Holly was 9 and attending Vacation Bible School when she invited Jesus to enter her heart at the invitation of a corps officer (pastor).
“I remember just sitting in my seat and bowing my head and repeating the ‘sinner’s prayer’ with him,” she says.
Holly became a junior soldier (member) and was active in corps music programs. She also attended the Army’s Camp Tecumseh in Pittstown, N.J. As a teen, she first heard God calling her to become an officer.
“I didn’t quite embrace it immediately,” she says. “It wasn’t really anything that I was personally interested in.”
Answering the call
Holly complained to God that she felt she had nothing special to offer and didn’t believe she was particularly talented or skilled.
“I felt that my background would be the very thing that hindered me, but then again I felt very passionately that I wanted to help people with the same type of background,” Holly says.
“I ignored it for a long time and I did not act on it until I was about 20 years old. I’ve always sensed that God had a purpose for me and for the challenges I experienced when I was younger, but I didn’t think that He was going to be able to use me … as a Salvation Army officer, so I kind of ran from that calling.”
Holly was later working at the Red Bank, N.J., Corps when she decided to stop running.
“Just seeing the clients coming in our doors, and having a heart that would just break over their situations, I knew that I had to do something,” she says. “To keep silent and not do anything and just to turn my head would not have been the right thing for me.”
Off the streets
Holly has been an officer for 17 years. In Cincinnati, she finds that 90 percent of the people in her congregation are just looking to survive from day to day.
“They’re hungry, not just for the meal we serve after, but they’re hungry for the Word of God,” Holly says.
One man recently told Holly he feels more loved and cared for at The Salvation Army than [at] any other place he seeks help.
“When they come into these doors, not only do they sense the presence of God, but they sense warmth and love here,” she says. “There’s no one here to judge them. There’s no one here to make them feel bad about their circumstances.
“I want this place to be known as a place where people are caring for those that others may not care about, the throwaways of our society.”
Holly says it’s not out of the ordinary for someone to suddenly stand and share a testimony or sing during the holiness meeting. “They … just feel free to be who they are,” she says.
After church, about 65 to 70 people show up for a catered meal. “Somebody said we have the best meals in town,” she says. “We’re proud of that.”
Holly finds this a great time to engage and share the love of God.
“Sitting around a table and getting to know them, sharing Christ with them, getting to know their needs, and asking for prayer requests [makes it] not just a feeding program. It is more of an evangelistic tool.
“It makes it a whole lot easier getting to know the person sitting across the table from you because the barriers have come down. You’re fellowshiping, you’re breaking bread together, and they feel comfortable having a cup of coffee with you and sharing what’s on their heart at that point.”
Holly, who has been in Cincinnati for about a year, ministers in the 24–person shelter, where there is rarely a vacancy.
“I try to offer programs to the families in the shelter,” she says. “I go up there from time to time and do programs with them.
“You never know which direction they are going to be headed once they enter our doors. The impact can be long–term. It can be life–changing.”
Holly tells the story of one shelter family that was “loved” into the corps. The staff planned a surprise baby shower for the mom, who then started attending the corps.
“She was thrilled,” Holly says. “She said she had never had anyone plan a baby shower for her.
“It’s important for us to make those connections and not [have the corps] be a separate entity. I want them to know that they’re more than welcome here. We’re a family corps.”
by Robert Mitchell