young adult EMPOWERMENT
Bridgeport, CT—You might call Ronshay Smith, 17, and Tyrese Whittan, 16, the “big cousins” of the Bridgeport, Conn., Corps. Boys and girls who attend children’s programs there flock to and clearly look up to them.
Ronshay and Tyrese, who actually are cousins, have become leaders in a corps that is urgently searching for lay leadership. Major Lydia Pearson and Major Katherine Longcoy, corps officers, have empowered Ronshay to help lead Boys Adventure, and Tyrese to serve as the Sunday morning worship & praise team leader.
Empowering teen leaders fits nicely into the four Strikepoints, and the agenda of Commissioner Barry C. Swanson, territorial commander (Integrated Urban Mission, Deeper Discipleship, Skilled Leadership, and Young Adult Empowerment).
Major Pearson says Ronshay and Tyrese, who are both in their fifth year of Corps Cadets, are “wonderful” teens and an asset to the corps.
“What impresses me most is that they are boys who are on fire for God, and I’ve tried to do whatever I can to encourage them in their growth,” says Pearson. “They’re very sensitive and open to learning and to whatever God wants to do with them.
“They’re willing to do whatever they can for this corps and for the people we serve. They have a servant’s heart.”
Longcoy says the two are “growing spiritually” and “they have a desire to serve God.”
“The thing about it is, they are also role models for the young boys in the corps,” Longcoy says. “There is a lack of good male role models, so it’s great to have them. They take the kids under their wing and give the young boys something to aspire to.
“They will help with anything we ask. They’re very steady. They’re here every time the doors are open. Even when they’re out of school, they’re calling us to see if we need anything.”
Out of the ‘comfort zone’
Ronshay and Tyrese, whose mothers are sisters, both started coming to the corps as young children, thanks to James Murphy, their grandfather.
On Thursday nights, Ronshay motivates the young members of the Boys Adventure Club (ages 6–12) as they learn the Bible, play games, and have a meal together. The club recently presented a drama, “The Prince and the Pauper.”
“I see a lot of me in the kids,” says Ronshay, who is related to some in the group. “I want them to grow up and be leaders in their community and to better themselves while bettering others.”
Becoming a leader has surprised Ronshay, who says God is “always pushing me to do things I would never imagine me doing.” Over the summer, Ronshay helped with a feeding program and with children’s activities.
“God’s really pushing me to help change people’s lives and to guide them,” he says. “I try to be happy all the time and remember that I’m a leader and God is calling me to change these kids’ lives.”
Reaching people with music
While Ronshay is a high school senior who plans to go on and study psychology in college, Tyrese has announced he wants to be a Salvation Army officer.
“I grew up in the church and I’ve seen how [the officers] change other people’s lives, and that’s what I want to do,” says the junior in high school.
Tyrese plays piano, leads the praise band, chooses the music, and leads a team of fellow young people in rehearsals. Ronshay, who plays guitar, also participates.
“I think music is a very powerful thing, depending on how you use it,” Tyrese says. “If we can play music that is positive and tells people about God’s love, I think everyone would come to God and to know that love. I want to help us all use it to motivate people to come to God.”
Major Longcoy said that after observing Tyrese and Ronshay, some of the young boys in the corps have been inspired to someday play music and to be in the praise band. She says Tyrese realizes he is a role model and is growing spiritually so God can use him.
‘They are our future’
“He knows that he can’t give something he doesn’t have personally,” Longcoy says of Tyrese. “His walk with God has to be very strong and sound in order for God to use the praise & worship. There are adults who don’t even get that.”
Major Pearson says Commissioner Swanson’s plan to empower young adults such as Ronshay and Tyrese to become leaders is greatly needed.
“If we don’t have leaders, there’s nothing going to happen,” she says.
Pearson says she and Longcoy “have to do a lot of things that we would love to have somebody else do, such as picking up the kids or leading the programs. Without leaders, there are no programs. The corps officers can’t do it all.”
Longcoy said that Bridgeport is the largest city in Connecticut. And the corps is dependent on young people such as Ronshay and Tyrese.
“Looking to the future,” says Longcoy, “they’re the hope of the corps.”
by Robert Mitchell