Magazine Features

Women on a Mission

The women in this article have all answered the call to overseas ministries. In the process, some found their careers; others found their purpose. Some used their time away to see the real work of the Church. But all personify the Salvation Army’s commitment to do the most good, no matter where the Lord places them.

Rebecca Tomasello in South Korea

Years before Rebecca Tomasello became a senior soldier at the Fall River Corps Community Center in Massachusetts, she taught English in South Korea. But at the end of her work day there, she found it difficult to socialize with other teachers. 

“A lot of them would spend their nights in bars, but I don’t drink,” said Tomasello. Instead, she found a local church to attend where pastors led services in both English and Korean. Through them, she volunteered her extra time to a local orphanage. 

The children were receptive to learning about Jesus and were interested in knowing Tomasello, an American. Many of them spoke English and enjoyed talking to her.

“The church leader said that children in South Korean orphanages enjoy little interaction with people outside; even their schooling is done within the confines of the orphanage,” said Rebecca. 

“After my first day of volunteering, I remember crying in my apartment. It was heartbreaking to think that, in just one building, existed a child’s entire world,” said Tomasello. After her stay in South Korea, she went back to school to study children’s ministry. She is now the youth ministry coordinator at the Fall River Corps.

One of the children Rebecca met at the orphanage, now in his teens, recently reached out to her on social media. “He remembered me from those visits, seven years ago. It’s rewarding to know I made such an impact on someone,” said Rebecca. 

“In college, I had no interest in ever working with children,” said Tomasello. “But South Korea made me realize that helping young people find Christ is what I was always meant to do.”

Lieutenant Lilybeth Otero and Lieutenant Angelys Davies in Costa Rica

When she was 18, Lieutenant Lilybeth Otero traveled to Paraguay with Hands On, the Salvation Army’s summer mission program, and witnessed the Army’s overseas work firsthand. She visited Hogar El Redil, a Salvation Army children’s home in Asuncion, Paraguay. The children in El Redil had been taken away from their parents because of neglect, or parents had willingly given them up.

“I met two girls whose father could not provide for them, so he gave them up to the Army,” says Otero. “These girls were 8 and 12 but looked half their age from malnutrition. They were so weak that they had to be helped to move their jaws when they were fed. When I saw the work that El Redil was doing for children like them, I thought to myself, I want to do this work one day too.”

Three years later, Otero led her own Hands On team in Costa Rica. There, she met Lieutenant Umberto Tribino, an officer who would handle the corps’ daily feeding programs for the sick, the poor, and the street workers from Costa Rica’s dangerous red–light district. 

“Everyone looking for help knew the Lieutenant and what he represented. It astounded me to see that The Salvation Army has built a reputation that lets us walk into the most dangerous places, only to be accepted and protected by our uniform.”

“The soldiers from Costa Rica were living in the same conditions as the people we were helping, but they were still grateful to God for what they had,” says  Lieutenant Angelys Davies, who was part of Otero’s team in Costa Rica. “At Costa Rica’s training school, the cadets were the ones running, helping to renovate, and maintaining the school. They all served with such passion. It made me realize all of the things we take for granted in our lives.”

“We have so much here at our disposal in the Eastern Territory,” says Otero. “But there are officers, soldiers, and cadets in other parts of the world who are making immense sacrifices for The Salvation Army.”

“You may be nervous to serve far from home, especially if you’re young,” says Davies. “But trust that God wants you there. He will bring you comfort in ways that you cannot imagine.”

“Serving overseas opens your spiritual eyes. Every officer should take the opportunity to experience it if they have the chance,” says Otero. “Doing so will help you as an officer, and as a Christian.”

Major Marcia Vanover in Russia

Retired Major Marcia Vanover and her husband Major Kellus Vanover traveled to Russia in 1992 to be part of the Salvation Army’s training school staff. It was the first of several mission trips to that country. Opposition from the Russian government and the Orthodox Church kept The Salvation Army from registering as a church in Moscow for 12 years after the fall of the Soviet Union. Even today, there are restrictions on Sunday schools and other religious programs. 

Having grown up during the era of the “Red Scare,” Major Vanover met the people that she had feared as a child. She remembers hearing the news reports saying that America was in danger of a Communist invasion. 

“But the Russian people were friendly and curious about who we were,” says Vanover. “They asked about our uniforms and wanted to practice their English with us, which they had not been allowed to use in public.” 

Vanover says the most important thing that officers must remember when overseas is to be good guests in the host country and never forcefully impose their own culture. Instead, learn to adjust. 

“In Russia, visiting officers would talk about going to see people in their homes, which is common practice for most Salvationists. However, you could tell by the expressions on the Russian cadets’ faces that this wasn’t a good idea,” said Vanover. 

“When I talked to our language teacher about the reaction, she said that Russians are immediately suspicious of strangers who knock at their door. This comes from the days of the Soviet Union, when Communist informants would randomly visit homes. We knew then that visits were not going to work here. You never want to stir any type of fear in anyone.

“I also learned that during those Red Scare years, the Russians were afraid too. Not just of Americans, but of their own leaders and government. Russians couldn’t openly worship without persecution. It’s something they had in common with early–day Salvationists,” says Vanover.

Captain Tawny Cowen–Zanders in Russia

In 1995 as a sophomore attending Malone University in Ohio, Captain Tawny Cowen–Zanders studied in Russia for a semester. The study abroad program had Christian elements, and her student team met with a Baptist missionary serving in Moscow. When he asked the group what church they each attended, Tawny said “The Salvation Army,” where her father was a corps sergeant major. 

“When I said this, the missionary stood up, walked up to me and said, ‘I want to shake your hand. The Salvation Army are people of action. What we are just starting to do today, they have been doing for years,’” said Zanders. 

“That night, I could not sleep. At the time, my view of the Army was camp and the corps. I wanted to know what he had seen here that made him call us people of action.”

Tawny reached out to The Salvation Army in Russia. Days later, at a local train station where the Army did daily feedings, she saw an example of the people of action that the Baptist minister had talked about. 

“A short female British officer drove up to our location in a screeching car,” remembers Zanders. “She got out, picked up a large vat of hot soup over her head, and immediately started feeding everyone there. She was gruff and serious, giving orders in English and in Russian, but you could tell she had a real love for these hungry people. She made every one of them smile.

“Through her, I saw what The Salvation Army is all about. We don’t talk about it, we just do it. We come in, no matter where we are needed, no matter how cold the day is, and we help.

“And no one needed help like the people of Russia,” says Zanders. “These were folks that, through no fault of their own, had lost their identity. We had to show the Russian people that Jesus had not forgotten them.”

Lieutenant Mhairi Smeaton in Kenya

As a cadet in the College for Officer Training, Lieutenant Mhairi Smeaton led a team to Kenya, East Africa. They stayed in Nairobi and worked with the women from Others, the Salvation Army’s overseas social enterprise for women. 

“The people of Kenya show honor to any guest that stays with them, especially westerners who come in the name of God,” says Mhairi. “The rank of a minister is held in high regard by them.”

Amari was one of the women from Others that Smeaton met in Kenya. Amari’s father had been a polygamist, and when he died, his first family took all of his inheritance, leaving Amari, her sick husband, and their daughters with nothing. They all lived on a small piece of land with little more than an open fire for cooking in the living room and a couch bed for guests. Amari’s work for Others helped pay for her daughters’ schooling.

When Smeaton was assigned to stay over at Amari’s house, she wondered how that family could make space for another person. 

“I thought, there’s no room for me in this house. There’s barely room for her family,” says Smeaton. “All the while, Amari was so happy to have me stay with her. As we walked into town to buy food, she introduced me to every person she came across, proudly telling them I was a cadet staying in her home.”

Amari made rice and peas for dinner and prepared space on the couch bed for Smeaton to sleep. Zewadi, Amari’s daughter, slept on the opposite end of the couch. 

That night, Smeaton remembered the day she had spent with Amari, the delicious meal she had lovingly prepared, and the space her family had provided for Smeaton to sleep. 

“I felt ashamed that I could ever think that Amari, my sister, could not bless me. Who was I to say that there was no room for me here? In any home where the Lord is present, we are welcome too,” says Smeaton. 

“On mission trips, you will meet the hearts of the people you help. You will learn that everyone, no matter who they are, can bring something to God’s table.”

Major Nancy Beauchamp in Pakistan

For two years, Major Nancy Beauchamp has been part of a modern missionary ministry for The Salvation Army. Through Skype, she gives Bible and ministry lessons to three evangelists in Pakistan, who then go out into the villages near Khanewal to share the gospel with their neighbors. On Saturday (Sunday in Pakistan because of the time zone), Beauchamp also holds a worship service with her team and people from the villages via Skype. 

“The evangelists have an amazing understanding of the Word of God, and they do all this work under the Army’s name,” says Beauchamp. “They know the doctrine and have committed to living publicly for Jesus in a Muslim country.”

Beauchamp has supplied her evangelists with Bibles, a laptop with projector, and Sunday school materials for their ministry. She has financed open–air tent meetings for them in the villages, where the evangelists have welcomed hundreds of people to services. Along with these ministry tools, she has also sent them a sewing machine and materials for garments to make and sell clothing, which helps her team become self–sufficient. 

The Pakistani evangelists are always eager to talk about the groups of people they have introduced to Christ, and they hope The Salvation Army will reach out to help them establish their own corps. “They have already talked about becoming soldiers, and someday maybe even officers,” says Beauchamp.

But for now, Beauchamp and her evangelists will continue to bring the gospel to villages in Pakistan through the internet and other technologies.

“Even with all the miles between us, we succeed because we are a group so strongly rooted in the word of Christ.”

by Hugo Bravo

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