Commissioning Weekend underway in Hershey

by Robert Mitchell

“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all [together]with one accordin one place.”
Acts 2:1 

HERSHEY, Pa.—Commissioning Weekend kicked off Friday for the Messengers of Reconciliation session of Salvation Army cadets with a spirited commencement service, Silver Star luncheon, and a rousing concert by Christian recording artist Danny Gokey before a huge crowd at the Hershey Lodge.

The first live Commissioning Weekend since 2019 (1,090 days) due to COVID-19, was also graced with the music of the New York Staff Band Ensemble and UNBOUND.

The 24 cadets received their associate in applied science degrees, along with academic awards for their two years at the College for Officer Training (CFOT) preparing to be Salvation Army officers. Colonel Philip J. Maxwell, the territory’s chief secretary, called the commencement service “the culmination of a journey” as he thanked the board overseeing the CFOT.

Cadet Adam Mack earned valedictorian honors with a GPA of 3.85 over two years. He managed to do so while he and his wife, Cadet Krystal Mack, raised four children at the CFOT.

“We were blessed to be able to grow and develop as cadets and it all helped us to grow spiritually,” Mack said. “We have been blessed to have the privilege of working with instructors who cared about us. Not just in learning, but also as individuals, as people.

“So, we came here as a family of six and today I can say that our family has grown, both personally and spiritually.”

It was a big day for Cadet Darner Montilla Gonzalez, who not only was salutatorian with a GPA of 3.83, but he also won both the Bible Knowledge Achievement and Doctrine Knowledge Achievement awards. Cadet Bernice Canales won the Bible Knowledge Progress Award and Cadet Esther Togara took home the Doctrine Knowledge Progress Award.

“To each cadet, we say, ‘Well done. Well done,’” said Lt. Colonel James LaBossiere, the CFOT’s training principal.

Commissioner William A. Bamford III, territorial commander, presented the certificates of applied science to each cadet, but said beforehand, “The certificates you’re going to receive in just a few moments will mean nothing—nothing in this world—unless all that you have gained is put into action for God in this day.”

Quoting from Acts 22 and Philippians 3, Bamford asked the cadets to see themselves in the story of Paul, who outlined his résumé before encountering Christ on the Damascus Road.

“We all have a story, yet God sees us individually. He sees the good in us, the potential, the passion, the purpose. He saw that in Paul and He saw that in each of you to bring you to this point,” Bamford said, pointing to the cadets.

Stars of silver

The Fellowship of Silver Star luncheon that followed the commencement service featured plenty of tears of gratitude and gave cadets like Gonzalez an opportunity to express their deep appreciation and love for parents, mentors, and significant others who supported them on their journey to officership.

Gonzalez’s father, Carlos, said the family came to the Vineland, N.J., Corps several years ago via the Dominican Republic and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They “fell in love with the mission.” Carlos said he and his wife, Carmen, urged their son to “love Jesus” from an early age.

“I thank God that He gave us the courage to guide him,” his mother said, wiping tears from her eyes after being presented with a Silver Star certificate.

Commissioner G. Lorraine Bamford, territorial president of women’s ministries, stressed that point in a short devotional. Bamford told the parents and other influencers that when people see the cadets today, “They will essentially be looking back at your nurturing.”

Together With One Accord

With the help of an engaging video, the Commissioners Bamford explained the “Together With One Accord” (TWOA) vision and the hope of another outpouring of the Holy Spirit and Great Awakening.

Territorial Corps Sergeant Major Kris Hevenor, accompanied by the Territorial Vision Representatives, continued the presentation with a comprehensive description of TWOA. Each aspect was voiced by representatives live on stage.

“We want another Great Awakening,” William Bamford said as attendees spent time in prayer. “We want another Pentecost. We’re asking for it.”

Danny Gokey in concert

The evening closed with a concert by Danny Gokey, a two-time Grammy nominee, Dove Award winner, and Top-3 finalist on Season Eight of American Idol.

Gokey, who will be profiled in a cover story in the upcoming issue of SACONNECTS magazine, performed many of his popular songs, including “Do For Love,” “Jesus People,” “Tell Somebody,” and “Stand in Faith.”

Commissioning Weekend continues Saturday with the territorial Star Search competition and concludes Sunday with the ordination and commissioning of the Messengers of Reconciliation.