Defenders of Justice Welcomed
by Robert Mitchell, Hugo Bravo, and Warren L. Maye
“So, what could I say?
And what could I do?
But offer this heart, oh, God
Completely to You.”
—“The Stand” by Hillsong United
Deep shades of Salvation Army blue and “blood & fire” red appeared under soft spotlights that also revealed the nine uniformed cadets of the Defenders of Justice session. They ceremoniously entered a room occupied by family, friends, mentors, and officers of the USA Eastern Territory. Those strong stripes of color, luminated on screens, and displayed on banners, ribbons, and shields, marked the beginning of a weekend that would inspire, inform, and challenge everyone who entered to assume their God–given role as followers of Jesus Christ and defenders of justice.
“In Christ, we have the preeminent defender of justice,” said Territorial Candidate’s Secretary Major Shaun Belanger, during his welcome greetings on Friday night. The evening included the combined “Welcome to Cadets” and opening of the Candidates Seminar for aspiring officers in a full gym at the College for Officer Training (CFOT) in Suffern, N.Y. The Defenders of Justice session were presented by the Training Principal Lt. Colonel James LaBossiere.
Cadet Stephanie Garces–Villegas, in her call to worship, highlighted the session name when she said, “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous … the orphan has a home … the fatherless have a father … the innocent are heard … the lonely are invited in … the afflicted are encouraged … the grieving are cared for … slander disappears … favoritism is squashed … cries are heard and judgment is fair … the oppressed have a defender … follow justice and justice alone so that you may leave and possess the land the Lord your God has given you.”
Calling, character, and competence
Following a stirring video featuring the cadets, Lt. Colonel LaBossiere said the orders and regulations for the training of Salvation Army officers require the virtues of “calling, character, and competence.”
LaBossiere continued, “The nine men and women who stand here have been affirmed by their corps, divisions, and territorial candidates board as people of calling, character, and competence.”
Six of the new cadets are first–generation Salvationists and the average age of the session is 40, LaBossiere said.
“I want you to know that there’s nothing average about the calling, commitment, and character of these people behind me,” LaBossiere said. “There’s nothing average about their commitment to fulfill the calling Jesus Christ has placed on their lives.”
Cadet Richard Mahida shared his testimony of the challenging road he faced to get to CFOT, starting with being uncertain about his future. On the night he discussed it with his mother in 2020, a notification from an app on his phone asked if he was questioning God about his purpose.
“I was in tears,” he said. “I had goosebumps and a heart that was on fire. In that moment, I knew God was asking me to commit the rest of my life to Him.”
Territorial Commander Commissioner William A. Bamford III offered a passionate message. He told the audience how he had been earnestly praying for the weekend and that everyone was there for a purpose.
“I don’t think it’s happenstance that you’re here today. God has called you specifically,” Bamford said. He hoped everyone would pray and listen for God’s call.
The evening’s praise and worship included the New York Staff Band Ensemble; UNBOUND; and the Move Dance Company, which performed to JUDAH’s “Be.Loved.”
The look of officership
At the Candidate’s Seminar on Saturday, Majors Cathy and Michael Himes, corps officers for 30 years, shared a detailed account of the life of a Salvation Army officer.
“As officers, it is your job to find out what your community needs,” said Major Cathy. “That need may come as an elderly person looking for help, or someone who has been the victim of abuse. It may mean a mental need that is beyond your ability to address, which will require you to seek outside help. Or it may be a spiritual need for a hurting soul.”
Major Cathy said that a corps’ primary purpose is to be a soul–saving station. “You are the caretaker and the face of The Salvation Army. Your job is to maintain your corps and to multiply it,” said Major Cathy. “Give your best to the ministry, even if you think it might be satisfied with less.”
Obedience to those who are giving you direction is also a big part of being an officer. “Disappointment,” said Major Cathy, “is not ungodly, but defiance and petty rebellion is.”
Major Mike Himes talked about “Jerry,” a soldier who was about to become a cadet. Before he signed on, Jerry felt anxious and not up to the task.
Major Mike said to Jerry, “That’s fantastic. If you realize that you can’t live up to that, it means that you’re the soldier we need, because you are seeing that you cannot do this alone. It is only by the grace of God that we can become the kind of officer He wants us to be.”
Jesus, this one’s for you
To be exhausted after a day of doing God’s work is a gift, said Major Mike. “The rest will come, but I know that it will last about a week before we go back to being about the Father’s business.
“If you want to be just a pastor for a church, then go somewhere else, because Salvation Army officers are not just pastors, and the Army is not just a church.
“You may think that no one understands all you do, and you’d be correct,” said Major Mike. “But when I see a candy wrapper or can of soda on the floor that everyone has walked past, I pick it up, throw it away, and say, ‘Jesus, this one’s for You.’ ”
Rewards of the Kingdom
Himes says that, despite the hard work, the rewards of officership are limitless, you will make lifelong relationships, and you will see the world. But the biggest rewards will come from what you witness in your corps.
“One of the most rewarding things is the privilege of seeing a changed life, such as a teen who comes from a terrible family situation who is then encouraged and helped.”
“As an officer, you also can use your holy imagination. If there’s a unique need in your community, you can find ways to meet it, or if you have a passion for something, it can be part of your corps,” said Himes.
“We’ve had badminton games for a Pakistani community, a modeling group that used our gym as a run way, and a Filipino basketball team come practice with us. I was there the night that one of the boys on the team accepted Jesus as His Savior. Later, he became the valedictorian of his college class and spoke about the love of Christ in his speech.”
The positive side of power
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” —Micah 6:8b
The weekend, full of provocative music, mesmerizing dance, and thoughtful scripture recitations, culminated during the Sunday holiness meeting when dozens of Salvationists responded to the call by Commissioner Bamford to step forward and serve as officers in The Salvation Army.
That morning, a thoughtful testimony by Cadet Breana West and a stirring sermon by Major Belanger helped inspire the massive move of people to the platform.
West, who has made Isaiah 43:2–3 the verse for her life, said, “Don’t be afraid to step into what God wants for your life.”
Belanger, who was passionate and intentional, also used scripture, and his heartfelt and transparent testimony to challenge listeners to use the power of God to heal, to restore, and truly become defenders of justice.
“Everywhere we look, there is human tragedy, hurting, and suffering,” said Belanger. Referring to the story of the beggar in Acts 3:1–8 , “It may not display itself like a man sitting at a gate called ‘Beautiful,’ but it’s in every single one of our communities, corps, and families. And guess what? We’re called to do something for that! There are thousands of people who are crippled physically, emotionally, and spiritually and they need the Defenders of Justice!”
In response, many Salvationists came forward, knelt at the platform, and prayed. “We go with God,” said Bamford. “He’ll be with you, every step of your journey.”