Fit to Serve

by Robert Mitchell

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.”
—1 CORINTHIANS 6:19–20 

Salvation Army Lieutenant Clifford Douglas was 27 when he came to the United States from Guyana, South America in 2015. However, standing 5 foot 9 inches tall and small in stature, Douglas says he could have passed for a 17 year old. 

“When I was at camp, I would be with the teenagers, teaching and hanging out, and everyone thought I was their age, until I showed them my ID,” Douglas recalls. 

Douglas, who was a professional dancer in his homeland, made a commitment to a disciplined workout regimen in 2016 with a goal of bulking up. Today as he reflects on the health benefits of that regimen, he believes his almost daily workouts have also helped him in his role as the commanding officer at a Salvation Army church in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, N.Y. 

“I grew more to understand the importance of working out and what fitness means,” he said. “At first, it was just about building a body, but then it became more than just building a body, but about my overall health. 

“As Salvation Army officers, the work we do takes a toll on our bodies, and we need to stay fit. Our wellbeing is made up of three parts: spiritual, mental, and physical. If we truly want to be fit for service, then we’re going to try to focus on all three aspects and that’s why I delved more into fitness.” 

A changed man 

Now 33 and muscular, Douglas works out four days a week for 90 minutes to two hours a day. He also maintains his passion for dance to supplement his workouts. 

Douglas starts his day at the gym and said his workouts get his body “up and active, all the brain cells and muscles functioning, and preparing for the day ahead.” 

“I feel better throughout the day when I work out as opposed to when I do not work out,” he said. “It helps relieve stress. It helps calm my mind. It helps to center myself. It also helps me to function better overall. 

“What I’ve found is that the more I get into the gym, the more I feel better throughout the week. I’m able to cope with the stress and the pressures that come my way. I even work out during the kettle season. I don’t stop.” 

Douglas said his workout plan is simple. He finds a nearby Planet Fitness and pays a membership fee of only about $20 a month. 

“It’s inexpensive and you can find a Planet Fitness anywhere and everywhere,” he said. 

Douglas also has a routine: He works on his chest on Mondays, core fitness on Tuesdays, his legs and back on Thursdays, and arms and shoulders on Friday. 

Douglas said some of his fellow Salvation Army officers have told him they wish they could start a fitness journey, but the demands of officership and family make it difficult. Douglas, who is single, remembers working out while at the College for Officer Training (CFOT) at 5:30 a.m. and being joined by other cadets who have families. 

“In my mind, there’s no excuse,” he said. 

Always in the background of Douglas’s fitness journey is his first love—dance. He started when he was 11, attending the National School of Dance in Guyana at 19. He was dancing professionally by 21 and spent five years with the National Dance Company. 

“I see dance as a way to connect,” he said. “I think that’s one of the most prominent ways I connect with God. He speaks through me through dance and movement.” 

Dancing even led to Douglas becoming a Salvation Army officer. Back in Guyana, his pastor told Douglas he had a call to officership. Douglas didn’t think so until he came to the United States on vacation in 2014 and visited The Salvation Army’s Queens Temple Corps.

“I saw passionate youths involved in creative arts and I felt like this is where I needed to be,” he said.

Big plans ahead

Douglas was later asked to teach dance for the entire summer at The Salvation Army’s Star Lake Camp.

“The Lord really spoke to me about ministry, and I felt like that was where I needed to be and what God needed me to do,” he said.

Douglas applied for officership and was accepted. Today, he is part of the Eastern Territory’s Move Dance Company and the Greater New York Division’s Dance Team.

While he seldom dances at his Salvation Army church in Brooklyn, Douglas teaches dance and is in the process of forming a professional dance program called Bushwick Expressive Arts. Students will learn dance, drama, and visual arts.

Douglas knows that starting a new program, along with his other church duties, requires him to be in great physical shape. He reiterated the need for officers to seek a healthy lifestyle and stick with whatever workout program they choose to build endurance and stay physically fit.

“If you’re not taking care of yourself, you wouldn’t be able to function, not only for yourself, but for your people and to do the service God has called you to do,” he said. “I make sure I still make time to work out so I can do all these things.” 

Read more from the latest issue of SAconnects.