They are the champions

by Robert Mitchell

“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’ ”—Mark 16:15

The Champions of the Mission 2023–2025 session of new Salvation Army cadets will receive an official public welcome on Oct. 13-15, but the cohort experienced a more intimate and private version on Sept. 7 in the College for Officer Training (CFOT) Chapel.

Commissioners G. Lorraine and William A. Bamford, who are retiring as territorial leaders at the end of the year, joined the rest of the cabinet and CFOT staff, including Lt. Colonels James and Patricia LaBossiere, training principal and assistant training principal for ministry development, in welcoming the 18 cadets at a special dinner and time of worship. The cadets have only been at the CFOT for a few weeks.

Commissioner William Bamford set the tone for the night by sharing one description of a champion as someone who “champions a cause.”

“Champions, by that definition, are people who put their energy, their heart, and their soul into the growth and strengthening of something,” Bamford said. “In our case, you are champions of God’s mission in the service of The Salvation Army.”

Major Rohan Gage, the territorial candidates secretary, said the cadets—12 of whom are first-generation Salvationists—came from Argentina, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and various locations in the United States. They will become Salvation Army officers after two years of training.

The Bamfords also oversaw the official presentation of the session flag. Commissioner Lorraine Bamford further expressed the theme of champions, when she noted how Olympic athletes sometimes run and wave their country’s flag after winning the gold.

“May this flag always remind you that you represent God’s mission,” she said.

Commissioner William reminded the cadets that the flag would be present during their training, commissioning, and possibly their Promotion to Glory someday.

“When you see this flag, remember that you are a champion—a champion of Jesus Christ,” he said.

Following past champions

Lt. Colonel Patricia LaBossiere offered a prayer of dedication over the cadets and asked God to “prepare their lives for action” and to keep them holy, devoted to prayer, wise toward outsiders, and always faithful.

Commissioner Lorraine offered a short devotional, and read the opening verses of Isaiah 61 where the prophet talks about proclaiming good news to the poor, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom for the captives and releasing prisoners from darkness. She pointed out that Jesus read that same passage in the synagogue in proclaiming Himself the Messiah, as recorded in Luke 4.

In his address to the cadets, Commissioner William said, “God has asked you to do the same thing. Each of us, everyone in this room, must not forget that we have been called to be a champion of the mission.”

He also briefly told the cadets about the predecessors, the champions of the faith who have been memorialized at the Army’s burial plot in Kensico Cemetery.

“Maybe you’re not the greatest musician. Maybe you can’t keep a beat. Maybe you just feel inadequate. But you know what? You can love people,” Commissioner William said. “You can have a conversation with people and fulfill this mission. You can be a champion—and that’s what this is about. You can be a champion to people who feel like nobody cares about them.”

In his remarks, Commissioner William used several champions or would-be champions as examples, including baseball great Ted Williams, who achieved numerous “champion” hitting honors, but never won a World Series; Bamford also discussed several tennis stars vying to win the U.S. Open being played in nearby New York City.

Commissioner Bamford recited The Salvation Army mission statement: “The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”

“I pray that you count that as a great privilege,” he told the new cadets who sat together front and center.

Diverse backgrounds

Commissioner Bamford said he hopes the cadets will adopt the statement as a “personal mission statement” and “grow closer to it and keep it before us.”

“I challenge myself to do that, even as I get ready to retire. My biggest desire right now is to go and help the ARC,” he said, referring to the Adult Rehabilitation Center. He even offered to drive a truck.

As the evening ended, most of the cadets went to the mercy seat for intense prayer. They were joined by several senior officers as the song “My All is on the Altar” wafted through the CFOT Chapel.

Among those looking forward to the academic year is Cadet Jalicia Smalley, from Massillon, Ohio, who said she would like to be assigned to a corps when her training is over.

Regarding where her first appointment will be, Smalley said, “It really doesn’t matter, as long as I get to touch people’s lives and share Jesus Christ with them.”

Smalley, who was involved in Salvation Army camp ministry, went to college to study software engineering, but after attending the territory’s candidates seminar, gained a new perspective on her future. “God had something more” and “ He told me to surrender and give it all to Him.”

Cadet Carla Lopez, from San Juan, P.R., came to The Salvation Army when someone invited her to participate in a youth group. She also hopes to be assigned to a corps in two years. She shared a testimony that described how she overcame emotional and physical abuse. She now believes God has “sent me to spread the Good News” to a lost and hurting world.

“My hope is to be an instrument of God who can lead others to the feet of Jesus,” said Lopez, who felt led to become an officer after attending a candidates seminar.

“God called me,” she said. “He whispered a promise into my heart; He would go before me and prepare the way if I would be an example for others.”

An emotional Bamford told the cadets that the hardest thing for him to do in the post-COVID years has been to watch people refuse to respond to the call on their life to become officers.

“But I believe the days ahead are brighter.” As Bamford’s audience applauded in agreement, he continued, “and you’re a part of that. I challenge you to keep close to Jesus every day.”