Service to God is what Salvation Army officers sign up for, but rarely do they dive in before they’ve completed their mandatory two–year program at the College for Officer Training. But on September 11, 2001, that process changed for the Believers session. Rather than sit in comfortable classrooms in Suffern, N.Y., they rolled up their sleeves, loaded equipment onto vans, and headed to Manhattan. Cheryl and Roger Compton were among the cadets as they began the grueling work at Divisional Headquarters on 14th Street, and at ground zero.
They served first responders where the World Trade towers complex once stood. While on the job, the Believers learned how to offer practical, emotional, and spiritual care. Amid what would become a defining moment in U.S. history, Roger thought to himself, “Welcome to emergency disaster services!”
But Roger, a former member of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division and a Navy reservist, and Cheryl, a fourth–generation Salvationist whose family lineage dates to England, were no strangers to the work required in a time of war. God had already prepared their skill sets for the job at hand.
“I’ve been a Salvationist my whole life,” says Cheryl. But the time came when she embraced Christianity for herself. “I grew up as an officers’ kid who had all the multigenerational expectations. But I had walked away from The Salvation Army for a long time because I felt that wasn’t really my journey.”
A turning point in her life came when she met the new corps officers. “Roger and I were married, but we were not really attending the corps. My parents had been officers there for a long time. The new officers, Majors Lenny and Karen Boynton, came over to visit with me. Our families interacted; we became friends. She is the reason why I became saved and the reason why I came back to the Army. She would sit at my table with me and pray with me. I started really going back and looking at the Bible for myself instead of because I had to.”
Inspired by Cheryl’s spiritual renewal, Roger’s road to faith also took shape. “We had gotten married in 1990 on Valentine’s Day. But Cheryl knows, I was trouble for five to six years after that,” Roger recalls. “But in 1996, I got radically saved. It happened through some influence of The Salvation Army, but mostly when I went to a Promise Keepers event in Syracuse, N.Y. I came home and said to Cheryl, ‘I’m a changed man.’ She said, ‘Sure, I’ll believe that when I see it.’”
But within a month, Roger’s sweeping transformation became apparent in undeniable ways. “She goes, ‘You know, there is something different about you.’” Roger said. After his conversion, he studied the Bible for five consecutive years but felt God was calling him to do more. “I was truck driving and warehousing when I asked Cheryl to become an officer with me because I really felt the calling strongly.”
Commissioned in 2003, the Comptons have taken their ministry from Punxsutawney, Pa., to Grand Bahama Island to Jamaica in the Caribbean to the Catskills Mountains to the Adult Rehabilitation Command (ARC) in Mount Vernon, N.Y. Roger had personal reasons for their shift to ARC ministry. “That time of 1990 to 1996 until I got saved, I had my own problems,” he said. “So now with our three children grown and gone, I felt a strong calling to the men to tell them how God can direct their lives if they just give up, give up the ways of the world.”
Today, the Majors Compton serve at the Newark, N.J., ARC. “We’re very happy to be here, close to our daughters and grandsons,” said Roger. “If you know Newark at all, you will say, ‘Wow, that’s a challenge for anybody.’ But God put us here and He orchestrates our lives. I strongly feel that way.”
He added, “We got about 35 guys right now. But whatever the number is, if there’s only one guy who comes to know the Lord through something Cheryl says or something that I can say through the Holy Spirit, then it’s all been worth the journey.”