Lt. Colonel Damon Lyell Rader, O.F.*, remembered

by Warren L. Maye

Joy exuded from the heart of Lt. Colonel Damon Lyell Rader as he relentlessly pursued an adventurous life in Christian ministry for more than half a century. He was promoted to Glory on Nov. 1, 2023.

From Lancaster, Pa., to Valhalla and Suffern, N.Y., to Zambia, East Africa, people remembered and celebrated his rich legacy. Family, friends, and colleagues felt the joy of having known this man of integrity and a kind heart, who was also a fearless advocate for his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Fond memories of him emerged as a source of great inspiration despite the pain and sadness of his passing.

Words of love poured from the hearts of designated speakers, who frequently referred to him as “Damon,” “Daddy,” “Father,” and “Friend” during the celebration of life held at the Lancaster, Pa., Corps.

“We come here this afternoon full of an attitude of joy and gratitude,” said Commissioner Israel L. Gaither, who officiated the service. “This is not the end of Damon’s story. He has now begun to live forever.” Commissioner Gaither then encouraged everyone to stand and give an ovation to the one he called “a Romans 8 man.”

Major Robert Reel, a “Courageous” sessionmate of Rader, said, “He was not a friend just for a moment or a passing, but for a lifetime. My wife and I are rich in blessings because of this special friendship. We will never be the same.”

A representative of the New Beginnings program at the corps, Michael Jamison called him “a man of valor, a mighty man of God,” saying, “He was my friend. He was greatly appreciated, and he will be greatly missed.”

Aaron Raymond, who had spent time with Damon in the Asbury University chapel, was deeply moved by the moment. “When I saw the open casket, I wasn’t expecting the amount of warmth and love rushing over me as I looked at him.”

Diana Winters, a daughter, said about her dad’s final days that he had asked her to read the book of Ephesians to him. Even after he fell asleep that evening, she continued reading. In the process, she gleaned these few words that epitomized him in her eyes: “Prayer, servant, protector, adventurer.”

His adventures took him to the continent of Africa where, in the countries of Zimbabwe and Zambia, he ministered to the people and helped establish numerous radio stations across denominational lines. Those outlets, in an age before the internet, brought the word of God to many villages and cities.

Daughter Carolyn said, “We’re here to celebrate three things: Damon’s faithfulness to Jesus, Jesus’ faithfulness to Damon and each one of us, and that we are all part of one great fellowship of love.” She concluded, “What would the world be like if everyone greeted each other with the same enthusiasm, sincerity, and delight with which my dad greeted us?”

Captain Daniel Diakanwa called himself Damon’s “son,” saying, “If you didn’t know that Rader had a son, this is he, standing right here.” Wearing a dashiki from his homeland of the Republic of Congo, Diakanwa stood in proxy for the many Africans whose lives were touched by the 12–year ministry of Lt. Colonel Rader. Rader’s influence didn’t stop there. “When I first arrived in the U.S., Lt. Colonel Damon Rader took me under his wing as would a father,” said Diakanwa.

Salvationists from Zambia’s Chikankata Radio station shared their condolences via video. Their heartfelt singing of “Servant of God, Well Done” was a highlight of the service.

The loss of a father, a brother, an uncle, or a spouse creates a dilemma for those who mourn. How does one celebrate a legacy, but cope with the feeling of loss? Christians are called to find a silver lining on every cloud. But despite their commitment to God, the challenge to experience this joy continues.

So, the gathering of family, friends, and colleagues can feel like a soothing balm. The sharing of photos, videos, music, funny stories, and deep hugs comfort the grieving and other loved ones.

Following the celebration of life and burial services, conducted with empathy and care by Major Thomas Hinzman, Lancaster, Pa., corps officer, a repast held in the dining room of the College for Officer Training became a sacred place where deep conversations happened. A breakthrough moment also occurred there for daughter Alison.

Dr. Ian Campbell, her husband, went to the podium microphone and asked, “Has anyone in this room been to Zambia before? If so, put your hand up.” Right away, those who had delightedly complied.

Campbell continued, “Are you aware that our Zambian friends have been watching us and responding to the events of Saturday? They are watching and feeling what is going on here today. So, we thought we’d do something spontaneous together.” Campbell gathered the group and Alison led them in singing a familiar Zambian praise and worship song. As she lifted her voice, she also felt her feelings rise.

Later, she said, “My heart was heavy, but now, I feel such a release. I want to praise God and just celebrate. I can feel that, and I’m so grateful.”

*In 2002, Lt. Colonel Damon Lyell Rader received the Order of the Founder, the highest honor The Salvation Army bestows upon a Salvationist for outstanding service.

Born in New York in 1932, he was the second of five children with older sister Jeanne, and brothers Paul, Herb, and Lyell. At a young age he gave his life to Christ. In 1950, and with a keen mind for electrical engineering, he was captivated by a vision for using radio to spread the gospel in Africa as a Salvation Army officer.

He trained and worked to that end, starting at Asbury College. It was there that the second great romance of his life began with June Dearin. They were married in December 1954.

In 1956, Rader received a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering from Carnegie Technical College. He taught physics at Asbury College for a year while gaining experience at radio stations in Pittsburgh, Pa., Harrisburg, Pa., and Cincinnati, Ohio.

In 1958, he was commissioned as a Salvation Army officer in the “Courageous” session.

View the Celebration of Life service for Lt. Colonel Damon Lyell Rader below.