Are You Willing?

by Warren L. Maye

Feb. 10, 2024, Montclair (Citadel), N.J. — “Standing here before you is a broken kid, born of broken parents, from the broken side of town, that The Salvation Army found and rescued and helped redeem, and gave a purpose to their life,” said a humbled Commissioner Ralph Bukiewicz. Those words, spoken with his clear and gentle voice, solidly connected him to the people seated in Montclair Citadel, and via livestream around the world.

In that moment, the newly appointed commander of the USA Eastern Territory became living proof of The Salvation Army’s ability to fulfill its mission to meet human need and inspire people to rise from the ashes and find their significant place in the family of God.

He continued, “I am so honored to represent not only our church, but the ministry that it represents and the countless lives that are being changed because of your faithfulness and your obedience and your willingness to give all the glory to God.”

Indeed, since their ordination and commissioning as officers in 1980 and 1981 respectively, Commissioners Ralph and Susan Bukiewicz have preached the gospel of Jesus Christ for more than 40 years. They’ve served as corps officers, youth and divisional leaders, and in a wide variety of administrative appointments in the Central and Southern territories, as well as at National Headquarters. Their travels to 32 countries have also uniquely enriched their lives in what they love to refer to as “the most wonderful way.”

The immaculate platform and pews of the Citadel were filled with uniformed officers. Among them were The Salvation Army’s national leaders, Commissioners Kenneth and Jolene Hodder.

Musicians of the New York Staff Band (NYSB), vocalists of the Eastern Territory Staff Songsters (ETSS), and members of Unbound wore their versions of the Army’s deep blue, bright red, and pristine white attire. These Salvationists offered their stirring participation and undivided attention.

General Lyndon Buckingham, international leader of The Salvation Army, spoke passionately via prerecorded video. Standing front and center, he said, “Commissioners Ralph and Susan Bukiewicz, it is a joy for me to greet you by way of this video message on the occasion of your installation as territorial leaders to the USA Eastern Territory. We thank God for you, for your commitment to your calling, for your passion for ministry, and for your obvious gifts in leadership.

“We want you to know that we’re praying for you that as you take the leadership of this territory, you will know God’s blessing and endorsement on you, and we are confident that He is going to use you in the days ahead to lead this beautiful territory into new avenues of ministry and service. Be assured of our prayers and our interest in these days. God bless you.”

Via another video, more Salvationists, both young and old, expressed their salutations, congratulations, and expectations. A third video later in the program showed a sacred dance performed by Move from a rooftop overlooking a breathtaking view of New York City.

Remarks from family and friends followed. Their exuberance could not be contained. “Okay, I gotta get right to it!” said Major Carol Wurtz, who described herself as Commissioner Susan Bukiewicz’s “fourth sister.” “I don’t know who decided on two minutes, but y’all don’t know me very well!” Her opening remarks evoked laughter, which set a warm and friendly tone. Speaking directly to her sister, Major Wurtz continued, “There is a whole lot I could tell the territory about you!”

Following more laughter and reflection, she concluded, “As you are experiencing this part of whom Susan is, of her personality and her character, I believe too, you will discover that there is a beautiful, serene, quiet place that is deep within her spirit where the Creator, Redeemer, and Purifier of her soul dwells.… This is the Susan that we sisters want you to know. Her life is a process of shaping and molding. And in the depth of her spirit, she proclaims, ‘No matter what I may lose, I will always choose the Refiner’s fire.’”

Major Greg Thompson described his life with Commissioner Ralph Bukiewicz, beginning in 1991. Thompson was a lieutenant out of training school and appointed to the St. Louis West Page Corps in the Central Territory’s Midland Division. “I watched this guy who lovingly accepted me into his family. I think I’m brother No. 1 because”— speaking directly to Commissioner Ralph—“you don’t have one. So, we came away with a bond.” Thompson was struck by the way young people would line the mercy seat after hearing Ralph speak.

Other aspects of Bukiewicz’s talented and resourceful ministry came to Thompson’s mind, “instances in our lives over the past 33 years [that] have made a difference for me, who he is, how he functions as a man of God every single day as my best friend.”

Welcome to the USA East

Territorial Sergeant Major Kris Hevenor, who leads the Territorial Soldiers Express Council, said, “On behalf of the 8,000 junior soldiers, 9,000 adherents, 24,000 senior soldiers, and countless others who call The Salvation Army in the USA Eastern Territory their church home, bienvenidos. Welcome! I’ve been asked to present you with a challenge today.” She quoted the council’s mission: “‘respecting the Army’s past, speaking honestly and truthfully about its present, and thinking creatively about its future.’

“There are at least eight different languages being spoken in corps across this territory… Let’s generate some good trouble, some necessary trouble, as John Lewis would say.” Hevenor concluded by quoting Acts 4:29 and then said, “I want to see God standing up and cheering because of the bold and courageous Kingdom ideas that are being generated out of the Eastern Territory.”

On the same page

In response, Commissioner Susan Bukiewicz said on behalf of herself and her husband, “We feel like we’re already brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re on the same page spiritually, and we are the team to move this territory forward toward Christ and salvation for the world. We look forward to our years together and we pledge our love and support to you, and we thank you.”

Commissioner Bukiewicz also acknowledged the service of their predecessors when she said, “And I’d like to say thank you to Commissioners Bill and Lorraine Bamford. Wow, we have big shoes to fill. We love them. We honor them.”

As she described her Manifesto of Love for the Church, Bukiewicz asserted, “We are the last stronghold against evil in this world. We stand between heaven and hell. We are it.”

Installation ceremony

Commissioners Kenneth and Jolene Hodder, national leaders, began the official installation ceremony by summoning the flagbearers to the platform. “It is our distinct sense of privilege and honor to be a part of this ceremony here today,” began National Commander Hodder. “The friendship that we have for Ralph and Susan Bukiewicz and the opportunity that we have had to witness their ministry, its power, and its effectiveness, makes this a special day for the two of us. Thank you for allowing us to be here.”

During the ceremony, Commissioner Hodder read another statement from General Buckingham. Then the newly appointed territorial leaders, surrounded by the entire Territorial Executive Conference, knelt in a sacred moment of prayer at the mercy seat. Unbound, the NYSB, and ETSS celebrated the moment with powerful and majestic musical renditions that shook the Citadel’s rafters.

Follow me

“I want to begin by asking you, as Paul did to the Church, ‘Follow me, as I follow Christ,’” said Territorial Commander Bukiewicz. “For many [of us] here, we don’t have the benefit of a shared history. We don’t have the advantage of seeing your life’s journey up to this point. We didn’t experience setbacks or victories together the way friends and family so often do. We also don’t know reputations or have memories. We don’t have the benefit of sharing things that are established through time, which include loyalty and trust. So, for many today, we begin our history right now. It’s a fresh start. It’s a clean slate. And it’s filled with new opportunities.”

Known for his astute communication skills gleaned from unique childhood experiences, Bukiewicz meticulously described the virtues of such connections as he challenged his audience to be willing to open their hands, eyes, and minds. Delving even deeper, he also asked that they open their hearts, and even spirits. He strongly suggested that such openness would lead to greater respect, dignity, and love for one’s neighbor and the ability to identify and respond to human need.

Bukiewicz also implored his audience to open their mouths and share their heartfelt testimonies with other people. “Are you willing to share words of kindness and affirmation and encouragement when the world around us would just as soon criticize and cancel?” he asked. “Are you willing to tell your story?”

Bukiewicz concluded by saying that such transparency and openness requires great strength and courage, but God is willing to equip those who are willing to say, “My answer is ‘yes.’ Now, what was the question?”

From the Old Testament, Bukiewicz shared Joshua 1:8–9, which says to “be strong and very courageous.”

He looked up from the Scripture and made a final ask. “May we join you in your journey? Can we be a part of your community? Will you be open to our ministry? Will you receive our leadership?”