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Evangelism theme as Commissioning Weekend begins in Hershey, PA

 There was a spirit of evangelistic fervor in the Great American Hall on Friday as Commissioning Weekend for the Messengers of the Gospel kicked off at the Hershey Lodge.

The session’s 46 cadets, who will be commissioned as Salvation Army officers on Sunday, heard a stirring message from Colonel Douglas Riley, the chief secretary in the USA Western Territory, during a 7 p.m. commencement service. Nearly every speaker made reference to sharing the Gospel message with a lost world.

Riley, employing a “Mission Impossible” theme, said the cadets were about to embark on a mission to share Christ.

“It’s only if you’re strong, deliberate, and bold,” Riley said. “What this world needs now is boldness. Your mission is a command imperative—to share that message [of Christ].

“If you love Jesus, it will be fun, and it will be an adventure, and you’ll love your mission.”

Riley referenced some recent high-profile celebrity suicides, saying the celebrities didn’t have the “hope, love, and joy of the Gospel.”

He also noted that the most Googled words at 11 p.m. are porn, lonely, and suicide.

“Tell me this world doesn’t need you,” Riley said, turning to the cadets seated on the podium behind him. “They need the Gospel.

“You are the bringers of Good News and it must be done. Do in contagiously. This might be a message for some of us out here tonight as well,” he said, looking at the audience.

Riley also implored the cadets not to get distracted by the busyness of this world.

“You must be fixated on your message,” he said. “When you lose sight of Jesus, you’re in trouble. You need to preach it, live it, and declare it.”

While the cadets won’t have any fancy gadgets or fast cars to help them like the stars of “Mission Impossible,” Riley said they will have something far better.

“You have power because the Holy Spirit brings power upon you,” he said.

The commencement service also was a time to recognize academic achievement and hand out awards.

Cadet Scott Swires won the Doctrine Knowledge Achievement Award, while Kimberly Clark took home the Doctrine Knowledge Progress Award.

Cadets Miguel Barriera and Swires shared the Bible Knowledge Achievement Award. Cadet Alexandra Vazquez was the winner of the Bible Knowledge Progress Award.

The session boasts two salutatorians this year: cadets Kaitlyn Haddix and Kevin Vazquez. The valedictorian was Melissa Lowell, who urged her session mates to love others with open hands and arms.

“We are ready,” she said. “We are the Messengers of the Gospel. “I think one thing we’re passionate about is the whole world will be saved.”

Commissioner William Bamford III, Territorial Commander, agreed.

“Their real work begins in a few days,” Bamford said. “We’re all called to preach the Gospel. No one is exempt if you claim to be a Christian.”

Colonel Janet Munn, the principal at the College for Officer Training, introduced those new evangelists to the audience by noting that the 46 cadets come from nine different countries and speak five languages.

The average age of the Messengers of the Gospel is 33 and 44 percent arrived at the CFOT two years ago with some sort of college degree.

Most of them came to Christ early—the average age of conversion for the cadets was 15—and 78 percent found that salvation at a Salvation Army church and 70 percent are first-generation Salvationists.

Two of the cadets came through the Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) program.

Fellowship of the Silver Star

“You are our people, the ones that we love,” said Cadet Kaitlyn Haddix. Speaking to the families attending the Fellowship of the Silver Star Dinner, she continued, “We [cadets] thank you for giving up your children to follow their dreams—to follow God’s call.” On behalf of the Messengers of the Gospel session of cadets, Haddix concluded, “Thank you for your support, for reminding us of Who we serve, and for never giving up on us.”

Commissioner G. Lorraine Bamford, territorial president of women’s ministries, presented the recipients of the Marie H. Sharp Awards, an endowment fund established in 1993 by the Sharp family. Three representative parents of cadets (including a father) received the awards. “Keep in mind that these parents represent all of you,” said Bamford. “Each recipient will receive a Bible from the Sharp family.”

Escorting their parents to the platform were Cadet Stacey Stacey, Cadet Alexandra Vazquez, and Cadet Gisselle Jasmin Tirado.

In Loving Memory, Colonel Janet Munn, principal of the College for Officer Training, read the names of 12 parents who have passed on (promoted to Glory). Their names also appeared on the two large screens in the hall. The Messengers of the Gospel followed by singing “Somebody’s Praying.”

Colonel Colleen Riley, territorial secretary for Women’s Ministries of the USA Western Territory and special guest, delivered a five–point devotional message on the meaning of the Silver Star. She carefully described the the points of the star as representing the attributes of faith, prayer, encouragement, strength, and love. “You are shining examples to all of us,” she said of the parents in the room. “Continue to shine brightly.”

Commissioning Weekend continues tomorrow with Star Search and a 7 p.m. praise and worship meeting called “This Is My Story” in the Great American Hall.

The cadets will be commissioned and receive their appointments on Sunday.

—by Robert Mitchell and Warren L. Maye


A day of Star Search and an evening of transformed lives show how to change the world

At this year’s Star Search, Salvationists from the Salvation Army’s Puerto Rico & Virgin Islands Division arrived ready to represent their home islands that had, less than a year ago, suffered the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria.

The Arecibo Corps Dance Troupe, trained by Soldier Mabel Lopez, waved flags of Argentina, Mexico, USA, and other countries during their dance to the song “That’s How You Change the World” by the Newsboys. The original plan was for each dancer to wave Puerto Rico flags, but Lopez said that the girls wanted to show that every corner of the world needs help, as well as Puerto Rico.

“After Hurricane Maria, the girls in our troupe were taking time to serve the community. That was their way of changing the world around them,” said Lopez. “The girls chose ‘That’s How You Change the World’ to say that we can all change the world; through prayer, service, and simply extending our hands to people in need.”

Captain Omar Rolon, corps officer from the Salvation Army’s San Juan Central Temple Corp, noted the emotional importance of Puerto Rico representing one year after Hurricane Maria.

“After everything that our island has been through, this is a special occasion for our corps, and for every child to perform who comes from Puerto Rico,” said Rolon.

“Despite Hurricane Maria, every member of the brigade has been dedicated to practice year-round,” said Soldier Waleska Melendez, coach of the San Juan Central Temple’s timbrel brigade. She watched as her students proudly raised the flag of Puerto Rico at the conclusion of their performance.

Nine-year-old Lexier Diaz represented the Salvation Army Mayaguez Corps in the snare drum soloist category. Lexier’s parents, Captains Angel and Marlene Diaz, said that although Mayaguez did not have a music program right now, Lexier had learned the snare drum while the family was stationed in Fajardo.

“We look forward to Mayaguez having an established music program this year,” said Captain Angel Diaz.

“There are many communities without the privilege of being able to provide an artistic outlet for talented children, and in a safe place,” says Marlene Diaz. Music, she says, plays a special role in helping young Puerto Rican children deal with the tragedies of Hurricane Maria.

“For these children to continue to practice and love music despite the events of the last year is a blessing. It is not only good for them now, but it’s good for their future, and the future of their communities. Likewise, it’s helping us build the Army of tomorrow in Puerto Rico.”

At the Star Search Awards Ceremony, Commissioners William A. and G. Lorraine Bamford, territorial leaders, acknowledged the dedication shown by the students and their teachers to prepare for today.

“We thank the Lord for the talents He has given these young people,” said Commissioner Lorraine Bamford. “May He bless them so they know they have represented Him well.”

Stories of transformation

At the evening service, themed “This is my story,” Captain Darell Houseton and Lieutenant Lilybeth Otero introduced moving testimonies from people who’s lives have been changed through the Salvation Army’s ministry in the USA Eastern Territory.

“These stories are meant to show us who we are, where we come from, and who we can be,” said Captain Houseton. “In them, we will see challenges, and we will see redemption.”

A video of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and the services of the Puerto Rico & Virgin Islands Division filled the large screens, followed by a chorus of young soldiers from Puerto Rico singing “El Señor Es Bueno” (The Lord is Good).

Soldier Richard Lopez said that the work of the young soldiers of Puerto Rico had always been admirable, but noticed that the events of Hurricane Maria had brought out a level of commitment that he never imagined.

“The day after the hurricane, these children were the first ones at the corps cleaning, serving food, and giving away water,” said Lopez.

Lieutenant Otero reminded everyone of the power of faith in God, and that transformation also means hope that things will get better.

“No one is ever too far gone in the eyes of God,” said Otero.

During a second video, the audience met Jamie Thomas. Her father had lost his life to addiction and suicide when Jamie was young, and it made her expect to end up an addict as he had been. A physical injury led to Jamie’s addiction: first with opioids, then with heroine.

However, at the Syracuse, N.Y., Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), Jamie found recovery and the love of God.  “Going through recovery was a long slow process; piece by piece. But it was how God wanted it,” said Jamie.

Jamie was able to become a nurse after her recovery. It was the career path that years ago, drugs had taken from her. Now she helps people get help for their addictions, as she was helped at the Syracuse ARC.

“God gave me things I wanted when He knew I was ready to have them,” said Jamie. “I pray that He continues to lift my burdens.”

Jared Plesec’s purposeful life

Captain Houseton spoke about the inspirational people that he had met in the Salvation Army. One of those people was Jared Plesec, a young, heavily–tattooed soldier from Cleveland. Jared had come to use his corps’ weight room when he was 15 and fell in love with The Salvation Army. As a soldier, he mentored kids and reached teens in street gangs. In the middle of the night, he convinced a young runaway to return home.

Last December, In the lobby of his apartment building while getting ready to stand morning kettles, a young man shot Jared the back of his head, killing him. He died in uniform, with a Bible in hand.

The final video of the night showed Jared’s best friend, James, retelling the moment he discovered Jared had been murdered. James watched the security footage of Jared’s final moments.

“It took me days to get back to normal after seeing it,” said James. “How normal can you be after seeing your best friend die?”

Each tattoo on Jared had a special meaning, and he used them in his ministry.

“The tattoos were how Jared got people to approach him,” said James. “When they asked him about his tattoos, Jared spoke to them about the love of Christ, and invited them to church.”

James revealed that days before Jared’s death, he said to James that he didn’t want to leave this world until he had saved every soul. But if anything was to happen to him, he would want James to be the one to carry on his legacy. It made James nervous to consider following in Jared’s footsteps.

“I’m not Jared. I could never be him. But I knew what he meant. I was a Salvation Army soldier just like him.”

The video concludes with James’ visit to Jared’s tattoo artist. As a tribute to Jared James had the word Salvationist tattooed on his arm.

“Jared’s tattoos brought people to Christ. This is part of a living legacy,” says James.

Commissioner William Bamford posthumously awarded Jared Plesec The Great Commission Award. Jared’s family accepted the award on his behalf.

“This award recognizes Jared’s ministry, his impact, and his love for others, and for God,” said Commissioner Bamford. “God touched his life and used his life to make a difference in others.”

During his closing devotion, Colonel Douglas Riley said that listening to the stories tonight, he saw the beautiful subtleness they all had in common. In every story, someone reached out to a life in need and showed the love of Jesus.

“That’s how one life was transformed, and then another life, and then another life, after another life, each transformed until we were all reached here today,” said Colonel Riley.

—by Hugo Bravo

Messengers of the Gospel
Ordained, commissioned, and appointed to serve

On Father’s Day Sunday morning in the Great American Hall of the Hershey Lodge, the Messengers of the Gospel session concluded their Commissioning Weekend events. In doing so, they officially entered the “soul–saving business” and began their new lives as lieutenants in The Salvation Army.

On Friday night during the Commencement Service, the session’s 47 cadets had received their Associate in Applied Science degrees, conferred on them by Commissioner William A. Bamford III, territorial commander. “This is about the academic part,” he had said. “But we must not let the academics get in the way of spreading the Gospel. We need to get out there and spread the Gospel!” On Sunday, it was clear that such a time had come.

Ordained and commissioned to minister

In a solemn demonstration of respect and “In Honor of the Faithful,” cadets of the Messengers of Compassion session (2017–2019), along with the territorial leaders and staff of the College for Officer Training (CFOT) carefully and under a soft spotlight, walked into the hall. Music from The New York Staff Band set a beautifully reverent tone.

“We thank the New York Staff Band for setting the tone for the morning,” said Commissioner William Bamford during his welcome remarks. “Happy Father’s Day and blessings to you for the roles you play.” Following Major Barbara Carvill’s prayer, Bamford led the congregation in singing “On Christ The Solid Rock.” “Let this be our proclamation that we stand solidly on Christ this day,” he said.

A flagbearer carrying the session flag entered the room, followed by the Messengers of the Gospel, who joined the others on the platform.

“Since We Are,” a video presentation, showed cadets in civvies with sleeves rolled up, painting canvases as would fine artists. They compared the responsibility of handling God’s word with the art of painting refreshing and rejuvenating images. Quoting such as Scriptures Acts 2:17 and 2 Tim. 2:13, they discussed their two colorful years together in training.

Worship included sacred dance, songs, musical accompaniment on piano, and drums. Some cadets actually painted canvasses in vibrant colors. Multilingual and multicultural expressions of worship to God flourished. Imaginative clothing, fabrics, and lively singing led to the reading of Isaiah 6:1–8 dramatically recited by Cadet James A. Poloso.

‘The Good Captain’

Colonel Douglas Riley began his message by saying, “Derrick was in solitary confinement.” Riley spoke of an inmate, a former gang member, and a drug addict. So notorious was he, even his family neglected to visit him.

The pain of such confinement made an offer to receive visits from a Salvation Army officer, “The Good Captain,” as Riley called him, attractive to Derrick. Once a week, the Good Captain visited. After six months, the two men became friends.

Their friendship opened the door to Derrick’s journey of accepting the Lord, entering an Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), becoming a soldier, getting married, having two children, being called to officership, and finally becoming an ARC officer in Washington state.

Riley compared Derrick’s transformation to that of the biblical Isaiah’s step in faith, rise from chaos, and ultimate acceptance of his calling as a prophet of God.

“The real King is still on the throne and the train of his divine robe is longer than any earthly king,” said Riley. “Get your eyes up, and fix them on Him.”

In response, worship followed supported by the Eastern Territorial Songsters, the CFOT Praise Team, and the New York Staff Band.

Thank you for coming and for making this investment of your time in being here,” said Colonel Janet Munn, principal of the College for Officer Training (CFOT), as she presented the Messengers of the Gospel. Munn shared interesting statistics about them, such as among the 47 officers, they represented 9 countries, 33 was the average age of conversion, 70 percent are first generation Salvationists, and 78 percent found Christ through The Salvation Army. “This is indicative that we are truly a ‘salvation’ army!”

Commissioners William A. and G. Lorraine Bamford conducted a solemn and frequently tearful Ordination and Commissioning ceremony. With gentle piano music as backdrop, each cadet came forward to receive his or her ordination as a minister of Jesus Christ and commission as an officer of The Salvation Army.

Following the Prayer of Dedication by Colonel Colleen Riley, Commissioner William Bamford offered a Call to Officership.

The meeting ended with the congregation singing “How Great Thou Art,” led by Colonel Paula S. Johnson and the New York Staff Band and a vocal benediction “We Are Not Ashamed,” a lively gospel rendition.

Appointed to serve

The New York Staff Band (NYSB), Bandmaster Derek W. Lance; the newly named Eastern Territorial Staff Songsters; and the CFOT Timbrels set a lively tenor for this long–awaited, much–anticipated meeting. On Sunday evening in the Great American Hall, the Messengers of the Gospel finally learned where their first appointments as lieutenants in The Salvation Army would take them and their families.

A parade of seasoned officers carrying flags from previous sessions entered the hall with much fanfare and under bright and flickering spotlights and powerful music from the NYSB.

The crowd roared as the Messengers of the Gospel marched into the room.

“Give it up for the Messengers of the Gospel!” said Colonel Kenneth O. Johnson, Jr., chief secretary. “Welcome!” he continued. “The blue has been changed to red—they are lieutenants!” Johnson also greeted the newly retired officers in the room.

“This is a holy moment. We are going to celebrate this time in prayer.” Junior Soldier Selah Swires, prayed, “Thank you for bringing the [Messengers of the Gospel] up. Even if they fall down, you will bring them back up. You will help them more and more!”

Johnson led the congregation in singing “Who is on the Lord’s Side?”

Lieutenant Osha Agnew–El, representative speaker, offered an encouraging and instructive message based on Scripture. “This is appointment service time!” she began. “God has prepared a place for us, and it’s going to be lit!”

Agnew-El quoted many Scriptures in support of her premise that God offers instruction and guidance in the pursuit of service and ministry to others. “He has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self discipline…. A fresh anointing is coming our way… we can change the world through Christ! With our first appointment, watch Him show up and show out!”

In their charge to the lieutenants, Commissioners Bamford, territorial leaders, presented the appointments to the lieutenants and their families. “That message made the difference in your life, may you do the same for others,” said William Bamford. “There will be families and communities who will follow your example. Be ready in season and out of season to be an example to the people,” said Commissioner Lorraine Bamford. “Be faithful, be holy, be messengers!” said Commissioner William Bamford.

The Bamfords then appointed the new lieutenants to serve as corps officers and assistant corps officers to cities around the territory. Captain Stephen and Lieutenant Ida Amelie Mayes were appointed to Norway.

Commissioning Weekend wrap up stories, videos, and live streams are available for viewing at Commissioning 2018.

—by Warren L. Maye