Magazine Exclusive

Ralph and Charlie: preachers on a mission

When Ralph Capoano and Charlie Kerr walk into a Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center, (ARC), they use their credible voices to speak hope and understanding into the hearts and minds of beneficiaries. Although Ralph never attended high school, and neither are counselors, they’ve nonetheless shared their ministry numerous times at ARCs across the Eastern Territory and inspired listeners with their personal stories of recovery from substance misuse.

Ralph first became familiar with the ARC when, while buying recovery Bibles at a Christian bookstore, he heard that a Salvation Army officer wanted to start a recovery meeting program on Staten Island. That Tuesday night, he visited the Staten Island ARC and met with Major (then lieutenant) Mark Unruh. Ralph enjoyed being in the ARC and returned often.

He also visited ARCs in Brooklyn and the Bronx to talk to the beneficiaries. He reached out to the Salvation Army’s Territorial Headquarters in New York and asked for the locations of all the ARCs in the territory.

In 2009, Ralph reconnected with Charlie, who he had met at the ARC on Staten Island. Ralph asked Charlie, who had finished the program and beaten his substance misuse, to be a part of what Ralph had started at the ARCs.

“Charlie has been a real blessing for me,” says Ralph. “I’m getting old and losing some of my hearing. But Charlie going up there and talking makes the ministry easier to do and continue.”

“We have a simple message for these men; “That the love God has for you is more amazing and powerful than any sin you have committed.”

 

Child of God

Recently, Ralph and Charlie visited the Newark, N.J., ARC to participate in the Wednesday vespers. It’s a familiar location for them, and their first visit since Easter Sunday.

“Easter is the only day that has ever occurred that will affect us forever,” Charlie says to the audience of beneficiaries in the ARC chapel. “When Jesus walked out of His tomb, He affected the past, the present, and the future of all of us.”

Charlie asks the audience to recognize how God works to bring them closer to Him. “Imagine that you are standing on a cliff. God is standing on another cliff far away from you. But to be with you, God builds a bridge to connect you to Him. That bridge is Jesus,” says Charlie.

“When we die, the day of our birth won’t matter, nor will the day that we relapsed or the day we got clean. What will matter is how we responded to Jesus dying and rising for us. That will matter throughout eternity.”

Charlie happily admits that getting clean and leaving behind his years of crime and drug misuse was only possible because he invited Jesus Christ into his heart.

“I could never live the Christian life I do today on my own power,” says Charlie. “I wasn’t going to stop drinking and using drugs on my own. I wasn’t going to be the husband and father I wanted to be on my own. I couldn’t even speak to all of you on my own power. It was only possible with God in my life. I’m His child now, and my past does not control me. Sin and death have no power over me.”

 

A different world

“Thirty–three years ago, when I became a Christian, I couldn’t see myself preaching in front of all of you and spending hours studying the Bible,” Ralph says to the audience. “When I told others that I had given my life to Christ, I heard what a few of you might hear when you tell people, ‘Oh, that’s good. You need that.’ They didn’t need that, but I did, because to them, I was the problem.”

Ralph grew up in Brooklyn, working with mafiosos and loan sharks as a teen. “I was doing drugs, committing robberies, and running from cops,” Ralph says. “There might even be a few loan sharks still looking for me out there.”

Ralph says that now, when he comes across people he knew from his days in Brooklyn, he can’t communicate with them anymore. “I’m just different now. Not better than they are, just different. It has not always been easy. I’ve had my moments of doubt, anger, and fear. But when I knew that God loved me, there was no way I would go back to where I was.

“The book of Matthew says that if your hands are causing you to sin, cut them off. If your eyes are causing you to sin, gouge them out. The first time I read that, I was confused. Did God want me to chop off my arms?” asks Ralph.

He soon began to understand that God was saying to remove the people, places, and things that were causing sin to appear. “When I came to Christ, I was drinking and smoking two packs a day. When I left the church for the first time, I needed a cigarette badly. It would take months for me to be delivered from all my addictions. But when I decided to let go and let God give me the strength, one day of being clean turned into 33 years.”

Just as the prodigal son returned home to receive his father’s grace, so can each of us return to God’s love and light, explains Ralph. “When the son’s money ran out, he had no place to go, so he went back home. How many of us here have been in that same situation?” The audience nodded in agreement.

“My own father would’ve scolded me in Italian, and my mom would have in English!” says Ralph laughing. “But the father of the prodigal son embraced and welcomed him back into his home. That’s how God sees us. If we return to Him, He will welcome us.”

“What God did for Charlie, for me, and for so many others, He wants to do for all of you,” says Ralph.

by Hugo Bravo