On File

Relevents: Rafael Nuñez

Rafael Nuñez, a soldier at the Manhattan Citadel Corps, talks about why Thanksgiving and Christmas are his favorite holidays, the importance of leaving hard times in God’s hands, and the homeless outreach ministry he looks forward to doing again in February.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are my favorite holidays because they both celebrate the family. Every year, I look forward to being with my two families—my wife and daughter, and my extended Salvation Army corps family. These holidays are also the busiest times for me. There are donations to pick up, kettles to set up, dinners to prepare, and food baskets to give away. Seeing the Army help people during this season is a wonderful feeling, as is seeing my two families come together to celebrate and to serve.

Before I came to Manhattan Citadel, I had attended the New Brunswick, N.J., Corps. Since childhood, I was heavily involved in the ministry. But when I moved to the Bronx, I stopped going to church. For years, while on my bus ride home, I would notice the Manhattan Citadel. One day, I decided to visit it with Victoria, my daughter. The people were as welcoming and as family–oriented as I remembered The Salvation Army to be. Victoria eventually became a junior soldier. Today, she is as dedicated to the Manhattan CItadel as I was in New Brunswick when I was a child.

I’m a believer in leaving hard times in God’s hands. At my most difficult time in life, I was renting a room in a shelter with my family. One day, we heard a knock at our door. City marshals broke the lock and rushed in. They said we had 10 minutes to get our things and leave. From there, it was shelter to shelter, filling out applications for apartments and for low–income housing. Finally, when we acquired a living space through a lottery, I held back tears and thanked God for helping us get through this. When I left our most difficult times in His hands, He took care of my family.

“Don’t Walk By” is a program that The Salvation Army, along with other local churches and charities, participated in last February. Every Saturday, Victoria and I drove an Army van through upper and lower Manhattan. We picked up homeless people who needed a ride to local shelters, churches, or our corps to get help. One week, my wife also helped us, seated next to me and handling the GPS navigation duties. The last weekend of the month, we picked up 50 homeless people in one night. I thought Victoria would be scared because she had to sit in the back with strangers. Instead, she embraced the service that we were doing in God’s name. We both can’t wait to participate again this February.

Volunteering is one of the most important things in my life. In New Brunswick, I worked the Army canteens at fires, serving coffee to firemen and the people affected. After school, I’d go straight to the canteen. At night, while still smelling like smoke, I’d come home to do my homework. Now, my favorite way to volunteer is by helping with the feeding program for children and their families. Every one of them is so grateful. Letting them eat at their own pace is just as important as the food we give. Hungry children never want to be rushed while eating.

interview by Hugo Bravo

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