Magazine Features

The ministry of Jared Plesec

On the morning of December 2, 2017, Jared Jerome Plesec, a soldier at The Salvation Army Temple Corps Community Center in Cleveland, Ohio, was shot and killed in the lobby of his apartment. He was on his way to do kettle work for the corps. One year later, Jared’s corps officers and friends reflect on the impact of his life and legacy.

In early 2017, Jared Plesec and Major Daniel Alverio, commanding officer at the Cleveland Temple Corps Community Center, traveled to New York and stopped by The Eastern Territorial Headquarters (THQ). They visited the Heritage Museum’s exhibit on iconic Salvationists of the past. Included among them was Nishan Der Garabedian, known as “Joe The Turk,” the Armenian Salvation Army evangelist and activist.

Major Alverio saw similarities between Garabedian and Plesec. Both were intimidating figures more likely to have been mistaken for professional athletes rather than men of God. Neither were born into The Salvation Army, but developed a passion for its ministry and mission.

Joe the Turk had stamped the phrase “Jesus Saves” on items. Jared shared those words in a more modern way; his customized Nike sneakers carried the imprint “Jesus Lives” on the back. Indeed, Jared himself was a stamp.

“Jared left his mark on everyone he met,” remembers Alverio. “He had a fire for introducing people to The Salvation Army, and to the Lord. In Jared’s eyes, there wasn’t anyone who could not be saved. Not a day goes by that something in the church doesn’t remind us of him.”

Whatever it takes

Plesec had been a soldier for two years when Majors Daniel and Karen Alverio arrived at the Temple Corps Community Center in June of 2016.

“Jared was tall, with a shaved head, covered in tattoos, and had diamonds in his teeth,” remembers Major Daniel. “But his look didn’t give you the full picture of who he really was.”

Jared had graduated high school at the top of his class. He could have easily gone to college, possibly to pursue a career in medicine as did many members of his family. But he was compelled to stay home and do something positive in his community of Collinwood. He believed the most positive thing he could do was bring souls to The Salvation Army.

“‘Whatever it takes’ is how he would respond to any job that was assigned to him,” says Major Karen. “Whatever it took to promote the mission of the Army, Jared was open to trying it. He never hesitated to put himself out of his comfort zone.”

To Jared, every corps activity was a chance for ministry. He would come to volleyball classes to pray with the athletes after practice, and then make time to work on arts & crafts with the children at the corps. Other days, he would visit the all–women health and wellness program to show the attendees how to safely use the machines in the weight room. Major Karen suggested to Jared that he join Cleveland Temple’s Music Ministries, even though he had never played an instrument. But when asked, Jared started practicing the alto horn.

“We both knew that seeing him play would make others want to play too. Jared was a born mentor; he had a natural ability to inspire,” says Major Karen.

The ‘model’ soldier

Jared’s influence went far beyond the walls of the church. As Major Daniel put it, Jared had his heart in the corps, but his eyes and ears observed the streets of Collinwood. When someone had just come out of jail and entered the corps, the first person he or she would want to talk and pray with was Jared.

“Jared knew all the gang members, players, and hustlers of the community, young and old. He understood the meaning of every handshake and hand sign,” says Major Daniel. “He felt he needed to know all this, because it was the first step to bringing those folks to God.”

“Jared was never scared to minister in the most dangerous streets,” says Major Karen. “If we ever said anything about it, he would reply, ‘I know who I am in Christ, so why would I be afraid?’ He was so grounded in his faith and unafraid of the darkness. He knew that to help Collinwood, he would have to reach into that darkness.”

To face the darkness, Jared wore a unique suit of armor. His body was covered in tattoos, and anyone who asked about them was another person ready to be saved. Many times, Major Daniel found himself ministering to someone who was at first only curious about Jared’s tattoos.

Even the act of getting tattooed was a way to promote The Salvation Army. Jared’s “black ink” style tattoos, many of which were Army messages and symbols, would show clearly on his skin. When his tattoo artist wanted to show off his best work, Jared would be his model.

“For all those clients coming in to get a tattoo from Jared’s artist, the first images they saw were the beautiful symbols of our Salvation Army,” says Major Karen, smiling.

The souls he brought in

Major Daniel remembers having a discussion with Jared about possibly cutting back the corps gym’s hours. He was completely against it; the gym was how he had come to know the Army and he knew it could bring in others.

“If that gym is open for just one person for one extra hour, that’s one hour that he’s not on the streets. Maybe in that time, you reach him. Either way, you’re not just protecting him, but also everyone he might hurt,” Jared would say.

There was nothing more important to Jared than getting people inside the church. He wanted to save them before they lost their life on the streets. He believed that if you brought a soul to God, prayed with him or her, the next time you saw that person, another soul to save would also be in tow.

Jared also brought in a soul from his own family—his father—who was sick and confined to a nursing home.

“Because of his father’s health, Jared thought he would never be able to enroll him,” remembers Major Daniel. “So, we offered to bring the Army flags to him. I said to Jared, ‘You teach him the classes, tell us when he’s ready, and we’ll do the rest.’ He was overjoyed.”

“The only time Jared was not available for the corps was when he was doing devotionals with his father to prepare him to be a Salvation Army soldier,” says Major Daniel.

Jared knew how to mold himself to the ministry, and that he was meant for bigger things in it. Though he felt his home was in Collinwood, Jared had given thought to answering the call to officership.

“A corps run by Jared Plesec would have had a packed service every single Sunday,” says Major Daniel. “And if the chapel became full, he’d ask to take down the walls to fit more people.”

“To put it in simple terms, Jared just ‘got it,’” says Major Karen. “He understood the ministry of The Salvation Army and the words of William Booth as well as any Salvationist or officer with a lifetime of experience. And he was only 21 years old.”

He lives on

On a warm Monday night in October, young soldiers who knew Plesec (and who came to the Army through him) gathered at the Temple Corps Community Center to share memories about their late friend. Jared lives on in the work they each do for the corps.

Soldier Joseph Houston, one of Jared’s closest friends, shows visitors a glass case in the Community Center computer lab. In it are Jared’s awards, photos, sneakers, and trophies for chess and arm wrestling tournaments.

A young girl looks up from her computer screen as she hears Plesec’s name repeatedly.

“Who’s Jared?” the girl whispers to a boy playing a computer game next to her.

“You don’t know about Jared?” he asks. “Okay. Finish your work and then I’m going to tell you all about Jared.”

by Hugo Bravo
photography by Susan Magnano

Watch “Soul Purpose,” the story of Jared Plesec’s ministry, told by his best friend James.

What would Jared do?

“When I think of Jared, I think of hope. He was always someone who could give anyone hope, no matter what problem they were going through,” says Rasheen Adams, one of the many young people Jared Plesec brought to The Salvation Army Temple Corps Community Center.

Rasheen remembers going snow tubing with Jared and seeing him dive headfirst down the snowy hills, while Rasheen and everyone else sat safely on their snowtubes. “That’s just how Jared was. He would dive headfirst into anything he did,” says Rasheen.

Courtney Stoudamire–Smith says Jared was a holy individual, with the talent to turn even the smallest moment into a time of ministry.

“Jared did more than bring me to the corps; he showed me how to be involved in the corps. That made me enjoy it more, and I kept coming back for it,” says Courtney.

“Jared was a great, caring friend,” says Tammy McSwain.

“He would ask me for a spot while he worked out, even though he never needed one. He was much stronger than I was!” says Tammy, laughing. “But he wanted me to be part of everything he did. Jared welcomed everyone to be in his life.”

When Joseph Houston was only 12, Jared invited him to church. Now 18, Joseph says that Jared put his heart into everything he did, from bringing young people like Joseph to God, to activities that might have been new to them both, such as music or dancing.

“Even though he’s gone, he still makes us strive to do better at anything we do,” says Joseph. “We always ask ‘What Would Jesus Do,’ but when we’re trying something new, we also ask, ‘What Would Jared Do?’”

“He would say, ‘Should you try this? Yes. Will it be hard? Probably, but I still want you to try it.’ He would never put anyone, or himself, in a box,” says Joseph.