The People are the Church
As Salvation Army officers, Captains Candy and J.R. Fritsch know their appointment to the Cleveland West Park Corps could change at any time. If the Army wants to deploy them elsewhere, they will salute and go.
In anticipation of their next move, the Fritsches are determined to train local corps leaders who will stay the course. In the midst of a multi–million–dollar renovation and expansion, the Fritsches have also asked soldiers to describe in writing how they can best serve when the project is complete.
“We want them to tell us how they see themselves fitting into the leadership team,” Captain J.R. said. “Then when my wife and I move on, whenever that may be, there is no lull in anything. The new officers just come in and everything runs smoothly. We’re big on developing leaders.
“A good pastor is one who equips and lets go. The ministry belongs to the church. The officer is not the church. The people are the church. We want to equip everybody to do what they do so everything continues long after we’re gone.”
Finding a home
Their philosophy fits perfectly into the Skilled Leadership aspect of “Strikepoint.” Ricki Helmick and Marissa Lewis are two soldiers who have already exemplified such leadership at the corps.
Helmick, 28, came to the corps off and on as a child. But since the death of her father three years ago, she has been consistent.
From her childhood, Helmick has known Cleveland West Park to be a safe place. A week before her father died, she came to church. Major Susan Hickman, the co–divisional leader in the Northeastern Ohio Division (NEOSA), prayed with her. The Salvation Army later helped Helmick with the funeral arrangements and the aftermath of her loss.
“That’s when I knew I was home,” Helmick said. “I felt I could never repay God for Cleveland West Park and for what they did for me.”
On a mission
“I felt that’s the day God really confirmed it for me that this is where I belong. Before, I felt like I was running from Him. It took losing my father to bring me back to Him. How do I repay God? By serving.”
Each week, as many as 10 Girl Guards, some from broken homes, come to the corps meetings.
“A lot of them struggle with not feeling loved and low self–esteem,” Helmick said. “To me, they’re like my children; I can give them the love they need.”
Holy Spirit speaking
As Helmick drives the corps van around, she said it breaks her heart to see young people hanging out in the streets instead of being in church.
“I realize it goes on all over, but in Cleveland, we lose so many children to gun violence,” she said. “So many young girls come up missing. So many young men have been killed.
“It’s good to know [the corps] is a safe place. We have fun. We laugh. We talk about God, but we do it in a fun way.”
Helmick said the children motivate her to show up at the corps every day.
“I’m young enough to know what they go through and what they struggle with,” she said. “The world is in a bad place right now. I just want to do God’s footwork.
“The kids are just looking for love and friendship and someone whom they can trust. I try to steer them in the right direction and keep them off the streets and out of trouble.”
Recently, the corps sent Helmick to a holiness seminar. She also attended this year’s Candidates Seminar. She would like to become an officer, but she sees much work to do with children on the streets of Cleveland.
Captain J.R. said, “In the last few years, Ricki has really stepped up in her faith and in her relationship with God and in her work at the corps. When we call, she’s there. She’s on a strong growth plan in her walk.”
You might say Marissa Lewis, 19, literally grew up in The Salvation Army. She was only 14 months old when her mother, Cheryl Lewis, lost her apartment and the two found refuge in a Salvation Army shelter in Cleveland.
Cheryl Lewis soon met Major Diana Capanna, a local corps officer, and started attending a women’s Bible study. That’s where Lewis accepted Christ. When young Marissa wanted to learn to dance, The Salvation Army also met her need.
“I couldn’t afford the dance lessons for Marissa,” Cheryl Lewis recalls. “I had nobody. The Salvation Army here became my family.”
Finding her place
Marissa learned to dance at the West Park Corps. For many years, she has also participated in NEOSA’s Music Arts Program (MAP), Hands On, and the Territorial Arts Ministry (TAM) Conservatory. Today, she helps teach budding artists.
At Bowling Green University, she is involved in club soccer, rugby, and basketball and openly shares her faith.
Her college studies keep her away from the corps most of the year, but Lewis has taught Sunday school. She also was a counselor at Camp NEOSA.
“I like kids a lot. So, just being involved in the kid realm has been great,” she said. “It allows me to be a child again. I think that definitely inspired me to be a leader.
“I’ve gained leadership skills through all the things I’ve done with The Salvation Army.”
Like Helmick, Lewis loves passing along her faith to a younger generation.
“I’m teaching little kids about the Gospel,” she said. “That’s so important.”
Find your niche
When it comes to teaching dance and the arts, Lewis said she encourages young people to find an art form and use it for God’s glory.
“When I dance, I forget about my surroundings and anything else that is happening,” she said. “I turn on that music and it’s like I’m in a whole new world. I’m floating around and dancing—and I’m not just dancing—it’s the art form I’m using to praise God.”
Last year, Lewis went to the West Coast as a member of a Hands On mission team and was surprised to find pockets of poverty in the midst of opulence. Hollywood may have seemed glitzy on the surface, but she eventually saw its ugly underbelly.
“We fed people who lived in tents and we built relationships with them,” she recalled. “You have to love people, no matter what they’re going through and no matter what’s going on.”
This year, Lewis will return to Hands On and minister in Puerto Rico.
Captain J.R. called Lewis a “natural leader.”
“She’s an amazing young woman. We’ve seen her grow in the Lord,” he said. “The Salvation Army offers so many opportunities like Hands On and TAM that bring out those natural leadership qualities.
“People follow her just because of her personality and who she is. I see her going far in life. She loves The Salvation Army and is an asset to us.”
Captain Candy Fritsch added, “Marissa will do anything for others. We have seen her grow into a beautiful young lady in the Lord.”
Captain J.R. called local officers the “backbone” of the corps.
“To me, they’re more important than the corps officer because we come and go,” he said. “They stay here. When it comes down to leadership, it’s the local officers who keep the vision and this place moving forward.
“We’ve outgrown our chapel. We need to continue to promote God and Christ in our neighborhood. We couldn’t do it without people like Ricki and Marissa.”
by Robert Mitchell