LIMA — For most of us, the Salvation Army is a holiday thing. We hear the jingling bells; we see the bright red kettles. And we know that Christmas is right around the corner. Aside from some vague satisfaction we get, knowing that the coins we drop in the kettle are going to a “good cause,” we seldom give the Salvation Army itself a second thought. Especially after December 25, when the kettles and bells disappear for another 11 months or so.
But the Salvation Army does not go dormant after the Christmas decorations come down. The Army’s work goes on year-round. And during the week of March 21-26, a group of cadets from the Salvation Army training school in Suffern, New York — the SPARK Brigade — are coming to Ohio to discover how the work of the organization is done here in Lima. SPARK is an acronym for “Showing People a Real Kingdom,” but the agenda for their visit will be shaped by the regular weekly activities here at the local Salvation Army. The overarching goal, in fact, is to show the cadets themselves what a real pastoral life in a normal American community is like.
“My goal for the brigade is to introduce them to the pastoral life as we do it,” said Major Debbie Stacy, who along with her husband Jeff serves as corps officer, or co-pastor, of the Lima Salvation Army. “It’s nonstop. It’s not only day ministry, which is visitation and administration work, it’s also evening programs, building relationships, teaching youth, character building programs. We have adult programs on Wednesday night. We have music programs on Thursday nights. There’s a lot of activities that we do here, so we want them to get a taste of our regular lives as a corps officer or as a pastor. But we also want to introduce them to the importance of building relationships in our community. We’re trying to give them a well-rounded ministry experience while they’re in Lima.”
At the same time, however, Stacy hopes to use the brigade’s presence in Lima as a means to draw attention to the many services the Salvation Army provides for community residents in the months between Christmas and Thanksgiving. The cadets, she noted, will be making appearances at the Lima Optimist Club and at local media outlets. There will also be a “Family Fun Day” featuring food, games and music, at the Salvation Army headquarters March 25.
“It gets the word out on who we are and what we’re doing,” she said.
This is important, she added, because all too often people think of the Salvation Army as a service organization, forgetting its primary mission.
“That’s why I always say first and foremost that we’re a church. A lot of people don’t recognize that. We have people that come in for social services and if they come in the front door, we always have the chapel doors open and people say, ‘We didn’t know you were a church.’ We hold regular Sunday services.”
Stacy and her husband are beginning their fourth year here in Lima. Ohio natives, they are in their 19th year of ministry, having spent 13 years in Pennsylvania and two years in Lancaster, Ohio, before being named corps officers at the Lima Salvation Army.
Reflecting on their three years in Lima, Stacy said that she and her husband see a lot of potential in the community.
“There are a lot of possibilities,” she said. “My husband and I are youth-oriented. We have a heart for the youth, trying to help them understand that they are more than who they think they are, more than what they’ve come from. We are right across from the high school, so we see a lot of the high school kids and it breaks your heart for the lack of respect, what they think of themselves. They think this is the way it’s always going to be, and we’re trying to show them that it doesn’t have to be that way. We’re here to be a safe haven for them.”
At the end of March, however, the Stacys’ focus will be on the cadets of the SPARK brigade. These visits to local Salvation Armies are an integral part of the two-year training program that every cadet goes through. With each individual Salvation Army being unique to the community it serves, cadets get a chance to observe first-hand the challenges they will be facing in the years ahead — bell ringing included.
“One of the reasons the Salvation Army has a two-year ministry training program is because we’re not only pastors, but we do so much more with our social services, with our programming, with our community relations.” said Stacy. “There’s so much involved. We have the bookkeeping. We’re also the administrators of the church. There is so much, they try to give you a taste of all of that.”
For Majors Debbie and Jeff, this visit holds special significance. Their son Matthew and his wife Stacy — yes, Stacy Stacy — are currently attending the training program in Suffern. And their daughter-in-law, Stacy Stacy, is a member of the SPARK brigade.
Major Debbie describes herself as being “excited” by the prospect of having time to visit with her daughter-in-law.
And that is probably as it should be. As she noted earlier in our conversation, “It’s exciting to see what God does in the lives of his people when we’re just obedient to Him.”
Reach Dayton Fandray at firstname.lastname@example.org.