With the gifts and skills God has given us, we each have a valuable role to play. Here we salute some of the exceptional local leaders in the Central Territory, whose steadfast and sacrificial service even during a pandemic is making all the difference for now and eternity.
Going the extra mile
Kansas City Blue Valley, Mo., Corps youth leader Maricssa Meras is dedicated to spreading the gospel and discipling children and teens of the corps. Working while studying early education, this college student has a lot on her plate, but she keeps her involvement at the corps a priority. In addition to teaching corps cadets and leading other youth programs, she volunteers to serve community meals and assists with events like school supply distribution.
“Maricssa is very responsible,” said Major Lex Giron, corps officer. “She always goes the extra mile.”
Maricssa says she wants to provide the same comfort and opportunities for youth that she experienced growing up in the corps.
“Going to the corps made a big difference in my life,” she said. “It was a safe place for me, so instead of getting into trouble I was involved at the corps.”
The desire to take up a leadership role came after a powerful experience at youth councils in which Maricssa felt the Lord calling her to step up.
“Maricssa used to be very quiet, but she began to speak up and take leadership,” said Major Lex. “She has good priorities and is a good example to the kids.”
Throughout the pandemic, Maricssa has stayed connected with the corps youth and worked with them to complete their corps cadet lessons along with other activities such as the corps mini-vacation Bible school. She currently leads a teen Bible study and discussion group each week.
Pouring out God’s love
When it comes to young people, Vanessa Brinkmann has a passion for letting them know they are loved. It’s that simple.
Though she only recently took on the local officer position of young people’s sergeant-major at the Indianapolis Eagle Creek, Ind., Corps, she was doing the work long before then. In fact, every young person who attended the corps in the past nine years has connected with Vanessa in some way. She is not only committed to her girl guards and band kids but takes a real interest in every young person she meets.
“The corps is a safe place,” said Vanessa. “It’s a place for youth to meet friends, escape stress, be themselves and have fun.”
Vanessa says her passion for youth ministry comes from her own journey, which began when a friend invited her to sunbeams. “I always had something in me that was drawing me to the Lord,” she said. “God calls us in different ways. My Christian friends who invited me to church were part of God calling me.”
From her first encounter with The Salvation Army, Vanessa became involved in other programs, learned to play a horn and attended summer camps. She accepted Christ and has not looked back.
“Faith is the foundation of everything,” she said regarding the importance of reaching youth with the gospel. “When you’re young you learn to tie your shoes, to feed yourself, the basic things. As Christians, we believe it’s a basic thing to learn about God.”
Her desire to pour God’s love into young people is evident in her dedication to everything that happens at the corps. Whenever something needs to be done, Vanessa is committed to be there.
“Vanessa loves each person who comes through the doors,” said Lt. Joshua Hubbard, Indianapolis Eagle Creek corps officer. “She is a selfless soldier, dedicated to our young people and committed to our community. We are blessed at Eagle Creek to have Vanessa as our YPSM.”
Shining for Christ
Jesús Ortiz has served as corps sergeant-major (CSM) at the Chicago, Ill., La Villita Corps for 17 years.
“Jesús is someone who lives his faith,” said Carlos Moran, corps administrator. “He is the same at home as he is at the corps, a strong family man and a good example.”
In his crucial role as CSM, Jesús helps lead and support the corps and encourages other members to be fully involved. Though limited during the pandemic, he has served as a Sunday school teacher, taught soldiership classes and filled in as a substitute Bible study leader. He also started the corps’ Facebook page and uses it to encourage corps members as well as those on the fringes in their faith.
Jesús wasn’t always a believer. In the early days, he attended the corps on Sundays primarily to spend time with the woman he would one day marry. However, through the ministry of Major Victor Garcia, who was the corps officer at the time, he began to explore spiritual matters and accepted Christ as his Savior.
“I wasn’t sure at first what it really meant to be a Christian,” said Jesús, but he didn’t quit. Choosing to go all in, Jesús started attending Bible study and gave up his self-indulgent lifestyle as he realized his actions were not honoring to God.
The difference Christ made in Jesús’ heart and mind changed the course of his and his family’s lives. Jesús’ wife, children and extended family also have accepted Christ. His grown children have continued to serve the Lord through The Salvation Army as employees or soldiers at other corps.
“I thank God every day for His grace,” concluded Jesús. “I pray God keeps me in His Word and away from temptation so I can be a blessing to others for Him.”
Inspiring women to grow
“I love all of it,” said Sheila Carson of her role as women’s ministries secretary at the Kansas City Eastside, Mo., Corps which she’s held for two years.
Sheila began attending the corps with her mother after an invitation from now-Captain LeOtis Brooks about 14 years ago. She was enrolled as a soldier in 2011 and recently completed a refresher course and renewed her commitment. She wears her uniform proudly to show her dedication to the corps and to the Lord and says she lives daily by Proverbs 3:5-7.
“Sheila has grown in her faith,” said Major Janice Love, corps officer. “She has a boldness to tell it like it is, and I appreciate that about her. She’s a studier of the Word and a consistent and faithful tither.”
Since taking on the role of women’s ministries secretary, Sheila has used her gifts of organization, attention to detail and creativity to plan and lead programs and activities for the women of the corps. She especially enjoys teaching crafts and building relationships within the group.
“I love our ladies,” she said. “When we get together we have our program but we also tell each other about our lives and pray for one another.”
In addition to orchestrating women’s ministries activities, Sheila serves as head usher on Sundays, volunteers to cook for corps and community meals, and has prepared care packages for corps members throughout the pandemic, each one designed for a particular group or event such as children, corps cadets, men’s ministries and Mother’s Day.
“We plan to start meeting in person again soon,” concluded Sheila. “I want to see our ladies grow, to love one another, and to invite more women to join us.”