Though the 20 lieutenants commissioned this June come from different backgrounds, they are united by God’s transformative grace in their lives and their desire to share this message of hope with others. Get to know this amazing session through a few of their stories.
A hope and a future
by Lt. Wayne Strayer
I am not your typical Salvationist. My family did not go to church, and before age 46 I didn’t know what The Salvation Army was or did. I come from a small town in north central Iowa. Life was difficult as a child. I had mental health issues. Not accepted by my peers, I was bullied and had very few friends. Life at home was not much better; I suffered from abuse and a hard and angry father.
Despite that, I thought I knew everything and wanted to prove myself to my family and everyone else. I joined the Navy at 18 and did well until I was introduced to drugs and alcohol. When my addiction exploded, I was forced to leave the military. Addiction ruled my life. I tried to make changes, but nothing could fill the hole inside of me. After two failed marriages and the loss of a great paying career, I was lost and alone. Evicted, I was homeless when someone told me about the Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Davenport, Iowa. I didn’t know what it was, but after years of failed attempts at sobriety I was desperate for a solution.
At the ARC I was introduced to a loving God and formed a relationship that I never imagined could change my life in such a dramatic way. I found forgiveness and acceptance, two things I never believed I could have. I even felt God calling me to serve Him though I didn’t fully understand what that meant and wasn’t yet prepared to follow. It took two trips through the ARC for me to solidify my relationship with Christ and to accept my calling to become an officer. Today, I enjoy healthy relationships with my children and family and celebrate five years of sobriety. I love life and ministry and am grateful to become an officer who can witness to others about the grace of God and the hope found in Jesus.
A waymaker in my life
by Lt. Shawn Sutter, Sr.
Without me even knowing it, God’s grace has been in every aspect of my life.
While living in Cheyenne, Wyo., God’s grace was present when my mother finally built up the courage to leave my siblings’ abusive father after he passed out drunk. She then raised us four kids for eight years by herself. Though my siblings’ father is Hispanic, and our mother is white, we have always treated each other like there is no difference between us. My mom told us about God and made sure we attended the neighborhood Catholic church.
In 1992 she met my stepdad who loved her and us kids as if we were his own. After graduating from high school in Topeka, Kan., I enlisted in the Air Force. While stationed at the base in Minot, N.D., I met my wife, Audrey. By God’s grace, we have been married for more than 23 years and have four children. She introduced me to The Salvation Army, but we did not attend faithfully until I heard Major Dan Burris preach. God used his words, actions and his past to reach me.
I finally truly believed in Christ and wanted to do more for Him. Within the year, I was enrolled as a senior solder. Increasingly I felt a passion to do more in The Salvation Army and talked with my wife about it. Amazingly, she had felt the call to become an officer as a teenager; now, 20 years later, I had the same calling.
Though the devil tried to derail our path to officership, by God’s grace we were accepted to training and now are becoming officers. I am forever thankful for the people God put in my life to keep me on the right track.
A beacon in the storm
by Lt. Macy Theriot
God’s grace has been a constant in my life before and after becoming a Christian. His grace extended to me even though I didn’t deserve it and couldn’t do anything to earn it. There have been many times in my life when I can pinpoint receiving God’s grace, but a monumental one was when my family went through Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Looking back at God’s goodness during this time always brings me to my knees. By God’s grace our lives were preserved. Surrounded by havoc and destruction with water everywhere that wouldn’t stop coming, I felt hopeless. But in that moment God offered hope to me—a young girl who didn’t know Him but who He loved anyway. God knew my name; He knew me. He knew the path He had planned for my life, and it was far greater than anything I ever could have imagined. After the storm came the calm and peace that passed all understanding despite the confusion and fear all around us.
Though we lost everything we owned, everything we knew, and became homeless, we were thankful to be alive. We stayed in a shelter for months and eventually relocated to Minnesota where I met The Salvation Army when my family walked through its warehouse to receive clothes, including much-needed coats. That day I met a soldier who eventually became my prayer partner. I also met officers who often called our home to invite us to corps activities. Again, God’s incredible grace reached out to me, connecting me with The Salvation Army and changing my life.
A persistent calling
by Lt. Jean Rene Nkodia Kiangebeni
In my life, God’s amazing grace has been incredible. I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and spent much of my youth with my Salvation Army officer grandparents. Never in my wildest dreams did I see myself following in their footsteps. Despite faithful involvement in my corps, I never considered becoming an officer. I had other goals, like obtaining a college degree, having a successful career, getting married and building a home. Through God’s grace, I was able to achieve these things.
Amid my accomplishments, God started whispering in my ear about officership. At first, I thought it was just my imagination, but the idea persisted and I began to wonder if I should leave my job to seek officership and live in challenging circumstances as my grandparents did. My wife expressed similar sentiments. When we were considering this, through God’s grace we received a special visa that permitted us to enter the United States and receive our green cards, allowing us to become citizens. My wife and I were completely open to God’s leading at this stage. We began our journey at the New Rochelle Corps in New York.
Facing a variety of obstacles, we questioned our decision, but God’s grace shone brightly and our corps officers encouraged us to consider pursuing officership in the Central Territory, where my family was greeted with open arms. At this point, I did not doubt God’s amazing grace in my life. My family and I arrived at the Royal Oak, Mich., Corps where we did an internship. After a year, we were well prepared to enter the College for Officer Training, committed to following and serving our God whatever the cost.
A heart for others
by Lt. Shannon Cabrera
As a bicultural, bilingual woman in this country, sometimes standing my ground and finding my place in any setting can be difficult. When my heart mourns with people who look like me, who sound like me—and even those who don’t—I realize how much God’s grace has allowed me to become who He created me to be. His grace has allowed me to find a passion for serving and advocating for people.
Our session song, “Grace Wins,” by Matthew West, says, “For the lost out on the street, for the worst part of you and me, for the world that is lost, grace wins.” We were all in this place at some point in our lives, and for me, grace did win.
As I transitioned to life as a college student a few years ago, I trusted God could use me, a shy, introverted young woman, to pursue a career in criminal justice. He gave me a heart for His people, so I, too, may show grace and be faithful in serving Him. God has given me countless opportunities to grow, to be challenged and to follow His calling to fulltime ministry as a Salvation Army officer. His grace and faithfulness are constantly overflowing in my life. How can I not share the overwhelming feeling of God’s grace and love?
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16, NIV).
A constant presence
by Lt. Breanna James
When I find myself reflecting on God’s grace, I think about today, right now, here in this moment, and how God continues to show His grace to me.
While preparing my heart to come to training, there were plenty of times I was tempted to turn around and deny what I knew God was calling me to, but I stepped out in faith and followed God’s plan instead. When I thought I was losing my freedom or wondering if I was good enough, I asked myself, “Are you sure God is calling you?”
God showed me grace even in my uncertainty, hesitation and concerns. His presence was always with me. I realized later that through His grace, God was providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience to serve Him in the greatest capacity of being a servant. I became overwhelmed with gratitude by the moment-to-moment grace showered upon me through His goodness.
What I have learned in my experiences through God’s grace is that my service to the Lord as an officer does not take away or restrict my freedom, but instead, perfects it. This moment-to-moment grace helps me overcome the restricting power of sin, and I have the privilege to help others see that their real obstacle to freedom is sin. God’s grace is so sufficient that even in my time of despair and worry, He chose me to be a “Messenger of Grace” and showered me with an immeasurable amount of love and assurance that I am His messenger witnessing of His grace!