Providential. That’s how Majors K. Kendall (KK) and Katrina Mathews describe their appointment leading the Chicago, Ill., Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), but then that’s how they see all of life. God uses everything in their lives, personally and professionally, for the good of others so that they may come to know Him.
“It’s not by chance we’re involved in the work of recovery,” said Major KK, acknowledging formative experiences in childhood that laid the foundation of compassion and hope. Each of them had a parent who struggled with addiction.
“Now that I look back, I know God prepared me to be a Salvation Army officer,” echoed Major Katrina, whose mother was an alcoholic. “The things that were happening to me were preparing me to love the whosoever.”
Brought up by her grandmother, Katrina believes God has a unique role for her to play encouraging the men in the program to get better not only for themselves but also for their families, who love and need them.
In addition to a strong and nurturing grandmother, doting aunts and uncles filled the gap for her. Though the Rockwell Gardens in Chicago where Katrina lived was riddled with gangs, drugs and crime, her family protected her and provided for her, but they also pushed her to be better than what society expected, to be an example of success.
Her grandmother sent her to the Midwest Corps, just across the parking lot, for Sunday school from age 7 to 9 since their Baptist church didn’t have children’s classes. It was her first encounter with The Salvation Army. The next came years later when she was invited by a dashing young man named KK, whom she was dating, to hear him speak on a Sunday morning. Many of the soldiers from her childhood remembered and warmly greeted her; she felt like she’d come home.
KK was working at the Midwest Corps as a social worker, a serendipitous turn of events that eventually led to him becoming an officer. He’d grown up in a middle class Jewish neighborhood in Detroit. His family valued education and encouraged him to excel in his studies, which he did as well as at sports. Majoring in social work and psychology at Greenville College, he went to see a professor about the practicum hours needed to graduate when he noticed an ad for Salvation Army camp counselors on a bulletin board. Would that work? It most certainly would.
He soon found himself at Wonderland Camp with David Rightmire, Richard and Janet Munn and Jack Thomas, who showed him what The Salvation Army was all about. KK loved each week spent with the children; they felt the same and begged not to go home. Wondering about their homelife, he rode the bus back with the last group to the Midwest Corps, where he promptly went in and asked about job openings. There happened to be one, and it was a perfect match.
“You are just what we need!” exclaimed the corps officer, who said that the example of a successful young Black male would bring the children hope. KK moved into a ramshackle house in the projects, created a dynamic afterschool program and became a soldier. When he witnessed the Caucasian officer not being able to understand a young boy and reach him with the gospel, God spoke to KK’s heart about becoming an officer himself. He could bridge the gap.
Bridging the gap has been a theme in the Mathews’ lives as officers. God has used them to bridge the gap between people and Himself, helping others see the Savior who offers salvation. Bridge the gap between people and fuller, more abundant lives by creating holistic ministries, encouraging community, and promoting opportunities for education— a hallmark in every appointment. Bridge the gap between ARC beneficiaries and soldiers, helping the men find a path to soldiership through a program they created called Upward Mobility and inviting soldiers to mentor them spiritually. Bridge the gap between corps of different cultures by creating successful exchange programs, fostering understanding and unity that advances the mission.
The Mathews entered officer training in 1989 as the first married Black couple with children in the Central Territory. They felt honored God not only called them to minister but to be role models as leaders when too often Black people had been seen primarily as recipients of assistance.
“I want to be that positive role model who children and other people of color—and just people in general— can see reaching out and living a life that, regardless of what color I am, has to do with character, has to do with relationship,” explained Katrina. “It has to do with commitment. It has to do with salvation…my relationship with Christ.”
Their first appointment at the Detroit Harding, Mich., Corps was formative to their officership as the soldiers, especially the older Black women, taught and cared for them and their children, even playing a role in the diagnosis of their daughter’s autism—a miraculous series of events where God’s timing and provision were undeniable. The Mathews believe all their children (Ronnie, Mark, Kim, Kashaye and Mikal) have benefitted from their officership.
While there have been many blessings, the ministry has been demanding and not without personal cost. For instance, when serving on a divisional headquarters (DHQ) staff with a home in the suburbs, some prejudiced neighbors who were fearful about their property values complained to DHQ. Depending on God’s grace, the Mathews rose above the accusations and were vindicated when one neighbor defended them, insisting they took better care of the house than anyone who’d ever lived there.
Unfortunately, the Mathews say sometimes in the Army they have been misunderstood or have had to subvert their culture to share the gospel or form relationships. Though unfair and hurtful, they still regard these as opportunities to let others see Christ in them and to enter into dialogue to correct misperceptions and promote unity.
“Whenever we’re authentic, honest and real with people about our heritage and culture, people will respect that,” said Major KK, indicating recent developments in the Army are hopeful and unleash officers and soldiers to be who they are and Whose they are.
“We need to set aside what we think we know about each other,” Major Katrina expounded. “People need to see with the eyes of Christ. If we believe all are created in the image of God, then we will see as Christ…If we can do that, we can move right into relationships with people without barriers or boundaries. It’s all based in our love for Jesus Christ.”
The Mathews are featured in the Historical Museum’s Changemakers exhibit.