by Major Karen Pitter-Holness
As an officer my whole life is committed to serving others. Inherent in my calling is the hope of the gospel that is demonstrated by coming alongside people in their moments of need. That is what Jesus did. He was always at the margins—moved with compassion—ministering to both people’s spiritual and physical needs. Embracing a lifestyle of service has become more real to me as I have endeavored to live out my calling in fulltime ministry. My life scripture undergirds how I serve as a “Herald of the Good News”:
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory. Isaiah 61:1-3, NLT
As an officer, I have countless opportunities daily to use my position of influence to help those who have been beaten down by societal challenges that make them feel “less than” or unworthy. The intrinsic value in all persons, regardless of race, socio-economic status, ethnicity, gender or any other identifier, motivates me to help others who may not see value in themselves.
As an immigrant officer, I still grapple with the concept of “minority” in our society. I have had to learn the complexities involved in ministering to those who have been labeled this way. In fact, I am still learning. What I have come to understand is the importance of loving people not out of duty but because we value others enough to care about what affects them. I have learned the importance of really hearing what they have to say, validating their experiences and respecting how their past—and oftentimes their present—impacts their behavior.
One of the most poignant experiences which left an indelible mark on my ministry was listening to 27 African-American women, ages 50 – 97, recount their life stories in an “I Remember When…” home league program at the St. Louis Euclid, Mo., Corps. Listening to their journeys through the Jim Crow era and the comparison with today gave me an opportunity to affirm their dignity and value, celebrating them as God’s image bearers.
I experience joy and fulfilment in preaching the gospel and serving others. Compassion and humility work in tandem. I can share these when kids come to the community center to find respite from hard home situations or when mothers strung out on drugs or fathers who’ve spent their last dollar medicating themselves with alcohol find their way to our corps trying once again to get clean. I hope serving them humbly and with compassion reminds them that they are not their circumstances and a heavenly Father loves them unconditionally, so much so He made a way for their redemption.