“I will not wear that hat!” a defiant 21-year-old Cherri Hobbins told the Lord as she wrestled with the call He had placed on her heart to become a Salvation Army officer. It had come unexpectedly. After all, she wasn’t even a Salvationist. She had merely worked a few summers at one of its camps. But as a senior sitting in an unrelated chapel service at Asbury College, the call was undeniable.

At first, Cherri was incredulous God would ask her to forsake the vocation she’d envisioned since age 12, being a pastor in the Methodist church, to become an officer in a quasi-military Christian organization where women still wore bonnets.

“What I learned, and know in my heart, is that The Salvation Army blends the message of Jesus with the actions of Jesus,” Major Cherri said.

Coming to terms with this new direction and with the blessing of her parents, who at first worried she’d been lured by a cult, Cherri “jumped the denominational fence” and was enrolled as a soldier. By the time she headed to the College for Officer Training (CFOT) in Chicago that fall in 1980, policy had changed, and the bonnet was out! It was as if God had winked at her.

While her first encounter with the Army, working at camp, had not been entirely positive, she found her passion teaching the gospel and watching many mothers and children accept Christ. It foreshadowed what would be her joy as an officer.

“It’s always been about pointing people Godward,” she said.

No wonder of her nearly 41 years of officership, ranging from corps to territorial appointments, the 17 years serving at the CFOT in different roles, including principal, resonated with her most.

Though demanding work, she relished leading brigades and teaching cadets. Hundreds of officers throughout the territory are familiar with her green pen.

“Especially by the second time I was stationed at the college, I was liberal with my markings,” the major admitted. “Sometimes their papers were full of green ink.”

She encouraged cadets they hadn’t failed. They were just engaged in dialogue. Their papers were their opportunity to speak to her, the green ink was her opportunity to speak to them.

“It was wonderful to see them grow exponentially in their faith,” she beamed, saying she’d love to teach at the CFOT again even in retirement.

Conversely, her most challenging time in any appointment was when she couldn’t “rock people off center,” when they remained complacent in their faith.

Recently, she says she’s been learning anew the simplest but most significant lesson: God absolutely loves us. It’s not based on our performance but because He is love.

“Keep your relationship with God first and foremost. Don’t neglect it,” she urges Salvationists. “Keep leaning into Jesus.”

 

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