When we make a promise, it’s rarely for more than one thing. But Ralph and Brenda Chamberlain made a double promise to God. And since these two vows are with the Almighty, they realize they had better fulfill both.
Though Brenda is new to the Army, Ralph is not. His father, also named Ralph, left quite a legacy during his near-40 years of work at the Greater New York Division and National Headquarters.
The younger Ralph is also the nephew of Commissioner William Chamberlain – former National Commander and USA Southern territorial commander in the early 1970s.
Ralph is a construction contractor by trade, and he and his wife attended a Baptist church until his work brought relocation to Gainesville, Fla. Their 10 years of membership at that Baptist church was satisfying enough but Ralph now admits that he “missed the Army a great deal.”
“Coming to Gainesville was an opportunity for my spiritual life to return to my first love, The Salvation Army,” Ralph said. “The problem was convincing Brenda to worship at a place that she didn’t even know was a church!” When they walked into the door of the Gainesville Corps one Sunday morning, the sight that met them broke their hearts.
“I walked into the chapel, and there was hardly anyone there,” Brenda said. “But I caught a glimpse of the Army’s true mission and what the officers there wanted to do – and that’s what sold me!”
Brenda added that the absence of children at the corps was particularly disturbing to her.
“Here we are in a major college town, and there are no children,” she exclaimed.
Meanwhile Ralph’s eye for construction couldn’t help but notice the disrepair of the facility, and he wanted to do something.
In fact, they both did. It was, they now say, two separate visions, each projecting what this corps could be. So they made the two promises to God: they would work hard on rebuilding the Gainesville Corps, both figuratively and literally. A variety of ministries among the city’s homeless and university populations could be started to attract people to worship at the Army. In addition, the couple would from then on be often seen with a paintbrush or hammer and nails in hand for all kinds of cosmetic improvements. For all the volunteering they were doing, they noticed scores of people coming to the Army’s soup kitchen for hot meals every day. Ralph decided these people needed to hear the Word of God, so each day he now preaches a 10-minute sermon while they eat, and at the shelter during other times of the week.
“They call me ‘Preacher Man!” Ralph said with obvious pride.