A tale of two bridges
By: Major Frank Duracher
The story of Judy Bullock is one of “rags to riches.” Since her conversion to Christ and her ultimate enrollment as a senior soldier of The Salvation Army’s Hendersonville, N.C. Corps, she has given countless volunteer hours each week through the mission and ministry of her beloved Salvation Army. Her heart remains with men, women, and children living under bridges and in homeless camps throughout Henderson County.
Bridges figure prominently in Judy’s story. Two bridges, in fact.
One bridge is the steel and concrete structure spanning a state highway just blocks from The Salvation Army’s Hendersonville Corps. Judy was homeless off and on for 11 years, and the prospect of sleeping nights under that bridge — or any bridge — terrified her. Her day-to-day existence without a home to call her own is something she still shudders to even think about.
But there is a second bridge Judy learned about; when she discovered that what Christ did for her and the whole world by “bridging” the chasm between us and God.
Since 1996, following the death of her mother, until 2016, Judy lived in terror of that first bridge. During those 20 years, she estimates that “for about eleven years, off and on, I was homeless.” Her substance abuse kept her in a downward spiral.
Today, she stands atop the second bridge, secure in the assurance that she is a born-again daughter of God.
The turning point in Judy’s story began when the Hendersonville Corps Officers, Majors Siegfried and Maria Hackbarth, offered her a job as the front desk operator. It is a job she loved and in which she excelled.
“There was a period when I was living in a house, but I had no electricity and the nights were so cold, I could see my breath,” Judy recalls.
She describes one night of record-breaking cold, where she wrapped herself in a blanket and sat in the corner of her bathroom next to a space heater the entire night in a futile attempt to be warm. Several sleepless nights soon took its toll.
“I got extremely sick and thought I was going to die. I had to go by ambulance to the hospital where I was admitted,” she says, “and when I woke up, there were Majors Hackbarth and a bunch of the soldiers from the corps who came along to check on me!”
It was at that moment; Judy felt a love of a newfound family. She insists she even felt the presence of God Himself in that hospital room.
“Even my own family didn’t come to visit me. But there they were — a room full of Salvationists. And some of them I hadn’t even met yet!”
Majors Hackbarth later retired and were replaced by Majors Andy and Hazel Wiley as Hendersonville Corps Officers. The Wileys “took up the mantle of love and concern for me, physically and spiritually.”
Particularly Major Hazel, who became something of a spiritual mentor to Judy, who credits Wiley with pastoral counseling that helped her “through some very rough spots,” including the sickness and subsequent death of her brother.
“Major and Mrs. Wiley even came to be with me during my brother’s funeral.”
Judy became a senior soldier in 2016 and participates in all corps activities throughout the week. She especially enjoys Community Care visits to shut-ins and nursing homes. She also volunteers in the corps food pantry.
Judy admits she prefers not to think much about her homelessness, focusing instead on how far God brought her and the future He has planned for her. But she knows many of those who are still homeless in Hendersonville, living under the same bridges she loathed.
“I make cookies and cakes for them, and I even did a few programs (at the corps)” for those accepting her invitation for special events.
Before COVID hit, a handful of homeless folks regularly attended the Wednesday night Bible Study and Sunday morning worship. Judy was always there to greet them, as did the rest of the corps soldiery.
“My desire for (the homeless) is to see them saved and to escape the horrible cycle they are in—but all too often they are still drinking and doing drugs and don’t seem to be ready to change their lives,” Judy says, sighing.
“If it weren’t for The Salvation Army, I know I wouldn’t be alive today, much less a born-again Salvationist,” Judy insists. “Without that night the Hackbarths and other corps soldiers came to visit someone they hardly knew, I would never have known, and come to accept, the love I now feel worshipping and working among them!”
Few people know about the five feral cats Judy has “adopted.” These “babies” (as she calls them) are as homeless as she used to be. She regularly feeds them, and they come around her when she calls. It is a fitting comparison to her own adoption into her Salvation Army family.
Judy is not proud of her years of homelessness. And she does not necessarily want to talk about that. But she is proud of Christ’s redeeming and restoring work in her life—and she gladly tells anyone who is willing to listen.
She desperately feared one bridge she tried to avoid at all costs.
“But I embrace the bridge Christ offers to us to come back to the Father!”
The above article originally appeared in The Salvation Soldier.