Called to Mission: The Retirement Celebration for Commissioners Willis and Barbara Howell
By: Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee
Preceded by preliminary music by the Southern Territorial Band and Songsters, the celebration of the ministry and leadership of Commissioners Willis and Barbara Howell was opened by Colonels Ralph and Susan Bukiewicz, Chief Secretary and Women’s Ministries Secretary respectively, saying “We want to recognize two lives that have made an eternal impression on our lives and on our hearts.” Led by the Army flag and to the accompaniment of the Southern Territorial Staff Band, the commissioners entered to be greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of well-wishers.
Speaking on behalf of the soldiers of the territory, Territorial Sergeant-Major Jeremy Rowland said, “We want to thank you for pastoral ministry and spiritual leadership as you go into the future and become soldiers yourselves. You have courageously showed light and love in the darkest corners.”
Interspersed throughout the service were the jazz arrangements of Spiritual to the Bone, delighting the crowd with their virtuoso trombone stylings of Christian classics. Commissioner Willis Howell was part of the original group and took his place on bass trombone to join in the fun.
Memories of the Howells’ commitment to the Lord, to mission, to family and friends were related though warm remembrances, humorous stories and portraits that captured their consistent, God-glorifying ministry through the years. Scattered videos included one of the mothers of both Commissioners Willis and Barbara Howell as well as pictures chronicling their lives. Their friends were represented by Lt. Colonels Mark and Carolee Israel, Ronnie and Sharon Raymer and Majors Rick and Brenda Raymer, sharing that, “They are passionate about Jesus, people and The Salvation Army. They have been consistent and are people of integrity.”
Highlighting mission in ministry were words from Lt. Colonel Janice Riefer. “Impact is not a big word, but it can play a big part in peoples’ lives. I believe no word more defines how you have approached your mission and ministry.” Cheryl Werner, who served with the Howells from her teens on camp staff, related, “Mission matters for them and they always take the time to prepare to do and give their best.”
Family contributed as well beginning with the grandchildren, Luke, Noah, Makalyn, Logan, Daniel and Kadence, who shared Scriptures and favorite memories that related to their grandparents.
Following were words and stories from the Howells’ three children, Captain Sheri Jones, Captain Jonathan Howell and Peter Howell, based on the old favorite, “This Little Light of Mine.” They thanked them for their example, their guidance and love over the years.
The retirement ceremony was conducted by past USA Southern and USA National leaders, Commissioners David and Barbara Jeffrey. Commissioner David said, “First, by conversion you are Christian, children of God, who have taken up your cross and followed Jesus.
By confession you are Protestants, which originally meant ‘to publicly declare.’ You have been publicly declaring that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone from Scripture alone for the glory of God alone.
By commitment you are evangelicals, believing that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, in need of a Savior, that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. In every Salvation Army chapel around the world there is a place for kneeling called the altar, which represents the entire calling of The Salvation Army under God. You’ve consistently preached Christ crucified and called for people to accept Him as their Lord and Savior.
You are by conviction Wesleyan-Arminian. You believe that sin affects every part of human life, making us incapable of loving and serving God as we should. We call that total depravity. But you believe that the atonement of Jesus Christ is unlimited, for the whosoever will.
And you are by choice Salvationists. You signed the Articles of War, that begins, ‘I call upon all present to witness that I enter into this covenant and sign these Articles of War of my own free will, and do here declare my full determination by God’s help to be a true soldier of The Salvation Army.’ At the base of it all we are all soldiers in God’s Army.
And finally, by covenant you are Salvation Army officers. You signed a covenant that said, ‘Called by God to proclaim the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as an officer of The Salvation Army, I bind myself to Him in this solemn covenant, to love and serve Him supremely all my days, to live to win souls and make their salvation the first purpose of my life; to care for the poor, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to love the unlovable and befriend those who have no friend; to maintain the doctrines and the principles of The Salvation Army and by God’s grace to prove myself a worthy officer.’”
In presenting the retirement certificate, Commissioner Jeffrey pointed out that only Commissioner Willis was retiring at the present time as Commissioner Barbara will continue in active service until next year when she reaches her retirement age.
The retirement ceremony was followed by the premier by the Southern Territorial Staff Band of a piece written by Bandmaster Steven Bulla honoring the Howells entitled, “Driven by Mission.”
In her response, Commissioner Barbara said, “We are so humbled and honored to serve the mission of God that He has called us to. Our life’s journey has been impacted by many people who have touched and shaped our lives, starting with my parents. From our first corps at Atlanta Peachcrest, we were able to grow a congregation and then in our other appointments across the territory and even to the other side of the world – all had a place in our life story. Thank you to our children for taking this journey with us. You have been a part of our ministry and most of the time, done so joyfully. You’ve seen how important music has been a part of our ministry and our lives. The song that has woven its way throughout our journey has been ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness.’ We have traveled through so many seasons – joyful ones and others that have been dark winters. But the winters have been followed by bright springs with new opportunities and new growth. We have also enjoyed the harvest from seeds we have been able to plant. Great is His faithfulness over the years and appointment by appointment. God has provided and will continue to do so for us.”
In his response, Commissioner Willis addressed his mother who was listening through a video feed, expressing his love and appreciation for her. He then remarked, “Aging is inevitable. Growing old is another matter. Samuel Ullman said, ‘Nobody grows old by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.’ We have heard all week about the life and resiliency of Caleb. Forty years after he gave his good report of the Promised Land, he reappears. It is time to dole out the land and Caleb is at the head of the line because God said, ‘He has a different spirit.’ After telling Joshua the piece of land he wants, he shares his testimony. ‘I am as strong now as when Moses sent us on that journey. I can still travel and fight as well as I could then.” We feel that way. While Caleb aged, he hadn’t grown old. The purpose and mission in his life still burned in his heart. There was still plenty of gas left in the tank. I can relate to Caleb. That works for me.”
The commissioner then related the story of Polish-American Korczak Ziolkowski, commissioned in 1948 by Lakota chief Henry Standing Bear, to do a sculpture of the famous Sioux warrior, Crazy Horse. The projected finish of it is 2050. “Ziolkowski knew he would never finish. He died in 1982 but the mission has been passed along to others and it continues. When asked why he would take it on by Morley Safer of Sixty Minutes, Ziolkowski replied, ‘I’ve never regretted this. All my life I’ve wanted to do something greater than all I could possibly be. What an honor.’ I know exactly what he felt like. His words are mine. I carry the same sense of gratitude, honor and no regret. Later Ziolkowski was asked why he wanted to carve one larger-than-life statue, one thing, one purpose? His answer: ‘When your life is over, the world’s going to ask you one question. ‘Did you do what you’re supposed to do?’ That is THE question. While it may not be asked by the world it’s going to be asked of each and every one of us when we stand before the Father. Did you do what you’re supposed to do? Are you still doing it?”
The benediction was the stirring anthem, “Total Praise” and then the refrain from “O Boundless Salvation,” written by General William Booth:
And now, hallelujah! the rest of my days
Shall be gladly be spent in promoting His praise
Who opened His bosom to pour out this sea
Of boundless salvation for you and for me.
As part of the recessional, flagbearers brought in all the session flags of the Southern Territory since its inception with Commissioner Willis Howell waving a flag triumphantly at the front. May God bless Commissioners Willis and Barbara Howell!
You can view the meeting in its entirety below or by visiting Ministry Toolkit.