My Calling – Lt. Amber Morris

I was born and raised in south Georgia and entered training from Griffin, Georgia, but God had to send me all the way to Beaumont, Texas, to reveal to me my calling to become a Salvation Army officer. I was born into a very close-knit family that loves the Lord. My upbringing, however, did not protect me from situations I would find myself in and the choices I would have to make in life.

In early 2006 I discovered that the man who I thought loved me had been cheating on me, and while it was an unhealthy relationship, I was hurt by it and so I turned to my friends for support. The friends I had chosen were the kind of people I knew I needed to stay away from, but I chose to embrace them. The things I chose to spend my time doing are not things I am proud of. I found comfort in things like alcohol and sex. After a relatively short, but no less destructive, stint living a life completely void of God, I found myself staring death in the face.

In 2006 I was hospitalized with double pneumonia. The doctors were not very hopeful of my recovery. I was placed in ICU and my family waited. It was at this point that I was introduced to The Salvation Army. An officer at DHQ offered my mom a job she had interviewed for as a service center director. She told him she couldn’t accept the offer then due to the dire situation we were facing. The officer said the job was hers and he would hold it for her because he believed it was a God-ordained position for her. He called daily to pray with my family and I eventually got better. My mom took the job, and I went to assist her. In doing that I ended up working at Camp Grandview.

God grabbed hold of me that summer of 2007, and I grabbed hold of him and refused to let go. I saw who I had been, but more importantly I saw who I could become. And that is what I longed for. I was surrounded with new friends who loved and encouraged me. Through the incredible ways of God, I ended up assisting at the Griffin Corps for the same officer who befriended my family when he could have just accepted my mom’s no. I was able to see the Army in all that it does, and I knew this is where God called me to be. It was when I went to Texas for disaster relief that I truly understood that God was calling me. He placed people in my life on that disaster team who helped me realize my true potential. He revealed to me that I would one day have red on my shoulders and that I would serve him the rest of my life.

God also helped me see the positive influence I could have on those around me. He has challenged me to be the kind of person who never meets a stranger, who has a word of encouragement for everyone and who is willing to risk themselves for others. And to think, I get to spend the rest of my life doing this for God as a Salvation Army officer, because … I am a Friend of Christ.

Daytona Program Eradicates Veteran Homelessness

Volusia and Flagler Counties in Daytona Beach, Florida announced last year that the homeless veteran population is officially at what the government terms “functional zero.”

According to social services director Anthony Deobil, the terms are defined as no more than four homeless vets in Flagler County at any given time and no more than 24 in Volusia County. The Supportive Services for Veteran Families program has allowed Daytona Beach to declare an end to homelessness among vets.

Federal funding started three years ago to fund an aggressive push to end homelessness among veterans nationwide by 2015. While the national goal wasn’t met, Deobil said The Salvation Army in Daytona Beach has been able to hold to it.

Through the Housing First, Rapid Rehousing program, Deobil said the veterans they encounter who are homeless are placed in some type of temporary housing within 48 hours and permanent housing within 21 days. “Housing is step one. But then we have to make sure that they have the skills and abilities to survive on their own so it might mean helping them find a job, getting them to mental health or medical services, assisting them with getting on social security, disability or VA benefits.” Deobil said the federal grants they’re administering to conduct the program have been a game changer.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs gives the Daytona program a “surge” grant of $1 million per year for three years and the SSVF grant, $410,000 renewable annually.

“For the first time we got the money and talent we needed and with all those things together, we’ve been able to take these vets off the street and not just put them into an apartment – we are watching miracles every day,” he said.

Those miracles start with an encounter with the two-person outreach team. Deobil said the outreach team members were once homeless vets themselves, so they’re able to build a rapport of mutual understanding with the vets they meet on the street, at soup kitchens or in homeless camps. Once they check to make sure the person is indeed a veteran and that he or she meets the SSVF program’s eligibility requirements, the person is brought into either an emergency shelter, the Daytona Beach veteran’s transitional housing or, if there are no available beds, a hotel room for up to 30 days.

While there, they’re assessed to help identify any barriers to self-sufficiency. One of the six caseworkers devoted just to the SSVF program is a housing specialist who connects with local landlords. The Salvation Army pays for the rental until the veteran is self-supporting, usually within three months, although some have been in the program for as much as nine months.

They help the veterans connect with the VA for any disability or veteran’s benefits, medical or legal services, drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs if needed, and help them find skilled work according to the assessments they complete. One of their success stories had been the “local homeless vet” that everyone around town knew and never thought he’d escape the streets. He had an alcohol addiction and was homeless for 20 years. But he’s been in a rehabilitation program for nine months and, in addition to his VA benefits, he’s able to collect an income because he bought a lawnmower and started his own lawn care business in the neighborhood where The Salvation Army helped him settle.

One of the hallmarks of the program, according to Deobil, is how much they walk a veteran through even the most basic requirements of sustainability. Once a vet is placed in an apartment, the SSVF team meets him or her there with a host of cleaning supplies. Deobil said it’s not because the apartments need cleaning; they’ve been prepped already by the landlord. But they host a cleaning party so that they can help him re-learn how to clean if he needs to. And after being in the apartment for a month, staff members show up with cookie baking supplies and they make cookies together. During that time, the vet’s ability to cook and provide meals for his or her family is assessed.

The Daytona Beach Area Command can then help them get any training they need through the classes they offer – cooking, budgeting, cleaning, etc. To date, 830 households have been helped, which translates to about 1,500 people, including the veterans’ spouses and/or children. The stabilization rate is 97 percent, so Deobil feels that the impact is definitely long-term.

“Years ago in social services if we met a homeless person we used to say first we have to help them with their issues; then when they’re stable enough, we can put them into their own house. Now it’s different; we know if we take somebody off the street and put them into an apartment and we start speaking hope back into their life, they begin to change their attitude and all of a sudden they start wanting to change and they want help,” he said.

Some of the vets they help are asked to volunteer with the Battle Buddies program. It allows vets to give back to other vets escaping homelessness, and it lets the case management staff know that the vets they help are still self-sufficient and in stable housing.

One of Deobil’s favorite success stories is a veteran who was considered the problem vet. He was resistant to change, complained frequently about the caseworkers and didn’t want to do what was asked of him. About two weeks after he was placed, the vet came to see Deobil.

“Quite frankly, I thought he was going to complain about something. He held a key up and said, ‘Do you know what this is?’ I said, ‘Yes, it’s the key to the apartment,’ and he said, ‘No, it’s much more.’ He said, ‘If it rains tonight, my stuff’s not going to get wet, nobody’s going to steal my stuff because it’s locked in my apartment and if someone writes me a letter, it is going to come to me because my name is on the mailbox. This key means I’m somebody again.’ It’s a powerful story; this program is so life changing.”

Trafficking in the Homeless Community

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By Captain Monica Seiler

When I was a child, I was homeless. In fact, it was through this circumstance that my family first came into contact with The Salvation Army. Thankfully, we were not homeless for long, nor do I have many bad memories from that experience.

Sadly, the same is not true for my friends who are homeless in Murfreesboro, TN, where I have lived for almost four years. This community is a kind and giving community, but human suffering is palpable.

This past Friday night, after dark, I had the privilege to do some homeless visitation with people in Murfreesboro who are living in their cars in a Walmart parking lot, under bridges in tents, in the woods in makeshift shacks, behind big retail stores, and even in an abandoned boat next to a fast food restaurant. In my community, many others are couch surfing or sharing extended stay motel room costs for a warm, safe place to sleep.

Homelessness seems like it is everywhere in this growing, vibrant community and I fear it is not slowing down anytime soon. None of this is news to me. What is new is the growing number of women who are homeless and alone, making them vulnerable to so much more than the average woman.

I learned that some camps rent out tent spaces to others, for safety reasons. If women need a “safe” place to stay and have no way to pay for that space, they are trafficked among the homeless community. In exchange, they are allowed to keep a tent at the camp.

I met three women on Friday night alone in three different camps where this is the case. The idea is that the other men and people in the camp will protect them and keep them safe from the larger homeless community in exchange for the woman bringing in some sort of income, whether it be cash, cigarettes, food, supplies or drugs. These women, and men, too, are being trafficked and feel they have no way out.

They do not have identification. They do not have resources. They are voiceless.  No one sees them and no one cares. They feel utterly worthless and any hope they may have had has been stolen from them.

I believe that it is our responsibility to show these vulnerable people that they are loved. We show them this by being intentional in building relationships with them so that when God ordains it, they can be rescued.

I’m reminded of the founder’s vision of the lost where people who have been rescued from the waves rest safely upon the rock of salvation, meanwhile forgetting that there are others still fighting to swim in the stormy sea.

Countless people are drowning in front of them, but instead of looking down to lend a hand to help pull them out, the rescued are more concerned with their own comfort and security.

May the same not be so of us! May we be a people willing to get our hands dirty to help rescue those who are dying in front of our faces. May we be the hands of Jesus as we help to rescue those in the bondage of trafficking.

First We Will Conference Committee Meetings Held at THQ

Earlier this month, the Territorial Women’s Department assembled a diverse team of women from across the territory to plan the general session meetings for the We Will conference, to be held in Orlando in September.

Meeting in the women’s department board room at THQ on January 11 and 12, many of the women had come into town for the ReEffect conference and remained for a few extra days while others were local to Atlanta. For two days, they collaborated around a communal table, sharing food, prayer and ideas that will shape the first women’s leadership conference this territory has ever seen.

“We are standing on the shoulders of the women officers who have gone before us,” Lt. Heather Dolby said.

That sentiment was echoed by other collaborators who referenced the early days of bold female leaders in The Salvation Army in discussing how this conference should unfold and its ultimate goals.

“Their ceiling should be our floor, we should be pushing forward,” Hillary DeJarnett said.

Each meeting was represented by a long sheet of paper taped to the wall where the planners wrote the names of songs, bible verses and worship notes that they thought would correspond with that day’s theme.This territorial event aims to provide women the opportunity to engage in worship, conversation and fellowship.  Empowerment, not entertainment, is its purpose.

Interested delegates will have to apply for admission and, if accepted, pay to attend. The hope is that those who do come will be fully invested and engaged in the sessions and will return to their corps and communities with a sense of empowerment.

“This conference moves us to a place of recovering our legacy,” Diffley said. “Catherine Booth didn’t wait to be empowered, she didn’t wait for permission.”

Many in the room expressed concern for the aftermath of the event, when women return to their communities to build on what they have learned.

“I don’t want to create a new program that becomes a burden,” Captain Maureen Diffley said. “We want to focus on leadership and recognize that women are capable of doing things. We’ll see where it takes us as an army.”

The application submittal period opens in March. For further updates, check back here and visit SA Women’s Ministries on Facebook.

ReEffect 2016

The Territorial Youth Department hosted the biennial ReEffect Conference at the Atlanta International Corps in Doraville, GA, January 8-10. This year’s theme, ReVision, called on attendees to see the invisible and to question their perceptions of others.

Well-prepared speakers led workshops and sessions that sparked conversations among delegates on racial reconciliation, the Syrian refugee crisis and the school to prison pipeline. The weekend was bookended by southern salvationist speakers Captain Andy Miller III and Commissioner Phil Needham who challenged those present to take back what they had learned to their corps and communities by putting it into practice in their local ministries.

On Saturday afternoon, some delegates separated into teams for integrated missions opportunities in the Atlanta area while others journeyed to the Sweet Auburn Historic District in downtown Atlanta to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

During the Sunday morning closing session, Commissioner Needham summarized the lessons of the weekend in a final call to see others in a new way and to love them, even when it isn’t easy. “If you don’t see as Jesus sees, you can’t love as he has called us to love,” he said. “If you see in the wrong way, you won’t love as you’re called to love or you won’t love at all.”

For more information, pick up a copy of the next issue of Southern Spirit, out January 30, and click through the photo slideshow to see select moments from ReEffect 2016.

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Practicing Hospitality

By Joanne Holz

The celebrations of Christmas are over. We mentally shift toward a new year and all that the year may hold for us. There is an aspect of the story of Christmas, however, that is meant to be a year round practice: biblical hospitality.

We are more apt to host guests in our home or intentionally provide contexts in which family, friends and colleagues gather to enjoy the company of those we cherish. Those celebrations are symbolic of what it means to practice biblical hospitality. The Old Testament concept of hospitality was to welcome strangers and immigrants into God’s family in order to care for them by offering food and shelter. Hospitality was a much-needed practice when hotels and highways were lacking. It is a much-needed practice today – as set forth by Jesus.

New Testament hospitality is the combination of two concepts: philao which means brotherly love; and, xenos which means stranger or immigrant. The thread of Old Testament practices in the realm of hospitality continued with Jesus. However, as you would expect from moving from law to grace, Jesus’ teaching extends the practice of hospitality even further.

The word translated as stranger or immigrant can also be translated as enemy. Hospitality is not difficult to practice when we are able to give to make the lives of others better. It is far more difficult to practice when we are expected to offer hospitality to our enemies. Jesus’ teaching is clear: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 44-48)

Further, our enemies may not be from another country or culture. They may be those just like Jesus endured:  in our own family of origin, friends who have turned on us, those with whom we work and/or worship. Jesus intends us to be hospitable in the act of forgiveness to whomever our enemy may be. This, after all, is really the spirit of this season and the lived reality of Jesus.

Jesus came to be hosted by this world in the form of taking on flesh and blood to live among us.  He did not find much hospitality in his own family of origin or his own faith community. In fact, the Gospels record the cruel ways in which Jesus was treated by his own people. In a very real way, however, Jesus moved from guest to host, by extending hospitality to those who longed to turn from their alienation and estrangement to God in order to become part of his family. Our sinful nature and sinful acts manifest our enmity with God. His Son extends the hospitality of God to each of us, offering forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration in our hearts and in our relationships.

Perhaps the New Year will be a time for you, as it is for me, to reflect on the hospitality of God as the model we choose to live out in our own lives. This is the Christmas story that continues.  Happy New Year!