Conservatory Changes Lives
By: David Ibata
The first summer Johnathan Flowers attended the Arkansas-Oklahoma Division Music Conservatory, he almost got thrown out.
“I got into a fight,” said Flowers, who was 13 at the time. “I punched a guy, tackled him – they had to come and break us up. The other guy actually got sent home, and I was going to be, too, but they couldn’t find my mother.”
His mother had left and not told anyone where she was going. Their house in Fayetteville, Arkansas, was dark and locked. Young Johnathan, born with fetal alcohol syndrome, legally blind and with difficulty walking, had no home to go to. Andrew Barrington, AOK divisional music director, let the boy stay. The young tuba player finished conservatory and went straight to Territorial Music Institute.
“That’s where I met my parents,” Flowers said.
The first day, a couple who were music instructors, counselors and also the newly appointed officers for the Fayetteville Corps, offered him a ride in their golf cart. Flowers had no idea which of the five bands to go to, so he told Majors Mark and Leigh Ann Craddock to take him to the bottom band.
Sensing something was amiss, the Craddocks watched after him. When they got back to Fayetteville, they invited him to move in with them. He grew up a beloved member of their household.
“I consider them my parents now,” Flowers said. “When things broke, they picked up the pieces.”
The Craddocks are now stationed at the Maryland West Virginia Divisional Headquarters while Flowers, 27, and his wife Sarah, 26, complete their second year as cadet officers at Evangeline Booth College, Atlanta. They have a 2½-year-old son; a second child is on the way.
Flowers also is thankful for Barrington. “That time he never gave up on me really just changed my life. It was the first time I had ever seen a man in a positive role – just to see how he loved his family and loved us kids, even after we’d punch out and cuss each other.”
Barrington said, “When I started with Johnathan, we had a kid who was angry, who had no vision for what his life would become. I remember at Johnathan’s first conservatory, when we started to speak about spiritual things, he ran out of the room. I ran after him, and he was shaking.
“Well, we put a tuba in his hands and started working with him,” Barrington said. “This tuba saved his life.”
The Army also helped Flowers qualify for surgery, paid for by Medicaid, to fix deformities in his feet so he could walk. And as his eyesight started to get better when he turned 15, Salvationists at TMI laid hands on him and prayed. His ability to see improved to the point that he was eventually able to get his driver’s license. (It’s still not 100 percent; Flowers figures God is still working on him.)
Barrington helped Flowers get music scholarships to attend Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee. He met Sarah while they worked on a college musical performance of “Brigadoon.” They married two weeks after graduation; Major Mark Craddock officiated at the ceremony.
“The Salvation Army is the only thing that ever provided a sense of family to me,” said Flowers, who accepted Christ at youth councils in 2004. “I have brothers in and out of jail, brothers with multiple children from multiple women. I am the only one who had a child within wedlock. He’s named Melchizedek, which means ‘King of Peace,’ and that’s what I want for my family.”
“My spiritual life has been through The Salvation Army,” Flowers said. “I’ve been to other churches and been with other congregations, but this is the only one that knows how to bring all the outcasts and misfits together and make us one cohesive unit.”