Call it creative. Call it innovation. Call it crazy.
What all four of these Salvation Army ministries have in common is that their style of mission looks different. Haven ATL is a resource center for anyone escaping commercial sexual exploitation in Atlanta. Berry Street Corps is a non-traditional corps that backs up to the Magness Potter Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Inman Street Coffeehouse is a ministry of the Cleveland, Tennessee, Corps that draws musicians from all over and unites old and young around a mug, and the Maryville, Tennessee, Corps was planted on dreams of seeing a corps full of unchurched people.
All four corps and ministries are thriving today, but those on the ground at the beginning are the first to say they learned lessons along the way, took missteps and – through it all – found God’s grace to be sufficient in starting something new with him.
Lesson No. 1: New things are sometimes misunderstood.
Shortly after she was appointed the assistant Kroc officer at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Atlanta in 2009, Captain Sandra Pawar felt the Lord leading her to begin a ministry to women, and specifically, women ensconced in commercial sexual exploitation. Captain Pawar said at first the vision she’d had to visit with and pray for women in strip clubs and brothels was misunderstood by a few, but once she was able to clearly communicate her passion, she found support in creating what has come to be known as Haven ATL, a ministry of the Atlanta Kroc Center.
“I worked hard at getting people at the corps interested and passion about it as well. The Atlanta Kroc congregation was very gracious to this passion of mine and
supported me well,” said Captain Pawar.
Lesson No. 2: It’s okay to have limitations.
Besides communicating vision, Captain Pawar said she also learned her limits – in her heart, she wanted to expand the ministry, but Captain Pawar knew it exceeded both her experience and the time she could devote to it, and Hillary DeJarnett was later hired. Captain Pawar applauds DeJarnett’s ability to turn prayer walks and visitation into a center that helps restore victims’ hope. Since DeJarnett is now the territorial services coordinator against human and sex trafficking, Melba Robinson is the director of the center, which serves women through prevention, education, case management and outreach.
Lesson No. 3: Don’t expect to have all the answers.
When Cadets Jared and Rachel Martin moved their two young children from Southern Illinois to plant a corps in Maryville, Tennessee in 2010, they knew they didn’t have all the answers so they prayed. Through prayer and consulting with other community agencies, they recognized the need for a church to reach the unchurched in Maryville.
“We wanted to make sure we were reaching unchurched people so we had an Easter egg outreach on Easter Sunday because we knew only hard core unchurched people would show up,” said Jared. After that first service, the 35 or so people who attended were invited back to the Martin home and that’s where Jared explained the vision behind the corps plant.
Lesson No. 4: Trust God’s timing.
Building relationships with unbelievers was what built the foundation of the Maryville Corps. While they tried reaching out to children in the area for kids’ ministry, the Martins said they soon learned that God would build his church his way, in his timing.
“The way the church grew for the first several years,” said Jared, “was a lot of people got saved. But they were either middle aged or too young to have kids yet.”
But Rachel added that “by the time we left we had 12 kids regularly attending and we had more kids coming on Sunday mornings than were attending our Mercy Arts music lessons after school.”
“In the end it was God that did everything,” said Jared.
Lesson No. 5: Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Opened in 2011, Inman Street Coffeehouse – a ministry of the Cleveland, Tennessee, Corps – was such a new type of ministry for the USA Southern Territory that “it took a very long time for people to understand that a coffeehouse doesn’t operate the same way that a family store does. A food service establishment is such a different animal, and that was our biggest obstacle,” said Joel Rogers, who runs the coffeehouse with his wife Cheryl.
According to Cheryl, that mindset shift impacted everything from the type of cash register that needed to be purchased to having costs built into a product because it’s not donated. They agree that the obstacles they faced pale in comparison to watching how God has used the coffeehouse to unite the community, largely made up of college students from Lee University.
Lesson No. 6: Take risks; test out new ideas.
Cheryl and Joel experimented at the coffeehouse grand opening when they invited a local band to play, and the idea of having a local musician’s venue on weekends was born. Even American Idol runner-up Clark Beckham played there last fall to celebrate the 4th anniversary of the coffeehouse.
“He started at Lee as a student,” said Joel, “and his first gig here in Cleveland was at our shop.” The music venue idea, Joel said, was born as an afterthought. “It was accidental and it’s become pretty integral; we’re able to give people a chance. You have these bands who are seeing The Salvation Army for the first time; they’re seeing open doors, loving arms and they are just as likely to see students (from Lee) standing alongside people from our homeless community. Music is such a unifying factor; it’s beautiful.”
When Sergeants Steve and Ernie Simms were approached to re-open a corps that had folded in a very needy neighborhood of Nashville, Steve had been employed at the Nashville ARC and Ernie was managing a community center under Nashville Area Command.
They were asked specifically to start a non-traditional corps, but admit that along the way, they made some mistakes.
Lesson No. 7: Making mistakes is part of growth.
Steve said he tried to make the church grow in his own efforts. He spent the first two to three years passing out 400-500 flyers a week throughout the neighborhood and even, at one point, delivered Hallmark penguin-themed goodies on people’s doorsteps along with the flyers. He laughed and said not one person came because of his efforts; one woman did return the penguin merchandise, though, and asked, “Was I supposed to bring this back?”
The sergeants shifted gears and began partnering with other churches, inviting guest musicians to lead worship and asking friends ahead of time to share in the middle of holiness services so the congregation got comfortable with participating. (See related story.) The corps regularly partners with others to host an outdoor service and 200-300 people come for children’s activities, music, food and friendship. Another partnership fueled the children’s ministry. Steve said children’s ministry wasn’t really at the forefront when they began the corps. Yet they found that every Sunday, kids kept walking over from their homes – without any outreach on the Sims’ part.
“At least 90 percent of the kids come without a parent and they just walk in from the neighborhood, so we have a walk-in kids’ ministry. Most of the leadership God has provided; at the very beginning, a mega church in Nashville provided childcare workers and then about five years ago a few men who got trained through Safe From Harm . . . they do a snack, Bible teaching, and over the years, these kids have really changed,” said Steve.
As they remained open to what the Lord wanted to do, Sergeants Simms say it’s been obvious that the corps belongs him. In fact, that’s the theme all four sets of ministry leaders shared; it was God who created it and God to whom the glory goes.