Williamsburg is for lovers
By: Major Frank Duracher
If the Virginia Commonwealth’s publicity motto rings true, “Virginia Is For Lovers,” it stands to reason that Majors Julio and Luci DaSilva are in the right place as officers of the Williamsburg Corps. God’s love for us, as well as these officers’ love for their community, are the reasons this corps and its outreach are being blessed by Heaven.
On their first Sunday three years ago, only four people were in attendance, not counting the DaSilva family. On this Sunday, 60 worshippers comprise an international fabric of God’s grace and service to His people without discrimination.
The remarkable change of fortune for the corps is not just within its four walls—the community, civic clubs, churches, social service agencies, and clients are aware of the Army’s mission and ministry in this community seething with history.
When asked the secret for this explosion of growth, Major Julio responded without missing a beat: “There is no secret—it’s all about our love for these people and of God’s love for all of us!”
Case in point: extraordinary volunteers Frank and Rosemary Cristello actually met the Army online during the COVID shutdown. So impressed were they with Army worship and doctrine, they looked up the local corps and have been attending and volunteering since the lockdown ended.
“We immediately felt tremendous love and inclusion,” Frank says. “And that began the moment we met the DaSilvas.”
That response is repeated throughout the community. The advisory board loves them; corps soldiers and friends cherish them; civic clubs line up to volunteer for them. No dog is willing to bite them.
But Majors Julio and Luci are quick to deflect any praise from themselves—rightly directing any glory to God for bringing a corps from off near life-support to one of the fastest growing in the Potomac Division.
“People of our three counties (James City; Williamsburg; Upper York) are so loving, and they respond very quickly to the love (Luci and I) have for them,” Major Julio declares. “We have partnerships with all three counties’ Department of Human Services through our Pathway Of Hope outreach.”
At the height of COVID, the counties asked the Army to canvas vulnerable seniors to help process immunizations. “What we found,” says Major Luci, “was that many felt alone and forgotten. That discovery birthed our Seniors Ministry (a.k.a. “Lunch Bunch”), and it was an instant hit. In fact, we had to cut off membership to around 60 just because we don’t have the room.”
But that could change, according to Steve Gohn, serving on the property committee on the Williamsburg Advisory Board. Steve is a member of the local Lions Club and met the Army in Williamsburg while ringing bells at a kettle stand seven Christmases ago. He is savvy in retail business and helped secure the present corps building (a former newspaper plant and warehouse) and is working on present plans for expansion and renovations to meet ever-increasing needs.
“If there’s anyone I’ve seen who is Christike, it’s these two. They are the most loving, compassionate, and godly people I’ve met,” Steve says. “So any time Major Julio calls me to help in some way, the answer’s an automatic ‘yes!’” Steve has been called upon to do a lot for the corps program— renovations, driving a truck for toys and groceries, and even the canteen in the Christmas parade.
Sophia Harler is the advisory board chairperson. She credits the moving of God in the Army’s mission and ministry through the hard work being done by the DaSilvas.
“Our officers have a passion for children and seniors,” Sophia exclaims. “And promoting the Lord Jesus is uppermost in everything that is being done—combined with a lot of fun!”
Another advisory board member, Steve Ewell, agrees: “You can’t teach passion! Also, our board is very active and interactive with our officers.” As a realtor, Steve assists the property committee, and was also instrumental in obtaining the present facility which covers some 2.8 acres.
Both Majors DaSilva belong to two of the three local Rotary Clubs (Julio-Historical Triangle; Luci-Satellite), resulting in volunteer and financial support in corps outreach programs. Other civic clubs and churches are very involved in support and volunteering as well.
“The three Rotary Clubs provided a $20,000 grant to furnish ten computer stations in a dedicated computer lab for our clients and young people,” Major Julio says. But the salesmanship didn’t end with securing the computer lab— DaSilva then challenged the clubs to provide volunteers to teach and guide youth on Tuesday night classes.
“This guy could sell ice cubes to Alaskans,” one Rotarian was heard to say.
Surprisingly, the Williamsburg area is a microcosm of America itself—a melting-pot of nationalities and cultures. “I think this is because tourism is such a big part of this community, not to mention the shopping and great restaurants around,” says Major Julio. “Busch Gardens, Jamestowne Settlement, Colonial National Historical Park, among other sites, are drawing retirees and families to relocate and work here. We also have the College of William and Mary providing instructors for literacy and English language classes. Many families come to us that need assistance. Often, families have no church home, and we welcome them with open arms.”
Internationalism is really apparent in the makeup of the corps family. Perhaps this is because the DaSilvas—originally Brazilian who became naturalized American citizens in 2018—are especially welcoming to everyone. Major Julio speaks two languages, while Major Luci is fluent in at least three. In the privacy of their home, they speak their native Portuguese and are sharing their native tongue with daughter, Rebecca.
The corps family lovingly shares among each other. Each quarter, a much-anticipated “Festival Of Nations” is enjoyed after Sunday worship. Up to ten dishes are prepared according to time-honored cultural recipes and displayed on tables lining the fellowship room, potluck dinner-style.
At the moment, seven members comprise the Williamsburg Advisory Board. But membership will very soon mushroom to as many as 24, according to Major Julio.
Williamsburg Chief of Police Sean Dunn is an active board member, and the police force he commands has a wonderful partnership with the Army. Police officers regularly visit the corps to mentor and instruct youngsters.
“Williamsburg appears to be a rich community” says the Chief, “but the fact is that there is a 21% poverty rate here. Need is significant, especially among the homeless population. We are all working together to do what’s best for those who are the most vulnerable in our community.”
Chief Dunn provides his officers to teach classes to youth at the corps, covering topics such as drug awareness and home safety.
“The nature of our business—as well as the nature of (the Army’s) business—insures that there is crossover,” the Chief adds. Major Julio’s ambition is for the corps to be a bridge-builder in racial reconciliation, citizenship, and patriotism in order to break the myth that people feel they must distrust the police.
A small army of volunteers, supervised by Neva Linde, keep a three-pronged supply of distributable items: groceries, clothing, and toys. Depending on the giveaway day of any particular date, cars line up down the street for items desperately needed by families. Each car is met by one of the DaSilvas, who speak to passengers about their situation and invite them to worship services should they have no church home.
“Yes, we’ve had several families added to our corps family as a result of just those conversations,” Major Julio reports.
History and waterfront beauty abound in the three counties. Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement harkens back to 1607. Fifteen minutes away, Yorktown witnessed the 1781 siege of the British army, insuring the survival of our infant nation.
In terms of Salvation Army history in Williamsburg, the mission and ministry promoted between the James and York Rivers may prove to be a high-water mark for some time to come.
But don’t tell that to the DaSilvas. They firmly believe the best is yet to come—simply because there is enough of God’s love to go around.