A painful past helps one woman guide others in their walk with God

A painful past helps one woman guide others in their walk with God

Captain Jennifer Masango shares how her past informs her present-day ministry.

Years ago, a T-shirt introduced 15-year-old Jennifer Larrabee to The Salvation Army, launching a number of life changes.

As a young child in Chandler, Arizona, Larrabee grew up with her parents and brother in a Christian home, although they attended church infrequently. She said as long as she got to play and have fun, life was good.

When she was 8, her father was diagnosed with colon cancer. He fought it for two and a half years, finally losing the battle when Larrabee was 10. As the family struggled with their grief, a darkness settled over them.

“At one point, I even thought about taking my own life,” she said. “I just thought, this is more than I can bear. I can’t do this anymore. But I couldn’t do it to my mom and my brother.”

Time passed, with both Larrabee and her mother having medical issues.

“At one point, I remember raising my fist to God,” she said. “I was so angry, and I was like, ‘I hate you, I hate you. Look what you’ve done to our family.’”

While her father was sick, the family did attend church. In Sunday school, Larrabee received memory verses—including Matthew 28:20 and Joshua 1:9—that she taped above her bed as a reminder of God’s presence. Later, she would take the verses with her to college.

When Larrabee was 15, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She wrote her daughter a goodbye letter, essentially saying, “I love you and good luck.” (Today her mother is 25 years cancer-free.)

That was the tipping point for Larrabee.

“I got on my knees and I said, “God, if you’re real, I need you right now,’” she said. “For years, I had been trying everything to fill that hole that I had, and the need that I had for something better. And it was in that moment, almost right away, when I’m on my knees crying out and weeping, that God came to me. And it was as if the sky had opened up, shining this beaming light, and for the first time I’m experiencing hope.”

Meeting ministry at camp

Larrabee began going to a Baptist church. “One of the guys in my youth group had a goofy T-shirt, and I was making fun of it—in a loving way, I’m sure,” she said.

That shirt was from The Salvation Army’s Camp Gifford in Loon Lake, Washingon, where he had worked during the summer. Later, Larrabee, who had never been to camp, asked him for more information, wondering if she could work there, too. She applied to Camp Gifford and got the job. She had just finished high school.

That summer she began to get an idea of what The Salvation Army was all about. “My first impression of The Salvation Army was that it was kind of weird,” she said. “So, I wasn’t initially attracted to it…but the ministry of The Salvation Army was beautiful.”

Working with kids from varying socio-economic backgrounds opened her eyes to people’s needs. One of the girls in her cabin had trouble keeping up—the toe post on her flip flop was broken. When Larrabee asked why she hadn’t brought other shoes, the girl said she didn’t have any. Larrabee then spoke to the camp director and they provided the girl with shoes.

“I remember walking away from camp that summer and saying, ‘I want to be a camp director. I want to do something like this with my life,’” she said. “This was so meaningful…Camp changed my life.”

Research supports the positive impact of summer camp. One finding, cited in the Journal of Youth Development, showed after attending camp, young people show increased skills in teamwork and collaboration, positive self image, and work ethic and conscientiousness. In addition, when engaged in camp activities, they’re not on their phone or computer.

Larrabee returned to camp for five summers, growing to love The Salvation Army and its ministry. One year she worked at The Salvation Army camp in Zimbabwe, which serves many orphaned children.

“One of the kids told me, ‘I didn’t know Americans struggled,’” she said. “This kid had lost his parents, and I had dealt with my dad dying and my mom being really sick. Just getting to minister to the kids—they’re clinging to the Lord—and pointing to hope…walking with them through their journey of life, I saw full circle that God would use the pain of my childhood to reach these kids.”

Six months after she returned from Zimbabwe, Emmanuel Masango came to work at Camp Gifford—she was asked to meet him at the airport. They became friends—best friends for two years—before they started dating. They talked about becoming officers, acknowledging their calling to serve God in full-time ministry with The Salvation Army.

The two married and entered training to become Salvation Army officers. To date, they’ve had two corps appointments and two headquarters appointments. Captain Jennifer Masango, who serves as Territorial Recruitment and Candidates’ Secretary and Associate Territorial Youth Secretary, said she believes God calls people to ministry wherever they are.

She’s come a long way since she first made fun of that Salvation Army T-shirt.

“Since becoming part of The Salvation Army, Jennifer has been able to expand her circle of influence,” said Captain Emmanuel Masango, Territorial Youth Secretary and Associate Candidates’ and Recruitment Secretary. “As an officer, she is very compassionate and often sees people in the margins that others may not see. Jennifer is also a very patient listener, when you are struggling or just need someone to talk to, she is always there.”

An officer in The Salvation Army does a little bit—or a lot—of everything. “Sometimes I think it’s different from what I thought I was initially signing up for,” she said. “But it’s all rolled up into one, and that’s what’s really exciting. There’s never a day that’s the same.

“I think I can say there’s nothing quite like officership; it’s unique,” she said. “But rewarding.”

She recalled 2 Corinthians 1:4, which says as you’ve received comfort from God, so can you then comfort others. “I can hear cries of help in ways that maybe I wouldn’t have heard if I had never been in that position in my youth,” she said. “It’s a privilege to find people who were like me, who had no hope…to now be that person to point them to the Lord. I think that’s where the joy comes in. It’s so rewarding.”

In her current role, Masango works with individuals aiming to become Salvation Army officers. “We’re looking for people who love God and who love people,” she said. “With those two things, you can go far. And our Army can change if we get people, the right people in those spots that are going to lead congregations and they are going to minister the way God would want them to. Revival can happen. That’s our prayer. That’s my prayer.

“So if God is calling you to The Salvation Army as an officer, we need you,” she said. “With God’s help, we can do amazing things.”

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Karen Gleason

Karen Gleason is Senior Editor of Caring, having worked in Salvation Army publications for 20 years. She is an active member of The Salvation Army, and loves its message of “Doing The Most Good” and its mission of serving others and sharing God’s love, of meeting human needs in Jesus’ name without discrimination. Her work allows her to share the stories of how The Salvation Army makes a positive difference in the world—stories that may inspire readers to do good themselves. Many years ago, Karen earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Virginia. When not working, she practices and teaches yoga, cuddles her cats (she only has four), and takes adventures with her family.