A tribute to a local officer
by Glen Doss, Major –
Through God’s grace, a local officer saved my life.
When I first set foot in the San Diego Citadel Corps I was a broken man. I was also a surrendered man, stepping out on faith into a brand new world. Thankful to God for saving me from my demons, I sought to be of service to him in reaching out to others. Like Kierkegaard’s “knight of infinite resignation,” I had given up the very thing I had hoped to keep, my right to myself, and consequently gained a connection with the divine (“He who
loses his life for my sake will find it,” Matthew 10:39).
In seeking a church, I was looking for a safe place where I could regroup under the careful guidance of others who knew the way. A fire burned inside my heart, an open wound that would not heal of itself. Recently bandaged with God’s sweet love, this wound remained very tender and required much care. Entering the chapel foyer in September 1986, I was a wounded man needing nurture; a frightened man, seeking succor.
I noticed first a tall, lame man greeting the others as they entered. When he spotted me I glanced about nervously, unsure of whether to go or stay; he made a beeline for me with all the purposefulness of an angler flinging a fishing line into a lake. John Nute, recruiting sergeant, took his post quite seriously, moving briskly despite a leg stiff from a stroke which paralyzed one side of his body.
God used John to plant the bait, to let me know I was in the right place. What I saw when I looked at John was what he was—there was absolutely no pretense to the man. I knew instantly I could trust him.
In the service it was announced that John, whose responsibilities included a Friday night solicitation route, required a replacement driver. My hand shot up; the prospect of volunteering alongside John excited me. So began my adventure as his driver and escort on the weekly rounds of San Diego’s card rooms and bars.
I watched intrigued the following Friday as he entered a bar to a rousing cheer, then emerged twenty minutes later, money bag full. Boisterous farewells followed him out the door. My curiosity was whetted; at the next stop I asked if I might accompany him. Looking me up and down, John remarked, “Well, too bad you don’t have a uniform. But come on in. I’ll introduce you.” Following as unobtrusively as possible, I watched enthralled as John passed from stool to stool, then made the rounds of the tables, shaking his tambourine. “Help The Salvation Army?”
This had been John’s route for a decade—he was a fixture on the circuit. Ten and twenty-dollar bills made their way in rapid succession from wallets and purses to his tambourine. He introduced me as the sailor who was going to The Salvation Army School for Officers’ Training. Unquestioningly, the patrons welcomed me. “Any friend of John’s is a friend of ours,” they announced.
A woman’s hand shot out, gripping him by the arm; he turned to see a long-time acquaintance with tearing eyes. “Alice!” he exclaimed. “What’s wrong?” A cry in her voice, the woman announced she had been diagnosed with cancer and solicited his prayers. Retrieving a worn New Testament from his pocket, John read aloud, then, taking her hands in his, he prayed a deep and heartfelt prayer. Conversation and laughter rose around us, but where John sat praying with Alice, something beautiful was going on—the spiritual and temporal planes intersected there.
John mingled with the street people—his unassuming manner opening doors wherever he went. I watched and marveled, filing away for future reference every lesson learned. Reeking from alcohol, an elderly woman with matted hair received him with a full embrace. Devouring a watermelon salvaged from a dumpster, a raggedy man waved John over to sit with him. A prayer concern was voiced; John’s hand gripped the man’s shoulder, watermelon forgotten, as he lifted his voice in prayer.
I loved those chilly San Diego nights as I shared with John my faltering Christian walk, the baby steps I was taking. Here was this broken human being with a deeply compassionate soul, reaching out to tend my fragile spirit.
I saw you in him, Lord—there is no doubt in my mind. Because of his nonjudgmental manner and crystal clear, rock-solid faith, I knew that when I looked at John I was seeing you. Dear Lord, John is with you now along with his beloved wife Ann. After a lifetime in your service, they are resting with you today. At a delicate time, when I could have gone in any direction, you placed John in my life and he showed me the heart of God.