Bells installed as Southern Territory leaders
Western Territory officers return to U.S. from New Zealand to lead the South.
By Dan Childs, Southern Spirit staff
As it unfolded, the installation service of Commissioners Don and Debi Bell as Southern territorial leaders began to feel more like a reunion than the customary welcome. Although the Bells are Western Territory born and bred, it was evident that their connection with the USA South is deep and enduring.
Bearing witness to that connection were several faces familiar to the Salvationists who gathered at the Atlanta Temple Corps Jan. 9 for the installation service. There were Commissioners Kenneth and Marjorie Hodder and Commissioners James and Ruth Osborne, former Southern territorial leaders, and Commissioners Phil and Pat Swyers, Southern officers who also served as Western territorial leaders.
The Hodders’ link to the Bells goes back to the late 1970s when they led the Western officer training school while the Bells were cadets. The Osbornes, while appointed to the Western territorial cabinet, served with the Bells when they were newly-appointed youth department officers. When the Swyers were Western territorial leaders, their chief secretary and territorial women’s ministries secretary were the Bells.
The opening greeting by Colonels Brad and Heidi Bailey—complete with Brad toting a skateboard and decked out in West Coast-flavored duds and Heidi with a sheep on a leash and a New Zealand flag—was a nod to the Bells’ background as Western officers who most recently served as New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga territorial leaders. The sheep? Commissioner Debi Bell authored a children’s book whose central character was “Lyssa Lamb.” To the relief of all, the sheep behaved with the utmost poise and grace during its brief time in the spotlight.
The Hodders divulged secrets of the Bells’ courtship during their days of training and shared that the South’s new leaders had just celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary three days before. Commissioner James Osborne offered advice drawn from his own experience as Southern territorial commander and closed with his customary admonition to “Go get ‘em!” Commissioner Pat Swyers said Commissioner Debi Bell possesses a merry heart and the soul of an evangelist—and is a true Southern “Bell.” Commissioner Phil Swyers said the South will soon witness the Bells’ capacity for leadership and commitment to their calling.
Commissioner Debi Bell noted that she and her husband have served with other Southern officers not on the program, including Commissioner Fred Ruth and Commissioners Phil and Keitha Needham. “I have great expectations for what God is going to continue to do,” she said. “I have great expectations of grace. I believe we are going to see greater things.”
Leading the central portion of the program were Commissioners Barry and Sue Swanson, currently the Eastern territorial leaders. The Swansons performed the ceremony of installation of the Bells, and Commissioner Sue Swanson offered the prayer of dedication. Members of the Southern leadership gathered on the platform to join in prayer for the new territorial leaders.
“We have come to you to work shoulder-to-shoulder to build a better Army,” said Commissioner Don Bell. “That is our pledge to you.”
The territorial commander brought the message, which reflected the meeting’s theme of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” His message, taken from Lamentations, recounted Jeremiah’s agony in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem. “Jeremiah saw right through it to the beauty and faithfulness of his God. How big is your God? My God’s faithfulness is inexhaustible.”
Commissioner Bell closed his remarks by affirming the territorial mission statement as a beacon for this territory and challenged Southern Salvationists to “love inclusively, serve helpfully and disciple effectively in the communities where they live.”