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Better than a stuffed elephant

A little girl finds a second home at her local corps.

As a child, I would pray to God when I felt scared, but I was never sure if he could hear my prayers. I would ask him to protect me from everything—from the things that went bump in the night—to my mother’s anger when she would start slamming doors and breaking mirrors during her drug-using days. I had never heard about Jesus or salvation, but I would always ask God to save me, and someday to take me to heaven to be with him.

One day a friend from elementary school invited me to her church, which was having a Sunday school contest—whoever brought the most friends would win a big stuffed elephant. It turned out that her church was just a couple of blocks from my house—The Salvation Army San Pedro Corps. I went with her one Sunday and decided right then that I wanted to win the elephant, too. I began attending, and found out that another way to win contest points was to bring a Bible. When I told the corps officer that I didn’t own one, he immediately took a pew Bible, crossed out the stamped letters that said “San Pedro Corps” and handed it to me.

Although I didn’t win the elephant, what I got was even better—I learned about Jesus, accepted him as my Savior, and became a junior soldier.

My home life didn’t change much. It was difficult growing up, and I often felt lonely and unloved. But after meeting Jesus at The Salvation Army, I knew that I was never truly alone. I began going to the corps every day after school because the officers there made me feel loved and accepted no matter what else was going on. Soon, the corps became my favorite place to be, and even when a program wasn’t going on, I’d come anyway and help stack canned foods or sort bagels in the pantry.

As I got older, I began attending corps cadets and YPL (young people’s league). I was constantly amazed by the officers—I was allowed to attend the Mother-Daughter Banquet without my mom; I was allowed to attend YPL outings even though I had no money to help pay; I was even allowed to do volunteer work at the corps in order to pay for camp. These and many other things taught me what Christian love and servanthood are all about, and it was during one of my corps cadet lessons that I realized that this is what I wanted to give my life to. I knew that there were other people out there like me—people who needed to know that God loved them—and I decided at the age of 14 that I would one day apply to be an officer in The Salvation Army so I could do for others what the officers in San Pedro had done for me.

I had a plan: I would graduate from high school, go directly to college, graduate, and then immediately enter CFOT (College for Officer Training) to graduate as an officer by the year 2000. God, however, had something better in mind for me. I met a young Christian man while I was still in high school, and once I found out that he, too, was called to be an officer, we began dating. We were married a couple of years after I graduated, and immediately started a family.

Talk about a derailment of my plans! It turned out to be the best course for me, though. My husband’s family became my family, his mother and father became the godly parents I never had, and his brothers and sisters became my brothers and sisters. I had the opportunity to attend a Hispanic corps for years, and to learn to love another culture. I learned how to be a leader, and how to be a follower at the same time. I learned how to preach and sing in another language, and how to be a part of a team.

Now—nine years after I’d originally planned to graduate—I’m so glad I let God have his way in my life. These years have served to prepare me even better for what God has planned, and I can’t wait to go out and serve as an officer. I know that in whatever community I’m appointed, there will be people just like me who need to know God loves them.


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