What it means to be a Salvation Army officer

113: What it means to be commissioned as a Salvation Army officer with Cadets Ismael and Verenice Gutierrez

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Did you know The Salvation Army is a church?

That’s right. Every program of The Salvation Army is rooted in a passion to serve God by serving the hurting, the helpless and the hopeless.

It’s biblical: We love because God first loved us.

It all began in London in 1865. The co-founders, a Methodist minister and his wife, William and Catherine Booth, walked the streets preaching to the homeless and hungry. Their efforts became The Salvation Army, which set out to offer compassionate, tangible service to people in need following a quasi-military structure with William Booth as its first General.

Today, across the U.S., some 1,200 Salvation Army corps—or church—locations offer worship services every Sunday morning and programs throughout the week, from youth nights to music groups and opportunities for service.

And the work is carried out across the country by some 63,000 employees, 3 million volunteers and roughly 3,500 officers, who complete a two-year training program to become ministers of The Salvation Army.

Cadets Ismael and Verenice Gutierrez are about to be among their ranks.

They’re just days away from completing their training at the College for Officer Training at Crestmont in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

They will be commissioned as officers in The Salvation Army, as pastors, and appointed to serve in a community here in the western U.S., location to be determined.

So allow me to introduce to you today, to share what it means to be a Salvation Army officer and why they each decided to become one, Cadets Ismael and Verenice Gutierrez.

Show highlights include:

  • What it means to be commissioned as a Salvation Army officer.
  • What Cadets Gutierrez love about The Salvation Army.
  • How the Gutierrezes found The Salvation Army and eventually decided to become officers.
  • What training to become an officer entails.
  • What surprised the Gutierrezes as they trained to become Salvation Army officers.
  • What each chose as a life Scripture verse and why.
  • The Gutierrezes don’t know where they’re headed and won’t until they walk across the stage to be appointed somewhere in the Western Territory—anywhere from Alaska to Oregon to Colorado or even Hawaii. They share whether or not they’re nervous for that announcement.
  • What each is most excited for as they start a new life in ministry.
  • What the Gutierrezes wish more people knew about The Salvation Army and officership.
  • How each would encourage those interested in becoming an officer in The Salvation Army.

Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

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Christin Thieme: Cadets Gutierrez, welcome to The Do Gooders Podcast and welcome to being here with me in the studio.

Verenice Gutierrez: Thank you for having us. This is a pleasure. It’s exciting. It’s the first time we’ve ever done this. So let’s go ahead…

Christin Thieme: Good. I’m glad it’s on the Do Gooders Podcast then. Well, this is a big week for you guys. You are just about to be commissioned and ordained as Salvation Army officers. For those who might not be familiar with that, might not understand exactly what that means, can you share a little bit more about what exactly that entails?

Ismael Gutierrez: Yeah. So being ordained as a Salvation Army officer is equivalent to, I guess, being ordained as a pastor anywhere else. So we’re about to be officially pastors or officers as we call it of . We’ve been in training for two years. We’ve been doing field practice, I guess. Going out and not just learning in class, but putting what we learn in class to good use. So it’s been exciting for these past two years for sure.

Christin Thieme: Absolutely. A two-year training period and you’re about to be sent out after this time. What do you love about?

Verenice Gutierrez: For me, it’s just helping people. Helping people being able to first and foremost, spread the word. Spread the word of the gospel of Jesus and just to help them in their most time of need. That’s what I love about it.

Ismael Gutierrez: Yeah. For me it’s real personal because I grew up in the Army as a little kid. I came to the U.S. when I was five. And so the Army where I was at, it wasn’t an affluent place, it was actually a pretty poor community. But the Army presented me with many programs, many opportunities. So I had many different experiences that maybe other friends didn’t have because of limited finances. And so I’ve seen the way that the Army can present opportunities to people and can allow people to be transformed into just a better person. So for me, it’s first and foremost preaching the gospel, but it’s also meeting needs and seeing people being transformed through the different ministries of.

Christin Thieme: So you mentioned you grew up basically with. Can you share a little bit more about your story and what led you down this path? Why did you decide to become an officer?

Ismael Gutierrez: Yeah. So my family migrated from Mexico. I was about four or five years old when we came to Santa Ana, California, that’s where we came. And my dad was already here. And he was introduced to the Army. And he actually was attracted to the Army because of the brass music that the Army has. And in Mexico he used to play a brass instrument. So that kind of attracted him, he liked it. So anyway, when we came from Mexico, he was already attending the corps. So he brought us to Santa Ana and we felt like family because when we came to the U.S. it was just my parents and my immediate brother and sister. So we had no grandparents, no uncles. So the Army really did become like a family to us.

During the holidays, that’s where we would spend our time for Christmas and New Year’s and Thanksgiving. So the family in became my actual family. We were there for 32 years before we decided to become officers. And through these 32 years, I’ve grown to love the Army for many reasons, personal reasons that I see that were given to me like opportunities and experiences. But also throughout my years in the Army, I was able to see the good work the Army does in the community. I was able to see people in my community be transformed. People that were maybe once homeless, found hope, found a family in, found housing. And then about the last nine to 10 years before coming into training college, I worked for.

So as an employee, I was able to also see a different part of the Army. And I was able to be part of different things that the Army offered as an employee. And then I saw that part of the Army that I also love. And alongside with my wife, we worked in youth ministry together for the past 10 years and we saw just the impact that the opportunities that the Army presented to these youth through camps, through activities, through programming. So we saw them being transformed and that’s something that I think that I really do admire about, that they give those opportunities to people that want it.

Christin Thieme: Yeah. And you really got to be part of it then in a lot of different ways, which is cool. How about you Cadet Verenice? How did you decide to become an officer?

Verenice Gutierrez: So for me, it’s a little different. I grew up in the Catholic religion, my whole family’s Catholic. So when I came to the Army, I was 18 and it was actually because my husband invited me to a concert, a band… He was my friend at the time. So he invited all of us to a band concert, a band from Europe was coming. And just the minute I walked into the doors and I was a little bit emotional because I just felt like I was home. I felt like I belonged, something that I never experienced in the Catholic church. Maybe because I didn’t try or maybe because I wasn’t taking as much as a kid. I never got to experience that. And what I experienced there was just family, they embraced me right off the bat and I just didn’t want to leave.

So I just love the sense of community. I love the love that they had for me even if they didn’t know me. The years passed and I was introduced to what they did, which is again, I was always been prone to helping people and doing social services. So I love the fact that one of their goals is to help the needy. To help them first again, bringing the gospel, helping them find salvation and them providing what they need as far as food and shelters and all these things that we’re able to offer. So I just want to do that for the rest of my life. I want to spread the word. I want to help them out. I just want to be there sharing love and sharing family and community with them. It’s just a great experience to be a part of it.

Christin Thieme: I love it. So you touched on this a little bit, but once you decide to become an officer and you are accepted as a candidate, you come into the College for Officer Training at Crestmont and it’s a two-year training period. Can you explain a little bit about what that looks like? What do you do those two years?

Ismael Gutierrez: Yeah. So there’s actually a lot we do during those two years. There is the classwork that we do. Like a regular college, you go and you have different classes. Theology. But not only do they prepare you for like the pastoral part of being a Salvation Army officer but also a Salvation Army officer is also an administrator. So then also you’re empowered with classes through leadership, we call it corps administration, virtual corps, give you real-life scenarios of what an officer will be doing on an everyday basis. So they do prepare you. It’s like two parts. Spiritually, they prepare you with theology and spiritual care, but they also prepare you with administrative tools that you’ll be able to use. And then outside of that, we have like fieldwork, which is pretty much during the winter, during the Christmas season or during the summer season, we get sent out to different corps or different churches in our territory. And so it’s a hands-on approach, kind of like a…

Christin Thieme: An Internship almost.

Ismael Gutierrez: There you go, like an internship. So it’s a two-month internship during Christmas and two-month internship during the summer. So we go and experience these things that we’ve learned in class and we try to put them to practice on the field. And then also, throughout the year we have a spring campaign and fall blitz, which we get sent to different places. Our spring campaign this past, last month, was it last month? We got sent to the San Diego area. So we went to different corps, different buildings, different programs and churches in the San Diego area and we were able to experience what the officers experience in the field. So it’s a holistic approach to ministries. So it’s not only the theological, it’s also the administrative, but it’s also the hands-on. So it’s a really well put together program.

It is intense, very intense. But you know what? I think that’s part of it. I think they do want to stretch you. And there is definitely a lot of growth that happens within those two years. So it’s something that, looking back, I think when we first started, we were shocked at the amount of expectations and work that was demanded of us. But now that we look back, we’re like, “Thank you.” Because that really allowed us to grow and to expand and just to be better officers.

Christin Thieme: Yeah. Sets you up for what’s to come.

Verenice Gutierrez: Definitely. It’s a place where we can grow. I know that in these two years I was able to grow more my leadership skills. So that’s something that they help us with. They push you out of your comfort zone, which is great because you’re going to be in situations where you need to. And sometimes you’re afraid of stepping up because you just haven’t done it or don’t have the experience, but these two years they have definitely pushed me at least to grow and to do things like this and other things that if it wasn’t because of the experience that I’ve been getting here, I wouldn’t have been able to.

Christin Thieme: Yeah. So you both had been around for a number of years and were familiar with the Army and all it does. What’s something that during these two years of training, maybe surprised you or that you learned about the Army or about yourselves?

Verenice Gutierrez: I guess from what I learned about myself is that I try to set limits to myself and God says, “No, I’ll set the limits.” And he goes above and beyond what I think I can do, which is great. And again, here I have learned that if I allow myself to be used, God will use me in different ways that I would’ve said no. So I think that’s what I learned at least here that I can… If I allow God to work in my life, he can do amazing things.

Ismael Gutierrez: Yeah. So I come from a Hispanic corps, so it’s a Spanish-speaking corps. So I knew coming in that things were going to be different because training colleges are in English and a lot of Spanish corps don’t hold on to the traditions of the Army in the way they worship and the way they run programming. I think the Hispanic corps seems to be a little more expressive in the way that they do worship and other things. So I knew that it was going to be a change coming in here. I was going to learn like traditional Army policies and procedures, traditional Army way of maybe worshiping. So one of the things that I did learn was a lot of the terms that they used during the services, just different policies, different procedures but nothing surprising.

I knew I was going to come into this kind of different culture that I’m used to, which is great because it exposes me again to just a different mindset or a different viewpoint of what it does and it makes me appreciate that the Army is all-encompassing. They do meet different needs with different cultures and it’s not bound to like one set of rules and this is how you need to do things. They just gave us different options. So when we go to the field we might maybe encounter or we might be put in the corps that is a little more traditional than I’m used to it then now I have the experience if I was put in that situation.

Christin Thieme: Right. So I know a lot of times Officers choose a life verse from scripture. Have you done so? And if so, can you share what your life verse is and why you selected that one?

Ismael Gutierrez: Yeah. I can go first. My life verse is Psalms 27:4. And it says, One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek, that I may dwell in the house to the Lord all the days of my life to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. So for me, this is my life verse because one of the things that I just want to make sure that I’m always aware of is the presence of the Lord in everything that I do. My ultimate goal for myself is to be kind of like David. He was a man after God’s heart. So I want to be that kind of man. I want to be a man after the heart of God and I just want to make sure that I’m always in his presence. So that’s something that I challenge myself to do every day, just make sure that I’m seeking God and make sure that I’m creating a space to be able to seek him and hear him and just be walking in his ways.

Verenice Gutierrez: So for me is…I looked it up because I didn’t want to butcher it. So for me is Psalms 28:7, it says, The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.

So for me this is special because it just says it, the Lord is my strength. And I know that there’s many times in my life that I have felt like I can’t do something. And once I start relying on his strength, the sky’s the limit. It’s become amazing to see the transformation that he’s had on me, just from relying 100% on his strength and not my own strength. And I know that I can turn to him. And he has been with me. I am not so much of a studious person per se, so these two years I have depended on him and I have trusted on him. I said, “You brought me here, there’s a reason. And I trust you that I’m going to see the end.” So that’s why that’s mine. And with whatever I do my whole life, my whole being, I’m going to worship him and praise his name.

Christin Thieme: Thank you both for sharing. I know we’re just a few days away at publication time from you walking across the stage and not only being commissioned and ordained but also being appointed to serve somewhere in the Western Territory—anywhere from Alaska to Oregon, to Colorado, even Hawaii. And you don’t know at this point where you’re going. Are you nervous for that announcement? It’s always a big deal during the event.

Verenice Gutierrez: I’ll be honest. I am nervous. I am 100% nervous just because I tend to like to know. I wanted, “I’m in control.” Right? Which is kind of silly because God has control and I give him that. But I still tend to want to grab onto a little bit. So yes, I am 100% nervous, but I am also 100% excited. And I trust that wherever he sends us there’s a reason. There’s a reason why we’re going to be there and as nervous as I am, I trust him. And I know that he’s going to use us abundantly. So I’m excited, but yes, nervous.

Ismael Gutierrez: Yeah. I guess I’m the opposite. I’m not nervous at all. I’m just excited. And also I think, because kind of knowing I’ve been part of the Army forever, so I knew that this is the way it’s done. I knew that we weren’t going to know until we walk across the stage. So I think one of the things too that has changed, before coming into training college, maybe I had a little bit of a different mindset of maybe where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. But now towards the end of training college, I think God has transformed my mind and my heart. So now I’m completely open to anything, whether it’s in Alaska and Hawaii, whether it’s Spanish or English, I’m more excited for the possibilities and the relationships that we’re going to build. So for me, it’s just a very exciting time. I’ve been ready.

Christin Thieme: Been waiting two years now, you’re ready. So once you receive that appointment, weeks later, you will go to this new location, wherever it might be, to be officers, to be pastors in that community. What are you most looking forward to in this new life of ministry?

Verenice Gutierrez: I think Ismael talked a little bit about it or touched on it. Making friends in the community that we’re going to build. Just having that experience and being part of their lives and them being part of our family, getting to know them, working alongside them and being able to do something different in whatever capacity we can. So I’m excited just to get to know them and just to come alongside them.

Ismael Gutierrez: One of the things that was really hard for me and my family was really hard for us to leave our corps was because we really had a corps family. We really saw each other as a family. And so that’s something that I’m excited to build wherever they send me. I want to build a space in a community where people can feel welcome and I want to just invest in people and I want people to invest in me. So I’m excited about, like I said earlier, the potential relationships that we’re going to build and the change that’s going to happen because of those relationships. Whether it’s with corps members or whether it’s with community or advisory board or corps council, I’m like just really excited about the people that we’re going to encounter. And that’s what makes me like super excited about just being out there.

Verenice Gutierrez: Yeah. To the point that we’re planning dinners and who to invite and what are we going to cook? We’re just excited. We’re family-oriented people. We love having people over. I’ve been thinking, what am I going to cook? I’m excited.

Christin Thieme: That’s fun. I love it. Building that family. What do you wish more people knew about the Army or about what it means to be an officer?

Ismael Gutierrez: Yeah. I don’t know. There’s a lot of things I would love for people to know about the Army.

Christin Thieme: You can give us a list if you want, but…

Ismael Gutierrez: Yeah. I don’t know…

Christin Thieme: The top thing.

Ismael Gutierrez: First is that we’re a church not just a thrift store or ARC. But that this is a place where they can feel welcome. Right? It’s a place that they can go to be fed the Word of God, but also to find community and to find family. Because one of the things that I found just being out in the community and working with people is sometimes how lonely people can get and they struggle finding a place where they belong. So it’s something that I think I would want to make sure that I make clear. The Army is a place that you can come and be yourself and find a family with the soldiers and officers. So that’s one thing that I would like for people to know about the Army.

Christin Thieme: How would you tell someone to go about that?

Ismael Gutierrez: How would I do it? I don’t know. Just a simple introduction, “Hey, come over.”

Christin Thieme: Just show up?

Ismael Gutierrez: Just show up, just be present. No false promises. Right? It’s just simple, “Hey, just show up. Hey, we can walk alongside of you and we can be there for you.”

Christin Thieme: There’s a place for you.

Ismael Gutierrez: Yeah. It doesn’t always have to be super elaborate. It can just be a simple invitation. And I think that many times we tend to miss a mark. We think about it too much and we try to come up with the right words when they can be something as genuine and very simple.

Christin Thieme: Yeah, love it. How about you?

Verenice Gutierrez: For me, it would be that they’re loved. That this is a place where they’re going to be loved and cared for and we’re going to walk alongside them and show them the side of God or the side of the Jesus, the love side of them and that they are loved and that we’re here for them. And like everything Ismael said, have to agree with him. Just that we are a church, because again, I also thought it was a thrift store at first, but that they’re loved and that we love them and that we’re going to help them as much as we can and we’re here for them.

Christin Thieme: Yeah. So come show up to The Salvation Army wherever you live and find a place to belong and a community of people who will love you and share the love of Jesus. Definitely.

Ismael Gutierrez: And the great thing about the Army is we’re so big that sometimes we can offer these opportunities that maybe you won’t be able to get anywhere else. And I speak that from a personal point of view because it happened to me, but I also see it happening in the communities that we’ve served. We have summer camps during the summer, we have free music programs. So especially for the youth, I think it’s something that they can benefit from. Not only do we love them and show them Jesus Christ, but we provide them with life skills that can just help them in life just be able to be better people.

Christin Thieme: Absolutely. So that’s for anybody out there. What would be your encouragement to somebody who’s maybe interested in becoming an officer, considering it? Lastly, what would you say to that person?

Ismael Gutierrez: Well, do it. Just do it. There’s so many questions, right? I had so many questions. I think when I had my call to be an officer, it was at a youth camp somewhere. I was 15 or 16 and I didn’t join until like I was 37. So it took me forever. But once again, God is perfect. His timing is perfect. The years that I was at the corps have given me a different perspective and given me experience coming to the college to be an officer. But anybody that’s thinking about it, if it’s something that’s in your heart and you can’t shake it off, it’s because it’s something that God has called you to do. And no matter what you do, no matter how you want to quench it’s never going to be quenched.

That’s what happened to me. I knew I felt the call, but I said, “I first want to do this. I first want to do that.” And I did some of the things that I wanted to do and it just never really satisfied me. And even when I was in ministry at the corps, it was good stuff and I loved it and I loved being there. But I think at one point towards the end, I kind of again, felt that like that something needs to be quenched. And so when we finally decided to be officers that completely went away and so God just really quenched my thirst that I had for something which was to be an officer. So I think if somebody is in the same scenario or has the same feelings there’s nothing else that you’re going to do that’s going to quench that desire except serving the Lord full time.

Verenice Gutierrez: Yeah. I would have to agree. I would say put it in prayer. If that’s something that God put in your heart, make sure it is coming from God. And if it’s your calling like Ismael said, why run? It did take us quite a bit of time for us to finally be here. But also he said timing and God’s timing is always going to be perfect, even if it’s not now. But if it’s something that God wants from you, it’s going to happen. So why not find out? Talk to someone, talk to your pastor, your officer, contact us. No, but seriously, just do it. Go for it. Ask God to make that clearer and he will, and he’ll start moving pieces and everything will work. If you just allow yourself to submit to his calling, then everything falls into place amazingly.

Christin Thieme: Well, thank you both so much for sharing and for telling us a little bit more about what it means to be an officer and why you’ve decided to become officers yourselves. We’ll be cheering for you as you walk across that stage this weekend and excited to see where you and your family are appointed. And maybe we can have you back in a year or so and see how things are. So thank you for being here.

Ismael Gutierrez: Thank you so much for having us.

Verenice Gutierrez: Yeah. Thank you for having us, this has been amazing. So that’s an awesome experience. And yeah, we’d love to see how we’re doing in a year from now.

Christin Thieme: Yeah, absolutely. Sounds good.

Additional resources:

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