Teacher to Captain: A transformation
EVERY day is Christmas for Salvation Army Captain Sandra Mitchell, because it represents an opportunity for her to spread hope, to attend to the sick, feed the hungry, and to extend herself to the countless men, women and children who turn to her and her family for help.
Her love for the movement and its work runs as deep as the fervour she holds for her husband Derrick who recruited her to join the cause from the very first time he laid eyes on her. As Captain Mitchell tells it, she had just completed her studies at the Bethlehem Teachers' College, and had gone home to Westmoreland to enjoy her break from school. But her days of solitude were unceremoniously brought to an end one morning when she heard some rustling in her backyard.
"I went outside to see what it was, and when I went outside, I met this gentleman who is now my husband in the backyard. I asked him 'what is it that you are doing in my backyard' and he said he had lost his cellphone and he heard that somebody in that area had passed through my yard with it. So he was taking the same route to see if he could find the person," she said.
"He said to me, by the way, I'm Cadet Mitchell and I am being trained by the Salvation Army Church nearby. I would like to invite you to church one day, moreso on a Friday afternoon, because we have youth fellowship, and I think that you will do very well with the youths."
Obviously taken aback by his forthrighteness, she countered: "I don't know you, how can you just assume that I would be right for the young people?"
In the years to come, however, Captain Mitchell realised that her husband was spot on with his assessment, because she was very good with not only the young people, but with everyone she came in contact with.
She took him up on his invitation to visit his church although she was a member of a different faith. After only three visits to the small church, located at the outpost for the Salvation Army in Fort William, her husband shocked her again when he announced to the young people that he was going away to do some training, and was leaving them in her capable hands. She said that being a "child of God", she did not object to the announcement. She was, however, not prepared for the immense impact such a decision would have had on her life.
"When you come in contact with the organisation, your life cannot be the same. You are able to touch lives in so many ways, in so many parts, in so many areas; and being there, the youths gravitated to me and we had a big youth fellowship," she said.
Eventually Captain Mitchell got involved in other ministries, including the Women's Ministry, which she found gave her the opportunity to have fellowship with women who were in the church and the wider community.
Together they gave of themselves by visiting the shut-ins in the parish and those who were in need. A year later, when her husband was commissioned to be a captain, he was sent back to Westmoreland and, after months of courtship, they were finally wed.
When the couple had to move to Lucea, Hanover, they were only replanted. They took their altruism with them. They helped to start a school to educate children, continued with the feeding of the homeless, were the chaplains for the infirmary in the parish, and partnered with local charity group Food For the Poor to build homes for those in need of shelter.
"It's a joy to know that you are able to help somebody to smile. At the end of the day, the work is hard, it is not easy. Even now, it is Christmastime, but it is not Christmas for me, because of the magnitude of the work," she said during an interview with All Woman on the eve of Christmas.
That workload was increased when Captain Mitchell and her husband took over the operations of the Salvation Army's Manning's Hill Road complex, which comprises the Salvation Army School for the Blind, a nursery, the Nest Children's Home, the Francis Ham Home for eldery persons, and the Havendale Corp, which is situated across the road from this massive complex.
The husband-and-wife team are both pastors of the church and parents of two young children.
"It's a lot of work, and the thing about it is that we live right on the compound, so we cannot hide. The thing about my husband and I is that we cannot see somebody coming through the gate who is hungry and in need and we are too busy to minister to them," she said.
"We have to be organised. So the first thing when we get up in the morings, we have to do our devotions, and then we have to plan what it is that we are going to do. During the days you might have things that come up, so we have to prioritise," she explained.
Every Wednesday is celebrated as Women's Day by the Salvation Army, but Captain Mitchell finds herself organising various activities for women on a daily basis. Her church manages the home league, which has a focus on women over 60, and so her team usually has to plan a host of activities to benefit this group of women. There are also weekly education nights when women are informed about issues more common to them, like breast cancer and budgeting.
"This women's programme is very interesting because it is not only about members of my core, it's about women in the community on a whole. We have our savings club, whereby they save every night, and the money is lodged the next day, and then at Christmastime we see to it that they get back their savings," the captain said in explaining he mission of the home league.
The group of women also visit other women who are less fortunate in surrounding communities and distribute love baskets or share words of encouragement. Time is also spent in worship and fellowship to tighten the bonds of sisterhood.
"It has been work, work, work. When you think about the kettles (Salvation Army charity programme), when you think about the food parcels, when you think about the elderly and other ministries in the church, it is a lot of work," said Captain Mitchell.